Thursday, November 12, 2009



After a 19-hour bus ride, I always ask myself, "where's the angry mob to harass me?" Srinagar did not disappoint. Located in the perma-problem area of Kashmir, Srinagar has had its economy hit pretty hard by the instability, with many tourists avoiding the place due to the potential for violence (though there haven't been any attacks on tourists since the early nineties). So the locals were, um, very eager for our business when we got there. In fact, they mobbed us. As our bus arrived at the parking lot, some of them grabbed the door handles and tried to actually get in the bus. Failing that, they ran alongside the vehicle as it moved forward and parked.

The big draw in Srinagar is to get a houseboat out on Dal Lake. As we got off the bus, Erez and I found ourselves surrounded in a circle of aggressive touts trying to get us to go to their uncle's/brother's/cousin's houseboat. As you can imagine, after the long bus trip, we weren't exactly in peak condition for dealing with this. I think we kept our cool, and just said, "thanks but we are going to get a taxi and go look at houseboats ourselves," which did nothing, and lead to "please leave us alone". Eventually, the mob actually got angry with us for not engaging, and started yelling things like "Get out of Srinagar then!", which was a little creepy.

Our houseboat

We finally made it to a taxi and of course, even he tried to get us to go see his father-in-law's houseboat! It was like in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" when the fleeing characters finally find someone they think is still human, breath a sigh of relief, and then that person lets out the blood-curdling scream to alert the other aliens of their presence. FINE, we'll go see your father's/uncle's houseboat! So we rented a little water taxi to go see it and a few other choices, ending up taking another one.

Our houseboatOur houseboat owner

Our houseboat was sweet - kind of like an auntie's victorian drawing room on the water, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. After our warm welcome to town, we didn't really feel like going to the mainland for the rest of the trip. The man who ran it was friendly but sad, cooked us delicious meals, and evidently played a the best banjo in the area.

Vegetable MarketSrinagar

The lake is one endlessly unfolding photo opportunity, with floating markets, well-dressed ladies floating by, little boat stores pulling up to see if you need anything, and lots of channels in the reeds you can paddle through and get lost in. Erez and I spent quite a bit of time just doing that.


The people reminded me a bit of those in Cambodia - there is a heaviness to them you can see in their eyes, from living through a prolonged period of violence and loss. Though very friendly once you get past the aggressive sales pitch.

After a couple of relaxing days, Erez took off to go to a Vipassana meditation retreat in Delhi, and I stayed on for a little while longer (shopping mostly), eventually flying to Jammu. The Srinagar airport was one of the most locked-down security zones I've ever been to. They search the entire car, inside and out, even underneath, before you are allowed to drive up. I was security scanned a two or three times in the airport itself.