Wednesday, September 28, 2011


When the US and UN leave, it looks like the Hagganis Crime family, part of the Zadrai Tribe, may be taking over Afghanistan They get their money from exhortation, kidnapping, smuggling, protection money, and it is thought from wealthy contributors from the Gulf States.  They invest in legitimate businesses such as car dealerships, schools to create a steady stream of young radicals and have a private army of fifty or 60,000 warriors.  

Meanwhile the King of Saudi Arabia is giving the women not only the right to vote, but also the right to run for public office.  Yet the woman who recently drove the family car, is getting ten lashes for breaking the Saudi law that states woman are not allow to drive.  The Saudi King overuled the Courts and has just revoked the female driver's sentence.  Ah!  One bit of sanity in the world.

Gold has plunged to under $1600 an ounce, a 6.6% drop since September 22nd.  While the Chinese have installed gold vending machines because the demand is so high.  As for the smart money and major hedge funds, they are investing in US treasuries and Dollars.

It was also suggested by a follower, that a look at the US Republican Party canididates might give one pause to think, as well.

And James Bond, who could save us all from each and every one of these disasters, has gotten cold feet during the making of his latest movie, about doing stunts on India’s rickety old trains. 

Looks like it’s well over time to cash in our Swiss Francs, which are now being tied to the Euro –heaven forbid – and go buy a Greek Island at wholesale prices.  A little ouzo and Baklava sounds pretty good to me right now.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Leh to Srinagar

Ok, I know! I said I’d never do it, but here I am on the road from Leh through Kargil to Srinagar.  I am doing this because my friend Carol’s perfect new house-warming gift is in Mcleod Ganj.  I didn’t buy it while I was there before because of the rain.  It is only sold on sunny days.  Also, I missed the Dali Lama’s previous teachings so maybe during this visit; I can gain at least a drop of his wisdom.  It will also give me a chance to see my friend Wangchuk again.  McLeod Ganj can be very complicated to get to from Ladakh, so this overland route seemed the best travel choice. (We will see.)

 It was supposed to be a leisurely little drive to Srinagar in a vehicle described as a luxuriously comfortable car.   My idea of a luxury car is a Cadillac or Mercedes limo with over stuffed velveteen seats, a window between the driver and the passengers’ areas, a flowerpot, a carafe of champagne and petit fours.  (Of course, I have yet to see a Cadillac in India, and have seen only one Mercedes during any of my travels throughout the country, although Chevrolets are quite popular here).  The car turned out to be a quite new, perfectly acceptable four-wheel drive six-seater Toyota.  Although Nazir Budoo, my friend, and I had the middle seats, my body felt battered and my back was aching and racked with pain after the first two hours.  This trip that was suppose to take 12 hours and ended up to be fifteen.  This was influenced by tea stops, and buying out of a whole village’s Ladakhi turnips (“they’re very tasty you know” I was told and, “only 12 rupees here instead of 20 in Leh.”), and we carried away bushels. We also stopped on a grassy knoll by a river bank and out came a five tier Tiffin box filled with a lovely lunch of chicken curry, vegetables, and kashmiri bread that Nazir had made for everyone on the trip the evening before. After lunch we still had half way to go, and upon our arrival in Srinagar I felt like a damaged, cruelly treated rag doll that had been left limp in a corner no longer loved or cherished by its owner.      
The road went through two mountain passes, and moonscape landscapes; actually some of the mountains have the look of an elephant’s skin, some the moon’s surface, while others are shale-like, some with craggy, jagged peaks and some as smooth as a new baby’s bottom. This goes on for miles with some of the road paved, and parts covered with small rocks, sand, and gravel.  Besides the quality of the road surface, the road itself has more circuitous curves and switchbacks, bumps and grinding gears than a whore on a Saturday night.   The mountain hues are a cacophony of colors. Lavenders, soft greens, ginger, clay, sand, and grey tease the eye and makes one swallow hard at the very majesty of this rare unusual landscape. Having traveled throughout Ladakh visiting monasteries, it is exactly what I had expected, an unbelievably uncomfortable ride. 

