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Archive for September, 2011

We started our time in Srinagar on one of the Gurkha group of houseboats on the smaller Nadin Lake. This was chosen because it’s a little further away from the centre of town and the hustle and bustle of Dal Lake – and it has less hawkers.

To get to our house boat we had to take one of the colourful  ‘shikaras’ across the lake from a road side boat ramp.

Our houseboat, although in need of some upkeep, was, as they all are, beautifully decorated in carved cedar.

The Gurkha Houseboats are moored in a stunning setting looking across the lake to the misty Karakorum Mountain Range.

Our programme for the afternoon was for a city sightseeing tour but, as my knee was playing up a bit after the flight and ‘shikara’ ride, I decided to stay on the boat and enjoy the wonderful ambience and tranquillity of the lake. We would have both enjoyed that but D’s request to have a quiet afternoon filming the scenery of this quiet lake went unheeded.  In fact I don’t think his request registered at all with our guide, a gentleman called Mr B; a loud, blustery, bombastic, self-opinionated fellow who could not, or would not, listen to anybody. He pressed all the wrong buttons for me but D gave in graciously and went along with the ‘program as planned.’  He would at least enjoy the company of our driver – a quietly spoken, gentle fellow – a delight to be with. It was a pity that he wasn’t our guide!  He knew how to listen to our needs.

So while D went back across the lake to be shown some shrines, mosques and a fort, I enjoyed exploring the houseboat and learned about the traditional Kashmiri arts and crafts that were used to decorate the rooms of the houseboat.

The lounge and dining room were an eclectic mix of various crafts; woven rugs and fabrics; laquered carved woodwork; ‘papier mache’ laquerwork and Kashmiri traditional embroidery using simple chain stitching of various floral motifs.

Woven fabric used on chairs and lounge in main lounge room.

Chain stitched embroidered floor rug.

Laquered wood carving in room dividers – again making use of a floral motif.

Papier mache laquer ware room divider and bowl.

Detail of traditional chain stitch embroidery on a cushion.

The bed looked very comfortable with its magnificently carved head board and embroidered cover.

Hand embroidered flower motifs decorated the bedspread, chairs and curtains.

The beautifully carved chair looked inviting but there was a much more inviting lounge to relax on out on the deck.

I relaxed on the deck watching various small craft  glide by while I sipped a delicious ginger and cardamom spiced tea.

No-one was in a hurry – and I wasn’t going anywhere.  This really was ‘paradise’ – so relaxing and peaceful.

As the afternoon wore on, the mist gradually rose revealing the mountains beyond the lake.

As dusk fell over the lake, D finally returned to the houseboat.  I was really relaxed – he was not!

We were served a very simple traditional Indian dinner by our delightful houseboat man, Majid.  He and the cook had made some concession to my ‘food needs’ by cutting back on the number and ‘heat’ of the spices used.  But they made D a couple of full strength Indian dishes. To wash it all down we drank Kashmiri cinnamon tea – it’s so delicious. To make it Majid used a mortar and pestle to grind up a little Kashmir tea, cinnamon, cardamom, almond and or hazelnuts and a little saffron. This he infused in boiling water, strained and served in a pink plastic thermos along with a silver sugar bowl. He served a couple of apples for our desert.

It had been a long day and we fell thankfully into bed. And when Majid had finished his housekeeping chores, he too went to bed – on a mat on the lounge room floor – a long way from his family and children whom he missed so much.

JT  for  ‘jtdytravels’

Photography   ©  JT of  ‘jtdytravels

More of our travels photos on      flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels


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India, Kashmir,Srinagar

“I AM IN KASHMIR – HEAVEN WILL HAVE TO WAIT”

When the opportunity arose to take Jennie with me to experience beautiful Kashmir, I jumped at the chance.  As we entered the airport I saw a T shirt which said, ‘I am in Kashmir, Heaven will have to wait’. I was glad to be back. But, I really should have taken more notice of the old adage – “don’t go back, you’ll be disappointed!” – for disappointed I was.

I certainly haven’t had the same good feeling about Srinagar this time as I had when I was last here in 1980.  Back then, it was a very attractive place full of half-timbered houses with orangey-red brick infill and thatched roofs. The Jhelum River, which meanders through the city, the large Dal Lake with its myriad timber houseboats and a couple of other minor lakes which lie in the shelter of the mountains, made this a truly idyllic place  – “Paradise on Earth”.

