Friday, April 1, 2011


Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face,
Stars to fill my dreams.
I am a traveller of all time and space,
To be where I have been.

To sit with elders of a gentle race,
The world has seldom seen.
They talk of days for which they sit and wait,
When all will be revealed.

Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace,
Whose sounds caress my ear.
Not a word I heard could I relate,
The story was quite clear.

...Trying to find where I've been...

                     Kashmir, lyrics by Robert Plant (nod to Randy as well)

eagles.  everywhere.  really.
Thursday, the morning after the cricket match: I pack up my things and after another breakfast at my favourite hole-in-the-wall, I take 2 buses to get to Bhagat Chowk, where I walk the rest of the way to the Lifeline clinic. Expecting to be of some service for the day, I actually find very little for me to do. The senior and junior listeners are there (those training to be counsellors at the clinic) essentially to pick up their paycheques and leave. Can you imagine having to travel across town to wait for an hour just to get paid? I stick around with Dr. Arif and he asks me to see patients with him and it is incredibly interesting. After tea, Manzur comes to pick me up and we pick up my pack at Blooming Dale and head out into the clean air of the country. I don’t know how it is possible, but in some of the garden areas of Srinagar, when the air is calm, I swear that the spring blossoms make the air smell of candy.

Out near Dagapora, the mustard is in full bloom and it adds a gorgeous yellow welcome mat to the grey of the villages. I have decided to stay with Christine, Manzur and their son Tawseef for one or two nights – they have invited me to stay longer but we’ll see. I have thoroughly explored as much of the city asI want, and I look forward to the slower pace of the country. Plus, it is a rare chance to experience authentic life in a Kashmiri village. Sure, I could spend my money going to Gulmarg (the number one skiing resort in all of India and a prime tourist spot. No one can believe that I am not dashing off to see it. Indians flock there to see snow for the first time. “Believe me, I have seen snow before!”) but I am done with being a tourist.

vegetable vendor in shikara, dal lake
 The first afternoon we hang about, drink namkeen chai (the salt tea) with the family and eventually drive in to pick up some more family. Back in the village the power goes out (it is scheduled black outs every day here) and though they cook without electricity, we wait a long few hours in the dark, talking and dozing until at 9pm the power comes back on again and we have a wonderful dinner – more so because I was starving. But the village cooking, though Kashmiri, is spicier than other places, and it is wonderful. I don’t eat the meat of course, but the paneer and the haak (kashmiri bok choy-type thing) that the sister brought from up north, is amazing. We eat it with the rice they have grown themselves, and I think this is pretty darn neat. I am content, sitting dressed in Manzur’s pheran and packing a kangri pot underneath to keep me toasty. Did I describe the kangri? It is a ceramic clay pot inside a wicker basket that they fill with coals and tuck inside their pherans to keep warm.

kangri prep on dal lake
These people are pretty good at staying warm without having internally heated homes, but generally I think that they are made of an entirely different material than my own physical body. How else can anybody wear bare feet and sandals in the snow and cold rain? It is 1 degree C today and I am wearing everything I have to stay warm. The hot food, pheran, kangri and salt tea all help.  

Today I am dragging my feet. I slept Ok under approximately 20 kg of thick quilts, but I think because of my poor diet the day before, I have no oomph. It will take some amount of caffeine to keep me going, and I get to work on that as if it were serious business. Frankly, the last few days I have not been myself, as they say. I feel OK – but I am not thinking the same ways as before. Something in me is tired on a whole other level. Or, maybe just different. I don’t know. After a delightful second breakfast with Manzur, he takes me into town so he can get some paperwork processed. His father just passed away a few months ago, and he is trying to get his government job. Apparently civil jobs have a tradition here of being passed on within a family, and Manzur is pretty sure he will get this, which would be a huge boon to his family, though he might have to travel every day. Already they are doing fairly well, as he ran a ready-made clothing story before, but most importantly, he married a well-to-do foreigner, so automatically people are generally very jealous. Because we are in the area, he takes me to the famous Darga (sp?) mosque on a side of town that I have not been to (Nigin). It is beautiful and it is a sunny day as we stroll the bazaar that surrounds it.


Back in the village, we lounge about. His job right now consists of filling out the odd paper and praying that he will get this job. Oh, and also mailing packets of Kashmiri shawls to Switzerland where Christine’s family and connection of extended friends manage to sell them so that the profits can come back here and fund the school and medical clinic they run. Anybody in Canada want to buy honestly priced, finely made kashmiri shawls and scarves? He will mail them to me when I get back if anyone wants, and I would love to help. I’ll bring home photos. We’ll see.
shepherd who wanted his photo taken

women who had collected wild mushrooms, plucking stems

Manzur and Tawseef

Otherwise, life here in the country is interesting, and interestingly slow. I haven’t seen a TV yet – though I hear that some people have them. Family is important in a way I could never fathom – they may live in separate homes but they gather for dinner, share funds, have their kids sleep together, and hang out with each other – drinking tea and doing nothing for hours on end. There is no way that I could handle so much doing of virtually nothing. Can you imagine just sitting around waiting for electricity for 3 hours? Or mastering the art of making coals red-hot so that you can use them in a pot under your robe so you can stay warm? I don’t know how Christine has made the transition. But, her heart is huge and selfless and all she wants is to help this beautiful land of beautiful people. I can’t blame her for one second for abandoning our emotionally cold and self-centered culture for this. I know that I couldn’t do it, but I have been wondering ever since I got here – how could I possibly do something to help Kashmir? I believe hat this is one of the few places truly in dire need of international help that, once assisted, could be a place that would give back again to the world. It was once such a celebrated, abundant and talented land. Still its handicrafts and natural products are desired all over the world. I hope and pray that it may find peace and balance again some day, and then be a paradise again.



  1. Could you please stop exposing western culture as the vapid, ready-made, desperate and empty void that it is!?

    You are giving me a complex- I'm going to have to take another pill to make it go away.

  2. I too, harbour an inexplicable love for Kashmir. After visiting Srinagar I feel the overarching need to go back..