Thursday, 7 May 2015

Am I in Paradise?

Mughal rulers thought so - they had beautiful gardens designed and laid out for them on the slopes of the Zabarwan Mountain range, part of the Himalayan Mountain chain. The British Raj thought so too when they spent their summer months here fleeing the intense heat of India's northern plains.
Time to set off in our Shakira - a shallow gondola style of boat, and make our way to the Royal Houseboat which will be our home for the next 5 nights. The boat is permanently moored to an island in the middle of Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
A ten minute journey across the lake and down a network of waterways will take us to our new abode. Our Shikara along with boat-boy will be at our disposal to ferry us around whenever needed.  He has already stashed our suitcases in the stern so lets cast-off
The Royal houseboat lives up to our expectations, it has a veranda where we can sit, talk, relax and read, or simply admire the ever changing views. That's the local Mosque across the water - those two little pink pavilions
 There are five of us staying on board along with our friendly houseboy and his assistant
Come and see inside
The veranda leads to the sitting-room and then on into the dinning-room. There is a long corridor to the lefthand side of the boat with three double bedrooms on the right
All of the bedrooms are en suite and each has a small sitting area
Life on board is very relaxed - breakfast might be a savoury omelet followed by pancakes filled with fresh banana and local honey, tsot - a kind of flat bread to eat with butter and marmalade, and a pot of Qawah - Kashmiri tea made with crushed saffron, cardamon, cinnamon, green tea and a touch of sugar 
image courtesy The Guardian
Tsot bread from the bakery on Dal Lake
Our Houseboy offers suggestions for our lunch and evening meal and we choose what we would prefer - lots of spicy vegetables, fish, chicken, lamb, or samosas filled with potato, cheese, peas, chillies, and coriander
He comes from high up in a remote Himalayan Valley, and until travelling to Srinagar could not speak any English, now he is fluent. He is very keen to improve himself, but sadly his mother died leaving him alone with his older brother and a younger sister. His father left the village to live in Delhi. He comes from the kind of isolated community you might see on a National Geographic film, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. He has very big dreams but does not know the date of his birth in order to get a passport. Birth certificates are unimportant when you live away from the 'hurly burly world' but you are stuck without one in 'real life'. To return to his village is a very difficult journey as he can only travel part of the way on public transport and then it becomes a long hard physical trek for him to finally reach his valley. We have been concerned for him and his family wondering whether or not his village was affected during the recent earthquake.
His mountain habitat is shared with the rare, shy and endangered Snow Leopard - he saw one once
A regular little visitor to the houseboat was the daughter of the boat owner.  She became very attached to me and I to her - she accompanied us on several of our visits.  She has only just turned six, but can already read, write, and speak perfect English. She is a delightful, beautiful, and highly intelligent girl whom we shall keep in touch with. On our final morning she came to bid us farewell as she started back to school following the Easter break. In a predominantly Muslim area we were surprised to learn that she goes to a Christian school started by a missionary lady called Violet Fitze in 1912. After 10 years Violet was joined by a Miss Muriel Mallinson who became the school's Principal for the following 40 years. It is said that Miss Mallinson was regularly seen riding her bicycle around Srinagar purchasing groceries at the Bazaar. She would visit her sick students or address groups of women about hygiene and cleanliness. She was always thinking of how best she could contribute to spreading education and emancipation to the girls and women of Kashmir. She introduced them to swimming, dancing and mountaineering and even took them camping and trekking - a daring and unusual feat at that time. She and Miss Fitze were great pioneers of education for girls in Kashmir - The Mallinson School is a lasting testament to them both. Today the school has exceptionally high standards being one of the most successful girls schools in Northern India. Our special little friend looked very smart wearing her brown school blazer with its school motto and badge emblazoned on her pocket. For all the world she looked as if she was setting off for the start of a new school term here in England.

