Star Date:  September 2008
 Kashmir & Leh

     
 

Hello Dear Family & Friends!

 

"Hey, Yo Kun Wich"
(Kashmiri Greeting)

 

 

"No tool is more beneficial than intelligence. No enemy is more harmful than ignorance."

(Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Harithi al-Baghdadi al-Mufid (lived 10th century)  Iraqi scholar and jurist)

Tucked away in a sphere of serenity.  The peace of Nageen Lake is reflected in the endless waterfowl swimming next to our boat.  Kingfishers, herons and even eagles land on the ornate wood railing just feet from where we sit.  Joyous birds of all kinds are the first sound greeting us upon awakening .  No traffic, no chickens, no dogs barking, no talking, no kids yelling.  Just the morning symphony from the trees.  Habib, Carlita and family (about 15 members, including Grandma who proudly adds has been to Mecca twice) live in a large traditional 3 storey Kashmiri home on shore.  We were able to visit with them, cook in their spotless traditional kitchen of endless pots & pans, or walk the path to the lanes leading to town.  Dal Lake has become too crowded as one houseboat after another has infringed on the former space and beauty; so Joseph found us this jewel on neighboring Nageen Lake.  A family business started by the kind and honest father, they have been going strong for over 25 years.  Habib and Brother Ramzam now supervise as their less than enthusiastic sons prepare to take over the business.  Our houseman, Nabi, adopted from a young age by the Grandfather, is the family's 'Man Friday'.  You need it - he gets it.  He does almost everything in your houseboat, and up at the family home for that matter, and does it with a song & a smile.  His honest, cheerful, friendly nature was the highlight of our stay.  This plus the older brother Habib's diplomacy, gained from spending time amongst foreigners and having Muslims, Jewish, Christian and Hindu sister-in-laws.

The hand carved houseboats, former retreats of the British, are about 80-100 ft long with a back master bedroom/w bath, 1 or 2 side bedrooms, a proper dining room, a large living room, all complete with hand loomed Kashmiri carpets and chandeliers.  The crowning glory is the back porch jutting out into the lake or the rooftop deck from where you can see life drift or paddle by.  Vendors selling everything from paper mache to sapphires, potato chips to vegetables; enquire from a distance if you would like to buy their wares.  Once they know what you want or don't want they never bother you past saying , "Good Morning" - that is if you are smart enough to firmly say, "No looking, no buying, but Thank You!"  My favorite part of life on the lake is drifting along in a brightly painted shikara with curtains, relaxing on the lounge cushions while being slowly paddled along through hectares of large pink lotus, past fishermen throwing nets, farmers working on floating vegetable gardens, through narrow canals under wooden foot bridges and surreptitiously observing life along the shore.  Call to prayer echoes over the lake as followers rush to meet in the enormous white marble Jama Masjid Mosque, built by  Sultan Sikander in 1394.  Kashmiris stroll from markets to shops buying the full gamut of supplies from household staples to hand tinkered copper pots, bright pashima shawls, hot tandori breads, spices or dried medicinal herbs.  Kashmir is also home to the world's most expensive and prized spice, saffron.  This is what awaits the visitor being welcomed into a Kashmiri family's life on the lake.  This is why we spent our honeymoon here in 2001, returned here now, and will once again return in the future when tensions ease; but for a longer rest.

Relaxing in the sitting room of our houseboat on Nageen Lake, I watch as our first evening descends around me, hues of the setting sun lingering and painting the mirror smooth water deep blues, purples and gold.  The Himalayas stand sentry as dozens of eagles majestically circle overhead.  Kingfishers dive in synchronicity, reminiscent of recent Chinese Olympiads in Beijing.  Call to prayer resonates from Jama Masjid Mosque, and is echoed back from dozens of smaller mosques fringing the vast lake.  Close enough to provide a melodic harmony to the unfolding sights, but far enough away to not smother the peace.  Three old codgers drift by in a dugout canoe, fishing poles in hand but the egrets, herons and kingfisher always have better luck.  They laugh and admit they are simply passing the time.  As the light dims one can hear the crickets welcoming the first stars, and the paddles of dozens of small boats silently making their way home in the darkness.  As I sit in the very seat that Kasturbai Gandhi, the wife of Mahatma Gandhi, sat in so many years ago, I wonder if she too was able to focus on the rich 'present moment' surrounding her, putting aside the concerns of the world and the mind for a moment.  Herself a persistent advocate of social and political reform, Kasturbai worked side by side with her husband, or rather, as was the Hindu custom, worked in her husband Mahatma's shadow.  India was in turmoil in her time, seeking independence from Britain.  Civil disobedience  and non violence was the path of choice, a revolution in it's day.  Unlike the single revered Mahatma Gandhi , who united his people and more importantly 'Walked his Talk', there are currently 3 Kashmiri Peace leaders, who are often in disagreement.  This destroys the movement from within but helps organize even larger numbers of protestors, up to a million at a time.  Unfortunately these peaceful protests are always met with military violence.

