Mess of a situation with travel agency to get me to airport
I tried getting them to rearrange my package deal for only three days but obviously they weren’t going to help me out with that
Rushed to the airport delayed and pissed off by the travel agency but I had no choice at this point to make the best of a now regrettable decision
Plane zipped me up to Srinagar in Kashmir over the foothills of the Himalayas in an hour and a half
Couldn’t find my baggage; frustrated the travel agency screwed me again when I found no sign of my pickup
Eventually my luggage was found and I was pointed in the direction of the pickup area
One of the houseboat people got me and took me through the outskirts of Srinagar to Dal Lake where the houseboat awaited me
All the while he explained how there had been a flood a couple years back that swept through the city center due to frequent cloud bursts in the area
Even though I knew of the conflicts with the neighboring Pakistanis he tried to assure me that nothing was to be worried about because of what I later discovered of their ulterior motives to massage my consciousness
The vehicle passed many of the Indian army loosely armed with AK-47s as well as various expansively arranged barbed wire enveloping more buildings and areas I have ever seen put together
All of this evidence clearly pointed to a place of controversial substance
Once on the boat after skirted off from the shore by a shikara which is like a poor man’s gondola, I was shown my room and given quick access to the food included in my overpriced package deal.
After lounging around and soaking up the ambience of the carved wooden structure floating permanently in its place on the lake with the mountains held back at a distance down towards the far flung reaches of the shallow waters, I was slowly introduced to the other foreigners staying on the houseboat.
For some historical perspective, the houseboats came into being during the British occupation of India. Due to their inability by law to own land, they built these wooden homes on the outstretched lake waters as a way to get around the law.
The houseboat called Safina had an oddly large amount of staff working on the boat that they tried to emphasis was all a little touch of family.
On this day, I was first approached about the idea of trekking in Kashmir. I knew I wanted to trek but the prices they were quoting me were outrageous yet I was getting slowly reassured by the seemingly friendly foreigners who had recently completed these exact same treks
Towards the late afternoon, I joined the Texan and Swiss on the canoe in an effort to reach Nagin Lake to visit someone the Swiss guy knew
We smoked some of their hash while exploring the maze-like patchwork of swampy jungle in an effort to reach the other side
We passed many friendly boarded shikaras but in all actuality they simply just wanted to sell us something
After spending some brief time at this houseboat situated in Nagin Lake we turned around since darkness was now a present threat.
With the exception of the lit houseboats ringing the lake, darkness was a kind stranger as the stars began to come out and the distant fort stood brightly and prominently above the rest
Muslims chanting their prayers in the moonlit night was a cool, spooky entrance into the Islamic dominated world of Srinagar and thus Kashmir
We got lost amidst the backwoods in the shadowy swampland but it was all apart of the fun rallying together to get back to our houseboat
As this was the month of Ramadan, the Islamic ritual of fasting throughout the entirety of the day, the eating schedule was skewed so we had some food waiting for us near ten at night
We all stayed up with the Muslims on the boat while smoking and playing a game called Karam. Karam is a game that involves flicking a disc at smaller discs in an effort to get your colored discs into the pockets. It is a fun game that I initially sucked at.
All of us hung out together into the late evening (it included the Islamic brotherhood as well as these long term foreigner guests that kind of eased my worries about further scams because why else would these guys bother to stay around here for so long) while the Muslims at their meals throughout the night.
Initially told and pitched about price of trek: 90,000 rupees or $1400 for a seven day trek
Even though I came here to trek I was turned off by this
He gave me an ultimatum of sorts: I needed to know by tomorrow evening if I was going to do the trek so that he could get everything sorted
He also told me that there was no bus service to Gulmarg even though lonely planet suggested this; he went about saying that this is old information
He said the only way to get to Gulmarg was by hiring private jeep at over 20 times the price lonely planet listed
How else was I to know stranded in a way on this boat with the only information coming from the people who have ulterior motives
I said no initially because the price was outrageous; even an Everest trek would never cost this much
However the European guys roughly my age raved about the trek telling me how beautiful it was and wishing they could have stayed for longer