My five traveling companions were five Kashmiri men who unlike the Nepali bus drivers who could listen to that screechingly high-pitched female singing, i.e. Indian movie music for six to eight hours at a time, these guys played Kashmiri music which is delightful but frenetic.  Occanisonally one or more would sing along and once in a while one even added exotic arm dance movements.  The music was played for almost the whole 15 hours. Their music and antics were really quite entertaining and passed the time, But after the first two hours, I wanted to scream shut that darn thing off!  For me, who prefers quiet classical music, NPR, or an occasional little Buddhist chanting, this had become damn wearing.  I have always hated elevator music but could really have used some at this point.

On the way we passed through dreary little villages with the locals wrapped in blankets, long sweeping wool coats and other winter attire; dressed against the chilly weather.  What must they do during the really cold weather of the winter; like  - 34 Celsius?  Not go out?  But some one has to feed the livestock and do the basic chores.  Get the water from the pump outside.  These are questions that whirled around in my head and, again I thought there but for fate go I.  Thank heavens I could just pass through these rather dreary villages of squat, square little houses with straw fodder on their roofs for heat and livestock, rather then be forced to live here a lifetime as a daily participant.  One village, Drass, India, we passed through had a sign, “second coldest place in the world.”  Seems the temps went down to  -60 digresses Celsius, once.  I am sure once was enough.  It was be too cold for my vitals even as we drove, and I was in a warm Chevrolet six seater.   

It was pitch dark when we reached the second high pass and for eight Klms the road became bumpy gravel, with large boulders, and the largest, longest ruts we had experienced on the whole road, NH 1, and they made the drive shear hell.  Across the valley below was a river and on the other side was landscape that is reputed to look much like Switzerland.  But in the pitch black I could not see.  Later talking to Peter and Claire, who covered the same area in the daytime, they said that in some parts in looked like Switzerland and in others more like the Rocky Mountains.  No matter, they said, it was jaw dropping beautiful.   At eleven P.M. we arrived at Sunflower Houseboat, where I was ushered into a room with a private bath (and bath tub), which had the look of a worn out Arabian nights movie set.  It was lavishly decorated with a cornucopia of bright colored prints, a tall mirrored old-fashioned carved head board at the end of the bed, an old dressing table, a brocade covered chair and small seat, and a shower with incredibly hot water.  “Heaven, I’m heaven” I started humming, as I took my shower then snuggled into my cozy bed. 

The next day, Nazir organized a trip by boat through the canals to the most extraordinary store, which was really in a house.  There I saw Kashmiri rugs and beautiful vases with a paper Mache lacquer finish being made.  If I were richer, I would have walked away with at least two or three rugs, but actually the experience of learning about the making of the rugs and seeing this wonderful workshop was a real pleasure I shall not soon forget.

 The first night was incredibly cold but after I got some extra blankets the second night, I was toasty warm.  But ‘hell,’ I had to get up at 4:30 A.M. for the vegetable market, and Claire, Peter and I sat on deck and waited for the elderly boatman, who did not arrive until 5:20.  Truth be known, Peter snuck off back to bed, while Claire and I, wrapped in heavy blankets, lay on the deck cushions on guard for the arrival of the old man and his boat. 

Once he arrived, it was about an hour misty ride to the market in the Shirikara (boat) as the old man paddled from behind, and we sat on comfy colorful cushions wrapped in our blankets against the morning cold. Upon our arrival, long skinny hand paddled skiffs swirled around among each other, full of mostly green vegetables, flowers, saffron, chilies, and Mr. Delicious. His boat had two very large green metal boxes full of chocolate, coconut honey and almond cookies, chocolate nut bars that were really fudge, round lemon, coconut, vanilla, and chocolate balls, all as his sign says, Delicious.  Mrs. Fields, move over, there is a new kid on the block and he has unbelievably Mr. Delicious Cookies.  One could get very fat on these fair tasties and not even care, they are so, well delicious.  