42 comments:

  1. A wonderful post again, the surroundings are like paradise indeed, but the people have a hard life. Great you will keep in touch with the girl.

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    1. You are right to point that out - it all looks idyllic but life is hard for most of the people especially in the winter months when it is very, very cold.

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  2. A pretty little girl. Was lovely you both took a liking to each other.
    The scenery is certainly lovely..

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    1. She was a delight and we spent a few lovely days with her

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  3. Rosemary it does look like paradise, with some reservations on my part on account of the boat! It looks very comfortable onboard though, what an experience. Good to learn something about the 'local' people too. It must be so hard to break into the modern world when the things we take for granted are just not part of their lives there.

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    1. Hello Jessica - the boat is totally grounded and fixed permanently to the island so no rocking and rolling - the little shakira boats can be a challenge as you need to be able to keep your balance and sit down low in the boat, but luckily we managed perfectly.

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  4. Excellent post Rosemary - I am enamoured by this part of your trip - I hope you realise just how lucky you are to be doing all this wonderful stuff. The only thing that confuses me is - are you still there sending posts like a roving reporter - or are you back at home going through your photos and notes?

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    1. Dear Elaine - I am home on good old English soil and have been for nearly three weeks now. There is no way that I could post from my holidays as I like to be completely disconnected to computers whilst travelling.
      We were fortunate to visit Kashmir as our Foreign Office has only permitted British people to visit during the last couple of years. I am pleased that you enjoyed the post.

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  5. What a fantastic adventure Rosemary. Again such beautiful photographs you are sharing with us. I can see why you became attached to the little girl. I think that you caught the essence of her person in your photo.

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    1. I could have popped her in my suitcase and brought her home Gina.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,

    Such a special place to stay at. The boat looks like a palace inside and the view over the water is absolutely beautiful! You must have had a magical time!

    Wishing you a lovely weekend ahead!

    Madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief - the boat was a very special stay - it had a very relaxed ambience and I loved all of the wood carving together with the 1920s furniture.

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  7. So colorful a life you've shown us from this part of the world. Sitting in such a "decked out" Shakara for short trips around the area must make one feel like a queen or at least a princess. The owners have shown a lot of personal pride in choosing how to decorate the interiors of both the Royal Houseboat as well as the smaller 'taxi' boats. One would not go hungry with the choices you have shown, either. Cardamon and saffron in that Kashmiri Tea sounds pretty exotic and would hit the spot for me right now! Having the added pleasure of such a pleasant House Boy as well as becoming acquainted with the boat owner's daughter makes me want to sign up immediately in hopes of repeating such an interesting adventure! Thanks, Rosemary for taking me away this morning!

    Mary in Oregon

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    1. It was a pleasure to share with you Mary - often it is the people you meet that can make a whole experience so much more memorable. Learning how others live, what are their interests, likes and dislikes etc. The interior is still decked out with the original 1920s furniture from when the British Raj stayed on the boats, and the floors are covered in locally woven Kashmiri rugs and carpets.

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  8. That Royals Houseboat must have been a stunning place to stay. I´m touched by the story of the Houseboy and that little girl such good company to talk with.

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    1. It is so interesting to learn about other peoples lives and to know how differently people around the world live. So often we take our own life with all of its luxuries for granted.

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  9. Hello Rosemary, We went on a houseboat trip once--the boat was not fancy like the one you were on, but it did move--I remember the fun of going through the locks. That tsot bread sure looks good. Indian bread is fantastic, especially when consumed direct from the oven.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - you are right about the bread - often we had fresh hot chapati filled with herbs, newly baked naan bread, and wonderful things called paratha and puri.

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  10. Hello Rosemary,
    It must have been a most memorable trip. The colours and interior of the houseboat are cheerful rich and exotic. Were you able to sleep well and was it quiet at night. The lives of both the boat boy and little girl are fascinating.
    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - it is very quiet at night, and I slept very well. The Mosque woke some people with the call to prayer at about 5.00am but I personally did not hear it.

