Chapter 1: Journey to Kashmir

May 22-24

The beauty of Kashmir even before we reach the proper valley.
This was taken out of a moving van window, not ideal conditions for photography

Regretfully, I’ve found that I rarely do things without reason. I guess this comes naturally with my stringent reliance on logic and reason (I am an ENTP personality with close to 100% on the Thinking category). While this is not all bad and I generally relish and embrace my need for sound logic, in this particular case I wish I would operate more freely on feelings. I cannot seem to get myself to travel merely on the wind urging me to go. I sit mostly content in my unscheduled but somehow always busy life until some distinctive reason says, “Travel!” I wish I were more spontaneous. This reason can be quite large or quite small: my family visiting my eldest sister in Europe so I take a month to travel “freely” or a distant whispering, “Hey, lets go climb a mountain in Indonesia.”

Rumors of a road trip to the Himalayas started spreading some time in February. Even while being wary of group travel, I said I was interested. Through the flurry of emails plans were made, changed, and changed again. At last it’s time to leave, plans only partially formulated – how I prefer it. I’m taking a train, arriving in Delhi Saturday morning. Carrie flies in that afternoon and we meet her friend’s empty flat. “I’m only going to be here three more months, so why bother with furniture, right?” the friend told me. Carrie and I have about 30 hours to waste in Delhi before the rest of the group arrives and we take our train north.

The first time I came to Delhi in 2007 I didn’t really care for it. I do not naturally like cities, so something really has to grab me if I am going to say I like it. But now, after living in Mumbai, a city that I enjoy living in because of the amazing international cultural activity, I am impressed by New Delhi. Where Mumbai is constantly bustling, incredibly packed; the streets encroached by markets, street vendors and every possible variation of vehicles, no open space left unused; Delhi has a multitude of green parks with walking space and trees, open roads with traffic that never seems to get overly packed – at least Mumbai-every-day packed. Some of the roads even have bicycle paths separate from the motor AND foot traffic – which I enjoyed seeing the locals taking full advantage of. Bicycle shares with rentable green colored bikes sport he length of the path. I felt a sense that I could stretch out; I could breath. But the flipside is everything in New Delhi is really far apart, and haggling with rickshaw drivers makes me miss Mumbai’s that automatically use the meter with no debate.

Ravi, Taylor and Cammy come from the airport to Khan Market, and after picking up kebab rolls to go, we race off to an outlying train station. Luckily it is on a metro line (Delhi has a very impressive underground metro system that is still expanding. It should be finished this summer for the Commonwealth Games. This system makes the quality of the NYC subway seem Third World). Rushing to get on our train on time, we arrive with only minutes to spare – but it doesn’t leave for almost 45 minutes after the scheduled time of departure. Finally we can enjoy our kebabs. We are mostly Americans, and we are incredibly loud, joking and laughing into the night. I am glad I travel with earplugs because the large Indian man on the bunk above me has one of the loudest, most intense snores I’ve ever heard.

Jammu is hot. We try to find a bus to take us to Srinagar, but none of them seem up to par. A conductor of a shuttle yells to us as the vehicle pulls out, “Other bus stand, five kilometers. Have deluxe bus. Yes.” We quickly find on arrival that there are no deluxe buses. We cram into a shared 14-passenger microbus and bounce off toward the mountains.
Everyone excited to be on our way to the Kashmir Valley. The stars of the show: Taylor, Cammy, Carrie, and Ravi.

The view from my seat in the van.
Click image to see larger.

Taylor Enjoying the sunlight on the road to Srinagar.

Don’t stop here, more story and images inside —>>

The trip is uneventful till we reach a military checkpoint before entering Kashmir Valley. Cammy discovers she lost her passport. She doesn’t remember if the money exchange teller at the airport gave it back to her. The police hold us for over an hour, finally letting us go when Cammy gives her drivers license and Ravi leaves all his contact information. The officer calls Ravi repeatedly till we have the passport number, but still we can’t find the visa number (losing your passport is a big hassle!).

[Turns out Cammy was right. The Forex teller delivered the passport to the Delhi Airport Authority who would not release any information in the passport to us. Finally, after three days of repeated phone calls, emails, trips to the Srinagar Airport, the US Consulate gained control of the passport and sent scanned copies to Cammy we would could continue our journey.]

Back on the jeep journey: After we pass the military checkpoint and go through a 7km long tunnel through a mountain we enter “The Magical Kashmir Valley,” as one of our fellow travelers (who looks like a Kashmiri Bret, from Flight of the Concords) called it. We arrive in Srinagar quite late and the driver drops everyone off except our group. At each stop suspect looking men try to jump on board, attempting to convince us the go to their guesthouse or houseboat. Ravi sets up a houseboat for us over the phone and with insistence asks the touts to leave the vehicle.

The major attraction in Srinagar is Dal Lake, where hundreds of houseboats sit in shallow water seemingly only for tourists. To get to your houseboat you must take a shikara, a fancy human-powered water taxi. Our houseboat has two bedrooms and a dining room. Where the othere were fine with this kind of kitschy tourist accommodation paid for at a premium, I would rather stay in a guesthouse for $2 per night. I also do not like being dependent on the water taxis for transportation. You can’t just walk out your door down the street.
The entrance to the houseboat.

The water lane called home by our boat.

Carrie enjoying piloting our sinking Shikara around Dal Lake

A lone Shikara hiding amongst the weeds

The tunnel of trees. We were wary to go any further. (3 pts!)

Carrie gets us safely out of there

Don’t stop here, read the next chapter, “Srinagar and Pahalgam”.