Star Date: September 2008
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Hey, Yo Kun
"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.
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
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 &
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!
Watch a fun, informative video
on Stan Meyer's water
Run Your Car on Tap Water: Step by step instructions for converting your car.
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