Friday May 17th
From the Delhi Hell-hole to Srinagar Shangri-la (video).
We – Christian, Jane, Brett, like me from South London, and Graham, originally from South London, but now Perth, Australia – were knackered when we arrived in Srinigar c.8pm on Tuesday night. The rigours of the train and bus journey (videos) are done for a while.
We’d shared a carriage from Delhi to Jammu and I still feel somewhat fortunate to be here. I’ve taken to drinking chai, the sweet milky tea served by a chai-wallah at every station. I figure that as the water is presumably boiled, it’s ‘safe’ to drink. At one small halt, our train let off no passengers, and none on, but I reasoned that I had time to buy an earthenware cup of chai from the seller on the platform.
A shout from behind alerted me to the train slowly moving on. I ran, or tried to as bearing the chai and being hobbled by my severely sprained ankle proved difficult. But I made it to the carriage steps and hauled myself up. And that was when my companions told me that in my haste I’d run through a one-legged man.
Once off the bus, we headed straight for Dal Lake and spent two nights on Muhammed’s houseboat – Happy Year. He was a very nice man, not out to exploit us – at least in Indian terms, whose father was the cook. The decor, planking once painted blue, was ripe for renovation.
Houseboats on Dal Lake
However, what with the noise and the ripe turds in the lake, we were to pleased to discover on the Bund, the promenade by the River Jhemal, Nova and her mother, and her sister’s son and little daughter ‘Lurch’, an adolescent with the mental age of a seven year old. For 10 rupees each, a saving on Muhammed, we have a chintzy kitsch sitting room, and a breakfast of porridge, egg, two slices of toast and tea the spoon stands up in.
We have rapidly developed a great camaraderie, all being compatible joint rollers, and now we’re relaxed, pleasantly stoned and absorbed in the atmosphere. There’s,a tremendous view upriver to the lower Himalayas, with eagles soaring overhead and low darting swallows. We’ve shared a shikara up-river past the derelict Maharajah’s palace bordered by an overgrown bank profusely covered all green in dill daisies and marijuana.
The old town, Lal Chowk, looking like a cartoon backcloth, buildings all higgledy, with small shutters, glass being a luxury, in browns and rust – corrugated iron soon melds – three or four layers high, triangles and maqlformed sqyuares, poky little holes filled with a hookah and shelves upon which are immaculately displayed packets of Surf soap powder. Or a cave opening with a pile of scrap metal on one side and ingeniously welded rat-catching cages in the other. And a hookah beside them.
Tiny alleys less cobbled than pebbled, with steps down to the river and up to open space. A space with a mosque, small and parochial compared to Jami Masjid which is 300 deodar tree trunks supporting the four sides of an enclosed cloister. A courtyard with a square pond and fountain used alike by worshippers to wash their feet and by crows and pigeons to drink. An an eagle swoops down to snatch – a mouse? a small bird? an insect?
This is the set of a dream. If it’s reality, then what are Delhi, London and Germany?