Arrival in Kashmir

30 July - Thus I get to Jammu Tawi, waking from a doze when the train is already standing in the station. I get off in a flurry after gathering and closing my luggage as well as I can. I am still numbed and I'm not even sure this is the right station. Luckily Indian trains spend long minutes on the tracks when they stop at stations.

It's still the heart of night, it's only 4.30. As elsewhere the platforms are invaded by sleeping bodies. I drop down on a bench in the dim neon light, but because of a power cut we are left in the dark for some time. I wait for the sun to rise slowly, for the sky to grow lighter, for life to start again. To go to the bathroom, there is 15 minutes' waiting, after paying the few rupees' toll. People are queuing in front of three doors. Those waiting hardly leave the previous occupant time to come out with ease before rushing in. Opposite these three doors there are two more, the bathrooms. Inside are men lathered over their bodies washing themselves, as I could see from an opening. The station for a home.


At the airport I am thoroughly examined and searched and repeatedly checked before embarking on the Spice Jet aircraft, a recently founded low-cost company that makes a landing in Jammu Tawi from Delhi to Srinagar. The plane is already half full with people. While waiting I had read the news about the Srinagar blast that is reported on the first page of all English-language papers available at the airport, made of few sheets and written in a peculiar Indian style.

In half an hour I am in Srinagar and with this quick trip I have saved a weary 12 hour ride in a bus on not entirely nice or safe roads between the two capitals of Kashmir.

I am received by the notorious hassling attitude of Kashmiri sellers. They succeed in having me book a house-boat on the lake, as I indeed meant to do, but I'd rather have chosen one after seeing it. I am put into the hands of a cunning character, who actually reminds me of a fox, even in his traits. If I see him from this angle, I find a rather comical side to him. He starts planning my day in the smallest details, obviously inserting tourist services that he can offer directly or which he will obligingly and to a certain profit, be a middleman of.

His floating house is decidedly pretty, I must admit. All of wood, with nice furniture, a lovely sitting room, a pleasant balcony overlooking the lake. It's cosy and quiet, far from the city noise. My guardian angel tells me to sleep until 5 pm, and then he will take me I don't know where. All I know is that while he's saying this, I'm revolting to the idea of being taken around as a dog on a lead.

In fact, when I wake up at 3 from a deep as well as sweet sleep that heals the scars of a night spent on a train, I go to the boat front determined to escape without being seen. I am in reality prisoner of the waters and cannot reach the shore. There's nobody to ferry me across. I try to call some far-away boatman's attention, but I don't want to shout lest I should wake up my warder too, who must be napping somewhere near. Before long, though, the house attendant appears, who's obviously unaware of his master's plans for me and I ask him to take me ashore.

I walk in the city streets observing the peculiar building style in the houses, then I inquire about the next trip to Kargil, the one I dread. A nice young man takes me to the station and helps me gather information in order to choose between the bus and the jeep. I'm inclined on the jeep, which, in spite of being more expensive, seems alter to drive on the terrible Zoji La highway and won't be so high on the ground so that I will see less from above.

I amble back to my house-boat after a quaint lake sunset with handsome boats sailing across quietly and waters reflecting new lights and hues. It's late to have dinner on the boat, so I have a Punjabi thali on the shore with my guardian angel sitting in front of me, without eating. I would love to send him away, but he seems to be caught in a whirl of thoughts and must be ruminating how to organise my time tomorrow and offer more services, since today things went awry. In fact he soon speaks out the fruit of his musings and proposes a plan that I neither accept nor refuse, but I join the boat excursion to the floating market at dawn, because it was already my intention. This means that I'll have to wake up at 5.30.