We spent our first two days doing not much at all apart from some meandering around Dal lake (the big main one) and all the gardens. Having thus recovered fully from the journey there and the initial shock of just how unlike anything else the scenery is, we ticked a massive keen offbeat tourist box and went to the floating vegetable market on our third day. This entailed getting up at 3.30am and walking in the dark and rain from the home stay to lake Nigeen. This is a smaller lake which is connected to Dal through a myriad of waterways. (Such a guide book phrase that). We drifted off in the darkness on a shakira with the sounds of morning Ramadan prayers hitting from several directions.
Sadly the rain did not let off but this provided great entertainment as sellers fought to get spots under the occasional bridge. The shakira are fairly substantial canoe type boats with seating and a raised canopy. The boats the merchants were on were tiny little planks of wood in comparison with no shelter or seating. The mean sat cross legged at the end with their one oar bunched up incredibly small as they navigated their way.
The market was really great to watch and smelt amazing. All the merchants were joking away whilst weighing and measuring using simple rock weights and exchanging beans, coriander, mint…. And not falling out of their tiny thin vessels!
Another tourist shakira boat was nearly less fortunate. Packed full of Chinese tourists, one of whom was especially large, the whole thing nearly tipped over when the man in question leans right over the edge with an enormous camera to try get the perfect shot….
A man about 50 years old whose name we never actually got was our *oarsman*. He was so great, very calm but with a wry sense of humour. He also told us about his british girlfriend who lived with him for 6 months when he was 21. A Charlotte something who lived in Parsons Green! We had a good ponder over whether any of our friends’ mothers were the right name and age…
From him and several other Kashmiri people we spoke to we got a sense that they were not keen on the domestic Indian tourists. In his opinion, for example, they ruined lake Dal with noise and litter. And it’s true the littering and cavalier loud posturing we saw in a lot of cases seemed very disrespectful of this beautiful and also conflicted place. Perhaps those behaving in this way (although not all by any means do obviously!) see it as just another part of India whereas as international tourists we have a certain amount of awe and also trepidation about visiting what for us is so far flung and recently dangerous a place.
We are in Leh now but more to report on Srinagar to come!
P.s for any concerned readers we found Srinagar to be incredibly safe and welcoming and the Kashmiri people have some of the most genuine smiles I have seen!