The vegetable market closed about eight A.M. but we left early, and headed back to our tucker tucks to catch up on some well-needed sleep.  The rest of my day was spent taking a two-hour walk along the waterfront and the back road, a stop at the Internet and writing this blog.  Tomorrow morning at seven, Claire, Peter and I will ride off into the sunrise down the big road to the city of Jammu. There we will each catch buses to our different destinations, they to Amritsar, the Golden Temple and the changing of the guard at the Pakistani/Indian border, and I back to McLeod Ganj.

What Happened Next? 

After a tearful good bye with Nazir, not quite, but we were all sad to leave each other.  Peter, Claire and I boarded a hired car, arranged by Nazir – I must say that if you ever decide to go to Srinagar, Sunflower Houseboats is the way to go.  They have an excellent reputation, have been in business for three generations, and the service is excellent.  Look on line or in the section The Best of the Best, for more info, but I digress.  

On the route from Srinagar to Jammu, at least the road was paved, although it too was a winding ride bordering a river, which meant lost of curves and some scary moments.  Claire and I were thankful for good old Vomiford to stave off nausea, while iron stomached Peter muscled through without a whimper, even doing a little reading as we went.  Along the route, we were delighted to see the goat herders squiring massive numbers of goats down the mountain, much like the Swiss do with their cows, heading to their winter grazing areas near Jammu.  During the ride, cadres of soldiers were stationed at measured distances along some of the route, in the country and in some of the villages.  There are some places within the state, with hotbeds of independence rebels, and maybe this was one.  I know that in the past buses had stopped traveling because of these individuals.  Yet the ecomony must be good as there is building everywhere.  We passed many shops that sold only cricket bats.  The more south we traveled the many monkeys lined the road. 

There were also numerous groups of nomads.  Yes, you read correctly, there a many nomads in India.  A family caravan of people, pack horses, occasional goats or a cow, and big, furry, healthy looking muscular dogs on leashes; like migrant workers around the world, they follow the work and the weather.  A number of years ago, I saw a group of nomads, who were actually performers. This merry troop walked along with their goat riding on the back of one of their horses, like a standard bearer for the group, the goat stood nobly on the horse’s back as they meandered forward toward their next destination.

During the ride, I shared my train catalogue with Peter and we all decided to take trains instead of buses to our different destinations.  Peter and Claire to Amristar, and I to McLeod Ganj.   After seeing the Jammu bus station, which can only be described as a ‘hell on wheels’ for three innocent westerns to traverse, we realized the train was an excellent choice.  Upon our arrival at the train station we found our respective trains with the help of a foreign tourist office employee, and after entering three different buildings, we finally got our tickets.  My train to Chukii Bank was leaving almost immediately so Peter raced back to the car and got my luggage, while their train was not until 9:30 in the evening.  So our driver invited them to a marvelously gigantic Indian dinner at his house. 

Upon boarding the train, I found my traveling companions were five very strangely behaving men.  I decided the very obese one, who paid off the conductor for something was the leader of this motley crew, a Sikh, a big burly man who I would not like to tangle with night or day was the enforcer, a ‘suit’ who must have be the front man or their accountant, and two flunkies, who were young boorish and took all the orders they were given.  They all had orange sodas, in which they added whiskey.  Shaking their closed soda pop bottles gave the liquor and the soda a good mix, and then they swigged it down. After that some of them looked glassy eyed, somewhat aggressive.  Captain Hook and his hordes seemed like gentle giants next to these guys.  And they were real.  They talked among themselves, and although it was obvious they spoke English, particularly the two head honchos, they only spoke to me in sign language.  They directed their ‘go fors’ to help me with my bags, but as I wasn’t really sure my bags would get off the train (Chukii Bank is a very short stop), I declined their offer. Did the Indian mafia, or a Bagger King and his peons surround me?  I didn’t know, but I was certainly glad, I was not going to spend the night with these goons. 

