Saturday, November 12, 2011

It was Mrs Peacock, in the Billiard Room, with a Band-Aid!

Well, I just spent a week in Jammu-Kashmir, a place where political tensions, territorial disputes, and religious turmoil transpire throughout the state. It has been said that these disturbances have cost the lives of over 60,000 (and some resources indicate upward of a million) residents over the last 10 years.  In fact locals in the regions we visited indicated that it has only been 2 years that they have begun to see tourists return. Prior to this, many were forced to close their businesses and leave for Dharamsala and Delhi to find work. Opinions differ regarding the current state of conflict varying between it is a very safe place to visit to it being compared to a volcano about to explode at any time especially due to youth, more new to the cause, holding on to anger from a very complicated history. Prior to the increased insurgency in the 90’s with the emergence of increased terrorist activities, Jammu-Kashmir was a popular tourist destination and a favored locale for trekking. 

This was the Jammu-Kashmir that Tobi and I experienced. It truly was like heaven on earth. Between the glass like lakes in the foreground and the massive jagged peaked Himalayas as its backdrop in Srinagar to passing saffron fields, terraced rice fields, famous Kashmiri apple orchards,  and gold and red bursts of colors of poplar and maple trees on our drive to higher elevation and then landing in Pahalgam where there were snow capped mountains, coupled with beautiful streams and rivers meandering through picturesque villages and an abundance of very friendly and equally curious people eager to engage in broken English conversations, Tobi and I thought we had found the true Shangri-La. 
View from our plane window of the Pir Panjal mountain range in the Himalayas.

Shakara or covered taxi boats on Nagin Lake with line of houseboats in the background.

The houseboats were left over from Colonial times when the British were prohibited from owning land. They are moored to the land and range from simple to quite ornate.

This is our bedroom with hand carved wood bed posts and ceiling panels and Kashmiri designed hand sewn curtains.

The deck where you could sit out for endless hours and watch the sunrise while listening to the beautiful surround sound of chants echoing off the lake coming from nearby mosques or listen to the incredible variety of bird calls while watching the shakaras deliver anything from vegetables, crafts and jewelry, flowers, candy or toilet paper.

In the morning the lake was covered in ice dewed lily and lotus pads. It is said to be exceptionally beautiful in summer when they are in full bloom. It was now the season for abstracting the lotus root which is considered a delicacy.

This gentleman came up on the boat and knocked on the glass door saying, "Hello madame! I am market man." Sure enough he was loaded down with goodies. For the rest of the day I was singing Rocket Man by Elton John though.

Shakara ride fit for a queen.. oh yeh... It was cold!

Interestingly most of the houses were built of brick

Floating vegetable gardens

Fishing village on stilts

Shakara driver smoking his water pipe. Notice the heart shape ore.

Walk in Pahalgam

Appears to be a way of drying and storing hay. Lots of sheep and ponies in this region.

The Himalayas peaking through the haze.

This water was freezing!

The locals wear long wool capes called Pherans and carry wicker baskets with ceramic pots filled with hot ashes under their ponchos to keep warm. Seemed like a serious fire hazard to us!

Tobi and our hotel owner Haji at the Brown Palace. He was a wise sweet spirited soul.

Tobi and I felt very protected along the way via frequent contact with Rahul checking in about our arrival times and destinations, new friends we met, one of which was a psychiatrist, (born and raised in Kashmir and now living in Naperville Illinois), guiding us on what to see, transportation, costs, and other practicalities down to our hotel host in Pahalgam exclaiming, “Where were you? I was just about to get in the jeep and come looking for you!” when Tobi and I arrived in the dark after wandering off on foot for over 6 hours to enjoy the sights.

At the airport you feel like you are on a military base. You have to get out of your car and put your luggage through x-rays before you even enter the airport.  In the airport there are 2 more x-ray points. You are then called over the loud-speakers to come onto the tarmac and identify your luggage before they place it on the plane. And finally they do another body search and final check of your carryon bags before walking on to the plane. At one check point they take my band-aids, a hair tie, one of many pens, a wad of very thin string, and a very small pencil sharpener. After questioning, Tobi was able to re-confiscate my hair tie and pen, but the rest was meant to be commandeered. When Tobi asked about the band-aids the guard shook her head with a stern “no” and pointed to her eyes as if to say one might highjack the plane by covering an un-expecting victim’s eyes with your band-aid in order to seize control. But the funniest part of this whole story is that when I went through the FINAL body/bag check the stewardess finds my Swiss army knife in my handbag and escorts me back into the airport to a military guard fully equipped with AK-47 or the likes and back to the desk where they confiscated my band-aids. You can imagine my angst when the military guard accuses me of hiding the knife and putting it back in my bag after the check. When I protested, “Absolutely not!” he questions, “Then it is the error of this guard?” (Pointing right at her with her staring at me), and I didn’t hesitate to say, “Yep!”
Safely home? Maybe not! Tobi calls us in to her room, panicked by a humming sound and vibration coming from her suitcase. We rack our brains to think of any electronics she could have packed. Unable to recall a possible object, we collectively entertained, “Could it be a bomb?”  Was the security check gal seeking revenge? Was there a sentiment of anti-Americanism being portrayed in a violent message? Just as we seriously considered contacting the police before opening the bag, I remembered Tobi’s electric toothbrush!!!! We all laughed hysterically, were relieved by our combined idiocy and recognized the welcomed release of unspoken tension we all experienced during our slightly risqué adventure.
I am back in Delhi now and will venture on to Rajasthan next. Will be in touch again when I can. Until then, much love and wishes for peace coming your way!


  1. Thank you for the great photos! and brilliant stories Jen - especially poignant as Charlie is in Indore, and this gives me more contact with him in a way. LOVE to you.

  2. What a great travel blog! Wonderful photos. I shared your tension about the electric toothbrush! I feel as though I'm traveling with you. (but I must say that I think I'm warmer than you looked!) Beautiful country. I'm so glad your angels were watching over you!

  3. Jen so glad that you are sharing your adventure with us all! I have always thought band aides have the potential to be very dangerous. Hope your travels continue to be full of beauty, laughter, and discovery. Sending much love out to you.

  4. Rocket Man? Feh, If I was "moving thru Kasmir", I think I would be singing the eponymus Led Zeppelin tune, constantly, just saying. Sounds like an awesome time, and looks beautiful. I see an absence of sunshine, is that typical? Wish I was there with you, though. It is intersting that you guys have an electric toothbrush. What happens when it runs out of charge, do you stop using it? If an escalator stops working while you are on it, do you call for help? Do you think anyone where you are has even seen an escalator? Please stay safe, do not head any further west, and if you could, be a little more specific on where you are so we can point it out to the kids on Google Maps.

  5. That is so hysterical! And absolutely terrifying! Your pictures are exquisite! It's so nice to see your beautiful face and know that you are well. The more of your stories I hear the more I want to visit India!!!!! I'm not sure if I'm ready to burn off all that karma though... Sending sooo much love your way always!!!!!