31 May - 07 Jun 2011 Srinagar

South Asia
Republic of Incredible India, the world's biggest democrazy
Jammu & Kashmir
Kashmir Valley
Dal Lake (c. 1,730 m above sea level)
Houseboat “Poppy Day” +919906739539
Spotlessly clean aft double cabin of a traditional houseboat for INR 1,000.- or US$ 22.70 per night, including unlimited 24/7 ferry service.
Beer: 650-ml bottles of chilled but non-halal Carlsberg “Palone 8”, Kashmir's x-tra strong premium beer (8 % alc./vol.), available for INR 80.- or US$ 1.80 from our friendly and non-jihadist Muslim host family, cheers!

Click below for an interactive road map of the houseboat "Poppy Day" in Srinagar, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:


Hanging out on the the porch of our traditional houseboat HB “Poppy Day”, firmly anchored in the idyllic Lotus Garden of the (hyper-)eutrophic Dal Lake, having a non-halal jar, getting slowly drunk and miscounting the clouds and the stars in the sky over Kashmir, nevertheless (i) enjoying the incredible beauty of the snow-covered peaks of the Pir Panjal Range, (ii) saluting both (a) local folks, e.g. the floating baker, the floating greengrocer, the floating flower man, the floating spice merchant (who sells saffron, the most expensive spice in the world) and the floating junk dealer (who sells Kashmiri silver jewellery, cashmere pashmina and shahtoosh shawls and lacquered papier-mâché boxes) as well as (b) domestic holidaymakers from all over India who criss-cross the scenic Dal Lake on elfin shikaras, which are the only means of transport between the shore and the house-boats on the lake, and (iii) rendezvousing with our close Swiss friend and seasoned globetrotter Oliver (La Grande Vadrouille Asiatique).

Exploring the evidently peaceful and friendly summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, the town of Srinagar (elevation c. 1,730 m above sea level, prettified with sandbag bunkers and razor wire), enjoying its typical Central Asian flair, its labyrinthine back lanes and waterways and its old and dilapidated wooden architecture, with overhanging houses out of whose upper storeys the Kashmiri ladies could lean towards one another until their noses almost touched each other and exchange gossip, and hiking up on Shankaracharya Hill from where we savour the most exhilarating eagle's eye views of the 6-km long and 4-km wide Dal Lake with its plethora of wooden houseboats of all shapes and sizes.

Birdwatching from the quarterdeck of our houseboat and spotting against a background of blue-green water and ice-blue skies: (i) colourful common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), (ii) hovering pied kingfishers (Ceryle rudis), (iii) cute little grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis), (iv) majestic pariah kites (Milvus migrans), (v) nosy house crows (Corvus splendens), (vi) bold common mynas (Acridotheres tristis), (vii) elegant barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), (viii) hunching Indian pond herons (Ardeola grayii), (ix) black common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) and (x) attractive little egrets (Egretta garzetta).

Hiring a cosy shikara (two hours for INR 300.- or US$ 6.80), a gay affair of flowered-patterned curtains and canopy, with soft cushions to match, conjuring up memories from our trip to Venice in 2003 CE and touring leisurely the scenic Dal Lake and its willow-covered islands, thus (i) exploring the rows of old houseboats, the colourful floating landmarks of Srinagar, first built by the British, when the Maharaja forbade them to buy land and to build houses, (ii) visiting the floating/stilt villages with their peculiar floating beds of vegetables and flowers, shielded cleverly with weeds to make them less obtrusive, and (iii) noticing that both locals and tourists do use the raw water from the lake and brew strong tea from their own unfiltered but slightly diluted piss (...wait, wait, wait, that's not beer).

Strolling through the famous 1632 CE Nishat Bagh (Gardens of Bliss, admission: INR 10.- per person), a terraced Mughal garden with cascading fountains and beautiful flower beds, sandwiched between the Zabarwan Mountains and Dal Lake, and enjoying the magnificent sight of the lake and the Pir Panjal Range which stands far away to the west of the Vale of Kashmir.
"Inheriting the Greek love of order and logic, Islamic gardens - like their buildings - are regimented into lines of perfect symmetry; balance and design is all; nothing is left to impulse or chance. With these qualities, the Mughal gardens dotted around the subcontinent are as alien to the Indian environment as the Brighton Pavilion is to the English south coast, or the Chinese Pagoda to Kew. Outside the garden, all is delightful chaos; inside, reflecting the central concept of Islam, spontaneity is crushed by submission to a higher order."

Leaving Srinagar’s tour-selling Kashmiri partisans and gun-toting Hindustani soldiers, buying two tickets (436 km, two days with a compulsory overnight stop in Kargil, INR 800.- or US$ 17.80 plus INR 50.- baksheesh/bribe per person for the coveted front seats) for the J.K.S.R.T.C. (Jammu & Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation) bus to Leh, one of the most fascinating and spectacular bus journeys in the world as it negotiates high passes and fragile mountainsides (in a heavily militarised border country with mile after mile of barbed wire fencing, guarded sandbag bunkers and long columns of brand-new army trucks so numberless that they acquired the local name of “locusts”, according to Salman Rushdie), and enjoying the first leg of an exciting ride (204 km of winding, narrow roads with many hairpin bends and numerous police/military checkpoints, 11 hours) from Srinagar/Kashmir over the steep 3,530-m high Zoji-La Pass (traversing the Greater Himalayan Range) to Kargil/Ladakh, located at a junction linking the classic Silk Road with caravan roads from China, Afghanistan and the Indian plains.

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