I arrived in Chukii Bank  (don’t you love that place name – it just rolls of the tongue) at around 8PM.  I got a taxi for about $30 bucks (1500 rupees) and headed for McLeod Ganj.  We arrived around 11 PM and found everything closed except for the two restaurants that serve liquor.  Taking a chance, we drove up the hill above the temple to Pema Thang, my favorite guesthouse and miraculously the office was opened.  The desk clerk, Tenzin (named after the Dali Lama – by the Dali Lama) said we have no rooms.  Then my waiter friend, Sandwich, yes that is his name, seems it’s a very famous name in Burma, the home of his grandfather, popped out of the back office, gave me a welcoming hug and all of a sudden they found they had one room just for me.  How good is that? So I am here to hear the four-day teachings of his holiness, See Wangchuk, and get Carol’s present, which is only sold on sunny days, and what does it do on my first day here, during the dry season, it rains torrents.  Carol at least I tried!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Delhi Again

I’m back in my old stamping ground, Delhi.  I was on my way to Bangalore after seeing the Ellora and Ajanta Caves, when the date for the Ladakhi wedding came to my email.  So back to Delhi I came.  If I had continued with my original travel plan, I would have spent a few days in Bangalore and then traveled on to Chennai.  Thank heavens for that wedding email, as the train to Chennai on which I was to have traveled was in a terrible train accident.  It ran into a stationary train.  Several people were injured and I think a few died. 

During my absence from Delhi, the Indian High Courthouse was bombed.  11 people died and there were many injured. I ask do the powers that be know who did it and the answer I received was, “Only those who did it, know who did it at this time.”   I, unlike Forest Gump, seem to never be where the action is happening, thank heavens.  Knock on wood. 

Currently after the bombing of the courthouse, the city is on high alert.  There are many more military personnel out and about.  More vehicle barriers, and the Metro are full of soldiers with those 156 repeating rifles.  Female soldiers ride on the Ladies Only Metro cars and male soldiers ride on some of the cars for mixed riders.  Festival venues and shopping bazaars are particularly protected as they are regarded as natural targets for perpetrators of these awful events.  (Here again, I was told, “This is only window dressing.  The real work is behind the scenes, even the Americans are helping.”

After a week here, it is time to leave.  During my search for a wedding present, I end up clothes shopping for myself.  I bought ten items for 113 US dollars.  Designer India cotton nightgowns for 11 dollars.  Laura Ashley shoppers, eat your hearts out.  Little liberty cotton dresses.  And white cotton top and pants for $6.  How could I say no???

Finally I found a wedding gift but am not sure it will work. I’ll show it the groom’s sisters.  It they say no, I’ll send it home and get something traditional in Ladakh.  I am arriving a few days early to acclimate to the altitude.  It will be cold so I will borrow some clothes from the girls. 

Before I leave I am making another pit stop to the India Post.  Although they insist on wrapping most packages in gaze and hand stitching it up.  They must also sew on a customs sheet and have the sender write in a book, who they are and where the package is going.  India airmail seems to work just fine and a lot cheaper than DHL, etc.  I have sent so many packages that the postman at the desk introduced himself, Winson.  He took my packages, we shook hands and off I went.

  I’ll catch you later with pictures and a description of a Ladakhi wedding. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


Kashmir and Dalhousie

It’s off to Kashmir.  As I refuse to ride on the Leh to Srinagar road, which is a two day trip and somewhat hazardous, I am flying to Delhi.  Upon my arrival, three hours later, I board a plane to Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir.  This area is referred to as the Switzerland of India.  It’s a place I have always wanted to go but because of the unrest, I have avoided. I admit, as I’ve gotten older, I have become a ‘chicken livered’ traveler.  Self-preservation has become a high priority.