Suddenly the serenity of the lake is shattered!  Drumming starts, booms of artillery are heard on the border with Pakistan, soon drowned out by several groups of angry Kashmiri youths chanting slogans while carrying torches in their respective villages.  Several gunshots ring out above the din.  Lasting over an hour and increasing in intensity, all of a sudden the chanting stops in respect for the final evening call to prayer from the surrounding mosques.  Once again this mysterious 5 times a day melody fills the valley.  Control and or respect is complete.  Before this  Islamic religious ritual draws to a close, the drums resound in a far corner of the lake, the impatience of youth winning over.  We wonder if non violence will be an option for Kashmir in modern times? 

The Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir is actually three distinct regions, Hindu Jammu, Muslim Kashmir Valley and Buddhist Ladakh, the rugged mountainous region to the east, where Joseph had just explored.  Spared invasions only because it is located in some of the highest mountain regions of the world, 9,000 feet and above, this isolation has preserved Buddhism traditions and culture, far more than Tibet itself.  After visiting these unique Buddhist temples in the rugged ancient city of Leh Joseph followed the bus route through Alchi, Kargil, then slowly meandering his way down to the Kashmir Valley. 

Surrounded by the Pir Panja mountains and the western Himalayas the mysterious mountain kingdom of Kashmir was mentioned in the epic Mahabharata.  Home to 4 Himalayan peaks, from 2nd highest K2 at 28,250 ft. to Mt Rakaposhi at 25,550 ft. this valley has been revered for its scenery for centuries.   A retreat of kings and Raja alike one feels more like being in Iran than India with the mosques, green eyed light skinned locals, veiled women and flowing wool 'phren' or tunics on the men.  Sufi mystics brought Islam to Kashmir in the 13th century and Mughals took control of the valley under Sultan Sikander.  This has been the sight of 3 wars between Pakistan and India, with after much hesitation, Kashmir siding with India to avoid a takeover by Pakistan.  The hope for autonomy growing dimmer, militant factions started appearing and when India formally took over the 'autonomous' region with force in 1990, over 4000 Kashmiri's disappeared.  After years of bloody battles, things had calmed down. The recent earthquake in 2005, claiming over 80,000 lives, even brought India and Pakistan together to provide assistance.  Although Muslims, only 15% of Kashmiris are reported to want to side with poorer Islamic Pakistan.   Peaceful demonstrations and elections were renewing hope in Kashmir.  So what happened this time?             

History paints an enlightening picture of these angry youths, (labeled by our U.S. government as terrorists); hoping for change from the strangle hold of Mother India on yet another small Himalayan Kingdom.  In the 40's the Maharaja of Kashmir asked India for help from the invading Pakistani forces.  They helped alright.  They threw the Raja in jail for 11 years and completely took over his kingdom.  Still upset, the resistance to the economic oppression shown by India in the last several decades is coming to a head.  Rotating 'bondahs' or strikes are paralyzing the state and recent acts of violence against peaceful protestors, hundreds shot dead and countless wounded, have fanned the fires of resistance.  Where will it lead?  One can only hope that the example of success of Mahatma Gandhi, in freeing India from British oppression, will allow India in turn to empathize with the plight of Kashmiris, now that the shoe, or should I say sandal, is on the other foot.

