Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 113 - Mosques in Kashmir

I started the day walking around the town for the first time since arriving in Srinagar to get a sense of the daily life of the Kashmiri people. I stopped by a “Star Bucks” restaurant for lunch and had some Aloo Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower) with some Chapati. It was a little too spicy for my taste, but I should expect that with most Indian cuisine.

Afterwards, I went to the houseboat owners association to inquire about the prices of the houseboats, and they quoted prices that were way too high compared to what other foreigners had paid when I asked them. Again, I felt the pressure to rent a houseboat when I was there. I told them I would come back later at night because I wanted to think about it, but they kept insisting that I put down a deposit.

I wanted to check out some of the mosques in the city and thought to hire another taxi from the unionized taxi stands like I did yesterday. This time around, there were no fixed prices, and again, I had to deal with negotiations. I thought for once, I had something figured out...that a unionized taxi collective would have set prices at all of their taxi stands, but that's not the case. I managed to negotiate a taxi ride to three different sights, for the price of 700 rupees, when they originally quoted 1,200 rupees... I'm sure I still paid more than I should have, but at least I got it lowered.

The thing that frustrates me the most is how easily you could get ridiculously scammed, even by people you think you can trust! The houseboat association quoted a room for about 1,600 rupees when I knew some foreigners who got the same accomodations for 450-600 rupees. And again, I was easily able to negotiate a taxi ride from a unionized taxi collective down more than 33%...

I visited these three sights – The Makhdoom Sahib shrine on Hari Parbat hill, Jama Masjid (the principal place of worship for locals), and the Khanqah of Shah-i-Hamadan (the first mosque built in Kashmir). I still don't know too much about the etiquette when entering a mosque, but I was sure to at least take my shoes off and just observe what other people were doing to make sure I wasn't committing some sort of disrespectful act inside.

At the last two sights, I again met with curious children who wanted to play with my digital camera and take pictures with it as well. I also met a group of anthropolgy students from Berlin who were traveling through India and had finished their travels in Nepal and I got some advice on where to go and what to do.

After arriving back in town, I tipped the taxi driver 30 rupees, and he had the nerve to ask for another 20, since he initially wanted 800 for the taxi trip, and I negotiated it down to 700. He wanted to split it in half at 750... I refused and walked away. I should have taken the 30 back too...

Within 30 seconds of walking away from the taxi cab, a shikara driver came to me to try and sell me an hour-long ride through the Dal Lake. I got a pretty good deal on it, down from 300 to 180 rupees and took a lazy and slow ride along the lake, seeing the various houseboats sitting throughout the lake.

For dinner, I went to the same restaurant I went to in the afternoon and tried some Kashmiri Wazwan. I ordered Rista (meatballs in curry) with basmati rice. It was probably the best meal I'd had in all of India so far and I may go back to the restaruant again since the people there seemed genuinely willing to help me and suggest different dishes that I may like...

I've been going back and forth about taking a day trip up the mountains since I've only visited some of the more nearby attractions in the city, but I think in the end, I'd save the money to enjoy Nepal, and some of the other sights in India. There's way too much to see here that I don't think I should see it as a lost opportunity when there are so many other opportunities to see different things everywhere...

The Makhdoom Sahib Shrine

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid with the Hari Parbat Fort in the background

Khanqah of Shah-i-Hamadan

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