 The Leh –Srinagar road is just great for the young and even travelers my age if they have lots of stamina and a great immune system.  But even though I am very healthy those are my two weakness health areas.  If I could afford private transportation that would allow me to stop whenever I wished, I would be inclined to travel many of the mountain roads I unfortunately miss.  But for one person it is pricey, and on a bus or in a four-wheel drive, in which the suspension is gone to shreds, these trips can be highly uncomfortable, and personally, I need a week to recover.  That’s why – and I’ll put my ad in here now – if you are young and have the travel gene, go!  If I had come to India when I was 25.  I’m sure my life would have been entirely different (not that I’m complaining).  Even if your urge is not India  - wherever it is, go!  Travel is never a mistake. 

But I digress.  It has been my experience that the Leh and Srinagar airports are the most heavily secured in the whole of India.  As these areas of the northwest of India are bordered by China, which is constantly trying to encroach on Ladakh’s borders, and Pakistan with continuous big and small eruptions either by the incursions of Pakistani Islamic terrorists groups crossing the border, or small independent movements within Kashmir, one can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the Indian government because of this, takes strong steps to ensure the safety of all travelers, visitors and locals.

Upon leaving Leh, there are three luggage checks, one x-ray machine check upon entering the airport.  Then another x-ray of your bags is done by the individual airlines on which you are traveling.  A traveler may have only a purse and or a computer and camera as carry ons. Every other piece of carry on type luggage is placed in cargo with the rest of the bags.   When my standard carry on backpack was to be shunted off to baggage, I said,  
     “But it has no locks.”
      “We have locks,’ they stated and they did.  So with every zipper locked up with plastic locks, my backpack went off to cargo.  But before any luggage was placed in the hold, there is a third check.  Each owner is charged with pointing out his or her individual luggage at a loading point.  An official then marks the tags and then it is loaded on the flight. One’s personal effects as well as body checks are done three times and at three different locations, the last just prior to boarding the plane. This process is exactly the same when leaving Srinagar, Kashmir. There are lots of military and they are vigilant. The government at these airports is taking no chances.

Viewing Srinagar from the air, it appears to be a pastoral ‘Leggoland’ paradise of small precise hamlets surrounded by trees, gardens, green valleys and hills; a countryside encapsulated by verdant piedmonts and pine covered mountains.   The airport is about ten miles from Kashmir’s s summer capital, Srinagar, which wraps around Dal Lake.  The main road runs along the lakefront and for about a mile and a half it is riddled with shops, hotels, and a military base on the landside. While on the other is a long sidewalk along the lakefront.  On the opposite shore of the lake is an enormously long ghetto of elongated stationary houseboats with their stern porches pointing out toward the street shore.  Small boats hug the sidewalk shoreline ready to take passengers from the tourist-trap shoreline back to the boat on which they are staying, or for a cruise around the lake.  Travelers can rent an individual room on a houseboat or a whole boat. 

India’s drivers live by the horn.  I was recently in a taxi in Delhi in which the driver ran a red light by just using his horn.  In Srinagar car horns are king creating an unbelievable din. Between that and the noise of the hawkers who line the waterfront, the idea of staying on a houseboat was abhorrent to me.  One traveler told me that being on the houseboat immersed them in the local life; a boat stuck in the mud without the rhythm of the water, and constant horns and shouts? No thank you.  I chose the quiet of the Swiss Cottage Inn on the back street, recommended by a well-known travel website as well as a tourist guidebook’s best budget pick. Although I was given a mildewy room with hot water and TV for 800 rupees, it wasn’t too bad.  If I wanted a nicer room in the main building the price increased to 1500, although a lovely Indian lady was given one of the nicer rooms for 1250. One brother had told her he would discount the room to 1250 and the other later quoted her 850; she was charged the 1250 – 44rp to the dollar - rate when she left.  I watched as the owners sized up the guests as they arrived, and then decided the price. (This is standard procedure in many of the guesthouse through out India).  Swiss Cottage Inn certainly didn’t seem a great value, but I didn’t price other guesthouses in the area, although there were many.  I also felt an under current by the older brother, that I, as a western woman traveling alone, who because I talked to the men as well as women guests, must be of ill repute. The younger brother was the much more kind and friendly of the two.  Keeping in mind this is a strict Moslem community, I ignored the insinuation.  But if I had stayed longer, I might have considered a more desirable environment in which to stay. But I was only there four nights because of my foot foible (see Oops, I did it again: Ladakh, and Hospitals), so I didn’t move.

