Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 220: Free At Last!

On this morning after the usual spread of the daily breakfast served on the houseboat, I got a shikara to take me to shore when only the simpleton workers stood watching and waiting on the boat as the big players stood nowhere in sight so this was as good of a time as any for me to spread my wings a little. As my shikara approached land at ghat 9, the group of them master planners, the kingpins of the lake, eased past me with the godfather of the group telling me we need to talk later about the financials of me backing out of the once arranged trekking package we agreed on that fateful night. I said nothing to them in response with just a simple blank stare as we pushed onwards closing in on shore. I went to Hotel Swiss as recommended by Lonely Planet since I wasn’t going to chance checking out other alternatives and found a well maintained place with a friendly, non-scheming manager that offered rooms half the rate as he would charge for Indians, which is a complete rarity.

Met Emil
Commiserated on our shared awful experiences on houseboats with Emil winning on all accounts due to his prison like stories on his houseboat
Told him and the manager about the pickle I was in with the trek and they said I shouldn’t have to pay anything
Manager telling us it isn’t safe to stay out past nine o’clock at night and to not trust anyone and if you are to meet locals make it on your terms
Tried booking the trek for the two of us but the payments would have to wait until later when I had access to all my cards
Took the long walk to the Mughal Gardens while tracing our steps on the edge of Dal Lake past noisy unrelenting traffic
Got ripped off on a simple ear of corn. Simply remarkable how low these people will stoop. No pride and honor
Mughal gardens were beautiful with the mountain background but the area was dizzyingly overcrowded with Kashmiris
Fights with one guy seemingly bloodied from a bludgeoning cricket bat
Gambling games
Kashmiris swimming in the pools
Long walk back with Kashmiri youths harassing us despite our chants to piss off
Emil offered to help me get off the boat tonight once and for all which I gladly accepted since I wasn’t in the most stable state to handle this situation on my own
Got a shikara and arranged for him to wait with Emil at the houseboat’s dock while I went into my room to assemble all my luggage knowing that I could never look back and return if such a thing were to be forgotten
I gave cold glance and approaches to anyone that cared to acknowledge my presence since I wanted to keep contact as limited as possible
After procuring all my luggage, I left the room and walked towards Emil and the waiting shikara but the Kashmiri godfather was waiting for me as well
I boarded the shikara with my luggage saying little to nothing to him
He knew I was trying to leave and wanted to know why I wasn’t at least saying goodbye and then turned to the real reason he cared that I was leaving: he wanted some form of payment/deposit for the bullshit trek he arranged for me
I was scared and spoke little trying to let Emil cover for me
The godfather said I could leave but not with Emil since he needed record of him in the form of his passport since I couldn’t leave with some stranger per the Kashmiri law he was supposedly citing since now he was admitting to Srinagar and Kashmir being a delicate dangerous place
The man was smart and a wizard with words but Emil spoke the truth in saying he would be locked up in prison for some time if he were to hold a foreigner hostage
I said lets go to the tourist office and settle the matter which he agreed upon but likely he would pull me in another direction
The whole debate lasted for longer than probably the clock would admit but I was in a terror
Emil encouraged me to board the shikara so that we could simply leave but I was torn by his manipulation trying to convince that he would hunt me down and get his rightful payment
Eventually I did get into the boat and we left as the godfather shouted out his last cries knowing his golden goose was leaving twisted grasp
Oddly enough, a group of the godfather’s foot soldiers were waiting for us. Coincidence? I can’t say
We got beers to celebrate my release and to ease my crumbling, shaking nerves
The beers come from a weird gated prison bar outlay with money and beer bottles passed through a gap in the vertical guard similar to where prisoner meals might be passed through
We drank with me still surprised at what had just occurred
Without Emil I would have likely paid 5 to 10% of the trekking fee and who knows what else might have occurred
Now armed with my financial cards I booked our spots on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek with Emil paying me back the next day

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