A calm in the midst of the storm.  With a brisk high season business last month, it was just our bad luck to fly in as trouble erupted.  The Islamic leaders of the growing peaceful non violence movement were jailed to prevent the planned rally of millions protesting the repression by Indian soldiers in Kashmir.  Spending the first night in the hustle and bustle of Dal Gate we planned to move out to the lake, after all that is why one comes up here, to experience life on the lake. Comparing several houseboats we decided to move to our current one the following morning at 10am.  The family pleaded with us to move earlier to avoid any trouble in the streets.  At 7:30 we left, picking up staples and vegetables from the few shops open.  Tucked into our new home we began to hear the reports on TV. and once the texting on cell phones, local broadcasts, newspapers and internet services were shut down by the Indian government; only by word of mouth from men paddling by.  Artillery boomed in the distance, angry protestors shouted for "Freedom!", rocks flew at soldiers, tear gas exploded, and shots rang out.  Effectively squelching the  mostly peaceful mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, the people returned home and to their villages. 

CURFEW!  Shoot on Sight!  It went from bad to worse overnight. 

Not believing the threats imposed by marshal law, a man and his son were shot going for milk in the morning, just 100 feet from our first hotel.  We thanked God, 'shu cria' we were safely tucked away, completely out of the action by over 7 miles.  The following day a woman going to shop and three young men throwing rocks were shot on sight.  Using rubber bullets in neighboring Hindu Jammu, was not the luxury here with Hindu soldiers firing against the Muslims of Srinigar.  Hundreds of people, staff, and patients were stuck in the hospital, without proper food or supplies.  Even the dead killed in the streets were denied a proper burial by grieving families.  After 3 days total curfew they allowed movement in selected encapsulated areas for 1-2 hours.  We ventured out and were very disturbed by the mass Indian troops on every corner.  Joseph talked to a large group of Hindu and Sikh soldiers and ended up being very angry, pointing out the killing of innocent unarmed men, women and children was nothing short of murder.  They acknowledged the situation and said now they are only beating people back into their houses with sticks.  "They throw rocks at us!" they complained.  "How does a rock compare to a gun?"  So Go Home!"  Away we stormed amid the approval of the gathering Kashmiri crowd. 

Benjamin Franklin once said "All it takes for us to lose our freedom is for enough good people to do nothing."  We knew when to quit and quietly disappeared into the safety of our maze of back alleys, supplies in hand, as the trucks of troops thundered by announcing the start of curfew again in 30 minutes.  Given the choice to go out for the 3 hours the next day we decided it would be best to stay hidden on the lake, sending our wishes out to these downtrodden people.  As supplies ran out we were again thankful to be safe and provided for by the bountiful floating gardens and the resourcefulness of these, for the most part self sufficient people of Kashmir.  Sitting here one is totally unaware of the tumultuous situation surrounding us.  Life on the lake floats by as it has for centuries and the mountains absorb the unrest in the surrounding cities and villages.  Accepting the situation, we rested, read, wrote, worked on the computer, and watched movies from Joseph's amassed collection; when the electricity allowed.  On the same priority electrical circuit as the city's largest mosque, which houses 33,000 believers, we luckily only had rare power outages.  A relaxing 2nd honeymoon 7 years later.  Actually just a continuation of our 25 year honeymoon that takes us to the far corners of this planet.  Through thick and thin but, as our webpage attests to, mostly trouble free adventures. 

Ten days of curfew.  It only ended because the annual holy month of Ramadan started with the sighting of the crescent moon.  Muslims are expected to pray in the mosque and fast from food, drink, smoking and sex during daylight hours in order to focus on spiritual introspection.  The family here gets up at 3am to eat.  About 4 am loud drums are heard in the streets waking people up, at which time the mosques start chanting (reminiscent of the blaring government morning propaganda music in remote North Vietnamese villages).  Luckily both noises are barely audible in our bedroom.  Then the men wash, dress and walk to mosque in the darkness for a long prayer time.  Back home they catch naps between daily prayer times while the women pray between busily cooking the evening meal.  I make sure to be out of the kitchen in time for the sunset feast, as everyone is ravenous.  Dates appear in the fascinating local markets, used as the first food eaten to break the 15 hour fast.  We sat across from the large lakeside Jama Masjid Mosque, surrounded by thousands of Muslims peacefully heading in to pray.  Don't believe the negative portrayal of these salt of the earth people by your media.  Muslims are like Christians, like Hindus, like Buddhists, like Jews.  Extremists in each group give a bad name for the rest.  Remember 95% good people, 5% having problems, everywhere.  Only trust first hand information or be welcomed here to see for yourself. 

