Star Date: July 2018
Hello Dear Family & Friends
"Hey, Yo Kun
"Life is a bunch of 'Nows' strung together in an enchanting, colorful necklace called our life."
Tranquility. Life on a houseboat in the Himalayas of Kashmir. Enveloped in a ring of majestic mountains, floating on a stunning blue sapphire lake fringed with pink lotus; life is simple. What better place to relax, read and write undisturbed by the outside world? I even had time to read the Mists of Avalon series of over 2,000 pages.
In this forgotten kingdom the world and its problems vanished. Our modern minds are constantly bombarded by the weapons of mass distraction: cell phones, social media, internet. Silence is becoming obsolete. Here one is reminded of the importance of keeping our connection with that which is larger than ourselves. That which is made clear to us if we only take the time to quiet our minds and open our hearts.
Aromatic, rich Kashmiri tea made of fresh cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron is provided throughout the day. Saffron is grown on the hillsides surrounding the lakes. Spices are plentiful in large bags in the market; sold alongside nuts and dried fruits from neighboring farms Our every desire is served by our trusty Gulam, the servant or houseboat man. Many Kashmiris, especially now with no tourists, can get quite pushy. Not our dear Gulam. Gulam is like Chance in "Being There". He goes about his duties the same every day and every season like clockwork; as he has done for over 40 years. Wonderful, tasty dinners are served in the evenings by cook #1 and cook #2. (our fun nicknames we joked with them).
To go to shore one must ride in a small wooden canoe or for longer trips hire a shikara. A shikara is a brightly painted boat with a bed on which to lounge while surveying the majestic surroundings. Curtains on three sides adjust for comfort against the sun or wind and pillows make us feel like royalty. All that is heard on a shikara is rhythmic paddling of the driver, gliding stealth-fully through the maze of pink lotus blossoms, yellow and rose colored water lilies or the thick patches of floating water chestnuts. Floating gardens loaded with bottle gourds, tomatoes, cucumbers are waiting to be harvested.
Each houseboat is either connected to the shore by a wooden dock or if out in the lake a sort of floating garden and dock system has been erected. Our 'dock' has pomegranate trees, flowers, a full vegetable garden and the usual houseboat for the family to live in behind the main guest houseboat.
One of the first things we noticed is how alive the lake is. It is absolutely teeming with waterfowl of all shapes and sizes. Ducks, brilliantly colored kingfishers, swallows, myna birds, finches, ravens and hundreds of mighty eagles all swim the waters and circle overhead. The pomegranate tree outside our bedroom window is alive with life. The hallelujah chorus at daybreak is just like when I was a kid. There are still pockets of untouched Nature on this planet. It isn't that it is untouched here, it is more like the Kashmiri lake dwellers have lived harmoniously with Nature for centuries and continue to do so. Like us, after a trip into the chaos of the markets and shops on shore they can't wait to get back to the quiet they call home. Five times a day the silence is broken on Nigeen Lake by Call to Prayer from the local mosques; adding an exotic touch to the already spellbinding atmosphere.
We take the canoe over to shore once every evening to take a walk around the well manicured Nigeen Park, admiring the flowers as we walk with other locals enjoying the cool of the sunset hour.
A guest would actually never need to leave their houseboat if they wished. Shikaras ladened with handmade shawls, paper mache handicrafts, jewelry, flowers, vegetables, carpets, homemade candy and cookies, actually just about everything, come by selling their wares. The predecessor of Amazon.com home shopping.
We preferred to venture into the busy markets of town 2 or 3 times a week to stock up on our fruits and vegetables. The bustling narrow streets of the market were teeming with fresh produce from the surrounding mountainside. Apples burst in your mouth, leaving sweet juice dripping down your chin. Definitely the artery of life surrounding Nigeen Lake, we were soon regulars and spent many fascinating hours hanging out with the locals.
The houseboats here are unique to Kashmir. A 60 ft long hand carved wooden houseboat, with Kashmir carpets lining the floors, crystal chandeliers and 4 poster canopy beds it is like stepping into an era of luxury. A bit of an Orient Express on water. Our boat was built over 50 years ago and although showing wear; it is full of history and charm. It's predecessor was the Dangola Houseboat, boasting of guests like King Edward VII, the Sultan of Oman, Brigadier General of His Majesties' Forces during its 60 years in service. Scrapbooks full of letters from as far back as 1887 relive the lively history of foreigners from the continent of India; escaping the devastating heat of summer.
This is our 3rd trip up to hide out in the lakes of Kashmir (Joseph's 5th trip). In 2008 we arrived just as all hell broke loose. Wanting to escape the conflict between demonstrators and military we were put in the back of a van driving from Dal Lake. Lying down and covered by a blanket as we went through the checkpoints, we arrived in the peace and serenity of Nigeen Lake. And so the haven of Nigeen Lake has a special corner in our hearts.
there was a mass demonstration by the citizens the day I flew in to
join Joseph. A curfew was imposed and we were basically under
house, or should I say boat arrest for over 2 weeks. (Check
out our page from Sept. 2008).
"Wifi down. Everything ok in Srinigar? Maybe."
"Demonstrations for Independence today - tear gas, rubber bullets, students throwing rocks at soldiers, "Wifi banned - also cell phones."
70 km away in a town 2 young men shot.
"No school today - strike."
"No wifi today - banned."
You can die in the dark too! Roused out of our sleep we heard nearby bang, bang, bang of gunfire. Crowds were yelling! Occasional loud booms - we assumed some kind of explosive from the Indian soldiers. In the middle of a lake sounds are amplified. No information. We were literally in the dark. After our 15 years of travel we just rolled over and went back to sleep. Never knew what really happened.
"No shops open until the 15th of Aug - India's Independence Day - better go get fruits and vegetables before dark today."
We just played it by ear and quickly blended into the flow of the lake and it's massive backwaters. Observe. Allow. Accept. Who knows what the future will bring to the former Kingdom of Kashmir?
And so it goes.........................................Next more on the exotic, yet at time tumultuous Kingdom of Kashmir. Until then let's remember to add a few colorful gems to your necklace of life this year. Thanks for stopping by. We love getting your emails and news! Take care and keep in touch!
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = 45.5 Indian Rupees
Eating around Nigeen Lake:
Second falafel restaurant past Nigeen Club
on left side of road - great veg curry and naan
Deal with Daughter Nazima 9622429180
Her Father can get pushy but is away most of the time.
near Ghat #2
600 to the airport
Stuck in Srinigar/Dahl Lake? - go online to find a place or last minute try for a local experience:
Punjabi Haveli - pure veg near crossroads of lake and road from Nigeen to Srinigar
Across from lake - best naan and aloo palak in Srinigar
Hotel New Green
32 Polo View Rd., Srinigar
We bought wonderful freshly distilled essential oils from this tiny shop , at a great price. Their organic farm outside of town grows and processes everything from heavenly lavender to zippy lemongrass.