Lake Dal and the Mogul gardens

31 July - In fact at 5.30 I hear a gentle knock on the door, and Wahid, the house attendant, says he's ready with his shikara to take me to the market. I get quickly dressed and in 5 minutes I find myself with a paddle in the hands to push forward this nutshell that leaks from the bottom, on the placid waters. It's certainly not one of the nicely painted and padded posh shikaras, that look like gondolas with a roof, but it's fun.

The market takes place busily in the still indirect light preceding dawn. They exchange vegetables and fodder, but there are also boats that carry flowers or sweets. Back to the base after more tonifying rowing, I go back to bed. At 9 Mihraj is expecting me to take me to the gardens and he's also thought about tonight's dinner, that I am to take in his boat, even deciding what I'm going to have - of course the most expensive dish - with his sly and calculating manner. But while I was waiting for the appointed time to come up, I resolved on a counter-attack plan and I think it will be a cold shower on my fox host and perhaps also a lesson on how to treat guests.

With the manner of who is invested of the high mission of taking care of a half-wit, Mihraj turns up at my door at 9 and asks me whether I'm ready. I open and with a busy air, without stopping winding the clothes line on my hand, I announce him my decision: leave. I don't look into his eyes, as if I were telling something very ordinary, whereas actually I know I'm thwarting all his plans. I explain that because of my departure tomorrow I prefer to stay near the station to avoid wasting time in the transfers at an early hour. In fact the jeep will leave at 7. In spite of his designs for me being so greatly upset, Mihraj doesn't lose heart and comes up with an alternative plan. He says he'll take me to the house of I don't know what relative of his and that... but I'm not listening to him any longer. I just agree with a firm mind to do what I like without even arguing because there's absolutely no need. I'm irritated at his attitude.

I go into town, he's walking next to me, and tries to talk. I make him understand that I need just one thing: be left alone. With an annoyed gesture of defeat, he declares the battle finished and goes away. I feel relieved and victorious for sorting out this matter.

After a few tries I find a lovely guesthouse with a nice garden on the shore in a quiet spot, but I have a second guardian angel at my heels. Majid entertains me in a pleasant conversation, that gives way to a proposal to have a drive to the Mogul gardens. Since it is in my interest and in my plans for the day, we discuss the price and get to an agreement. He also says - but can it be true? - that yesterday's blast was due to a gas canister and not a bomb.

The gardens account for the meaning of this fresh and blooming valley even during summertime when most of the country is tormented by scorching heat or flogged by monsoon rains. On the other hand the chastisement here is the political situation that since 1989 has caused heavy losses and generated much uncertainty on the future of a disputed region between two opposing countries as can be for being shoots stemming from the same trunk. From the well tended and lush gardens, with giant trees and flowers and waterworks, I contemplate the lake and the distant city of Srinagar below.

In the afternoon I come by the ticket to Kargil tomorrow and change some money because I don't know to what secluded regions I will venture to in the next days. I have also begun taking Diamox this morning to prevent altitude sickness.

Srinagar: Lake Dal and the Mogul gardens