The Indian side
The perfect vacation?
Choosing a location to escape from Afghanistan is always a challenge. Holidays are always precious, but trying to weigh up whether to make the most of being in the region, see another Asian country at the risk of landing yourself in the same conditions of which you tried to temporariliy escape, or opt for a ridiculously lavish vacation on some perfect beach in a country that runs well, where you don’t have to worry about security, dodgy plane rides or getting sick from eating a seemingly harmless salad.
So Kashmir it was, where all of the above worries came into play in their own unique and memorable ways.
Having grown up hearing about Kashmir on the news, it always seemed like one of those far away ever-lasting conflicts that I really had no idea about or cared for much for that matter. Perhaps a bit like Afghanistan is for the majority of people now. But since starting my career in the world of conflicts/post-conflicts, my interest in these forgotten disputes has been kindled. So, Kashmir here I come!
The capital Srinigar was pleasant and we hired a house boat on the famous Dal lake. Besides the pressure to buy ‘real’ cashmere and other souvenirs, it was a pleasant town, apart from Friday. Having only seen two other foreign tourists (the indicator for any good holiday destination), we set off into the old city to explore the citadel that beckoned to us at the top of a large hill. Unfortunately the rickshaw we hired for an extortionate $1, couldn’t actually make it up the hill, so we had to walk the rest. It turns out the citadel is actually militarised (by the Indians), and they wouldn’t let us in. We did bump into a family who I greeted with a friendly Assalam Alaikum, which was cut short with a half-joking, half-annoyed, I’m a Hindu not a Muslim (with the wife pointing to the bindi on her head). Ooops, I should be more observant next time! I did try to explain to them that it simply meant ‘Peace be upon you’, and they shouldn’t be at all offended. To them, that was not really an acceptable excuse.
Dal lake, Srinigar, Kashmir
Mughal gardens. Srinigar, Kashmir
two minor birds. Fighting!
Next stop was the Friday mosque. Our friendly but weak rickshaw had waited patiently for us and was happy to take us. But as we were driving towards the mosque, we see a mass of male youth marching towards us. Our rickshaw driver does a swift U-turn and heads away from the crowd of rioters. The petrified look of shopkeepers hurriedly slamming close the shutters to their shops freaked me out. The sight of families running away from the scene also unnerved me. I thought to myself, in Afghanistan, at this point I would have received some sort of text message warning me of the danger and telling me what to do. Here, nothing. Anyway, we made it safely away only to wake up the next day to the news that the group had been demonstrating for independence of Kashmir and that a Kashmiri boy had been shot and killed by the Indian army.
Old City, Srinigar, Kashmir. Check out the colonial 'Ambassador' car. I want one of those!
Next on the itinerary was magical Ladakh. Apart from the highly militarised country-side that formed the routes from Srinigar to Leh, the road there provided by far the most stunning I have ever seen, and the drive the most hair raising!
view on the road from Srinigar to Leh
summitting Fotula pass
buddhist statue at the side of the road
buddhist prayer wheels on the side of the road
Not having been challenged enough in Srinigar we chose to head directly for a two day, 4,900 metre hike to calm the nerves. Another near death experience at an altitude not only have I never experienced before, but I don’t think I ever want to experience again. I never actually realised that breathing, a bodily function which I will never take for granted again, could be so difficult.
Ladakhi child from the family we stayed with in the mountains
Ladakhi woman washing the dishes
fresh and energised at the start of the marathon mountain summit
the view from the top. 4,900 metres
Then, finally, back to Delhi for some serious bollywood dancing action in one of the hottest clubs in town, where we some how were automatically admitted to the VIP section (despite my hideous sun and wind burned face). A great way to end a not-so-relaxing holiday full of new experiences and pushing life to the limit. Just what I love!
feeling my colonial routes in Delhi
Mughal architecture. Humayun's Tomb, Delhi