Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 112 - Mughal Gardens in Kashmir

So I successfully escaped the houseboat ordeal in the morning, but not before one last attempt by them to offer me a deal to go to another houseboat so they could get commission. They just wouldn't leave me alone! Another man from a different houseboat came by my room and talked to me, asking me what my budget was again, and tried to entice me by saying that there was a couple from the United States who were also on the boat. I'm pretty sure that was a lie. Of course his deal for a “deluxe” room on the boat was ridiculously cheaper than the one I was on. Funny how prices change so quickly. I declined the offer, grabbed my belongings, and headed back to land on a shikara by myself, without being followed. SUCCESS!

I may have been a little emotional when writing my last post, because today was definitely better and I met some nice people in the area, exploring places with my own freedom. I decided to book a guesthouse room on land so I could have access to internet whenever I wanted. I may decide to book another houseboat in my last few days here, but this time on my own terms.

I took a tourist, unionized taxi ride around the Mughal Gardens in the area. Conversations with the taxi driver were pleasant and I didn't seem pushed to go anywhere I didn't want to go. I stopped by three gardens – Cheshmashahi, Nishat, and Shalimar. There were plenty of Indian tourists at the gardens, and very few foreigners, but everyone was friendly, and I got a lot of stares from everyone, especially the school kids who were visiting in groups, and in their different colored school uniforms. They seemed fascinated by my digital camera and wanted their pictures taken, so I took some and showed them to them.

I met a 17-year old student at the last garden who came up to me to chat about his love of Bruce Lee and kung-fu. He assumed correctly that I was Chinese and asked me lots of questions about Bruce Lee and fighting, two things I didn't really know much about. It did give me an opportunity to ask him about some of the issues in the Kashmir area. I asked him if he identified himself as “Indian” or “Pakistani” but he said he didn't believe he was either, and instead was “Kashmiri,” probably somewhat to keep himself safe from any sort of military violence. I asked him if there were any recent protests but he only mentioned the 2-day employee strike that I read about in the news. He also said that stone pelting by youth against the police happens everyday, and that he didn't believe their methods were effective, but instead there should be some sort of dialogue to address concerns. These were things that he didn't feel too comfortable talking about since there was a military presence almost everywhere in Kashmir. I see soldiers with guns patrolling on every sidewalk. He did mention that there were crimes that occurred against women and children in the past, but didn't really go into detail about it.

Most of the people in Kashmir speak the Kashmir language, instead of Hindi, so there could be a potential language barrier for Indian tourists who come to these areas to enjoy the weather during the summer. My friend spoke Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, and English. Again, I'm in awe at all the languages everyone else can speak! I can only speak one fluently...

On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver pointed out a group of gypsies that were walking along the road with their cows and goats. They are forever wanderers, without a permanent place to stay, and currently are headed to the city of Jammu for the winter to stay warm. Once spring and summer arrive again, they head back to Srinagar and the Himalayas.

Tomorrow, I plan on taking an hour-long shikara ride on the Dal River to see if I can negotiate another houseboat to stay on for the last two nights of my stay here...

Shikara Ride to Freedom

Mango Shake

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