Friday, March 26, 2010

**KASHMIR** The Himalayas, the next couple parts

Gulamarg - A ski resort with blankets of snow. Let's ski. Sweet!

Somomarg - A ghost town in the winter. Let's rest. Sweet!

Yousmarg- A picnic and an unexpected day hike. Let's feed the crows and the dog. Sweet!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

**KASHMIR** The Himalayas - Part 1

My first trip in the Himalayas.
Pahalgam: The Arrival
We first arrive in the early evening, and the weather is nice, so we decide to go for an evening stroll in the mountains. It's Winter time, and you can still see Earth! To my surprise, there is no snow.

Pahalgam: Day 1 - First full day

Then, to my surprise, I wake up in the early morning the next day only to find the ground already covered with over a foot of snow! I came here to hike, but this snow did not deter me from wandering around in the mountains. In the afternoon, Manzoor and I tried to "wait" out the snow. Ha! It just kept coming down. I said, "Manzoor, let's go!" And we went. At this point, there was more than two feet in some places. I was prepared, as much as I could have been at least. After two or three hours up, we made it - don't know where we made it, but we made it!Pahalgam: Day 2
Ha, blue sky - it's simlpy beautiful. Mother Nature has done it again, and she will continue to do it. Again, I came to hike, but what I didn't expect were the subtle unexpectancies. We hiked 7 km on some random road, some in snow, but some parts were cleared by the people living in the village. We were pretty tired, so Manzoor began speaking with one of the gentlemen clearing the snow. He kindly offered us some chai at his house. We accepted. Their house was a small hut, and this is what we saw. Two women and their children, although just one family lives here. They were making chai and chapati bread for their husbands and family working outside in the snow. This is their kitchen and their house isn't much bigger. Their entire house is made of clay, including their oven, which they use not only to make their food, but also for warmth. So, what was to be a simple stroll to enjoy the beauty of nature, came to be a new found awareness: The People.

And, of course, The Monkeys - What a life!

Robyn, I see you - you're on the rock on the top left, stay warm.

Monday, March 15, 2010

**KASHMIR** The Dandoo's

The Dandoo's: The owners of the HB SilverBell.
Meet Tota (aka Grandpa, aka Abdul Salaam, aka The Man) and Mogee (aka Grandma, aka Frecha, aka The Queen Bee). Being a home away from home, Tota and his family have been nothing but a family to me. Tota, from his teenage years, has worked hard his entire life. From growing up with no education, he became a cook for many years for the UN during the British Raj. His words, whenever he speaks, clues me into what it takes to succeed. He is very much like my father when he professes that hard work is the key to just about anything. He has worked hard his entire life, still does, and is simply a lover of life.

Here is Shahid and Tanzeela. Shahid is around 8 years old and Tanzeela is around 5 or 6. For the first month and a half, before school starts, as they have extended winter break, these two provided me with endless entertainment. Anywhere from Cricket (kids version of cricket), to brushing my hair, even though I have little of it, and it is slowly falling out, these two have kept spirits high for everyone.
This is Manzoor and his kids. From the left - Sabrina, Manzoor, Shahid, and Omar.

And this is Manzoor's wife Hanifa and son Shahid.

Above is Riyaz, his wife Buli, and daughter Tanzeela. Riyaz and Manzoor are brothers, and their father and mother are Tota and Mogee.

Some Cricket shots:

Shahid on the left and Tanzeela on the right in their back yard for our daily runaround of cricket.

One of my favorite pictures. This is Tanzeela's cricket bat and ball. Most kids set up the wickets, wooden sticks, with tree branches or sticks from their yard. Sometimes with large rocks as below. Shahid and I in our ferands playing cricket.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

**KASHMIR** The SilverBell

Welcome to the wonderful HB SILVERBELL. My home for 2 months. A houseboat of peace and wonder. Where dreams meet reality or reality meets dreams - not quite sure which is which anymore. Either way, it has been a Winter wonderland for me, and the transition into Spring blooms new hopes, sunshine, and birds. Oh the birds! The Silverbell, floating on the majestic Nigin Lake, is situated in the Srinagar Valley, within the Himilayan mountains enmeshed in every direction.

Come night time, witnessing the houseboat and the shikara, Kashmiri for canoe, on Nigin Lake is too real to comprehend. Each night I return for sleep, I stare out onto the lake still stunned that life here exists the way it actually exists. But first comes mealtime.For the first feast at the Dandoo household, the family becomes thrilled when I enter the eating room with my farend on. A farend is the winter time poncho worn by both men and women. Though looking like a dress, this wollen garb actually provides not only comfort and style, but heat as well. In the photo below, you can see that within the farend, one places what is called a Konger, or mini fire in a hand made straw basket. (Sorry you have to see my pasty white legs). A portable heating system with the potential for disaster. One time, while sitting on the veranda of the houseboat, I was listening to some music, but with one earjack in, and the other tucked away. I soon realized that the other wasn't exactly tucked away, instead it roasting in the konger. I thought I had smelled some burning, and now I listen to my music with just one earjack. Well, besides the accidents, the konger, or Winter Wife, as Manzoor calls it, becomes my ally during the cold times.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Delhi Shots

This is young Inabhat. She is Manzoors niece who lives in Delhi with her mother, Manzoors sister, and family. Many of the people I meet and develop a rapport with, seem to take fancy in grabbing the sunglasses off my head and wearing them. I don't mind, usually, because it becomes a great opportunity for a picture of the people. Well, she is in school now, and at the age of 6, her English is quite decent - well enough to hold small conversation with me, and also to get a good laugh from her, too. She smiles and laughs which makes me smile and laugh, and, I suppose, thats what makes it great!

A good friend, Jenna, and I met up for a day. She was flying out the next day, so I'm glad we were able to get to hang out even if just for a day. Jenna and I spent some time in Thailand together a few summers ago, so it was really nice and random meeting up with her in India, too. Well, this day, because it was Jenna's last day, we went to a market in Delhi where many vendors came from all over India to sell their products. From carpets in Kashmir, handbags in Rajasthan, and even food from all the different states, too. As tourists, as this was a great tourist destination for shopping, we felt very comfortable doing touristy things, such as trying on straw hats and taking pictures of oursevles. We also really likes these two seats that we both wanted to buy, but as they are kind of inconvenient to travel with, we just sat on them and took a picture of it, hoping we didnt piss the vendors off too much. Well, it was great seeing her as there are not too many familiar faces in India, but thats what travelling is all about. The challenge is not knowing people and simply meeting them and seeing where certain relationships with those people take you.

This relationship took me to the Lotus Temple in Delhi with Manzoor. It is very beautiful due to the architecture of the building - built in the shape of a flower lotus, hence, the Lotus Temple. This is a santuary for the people of the B'hai faith. A very interesting and modern faith. Basically, the premise is lets all love eachother and get along and help those in need regardless of faith. Peace and Love right!

This was my first week in India. Manzoor, on the right, and I rode on my first bicycle rickshaw. I felt bad for the guy biking because he had to lug us along at night back to Manzoors Delhi home. As my excitment rose, we ended up safe sound to enjoy the comforts of heat and a home cooked meal.