Letter to Son No.1 – Srinagar

Houseboat ‘Winsor’ – Srinagar
20th May

I’ve got a temperature and am on a hot tea fast to overcome my trots. My sprained ankle is slowly on the mend, but I now have contusions on my right leg because I fell through the floor of this houseboat this morning!

When I sprained my ankle, at New Delhi bus station, I was dreaming of the trek from Leh to Manali.

One step at a time!

A young German, Christian, I linked up with in Delhi has got diarrhea and has just gone to Ahdoo’s, a local restaurant which is very good, for his first meal in three days, so I suppose I’m lucky. Along with Brett and Jane from Tooting and Graham, now from Australia but originally from there as well, we have formed a strong bond, which, apart from Christian, is only partly our shared language, .

It was the 28 hour train journey from Delhi to Jammu which was the key. Our reserved seats were in a carriage taken out of service to be replaced by one exclusively for the military. Somehow we found what appeared to be the only compartment with a door which we defended with a mixture of cunning, aggression and height against all-comers.

Srinagar was our holy grail.

We have a similar sense of humour, a major factor, although our main topics of conversation seem to be what we’re going to eat, what we have eaten, and the state of our bowels.

To spend part of my inheritance (from my step-grandmother) is probably the lazy way to attempt travelling. Brett and Jane worked very hard for a year in building and decorating, working in a pub, and selling their record collections etc to pay for their acutely budgetted journey, Graham is a hustler, buying and selling whatever he thinks will subsidise his travels: sarongs to Sri Lanka, jewelry specially made in Madras for sale in London, and marijuana from north India for sale in Goa to the south.

Illnesses and injuries permitting, we hope to do a five day trek from Pahalgam to Kolahoi Glacier.

The Kolahoi Glacier is now shrinking at an alarming rate.

First though, to avoid further injuries, we’ll change to a cleaner, less rustic houseboat slightly upriver. The owner can’t stand Indians: “They snot dahl all over the carpet.”

It’s not all doom and gloom however. I have passed through the transitional phase of coming to terms with a different culture. Mind you, Kashmir, at least in Srinagar, has some very English moments. Although our boat is on the river, not Dal Lake, the view of mountains reflected on the water, the flora and fauna – nettles, roses, pansies, marijuana, and swallows, ducks, crows and eagles – reminds me of Lake Windermere in Cumbria. The housing too, which remains from the Raj era pre-1947, can be seen in Bournemouth and Buttermere. If it wasn’t for the problems we’re having with the servants, this would be a dream world.

May 22nd
Still on houseboat ‘Winsor’

We’re all feeling much better now but in the event, we haven’t moved because prices are rising as more tourists and travellers arrive. For 10 rupees a night, it’s only the decay and insanitary conditions which made us want to leave. Mind you, we think our things are being tampered with. I’ve lost vitamin tablets and a music cassette.

One could almost describe our existence here as boring, except the days fly past. Each person met, each transaction, albeit a cup of coffee, is an important event.

I’ve just spent an hour shopping. I think I was looking for some lightweight walking boots for the trek, or maybe just looking to see what there was to see. I watched two policemen beating up an itinerant peddler, a few streets being roadblocked with no discernible effect on the locals, and ended up with an old copy of the Indian Express newspaper and two rupees worth of biscuits. Luckily, given my untried bargaining skills, most things seem to have a fixed price, including the outstanding ginger biscuits and coconut macaroons from Ahdoo’s, our regular eating haunt.

Although today is a very grey day, generally it has been shorts and sunburn weather with pleasant cool evenings. After the frenetically hot Delhi, this is a complete relief. There are moments when I blink and think – hang on, India’s out there somewhere. I shall delay that pleasure for another two months at least. In the meantime I shall enjoy a long overdue holiday.

This is the first real holiday I’ve had since 1971/2 when I last ‘travelled’ where my pig was headed. Every other break from work, family or regular life has had a purpose and/or time frame: a week in France, three weeks overlanding to Morocco and back, camping with kids, or Greyhounding across the southern states of the USA.

Tomorrow we head off for Pahalgam.

23-4 Bus to Brown Palace Hotel, Pahalgam (15/-)

25 Walk: Aru > Lidderwat (Paradise Guest House 10/-)
—-Had the trots, continual rain so was soaked from Aru; returned next day to Pahalgam.
26-31 Houseboat Roosevelt, Dal Lake, Srinagar (15/-)

About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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