We had till two o’clock to still get some needed supplies and arrive at the meeting point in time. Once at Dal Ghat, we picked through dried fruits and nuts that would later come in handy for the trek. Here we lucked into the rare guardian angel in Kashmir who was ready to offer us a serious hand with us being on a time crunch. He offered to show us where I could get newspaper for my water logged trekking shoes and other essentials we had no idea where to begin to look. I was hesitant to take his offer for a ride knowing from experience to not necessarily trust a Kashmiri but I need to still keep myself open to the possibility of the good people in this world that have no convictions to rip you off and take you for the dollar sign that others envision us foreigners as. He brought us across town with the three of us tightly squeezed together on his motorbike as we drifted through traffic to an area of Srinagar I didn’t know existed. At the army retail shop he bartered all prices down for us essentially bullying the shop owner down to the prices a local would pay and possibly even better. The man called Judge Captain had genuine influence in Srinagar as he said he had become a changed man after his time within the underground network of Srinagar. All he wanted was the satisfaction of helping us out and at no point did he suggest or hint at some houseboat deal or scam. He simply left us with his contact information so that if for whatever reason we ran into a bind we had a trusted person to talk to and if time permitted meet up for dinner when we got back from our trek. At the tourist reception centre we managed to make enough time to find our meeting point and watch the afternoon Islamic prayers take place in front us at the nearby mosque with men lined up side by side chanting their rhythmic cries of prayer. From there, we took a delayed jeep transport as India truly lives in a time warp of its device waiting for my mounted luggage to get swept off the top of the vehicle and into some cow shit filled ditch. I unluckily found myself next to the driver within this vehicle with the drive stick positioned squarely between my legs which meant the driver had to constantly shift it in and around what little personal space I had left to offer. After the usual routine reckless driving and getting to know some of the fellow trekkers who would grow into being some great friends of mine, we stopped short of our planned base camp in Sonamarg for homestay in the the street side village. The people here looked nothing like what I would stereotypically assume an Indian may appear to be but India is a diverse place composed of regional complexities that go through many layers you must spend some time to learn about and discover. Although India has a way of punching you right in the gut leaving you gasping for air it also has the ability to awaken you reinvigorating every bone in your body. As my friend Maciek was told by a Kashmiri with an honest, open and aware approach, India is a land full of ‘beauty, history, and bullshit’ and I can’t think of a better way to sum up this perplexing country. We spent the rest of the evening drinking chai, eating a prepared meal, and introducing ourselves to the people we would spending quite some time with. Besides Tom originally from England, his girlfriend from Germany, Emil, myself, and an Indian Canadian, the rest of the group of 25 was entirely Indian but with everyone speaking English there were no barriers to cross and mostly everyone was friendly and open. So there we slept in these villagers’ home amongst a sea of corn stalks.
Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 225: Friends in Unlikely Places