So why was I here in Srinagar way back in 1980?  I was here for work, if visiting a place like this could ever be called WORK.  At the time I was working in Nepal on the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project.  My driver and I drove across from Kathmandu in a 4 ton truck to collect 2 tons of apple seed and some walnuts – as you do!  Why?  Once safely back in Nepal, these seeds were to be dispersed among various community nurseries which our Project was supporting. We were attempting to introduce a new activity and potential cash crop for the villagers concerned.  It took us 5 days of driving each way but it was well worth it for the experience, the scenery and, of course,  the seed.  Although I didn’t actually drive the truck at all, I “drove” every inch of the way.  It was a nerve-wracking experience travelling that ‘Grand Trunk Road’ with cars, trucks, buses, push carts and the odd camel or two, not to mention people and animals, all coming at you from every direction, at any and every speed and often on the wrong side of the road.

 In Srinagar, today, gone are the half- timbered houses, except for a few derelict ones. The lovely old houses have been replaced with concrete buildings covered in ceramic tiles and the thatch roofs are now corrugated iron.  Although the locals are still friendly, there is something of a disturbing, unsettling ‘air’ about the place.  Of course, this city is not very far from the disputed Pakistan border, so India maintains a huge military presence here to maintain its position in this section of Kashmir. And why do they do that?  Water is the answer – water from the Himalaya – water that is such an important life force for both countries.

For example, the Jhelum River, which flows through Srinagar in the Indian administered part of Kashmir, meanders on along the Kashmir Valley north west to Wular Lake. It then cuts through a gorge 2,100 meters deep with almost perpendicular sides to find itself entering the Pakistan controlled area of Kashmir.  Later it becomes the border between the two countries. And this is an important river fed by waters arising in the Indian controlled part of Kashmir. So even back in 1980 the border with Pakistan was disputed as a result of the division of the subcontinent into the countries of India and Pakistan.  And also as a result of that division, the mix of Muslim and Hindu residents hasn’t always been a happy one.  But it’s much worse now that many Kashmiris want to be separate and have their own country.

As a result of these pressures, in Srinagar today, thousands of police and military personnel stand around virtually close enough to hold hands. They could, except for the fact that they are all carrying heavy weaponry of one kind or another. There are also sand-bagged en-placements on many corners and camouflage netting, razor wire, road blocks, sentry boxes and military vehicles are everywhere. It’s not good. In just the last few days (September 2011), there have been several incidents.  In one skirmish, five ‘separatist insurgents’ (those wanting Kashmir to be a free independent country) were killed in a gun battle with Indian police and army personnel in a forest up near the Pakistani border. Two army officers were also killed as well as two police officers.  Thankfully all is quiet here in the city at present.

These days Srinagar is a dirty, dusty place and Dal Lake is highly polluted from the hundreds of house boats which discharge effluent straight into it.  This has resulted in a huge weed problem that has to be tackled by giant floating weed cutters as well as individuals who cut the weed for their own purposes such as feeding to their animals.  The saturation of the place by military and local police certainly doesn’t help the ambience either.  So, unfortunately Srinagar is not the wonderful place I remember it being back in 1980.  Others I know who visited the place back then, and those who did the ‘overlander’ London-Kathmandu adventure, would, I think, also be disappointed.

Some things have not changed, like the markets with the fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it grown in the valley.

Farmers still come to town in their horse drawn drays.

 Public road transport is colourfully decorated buses.

But there are also some things that have changed for the better – especially the Moghul Gardens.  (Photos in a future blog.) These gardens were difficult to find on my first visit. They are now on city maps, and sign-posted! They’ve also been renovated. This is particularly for the benefit of the domestic tourist trade which is growing at a very fast rate due to the rising affluence of India.  Few foreign tourists visit Srinagar nowadays as most Western governments have travel advisories suggesting that you don’t visit the area! Mind you, I didn’t feel unsafe at any time even though I spent three days out in the countryside where I didn’t see another westerner – so the advisories must be working for most people.

So that’s my impression of Srinagar now.

DY  for “jtdytravels”

Photography  ©  DY of ‘jtdytravels’

More of our travel photos on flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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India, Kashmir from the Air

The flight to Kashmir from New Delhi was a wonderful experience of constantly changing panoramas.

Below and to the west were the unending great plains of northern India.  To the east rose the mighty Himalaya.

From the air it’s easy to see the almost impossible switchback road system that joins the north Indian plains to Kashmir. If we had driven to Kashmir, that would have been our route. Not good! A flight was much the better way to go.

