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Bus stand at Phalgam, Kashmir - November 2008

Having read our guide books and recognising that the name of the government tourist agency the man on the street directed us to was the same as the one mentioned in our books, our fears were somewhat allayed and we decided it couldn’t hurt to go check it out.  It was there that we met Manzoor who by the way went by a number of other names such as Nazir and 007.  The entrance to the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) was slightly hidden from plain view partly because the street outside it was lined with white Tata Indica taxis.  As we walked in, we were immediately greeted with a warm smile and was ushered swiftly past two other offices, both with tourists talking to their respective tour agents.  We ended up in the third office at the end of the corridor.  On one side of the room was a display cabinet filled with hotel brochures and behind the desk was a board with dates and times of parties arriving and departing from Delhi.  The walls were lined with photographs of visitors taken at various palaces and forts, camp sites with views of snow capped mountains in the background and smiling Europeans posing with the locals and their mules, presumably on their hiking trips in the North West regions of India.  It was just what I wanted to do.

Reflection on window, Srinigar - November 2008

We were asked to take a seat and wait for our agent to arrive and as we sat there, I started to wonder how we were going to spend a whole seven weeks in India and ensure that we made the most of it.  After about five minutes of looking at the photos and taking in the surroundings, Manzoor walked in.  He looked like he was probably in his early thirties, and he had an air of confidence about him.  We later learned that he was only 27 and was not much older than us.  He immediately introduced himself and asked us how our first day in Delhi had been and in the process offered us a cup of chai tea.  As we sipped on the sweet milky tea and explained what we wanted to do and see and how long we were going to be in India for, he started to roll out a map and lay the hotel brochures and photo albums in front of us.  I don’t know if it was the tea or him just taking charge of the situation and telling us where to go and what to see and how it could be done, I gradually started feeling less anxious.  It was as if I could sit back and relax while he custom made the trip for us.  Everything from then on was a blur.  In the end, all I could remember from that meeting was, “Agra… I’ll get you your own taxi… Rajasthan… Yes, 3 weeks all paid for… Taj Mahal… you’ll see some tigers… Amber Palace… Oh so you like these photos of Kashmir?… I’m from Kashmir… Very beautiful… Dal Lake… Ah so he is a Khan?  Yes, he is part of my people, very good name… Mr Khan… then I’ll get you a better hotel for Delhi for tomorrow night… Yes, you leave for Kashmir the next day… best seat on the plane… I know Kingfisher… everything organised… I have best taxi driver for you… he is Ramesh… Here is your receipt, your taxi is outside… see you tomorrow”.

Phalgam, Kashmir - November 2008

And just like that, we had managed to get ourselves transferred to one of their hotels which was way better than the one we were staying at in Paharganj, a tour around Delhi for the rest of the afternoon and the next day with our driver Ramesh who we were going to have for the entire duration of our 3 week trip around Rajasthan.  Manzoor had also booked us a one way ticket to Srinigar and 3 nights on a houseboat in Dal Lake where we were told that his cousin Imtiaz would take care of the sightseeing from there upon our arrival in two days’ time.  All this came about from the sole purpose of going in to ask for a tourist map and to get some tips on booking train tickets.

Yes… he was that good.  He was in fact, 007 and he lived up to his own claim that he could make anything happen which we found out to be true later in our trip.