All the discomfort of a houseboat but none of the charm

Two American guys Phil & Logan are heading off to Kahmir and have researched the complicated route there so I tag along. We take a luxury night bus to Jammu. Luxury means we actually have sleeping compartments, and we sleep so well we overshoot Jammu ending up in Katra. Have to take a local bus 1.5 hours back. Then we hear that the road to Srinigar is closed. However we find one jeep driver who seems to think its open, and we all pile in. Rs500 each, its an expensive trip.

Our jeep to Kashmir 1600 x 1200

And a miserable 11 hour one. We're cramped in the back of the jeep, I've been kicked out of the front because I don't get car sick. It rains most of the way, and we climb high enough to reach the snowline.

Landslide blocks the road to Kashmir 1600 x 1200

At one point the road is actually blocked by a landslide, but the road crews are clearing it. I'm horrified when the clearing is almost finished, and cars just rush through instead of waiting for bulldozer to finish. They save themselves 30 seconds although we've been waiting 30 minutes.

I'm running a cold after my dip in the pool of nectar, and I imagine it turning into pneumonia. Of course I don't have much in the way of warm clothing. At our last stop the manager of the restaurant tries to push a houseboat on us, but we decline.

Hairpin bend on road to Shrinigar 1600 x 1200

As we enter Srinigar a motorbike chases us. Its the houseboat owner forewarned by the restaurant. We're exhausted, cold, miserable, and in my case sick, we just agree to go to the houseboat for one night. Bad decision. Its not on the lake, but on the river. All the discomfort of a houseboat, and none of the charm.

Houseboat the first night 1600 x 1200

And it must have been built during boom times because its construction is really shoddy. It seems to have been made of planks salvaged from packing crates and you can see daylight through the walls. Its draughty and I feel like I'll never feel warm again. Feel a bit better after eating, and sleep under 3 blankets.

Next morning we decide to follow our original plan of checking into a hotel on the waterfront, and the houseboat owners get quite unpleasant when they realise we are truly only staying one night. Its still drizzling but we feel like walking after our 11 hour drive, and somehow bump into Dean a Kashmiri man who lives in Switzerland.

Dean's apple orchard, and a conveniant hookah 1600 x 1200

He likes hanging out with foreigners, takes us for coffee, and then get his nephew to find the hotel we were looking for. Next day its stopped raining and Dean takes us out to his apple orchard, and then on for a game of snooker. He also seems very keen to take us to visit a famous sadhu who smokes 10g per day, and only allows people to approach him in the nude. Sounds like my kind of Sadhu!

There's a very strong army presence in Kashmir. I don't feel threatened, the troops don't seem trigger happy, but they are well armoured. However the Kashmiris hate the Indians. Despite being Muslim they have no love for Pakistan either. They want independence and are at pains to point out that Kashmir used to be independent in some distant past.

Imman leading the chanting prior to prayers 979 x 946

Logan has never been to a mosque, and is nervous going on his own. I've never been for Friday prayers so I offer to guide him. It's good Friday so seems fitting to go to a mosque. We choose the largest one of course which can hold over 1000 worshipers.

We arrive about 1 hour before the prayers proper start. The mosque is still pretty full, and the Imam is leading some chanting. He instantly makes a good impression on me. He seems young in his 30s, too young to lead such important prayers in such an important mosque. And he seems almost playful as he exhorts his followers to new heights in chanting, pointing at various groups in turn. Against expectation I find the chanting very uplifting.

Caught in the middle of pryers 1600 x 1200

Then he gets down from his podium everybody stands and the atmosphere get serious. A man beside me asks if I'm Muslim. I say no, but we want to observe your faith. It seems a satisfactory answer, and we're not evicted. I don't like participating in religious services I don't believe in, which is basically everything; I find that hypocritical.

Shikara ride at dawn 1600 x 1200

However when the whole mosque kneels on mass, except for an old man who obviously can't, Logan and I still standing stick out like sore thumbs. I mutter we better at least kneel and we do. Somehow Logan manages to fire off a few shots. Its all over in minutes, and we're relieved to stream outside. Some youths start chatting to us, and ask us our opinion on the situation.