Throughout the flight, we enjoyed the vision of  braided rivers, villages and rice fields.

It was a wonderful kaleidoscope of earthy colours – a great introduction to Kashmir.

Long bridges are needed to connect villages across wide rivers that would be full of rushing waters in the rainy season.

Farm lands, golden with harvest, and orchards of fruit trees filled the valleys.

Several ‘fields’ of hand made bricks were visible from the air.

The rice harvest was underway in the fields spread out below us. Narrow, dirt roads connected fields and villages.

As we flew lower on the approach to Srinagar, rice paddies made fascinating abstract patterns.

All too soon the flight was over. It was time to fill in entry forms and see what Kashmir held in store for us.
JT  for  ‘jtdytravels’
Photography     ©   JT  of  “jtdytravels”
More of our travel photos on    flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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Unfortunately there is only one  flight a day from Istanbul to New Delhi. And that flight, very, very unfortunately, doesn’t arrive in New Delhi until shortly after 03.00. But there to meet us, at that ungodly hour of the day, was the friendly, smiling Sanjeev whom we had met before in Delhi. The airport was very busy (it never sleeps) but thankfully the streets, usually choked with traffic, were not and we had an easy drive into the centre of the city through streets that had been lined with paved edges and gardens for the Commonwealth games. Very pleasant.

JT and our wonderful Indian Travel Agent, Vishal, had booked us in for an early arrival at the LaLit Hotel.

(Anyone wanting to visit India?   We recommend Vishal of Indian Excursion:   contact websites links are:

www.travelcentralindia.com       and          www.letstourindia.com   )

What a good idea that early hotel booking turned out to be as we were both more than a bit tired after the wonderful Turkey tour and needed rest.

The LaLit was delightful after some of the rather small rooms we had experienced in Turkey. We didn’t leave its portals for 28 hours until we headed back to the airport for our flight to Srinagar. One interesting thing I noticed in the “24/7” ground floor restaurant was that every supporting pillar contained a row of four power points. Now, why would you want four? Well this is India, and perhaps three of them don’t work. And that could very well be the reason as only one light out of six worked in our bathroom.  It was a bit gloomy, particularly for shaving.  But I’m not complaining.

One very impressive feature of the ‘The LaLit’ is its staff. What a friendly, well educated and personable group of young people they are, from the doorman and concierge to the reception and dining room and catering staff. They couldn’t have been better prepared or presented and were so attentive without being bothersome. We can recommend it highly.

Another impressive feature was the buffet. Now we are not big on buffets as the food usually sits around in large containers for hours, lukewarm, and is difficult to ‘plate up’ attractively. But not at The LaLit! The food is in small containers constantly being renewed with freshly cooked food as required. We know this because it is an open kitchen and we enjoyed watching all the efficient and skilful action. And the variety of food offered is quite unbelievable – from Indian to Chinese to Japanese to Western and deserts to die for – all attractively presented – and notice is given as to the contents such as egg, sugar, nuts etc. Interestingly, there were many sugarless choices, even in some deserts. We had a good chat to a very friendly head waiter and we look forward to learning more from him about their food choice policies when we return from Kashmir. I might just get a head start on my cooking tour of India. I’ve already had a cooking class in Turkey which was very informative and a lot of fun.

The newspapers were delivered to the door – always an interesting read in another country. The Times, a New Delhi daily, reported on 30 September 2011 that, in an IBM survey of 20 major cities, New Delhi ranked as the worst city in the world for parking. Apart from having virtually no parking places to begin with, of the 41 new multi-level parking lots planned over the last 5 years, only 24 are under construction and only one has been completed – and it has only 90 spaces. That hasn’t had much impact on a situation in which nearly 900 new cars hit the streets of the city every day! But, we noted, as we watched from our 14th story window, the air is much cleaner now due, in great part, to the change over from petrol to gas for buses and for most tuk tuks.

And so to Kashmir – an experience we had been looking forward to for a long time.

DY for “jtdytravels”

Our Indian Tour Agent  is Vishal of ” Indian Excursion”

www.letstourindia.com

www.travelcentralindia.com

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Welcome to jtdytravels

We are enjoying that wonderful time of life – retirement.  We love to travel and have been fortunate to have experienced, and continue to experience, many parts of our wonderful world.  So why not sit back, take it easy in a comfy armchair and let us be your guides as we explore a variety of places and meet people from many cultures.

JT & DY

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