Special food and sweets are prepared as the evening meal of the first days of Ramadan is a big event.  Having just eaten we were invited to join the family for tea, tandori bread and spicy cooked apples.  We spent many evenings sitting around on the carpets and pillows in the family room discussing the current Kashmiri political situation or learning more about the culture.  Starting off slowly, Carlita, Grandma and the many other women of the household soon accepted me in their kitchen and we became partners & friends sharing cooking, pantomimes, jokes and photo shoots at which I was properly wrapped in a scarf.  The older or more religious the woman is the more she is covered up, from a completely veiled black burka covering worn in the streets, to the majority of women covering their shoulders and head with scarves, to the bare headed women students at the University.  In the heat boys and even men strip down to their underwear and play around in the cool, refreshing lake.  When I went over to invite the harem women to join me on a shikara ride around the lake I was told that they don't swim or like the water.  Were they ever allowed?  Zeenat Ali, Arab historian writes that "the Prophet Mohammad wanted equality for women.  But when Islam went from the desert to the palaces, men put in certain loopholes."  Once again a simple truth is changed or translated to benefit those in power.  Some Muslim women say remaining totally covered in public stops them from being treated like sex symbols.  Others write that they feel they are treated like slaves.  As a western woman, this is a difficult issue to even begin to understand.

This month of Ramadan is in fact a phase of total control of all the people's time by the Islamic faith.  To many believers it is a time of spiritual renewal as their improved actions reflect an increased inner calm.  To some they simply go through the socially required motions and to others Ramadan has little meaning.  One little restaurant we stopped by on our way to the market hung curtains outside blocking the view as men hastily gorged themselves on food, tea, and smoked like crazy.  Forced control always fails in the long run.  Having members of society control each other or subtle mind control, such as with advertising or mass media, have had more lasting success through history.  A return to fundamentalism in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions has surfaced world wide in an attempt to balance the pendulum's swing away from this tight control of the mass religions.  Times are slowly changing everywhere.

Two pieces of travel advice.  One is check the current political situation before heading into an area, knowing that anything can happen in the meantime.  Two is that if the weather suddenly turns cold, and you have layered on all the high tech clothing from your suitcase to stay warm before heading south, it is probably not a good time to go swimming in the lake.  While walking the gangplank from our boat to the family's house with a tray of vegetables, I slipped on a wet board, fell over the railing and did a spectacular flip into the lake.  Splash!  (7.6, 7.2, 6.8)  Only funny now a week later, (trust me a wet, cold, Nancy is not anything you want to be around); we ask, "Where is America's Funniest Home Videos when we need them?  We could have financed another year's travel.   

Ramadan in full swing, curfew ended, we decided to stay another week to enjoy the perfect late summer weather in our peaceful houseboat on the lake.  We enjoyed 4 days of freedom, wandering the mighty chinar tree (enormous maples brought here by the moguls) lined back alleys and lively markets resembling the Middle East more than India.  Anyone for a hanging leg of mutton, a fez, a hand tinkered pot or a burka, to cut down on staring eyes?  It was all there, sold by the friendly, curious shop owners.  The day Joseph buzzed his hair was the day the grey clouds surrounded the mountains and dumped snow above and cold rain below.  Brrrr!  We left on a bus 2 days later (delayed one day by a strike) for Jammu, following the enormous power lines south for 10 hours through the spectacular mountain roads.  We passed literally thousands of soldiers, guns at their side, looking as bored as the dogs and monkeys hanging out near them.  Large military installations housing the more than 100,000 troops in Kashmir scarred the once beautiful landscape. 

