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Floating on Dal Lake

October 29, 2009

Shikara at SunsetThe splendor of Srinagar is captured in the beauty of Dal lake.  I am currently sitting on a floating canopy bed known as a Shikara.  Stretched out on the cushions, this is one of the most pleasant experiences imaginable.  I feel as though I’ve actually traveled back through time.  I can picture ancient Egyptian royalty traveling in a similar fashion across the Nile.  The Shikara driver sits at the rear of the boat and uses a spade shaped ore which adds to the soothing ambiance with each stoke.  Autumn colours line perimeter of the lake.  I feel utterly fortunate to have come here!

Sadly, its not a stretch of the imagination to consider why Kashmir is worth fighting for.  This is strictly from a raw beauty perspective.  I won’t attempt to comment on the complexities of the struggles historically.  Needless to say, there is much to be ‘won’ by the victor of such struggles.

Dal Lake

The journey led me to the first stop where I was offered to water ski.  I do use the term water ski loosely.  This India version of waterskiing involved standing on a cracked piece of wood and being tugged by a boat with an inconsistent motor; respectfully, I declined.  Later we stopped at a floating market, literally there was a shopping complex in the middle of the water.  I was sure that the Shikara driver took a commission for anything purchased, having brought me there.  No matter, I almost went on a Dal Lake Boatsshopping spree until I realized I left my wallet in the houseboat.  Just as well, what would I really do with 10 hand-woven shawls?

That evening I met Vipul, the friend I had made on the plane.  He was from Punjab, though he lived in Gujarat.  He worked for his family textile business and was in Srinagar to collect money from his non-paying clients.  Had I been in Srinagar longer, I would have loved to tag along to one of his meetings to see how real India business is conducted.  He ended up telling me how he was dating a girl who lived a couple hours away from him.  Apparently she was much more serious than he was.  Understandably, marriage was not his choice to be had.  As did his brother, he would soon have an arranged marriage where if lucky, he could pick from the candidates which his parents proposed.  I was astounded to find that he had no issues with this at all.  I thought of all the times people had heckled me at Canadian dinners for being a vegetarian, and my defence would be the same.  It’s how I grew up, it’s the only thing I know, and I have no desire to change this aspect of my life.  So as outlandish as his views of marriage were for me, I could also understand his perspective.

SoldierOn the walk home, much of the city was closed with the expected visit of Manmohan Singh, India’s current Prime Minister.  Nobody seemed to be able to explain why his arrival would mean city-wide strikes.  Vipul told me that earlier in the day, civilians were throwing stones at the military, leading to one civilian being killed.  As Vipul put it, “it could have been worse.”  It is an eerie feeling walking the streets after dark with soldiers holding automatic weapons – finger on trigger – posted every fifty feet.  Most people here tended to not make direct eye contact with the soldiers and I followed suit.

Upon returning to the houseboat, the houseboat owner said to me, “If there’s anything you need, just ask.”  I naturally replied, “thank you, I will.”  He repeated himself with emphasis on “anything.”  Curiosity led me to ask what on earth he was talking about.  Alcohol, hashish, and many worse vices were implied.  Although he didn’t come out and say it, I was disgusted at how matter of fact he eluded towards women on his list of what could be offered.  Hmm, perhaps I do need a drink!

That night was particularly cold and keeping warm while sleeping involved using my own sleeping bag as well as the provided blankets and a few hot-water bottles for good measure.  I woke up the next morning excited to go outside and bask in the morning sun.  To my disappointment, it was nowhere to be found.  AkipSince most of the city roads, shops, sights and arteries were closed in lieu of Manmohan Singh’s arrival, I opted to take a lengthy Shikara ride.  Besides, keeping a low profile on the lake wasn’t a bad idea today.  This time, I armed myself with a scarf, toque, and a fleece blanket.

The Shikara drivers son, Akip, came along for the adventure.  He was a cute five year old kid, and we made funny faces at eachother through the gap in the canopy.  Okay, truth be told, I made funny faces at him.  I stopped writing in my journal and drew a picture of the Shikara, vaguely depicting him, his dad, and myself.  Then he warmed up to me and wouldn’t let go of the picture for the rest of the trip.  Even when we stopped so he could eat, his dad fed him while he continued to hold the food-covered picture.  Something about kids lights up my world, they are full of curiosity and innocence and quite easily amused.  We could all take a lesson!

Scribbles

En route, we were hailed by a military boat.  After checking our identification, they advised us to turn back and not to come back.  I thought the journey was over and we were obliging when we seemingly took an alternate route to arrive at the Old City.  It was like a picturesque journey through Venice.  Admittedly, I’ve never been to Venice, which only meant that this had to simply be better!  See for yourself in the gallery below!

Stay Tuned: The grueling journey to Leh is still to come!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jeets & Sheetal permalink
    November 11, 2009 3:01 am

    WOW PRASH , this is amazing !! I love the blog, makes me wanna keep reading ……Good job .
    have fun, keep safe and ENJOY!!!
    regards to Kunal and Rish

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