(Note: In McLeod Ganj I met a lovely Italian Lady who had the same feeling about the male Kashmiri hospitality toward single western women travelers.  She visited a lovely lake resort north of Srinagar – one I had hoped to visit – and she told me that in the evening, she was not allowed to go out unless the manger went with her.  She too was treated unkindly, with the same behavior extended to her by the Kashmiri men that I had I received at Swiss Cottage Inn, but on a much more unpleasant scale. After three nights she left, vowing never to return to Kashmir.  A dear friend had much the same attitude bestowed upon her during her one visit to Kashmir a number of years ago. All three of us adhere to the local dress codes; modest clothing and headscarves if necessary, and we are all over 55 years of age.  The only way any of us care to return to Kashmir is with a male companion, so we can be treated with dignity, which is certainly a sad commentary on this lovely travel venue.

May I add, that all Kahmiri men do not behave in this way.  Some are very decent fellows.   If that were not the case, I might still be standing in a drain hole in Leh.  I am highly indebted to those two Kishmiri gentlemen who pulled me out.

While in Sringar, two tourist ventures I indulged in were a city tour by auto rickshaw and a cruise around Dal Lake with four other companions.  Once we cruised off the main part of the lake, where the houseboats are lined up cheek to jowl and the shore noise wraps around your head like a torpedo blast.  As we cruised along, we passed a bevy of houseboats anchored together in a center of the lake.  It was after that, that we began cruising through beautiful little arteries of this body of water lined with a watery shopping mall of interesting shops full of clothes, antiques, artifacts and rugs.  Boatmen docked at whichever store appealed to their passengers and waited while they browsed among the various lovely items and junquey for sale in these different venues.  Whereas Srinagar’s main waterfront street full of horns and hostelries along the lake has a rather trashy feel, the shop-lined waterways are the real and charming tourist shopping areas for the city.

 Further along these magical avenues of water, there are private homes, some simple shacks and others upscale to almost elegant. The five of us cruised along in the dusky cool.  As the evening came upon us, our boatman was guided by the sparkle of lights of the private houses and small local businesses along the shore.  Occasionally a boat full of fresh produce passed on the way to the main market.  The farmer traveled to the market with his goods in the late evening, and docked his boat into its little produce market slot, where he slept in his boat until 5 am, when the fruit and vegetable market opened and he could sell his produce to the early morning shoppers.  There were also fishermen, who with the help of family members were preparing their nets for a night of fishing in the lake.  The entire boat ride was a mystical event that changed my whole attitude about the area.  Off the ‘main drag’, as with so many tourist venues, there is a vibrant community just waiting to be explored.

