Venice of the East

3 May 2014

It is 5am and the sun is just peaking though over the mountains in the East.  It sets in the Himalayas in the morning and the floating vegetable market is just about to start on the lake.  I guess this is a traditional thing that is done every morning.

I have never traveled to a place where there are so few tourists.  We hardly ever see Americans, or tourists alone.  I have never experienced so many stares in my life and I never realized how intimidating it could be.  Holly spent her freshman year at the Jerusalem Center and can relate to the Islam societies.  The military facilitates everything here.  There are military men in front of the grocery store, post office, school, parks, etc… Part of the reason is that elections have been going on all throughout India they want to take extra precautions.

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We took a beautiful ride through the villages of lake Dal.  The lake region is pretty incredible with boats water canals and floating gardens surrounding the small islands on which different villages are built.  The islands are connected by a series of small wooden boardwalks and while no one owns a car, nearly everyone owns 2-3 boats in which they use to commute to school, work, or vacation.  I never knew there was a Venice of the East.  I have been to Venice and now I have been to Srinagar and I can honestly say that Srinagar trumps Venice in beauty.  It is a different type of beauty.  While rural and a bit impoverished, Srinagar is one of the gems of India.  I haven’t been to many places in India, only New Delhi, Agara, and Srinagar, yet many people have told me that I am lucky to be in such an area.  Srinagar is the capital city of the Kashmiri region of India and it is absolutely beautiful.  Nearly the entire population in Muslim, and the city borders Pakistan (one of its most hostile neighbors) yet there is a serenity and peace that can be found amongst the unrest of its past.  The people here are some of the nicest I have ever met.

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Above: A popular Kashmiri drink made of plain yogurt, water, and salt.  It was actually pretty good. 

After we took the boat ride we decided to head into town and take care of the rest of our train reservations.  As I mentioned before trains in India are not like trains in Europe, you must book them weeks, even months in advance to secure your seats on the majority of the trains.  As much as I do not like being told where to go and when, I caved when it came to the India tourist consulate’s advice on pre-purchasing train tickets for the entire journey.  We now have a plan that we must stick to, yet we no longer have the worries of constantly having to make decisions.  It was really hard for me to say yes, because I like to be able to decide last minute where I will be the next day.  As India holds 16% of the world’s population, it seems obvious why trains would be so hard to get.  You live and you learn, and unfortunately to learn this one I had to give up my pride and love of spontaneous adventure to a Indian travel agent who sold us our train tickets and accommodations in an “all-exclusive” package.  I promised myself that I would never listen to a travel agent again after Europe, yet here I am sitting in front of the desk of a very confident Indian tourism consultant.  I am just taking notes for my next journey to India because I can feel that there will be lots more to come.

IMG_3696 _MG_0473 _MG_0471Above:  My flying carpet, straight from Kashmiri

Sometimes you have to sit back and watch life from the sidelines to truly understand what it is about.  I love traveling because I love to learn about other people and I love to learn about other cultures.  Once again I am sitting on the top of our houseboat listening to the prayers of the Muslims ring throughout the city.  It is pretty incredible to hear such a mighty prayer being sung all across the city.  I never imagined that I would immerse myself in such a thing when coming to India.  I thought that I would simply be learning about the different Hindu religions throughout India.  I had no idea that there was a Muslim presence in the country as well.  I do not have wifi right now, but I am curious what the breakdown of religions in India is.  A large majority of Indians are Hindus, yet there are many different branches within Hindu itself.  Lucky am I to be able to be hear and immerse myself in such a culture.  The world has so much to teach us if we just open up our hearts and minds.

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After we secured our trains and accommodations for the next several weeks we headed off to see a famous carpet and shawl factory in Kashmir.  This area is very famous for cashmere and silk carpets, shawls, and scarfs.  They make carpets that take over 5 months to compete are filled with over 1 billion knots.  We also visited some gardens, walked through a few shops and got to see the famous muslim mosque in Srinagar.  My favorite thing of the afternoon was trying a drink that our tour guide informed us was his favorite in all of Kashmir.  It is made from pure milk yogurt, water, and a bit of salt.  It is a very bitter drink, yet quite good.  It tasted very similar to the plain greek yogurt I always eat at home.  Kailey-you would have loved it.  It tasted like a greek yogurt smoothie, but Kashmiri style of course!

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After that we headed back to our houseboat due to a strike and curfew constraint throughout India.  Elections are currently going on throughout the country and many places are taking extra precautions with security all throughout the cities.  Here, because it is a minority Muslim state within India, there seem to be a few more problems than the rest of the country.  Because of this, during election week (this week) they impose certain constraints within the city so that people are same.  We have not been able to go into the old city yet, but we are planning to do so tomorrow.  We are going to go to the bazaar corridor of the Old City and pick up a few things to carry with us on our journey.  I did not bring hardly any clothes with me as I was expecting to shop near the beginning of the trip.  Unfortunately we have not taken the time to do so thus far—so lets hope tomorrow changes that!

Our guide is so kind.  As we were walking through the gardens, I was getting a little board just looking at flower after flower, so I began to ask him all about Islam and what it was like to be a Muslim.  At the end of our conversation he offered to give me one of his personal Quarans (with the promise that I would never put it on the floor or sleep with it near my feet).  He also offered to bring some of the traditional dishes from Kashmir that are always eaten at Kashmiri Muslim Weddings.  The meal consists of 18 different dishes on a plate from which four people eat.  He brought four of his favorite dishes, including several meatball, kebab, and lamb dishes.  Here they definitely do not shy away from meat!  My favorite was a spicy kale dish that you eat over rice.  It was a great evening with great people and I learned more than I ever thought was imaginable.  When I have internet I am going to post about the 18 dish meal that is famous here in Kashmir and write down the recipes so that you can try a few of the traditional dishes as well.

IMG_3711Above: Fayaz (our cookman) and us at dinner.

IMG_3792IMG_3789IMG_3784Above: select dishes from the 18 course Kashmiri Wedding Dinner.

Kashmiri Yogurt Smoothie: Recipe coming soon.

Kashmiri Spinach Curry: Recipe coming soon.

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