We spoke with the Minister of Energy over lunch in the mountains near Gulmarg ("Meadow of Flowers" 52 km above Srinigar), when visiting Kashmir in 2001.  She admitted that India, with a population of over 1 billion people, has an insatiable appetite for energy as they advance technologically.  The roaring mountain rivers and new oil reserves of Kashmir provide a large portion of that power.  As with the over consumption of America, no one wants to change their habits and thus India will hold on tightly to the Himalayas of Kashmir they 'stole' over 50 years ago, claiming that these terrorists need to be controlled.  Like with the gentle, simple locals of Papua, New Guinea, who wouldn't hurt a fly, and are labeled as terrorists with bombs, supposedly causing unrest.  This is only a smokescreen preventing foreigners from visiting the interior of Papua, which is hiding the largest gold mine on earth, newly developed by western interests.  So go the more than 100 conflicts currently raging on this planet.  Just follow the money.  Will America be allowed to continue to invade, destroy the cultures of and claim to bring democracy to oil or resource rich countries?  If only inventor Nikola Tesla, father of Alternative Energy (1856-1943, creator of the electric motor & AC current, plus hundreds of other inventions), could see us now, when the solution to alternative energy has always been so near.  (Think outside the box and click the link below for an article on Tesla, and other alternative energy options such as cars running on water.  Yes, water!

Our hope is that individuals will wake up and see what is happening globally.  People are becoming more interested in learning about the planet on which we live.  Please share our webpage with anyone you think would be interested.   Knowledge destroys ignorance and the fear that grips our society. Accept the world as it is.  Don't let fear of the problems of mankind or of the future push us into anger or apathy.  "This too will pass."  Stop worrying about things, take a deep breath, and instead start making small changes in the right direction.  Searching inside helps provide the balance necessary to make sense of it all, to discover your passion, and to take right action.  There are many levels on which to work towards increasing consciousness on our planet.  (Check out any of the 'simple, do NOW" writings by Eckhart Tolle).  Inner peace is passed on to those around us and contributes to peace in the world.  The ripple effect of a pebble in the pond.  It all starts with each of us, as we accept self responsibility and become an example of the change we hope to see.  Ask questions, do your own research, discuss what you discover with those around you to increase awareness.  Clear your mind, search your heart and hopefully, as with the 100th monkey theory, the tide will shift and an increase in consciousness will save us in the 11th hour!  Never give up! "What am I doing to help?" is the only question to ask.   

 

And so it goes.........................................Next month Northwestern India with  Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and his little Tibet and the Golden Temple, center of the Sikhs.  Until then lets try to learn more about the people we openly or secretly dislike or fear.  Understanding the unknown stops ignorance and fear, and helps us develop compassion.  We could all use a little more compassion.  The world could use a little more compassion.  It starts with us.  Again, thanks for sharing this website with friends.  First hand  experiences and information, not influenced by the media, helps us to learn more about this fascinating planet we all call home.  Keep Smiling!   Glad you stopped by.   Thanks for keeping in touch! Take care!

 

Love, Light & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph

 

Alternative Energy:

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943): Humanitarian Genius and Father of Alternative Energy. (Inventor of the electric engine, etc)  Click here to read a fascinating summary of his life and inventions.  Alternative energy IS available NOW!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

Watch a fun, informative video clip (1 minute) on Stan Meyer's water
powered car.
http://www.YouTube.com  Search: Stan Meyer's water powered Buggy
 

Run Your Car on Tap Water:  Step by step instructions for converting your car.

 

Travel notes:

$1.00US = 46 Indian Rupees

Srinigar/Dal Lake/Nageen Lake:
We come to Srinigar to have a one of a kind houseboat stay, as with the British of old escaping the heat of India.  Step back in time and relax.  Be smart and make a wise choice to start with and have a hassle free stay. 
1) Never book ahead.  You will pay 10 times the price for a shabbier boat if you book from Delhi, etc.  Everyone has a cousin who owns a boat and wants a commission.  Meet the family and get a feel if they are genuinely glad to have you stay with them or they just want your money. 
2) When choosing a house boat look for a good wide open view of the lake; no barking dogs or street noise; no screaming kids; no garbage floating.
 3) You need a breeze, not in a row of houseboats listening to each other's noise; away from boatloads of backpackers or worse Indian pilgrims visiting the Ice Lingum by day and partying by night; not next to mosque loudspeakers.
4) Clean and well maintained rooms, hot water, good decks from which to enjoy the lake, close accessibility to markets, etc
5) We suggest getting everything in writing as some owners promise the moon and try to increase the price later.  Write down what meals are eaten every day w/price and have them sign.  Settle up often.   We had no trouble with Habib and family, but we all forget things, change isn't given, a common little scam, and on & on. Keep it businesslike to avoid trouble at the end when leaving.  You can also get to know the family better without money issues ruining the relationship.  Nabi was so friendly and pleasant to deal with that he made the experience truly enjoyable. Good luck on your marriage, Nabi!  You will do well in your future.