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  11. What a wonderful place to stay and how amazing that you got to really meet the staff and get to know them and more about their lives and where they have come from. That must have made it really special indeed. Although I didn't comment on your Taj Mahal post I was totally blown away by it, so amazing. Such an incredible and beautiful building, a testament of love in so very many ways!! So happy for you that you got to make this amazing trip!!! xx

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    1. Dear Amy - hoping things are well with you - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the Taj Mahal, something that will live in my memory forever.
      The part of our trip to Kashmir was particularly interesting because we did get to meet quite a few Kashmiri people. The owner of the boat would call and see us most evenings to talk with us after our evening meal. He was a very intelligent interesting man and held us enthralled by the things that he told us. He was the father of our sweet little six year old.

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  12. Dear Rosemary,

    Your posting has allowed me a vicarious vacation in a beautiful spot. My eyes went immediately to the pressed stained glass that decorated your boat — how I would have loved to use some of that glass when I was making a window for myself!

    It seems that your houseboy is at a dead end despite his dreams, and I detect a great sadness in his eyes. Seeing the tourists come and go must be like living on a prairie and watching trains go by in the distance.

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    1. Dear Mark - There must be millions of people in the Third World who share his big dreams and aspirations, but normally they are anonymous and do not personally touch our lives. However, we felt the same as you about his future prospects - he had no passport with little hope of ever getting one, and no qualifications or money.

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  13. I love your stories of the Houseboy, it really puts things into perspective. It's good to see that girls are moving forward in such a positive manner.

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    1. Dear Suzie - one of the pleasing aspects of being in Kashmir were the opportunities that we had to actually meet and talk to some of the local people. By doing so it often throws a different light on to life in that particular area.

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  14. I enjoyed reading about the Houseboy and the little girl , and it made me think about how really fortunate we are without really knowing it . I feel really sorry for the young man .Your Royal boat looks like something from a film ...and yes, could be paradise :-)

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    1. We know that life for others in the third world is difficult but it is not until you actually encounter and talk to someone that the realisation of just how hard life is comes home to you - we are very fortunate.

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  15. I will have to show this to my husband. His dream is vacationing on a houseboat . I know the frustration that young man carries. My own father grew up in an orphans home and it was so difficult to even get a driver's license without a birth certificate. He passed away before I did some genealogy and discovered he was not born in Texas like he thought.....but Georgia. Beautiful post Rosemary.

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    1. You have much more of an insight into this young mans plight than most of us would understand. I do not foresee any quick answers to his problems or any end to them.

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  16. I agree you are in paradise.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  17. A mystical enchanting holiday Rosemary,
    Away from everywhere. It looks so peaceful.
    I am in love with the boat... Oh gosh its stunning..
    How lovely that you will keep in touch with the sweet little girl.
    Your house boy has a kind face. So sad that he doesnt know his birthdate.
    super post ..exciting.
    xxx val

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    1. Thank you Val - glad that you enjoyed seeing the boat - this boat was made over 100 years ago and reflects the style of the time. It is lovely that they have been preserved along with their original furniture and use local rugs, and embroidered curtains.

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  18. I’m envious of you that you experienced such a paradise, Rosemary. Meeting people is a fun part of travel. I wish both Houseboy and the girl bright future. The snow leopard looks divinely dignified and beautiful.

    Yoko

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    1. Hello Yoko - meeting so many different people in India made the trip even more special. It is good to share views and find out more about how others live and think.

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    1. Pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post

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  20. Lovely, really as a paradise.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment Orvokki

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  21. What a gloriously exotic and picturesque place to spend some of your holiday, Rosemary. Sadly it must be a huge contrast to how so many people live in the surrounding area. I'm so glad you made a new little friend and do hope you can continue to keep in touch with her.

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    1. Our time on Dal Lake was a special time with lovely memories of people we met and sights we saw

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