August 23, 2015

To the mountains, part II - Srinagar

A few days before leaving for Ladakh, I email an indian friend to give him an update : « Hey, just to let you know we'll be going to Ladakh by road, we'll stop in Jammu and Srinagar on the way". An answer arrives in less than a minute : « You're going to Srinagar ? Are you insane ? There was a bombing not two days ago ! »

Now, not to sound like the headstrong crazed adrenaline junkie that I am (spot the lie there?), but that actually made me think for a minute. I knew Srinagar's reputation : capital of the Kashmir province, main scene of the conflict between India and Pakistan. Kashmir is highly militarized : it is estimated that half the indian armed forces are currently stationed there. The pot is always boiling and riots often start with fights between locals and soldiers. There have also been a number of terrorists events – most of them claimed by islamist groups coming from the pakistani border.

Well, I thought, we have to go through it, let's see how it actually is. I'll tell you how Srinagar actually is : FREAKING AWESOME.
We weren't supposed to stop for more than a night, but we reached the city so late that we couldn't face another departure before dawn. When we arrive, it's raining, we're cold, exhausted, and we have no place to stay. Luckily, a local guy takes us to his homestay, where we crash on the beds and wake up with the muezzin. We then decide to pause our crazy itinerary, stay there for the day and explore the town. This day is easily our favorite.

Okay, there is barbed wire on every wall, tanks at the crossroads, and armed men everywhere. There's also a terrific market street with red meat (incredible after two months in hinduist Rajasthan) hanging from butcher hooks ; and a river filled with beautifully painted houseboats. We get mildly hassled (okay, they chased us down the street) to buy weed. Muslim Srinagar looks like an Amsterdam that would have been abandoned for a few decades : buildings made of old stones, plywood and metal are rising from the ground everywhere, leaning against each other – channels of dark water running through, cut by old, sculpted, wonderful bridges. It's cold and raining, but we walk, we walk, we walk. Countless times people come with the biggest smiles to talk to us, and twice we are invited for chai. A man shows us his shop, then he introduces us to his family, and finally calls the tuk tuk to take us home. The day is also brightened by the discovery than kashmiri men have the most beautiful green eyes, and happen to be the cheekiest and best looking indians (what am I saying ? MEN, period) I've ever seen. Good thing Claire is looking after me because I would have just gone ahead and married one.

At the end of the day, we come back to the homestay, exhausted, but happy. We hang out with the owner and his friends, and the next morning, we're ready to continue our journey.

So long, Srinagar. We loved you, and we're coming back, as promised.

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