Saturday May 18th
Today’s highlight was a bike ride round Dal Lake and across the causeway currently being upgraded to take buses. It was bone shuddering and skin burning from the overhead sun, with everywhere green or mud. Children rush up to us from the water-bound fields or from the wood and corrugated iron constructions which look as if they’ve grown out of the rich water-logged soil.
“Salaam, salaam. Hello, goodbye, give me rupees.” These children look so happy, so innocent, as do many of the adults. There is a pride about this place.
This is a land time forgot; an island with limited contact with the dream world from whence we came. Our world is the Oberoi Hotel (now the Lalit Grand Palace) with its all-you-can-eat buffet.
Or the Vibes Restaurant – “the only rock’n’roll restaurant in town” according to Ninja, the signature on the simple sixties psychedelic paintings now hidden by curtains and long-forgotten. There was no music either, or cold drinks. We were oddities, visitors from the outer lands, but were still politely served lemon teas, Rs.1.50 each.
The tourist section of Srinagar is more in tune.
“Come see my brother’s carpet warehouse – we give 100% discount.”
“Not enough“, we cry.
There is much friendliness towards us, but then everything is generally controlled; tourist police shepherd the system so that there is minimal bargaining and minimal baksheesh.
However, there is evidence of communal strife. At the moment the town is on strike because of a High Court case* brought by a Hindu trying to get the Koran banned on the grounds that it’s an “unIndian” book. Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, and a local mullah has stirred up excitements and the streets are empty of women and children, supplanted by riot police.
It’s made the town look a bit like Bognor, the town on England’s south coast, on a wintery Sunday. We didn’t venture down the alley beside the cinema which was not showing as advertised Bruce Lee (and his successors) movies. We watched a Kashmiri version of a spaghetti from a hotel restaurant on the second floor. We were served by a Manuel-esque waiter, baggy pyjamas, flip-flops and unshaven droopy moustache over a meal of good cheese masala and parathas.
After, I took a photo of relaxing riot police “for my brother in London who is a policeman.”
Every contact is an experience, not an encounter. Somewhere out there is the shock of India. Here is unreal, a fairytale, a dream.
And we sleep well too.
*The case was thrown out.