Nageen Lake is cleaner and more pristine than Dal Lake. You can get a shikara driver to paddle you around looking at the back side of Dal Lake and for another 200r go over to Nageen (settle the price per hour ahead of getting in: 100r per hour, or per trip).

                                                                                                                                
Nageen Lake:
A quiet, pleasant place to enjoy life on the lake.  Bargain hard for a good price.(ranges from low season 300R to 1000R rarely in high season).  Check a number of places first to find out the range of quality of accommodations and prices at the time you visit. An overabundance of houseboats has lowered prices.  As stated above get the price and what's included, in writing.  We hope for everyone's sake that political tensions ease and life and business will resume.  After looking at a few other boats, save yourself the hassle and give Habib & family a call.  They will pick you up and drive you out for a look, free of charge.  You won't ever want to leave.
 

Palace Heights Group of Houseboats
G.M. Tapa & Sons
Nageen Lake Mirza Bagh, Peertakayia & R.E.C.

Call for free pick up or directions:
Tel #  91 194 242 1052
Cell: # 9419055388  Habib
     # 9906532057  Ramzam
 

Email:  habibtapa@yahoo.com
              ramzamtapa@yahoo.com

Also Trekking & Tour Operators

 

 
Take a step back in time as you relax on your own hand carved
houseboat, amid luxurious carpets and crystal chandeliers.

 


An elegant dining room in which to enjoy your Kashmiri meals. 
Choosing to have more vegetables and less rice, we cooked our
own meals and ate in these pleasant surroundings.

 


The master bedroom with hand carved wooden touches.

 

 

Srinigar:
At Dal Gate.  Noor Guest House.  Abi -Buchwara,  Phone # 0194-2450872   Basic but clean rooms, 200R with bath & hot water.  Honest, friendly Shakeel and family.  A place to stay for a day while looking for a houseboat.  Another option is to continue down the path past the Noor.  There is a large old hotel on the right with rooms and a balcony overlooking the water.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Picture yourself floating along in a hand paddled shikara.




Enjoying a peaceful ride around the lake.

 


A family off to market on Nageen Lake.




Flowers by the boat full.  Joseph surprised me with a stunning
bouquet of mixed roses and annuals for our 2nd honeymoon, or
should I say our continual honeymoon?.

 


Who needs to buy a hat, when Mother Nature always provides?

 


The serenity of our houseboat's back porch.  We spent many hours
here just observing the parade of waterfowl, floating venders,
families paddling home and life on the lake.

 


In the family kitche
n on shore.  Carlita, center, was helpful and
friendly when making the evening meals together .

 

 
Leg of mutton, mustard oil, cardamom, fresh goat cheese, anyone?
 Two cultures shopping side by side.

 


Stunning, peaceful, Jama Masjid Mosque.  We sat outside greeting
people as thousands of Muslims gathered for their Friday afternoon
 prayers.  Note the razor wire in front.  Two days later as Indian
soldiers harassed the men entering the mosque, fighting broke out
and curfew was imposed once again.

 

 
Spices and prized Kashmiri teas at the market.

 


Large fry breads cooked in oil over the roaring fire..  We preferred
the crispy bread cooked in dry  tandori clay ovens .

 


Wet. cold, miserable family of monkeys in the mountains heading
 down towards Jammu.  I empathized after my fully clothed
'Olympiad' flip into the lake the evening before.
 


 
Indian troops everywhere.  We talked with them often,
trying to understand the situation better.

 


A Buddhist stupa touching the heavens.   Leh, the center of Ladakh,
is at 12,000 ft, with mountains and monasteries towering above.

 


A remote monastery high in the rooftop of the world.

 

 
Bye, bye!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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