3 day trek- Kashmir

March 3, 2004

As we drove further from Srenivar for the start of my 3 day trek I began to feel more at ease as the soldiers and gun implacements became less and less. Kashmir is actually the most beautiful place on earth; the scenary and mountains are absolutely stunning and there’s still plenty of snow around as its the tail end of winter. The driver was a complete lunatic, we had a couple of near death experiences but I’ve kind of got immune to it the danger by now, he just shrugged his shoulders as the car nearly drove head first into an on coming bus as we overtook it round a blind corner. After a 2 hour journey we stopped at our destination; a small village in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. The accomodation is basic, no its a actually shithole but it adds to the ambiance and I’m just glad theres noone around pointing machine guns at me, besides I’m not really in a strong negotiating position to complain so I put up with it. It feels weird to be so alone with absolutely no westerners or travellers around, just me the driver and his grubby mates. I take a walk down the main High Street when I arrive and the feelings of being a monkey in London Zoo come back to me, people literally come out of the streets and starring, crowds of kids surrounding me, I felt a bit like Jesus leading the people, luckily they all seem fairly friendly. They all wear the same get-up; a kind of low budget Indian poncho. I actually borrowed one from the driver to blend it but it doesn’t work, there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not a local. Its funny because all the guys just sit around smoking, doing nothing and all the women are breaking their backs carrying bundles of food and timber. The trek was absolutely fantastic, I really enjoyed the feeling of riding out in the wilderness which was just amazing, the horses are really easy to ride. My guide is 22 years old, very friendly and chilled out, lives very simply with his family in town. Apart from the incessant phlegm gymnastics of Indian men everywhere, it made me feel like the struggle to get all this way has been worth it, I never forget this place. Along the way we passed amazing views and loads of baboons, I was a little worried they might attack me (hardly surprising after getting my arse munched by a rabid dog in Cambodia but thats another story) but they were all really relaxed and kept their distance, made me wonder why all the bamboons in Windsor safari park are such complete lunatics.

Overall it was a really great trek, really different and enjoyable, also finished an amazing biography on Gandhi, that guy was one sharp operator. I’m starting feel really glad that I made the effort to come to India.

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Kashmir

March 1, 2004

I arrived in Kashmir after a 1 hour plane journey. As my brain re-engaged itself with my body I was wondering if we’d stopped off in the middle of Afghanistan, what the f@!k were all these soldiers doing here? sand bags and gun implacements surrounding the airport like a fortress, where were all the other western travellers I’d been told about? They’d shown me photos of others at the Delhi Tourist office who’d signed up, was I the only loser who’d signed up? I quickly learned that I’d been dropped off in Srinigar, in the middle of what looked like a war zone. I was later to find out that this town had been the centre of some of the worst records of terrorism and civil war in Indian history, 150,00 in total dead!! mainly in the early nineties. Alot of the terrorists who supported Kashmir independence used this town as a stronghold. ‘Its OK’ the friendly taxi driver reassured me ‘there hasn’t been any trouble here for six weeks’ I was shit scared now, feeling a rumbling in my backside but tried to play it cool. The driver’s uncanny and identical resemblance to Jeremy Beadle, with the same tufty beard and weird fingers really unnerved me, had the boys at home set me up on some almighty shred? We drove through the most heavily fortified checkpoint I kept my head down, and we reached the side of a huge lake in the middle of town where I could see a line of houseboats all the designed in early century colonial style. Luckily I was staying in one of the houseboats which at least would be fairly safe, its was really quite a cool inside and quite secure to my relief and I met the manager who seemed to be fairly friendly although I was still unsure who to trust at this stage.

I sat and drunk a cup of tea as I looked over and watched the sun set over the lake and pondered to myself; this isn’t the India I was looking for; I was looking for mystic Hindus who sit, meditate and fast naked living in caves with long beards, I was looking for hi rollers who could stand on their heads and eat no tucker for days on end, I was looking for snake charmers, conjurers who could walk across hot coals, I wanted the core, the inner truth, the essence of India. I wanted to wax lyrical with gurus with ZZ Top beards and ask them questions..like…why my head was constantly poisoned with Western thoughts of women and boozing down the Kisch Lounge Riot… I wanted to ask how come Gandhi had 3 kids but abstained fro sex? Was this a hickup? How had devout Hindus who denouced sex managed to invent the Karma Sutra in their spare time, a bit blooddy inconsistent isn’t it? Why were their Gillette Sensor shaving advertisiemnets everywhere yet everyone had beards, was someone having a pop? I wanted to know if there was any shortcut available for a lapsed heathen lowrolling Catholic in achieving eternal nirvana…particularly the infinite bliss and love bit.. I was confused. Goodnight