22 November 2008
After an impromptu decision to go up to Kashmir 2 days ago upon our arrival in India, our agent Manzoor organised our flights to Srinigar where he said we would be well looked after by his cousin Imtiaz. We boarded the Kingfisher flight where he promised us “the best seats” since he had “contacts” there and sure enough we got the front row with ample legroom. A few hours later, we were at Srinigar airport and again, we were given special treatment and were escorted swiftly away from the long lines by one of his colleagues who spotted us. It was freezing and there were remnants of snow on the ground. His cousin drove us into the city with his Jeep where we were allowed to choose between staying in the crudely furnished hotel or the houseboat and we chose the latter since Srinigar was well known for its houseboats.
The houseboat itself was situated on Dal Lake, just off the popular Nagin Lake where the majority of the houseboats were. It was simple yet cosy, equipped with its own fireplace. Shafi our tour guide took us around the two lakes after we had put our bags down. It took an hour and a half and by the first 20 minutes, I was already ready to turn back since despite being bundled up under layers of blankets, the air outside was starting to get icy as the sun started to set. Finally we got back and I was pleased to find that Yusuf, the custodian of the houseboat had already got the fireplace going and had cooked us a hot meal of dal, soup and rice, a welcome and comforting meal after a cold day out.
At the time, India was holding its national elections and Kashmir was and still is a place where there is still tension. The government had therefore imposed curfews at night and military presence was clearly visible throughout the city. On our first night, we experienced a couple of power cuts to which he thought we might be attacked whereas I thought it was quite exciting. I guess ignorance was bliss because rather than stressing out, I found it to be quite an experience, bumbling around the houseboat by candlelight. My biggest dilemma out of this blackout being that I missed out on watching 30 Rock on Star TV. Luckily the lights came back on after 30 minutes but alas, the episode had ended.