I decide to play politics and tell them they may not like the Indians, but Mujadheen from Pakistan, and Afghanistan are not their friends either. They nod and invite us to a demonstration because someone politically active was recently assassinated.

The floating vegetable market 1600 x 1200

All advice says avoid this kind of thing at all costs so of course we join in. After 5 minutes we decide its the most boring demo we've ever attended, and walk home via Jesus' tomb. It is good Friday after all, and Jesus was buried in Kashmir according to some theories.

Wearing traditional clothes to stay warm in the evening 1600 x 834

One morning we get up at 04:30 to take a boat to visit the floating vegetable market. All the action is over by 06:30 so you need to get there early. We're a bit early in the season and only two other tourist boats turn up. Apparently at the height of the season there's more tourists than vegetable dealers.

I decide I want the houseboat experience, and hire a shikara to take me on a tour. I want to check out the isolated houseboats away from traffic noise, mosque prayers, and waterborn salesman. He shows me various luxury boats, and then takes me to probably the cheapest boat on the lake, but with positively the best view. I decide this is maybe a little too isolated

Cheapest houseboat in isolated part of lake 1600 x 1200

View from cheapest houseboat 1600 x 1200

Phil & Logan are heading off to Calcutta to help out in the Mother Theresa mission, and I move into a houseboat very close to our hotel. The houseboat has its own shikara a small boat for getting around, and I insist on self drive. I get many compliments from random house boat owners about my paddling style, its completely different to being ferried. Actually I don't see any other westerners self driving so maybe I am unique for them.

Living room in luxury boat with owner Rasool Wangnoo 1600 x 1200

I end up befriending the owner of the most luxurious houseboat on the lake, a far cry from the place I'm staying in. He charges Rs2000 per day per room in the high season, but invites me to stay for a special price if I return. My Indian visa is going to run out soon, so I decide its time to head to Nepal, and finally do some serious trekking to sort out my hip.

Commuter rush hour 1600 x 1200

I was considering flying after the horror of my trip into Kashmir, but I've overlanded from the Southern tip of India to the far North and don't want to give up now. This time I get a jeep to Jammu early in the morning, and the trip only lasts 7 hours and is a much more comfortable ride except that I was sexually molested!

At some point we pick up a (male) passenger who sits beside me for 1 hour. I fall asleep with my small backpack in my lap. I wake up to feel my backpack apparently massaging my groin, and lift it up curious as to what's causing the actually quite pleasant sensation, and this brown hand immediately withdraws.

I should have thumped him, shouted he was a pervert, and had him kicked out of the jeep but I'm too stunned to react. So now I have a lot more respect for women who do manage to shout and attack their molesters. Admittedly my experience was not so traumatic.

For the masala dosa addict. Srinigar has the biggest dosas 1600 x 286

There's a direct train from Jammu to the Nepali border at Gorakphur, but its booked out for the next 6 weeks. So I take the night train to New Delhi. The train from Delhi to Gorakphur is also booked out but I'll be able to get on board using the tourist quota booked through the foreigner's booking counter in Delhi. Delhi is the first place in India I'll revisit after my trips here 18, and 20 years ago.

2011-06-30 18:08:55 GwynEvans

Hi Francis, you could try honey coated bandages for your wounds, it is apparently very effective. Have Fun, Gwyn
2011-07-15 09:45:27 Gerhard Rom

toll, was Du alles erlebst. Ich beneide Dich. Hoffe, Du kommst mal wieder nach München. Viele Grüße Gerhard
2011-08-06 22:49:47 Tommy

Tip top stuff. I'll epxcet more now.
2011-08-07 19:04:09 Torie

I'm so glad that the ineternt allows free info like this!
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2013-01-23 17:23:25 Rachit

In Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region, India has the world's second coldest permanently inhabited region, only after Siberia, with the lowest recorded temperature there reading -55 degrees C in Siachen and winter temperatures regularly exceeding -35 degrees C in most parts.
2014-12-13 14:10:02 Lurraine

Glad I've finally found sonethimg I agree with!

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