The city tour was quite different.  It mainly included numerous gardens and mosques and barely touched on the old city. The Chaska Shahi Gardens were certainly pretty with fountains, and both tourists and locals were enjoying them. But I found the Pair Mahal Gardens much more interesting.  High on a hillside on multiple levels with high walls between each, the garden became a lookout for marvelous views of Dal Lake.  Unfortunately on each level there was a small army barricade with soldiers snuggled down in bunkers holding 156s, the automatic weapon of choice among the Indian military in both the metro and country areas, at the ready.  Some sections of these gardens were quite nicely cared for, yet they were scruffy in others.  Having experienced gardens like Tivoli outside of Rome, which is perfectly maintained and full of magic fountains, some mysteriously spouting at odd times, these partially maintained so called Mogul Gardens with their phlegmatic fountains were something of a disappointment. The Botanical Garden, although small, was somewhat more interesting in that it has a great variety of trees; an Oak, Plane trees, Willows, Maples, four or five different kinds of Pines and Bottle Brush trees, as well as bushes of Oleanders, which created for me, a short but very agreeable walk.  

In the noontime heat, after four so called Mogul gardens and the Botanical garden, I said,  ‘enough,’ and we were off to see mosques, most of which I found not only interesting but also quite beautiful.   The Hazratbal Shrine or The White Mosque, which is incredibly photogenic at a distance, is featured on postcards and pictures at every vender’s stall.  Even though it is a constructed in beautiful white marble, upon arrival I found it was the least interesting of the four mosques I visited.

 Hazratbal Shrine has a lakefront location and visitors relaxed on the grassy area along the water.  The main prayer room entrance, for men only, had a see through metal grid, which I peered through at a distance, but was not allowed to enter.  On the waterside of the building was the women’s prayer area.  To get to it, women had to of course take off their shoes, and then walk across hot tiles.  These tiles were scorching hot and my feet burned with every step.  I actually did not go the distance to the women’s enclosure, but hurriedly returned to my shoes.  The Moslem women who attend that mosque must have much tougher feet than I, or maybe they just don’t go to the mosque.

 But my only thought at the time was, ‘why must Moslem women have to suffer this way?’ Upon visiting Sikh, Buddhist and Sufi Moslem Temples, I had noted that everyone’s, men and women’s, comforts were considered in the design of their religious environments.  Why couldn’t the Moslems take women’s comfort in consideration too?  I recalled at Beijing, China’s Mosque, the women’s prayer area was a walled ‘pen’ with no roof.  What kind of discomfort must those women experience in the winter months or during inclement weather.  

At the White Temple, when I had finally put on my shoes, I leaned toward the smaller of the men’s covered and enclosed prayer rooms – I was about twenty feet away from the door – when what I would consider a radical Islamic man came rushing over and began shouting.  So I moved over toward the larger prayer room, the one enclosed by the grill and again maintained a respectful distance away from the actual entry.  The obnocuiously rude man again hurriedly moved toward me. 
      “Don’t look in there,” he said.  “That is not for you. All of us can pray anywhere.  Under a tree.  Women can pray under a tree.  Women do not need that or any building.” You can be assured I hot tailed it out of there.  After all, I was only a visitor, behaving in respectful good taste, taking an interest in this man’s culture and religion.  Fortunately, at the other mosques I visited, I was made to feel far more welcomed. 
 Jamia Masjid, built in the 15th century is located in the heart of the old city.  Its towering presence is built around a lovely courtyard with a pool in the middle.  370 magnificent wooden pillars enhance the interior prayer rooms.  These interiors were divided into four sections one on each side. The women were afforded one large section designated to them, almost exactly the same as the men’s three other prayer areas.  Here, at Jamia Masjid, young Moslem men who genuinely wanted me to see their mosque and also learn where I was from greeted me.  They seemed pleased I chose to visit Kashmir, and also their particular house of worship. 

The Khangah Mosque is the oldest in Srinagar and an architecture delight, built of all wood around the 13th century.  Situated between two bridges along a long river that flows from Afghanistan down through Kashmir, its rich dark stained edifice with peaked roofs of different levels and curly queued wooden banisters leading to different prayer sections for the women evoked in me scenes of Norwegian landscapes, ice princesses and ancient fairy tales.  Although I could not enter the men’s section of this lovely little mosque, I did circumnavigate the exterior and on the backside and on the opposite side from the women’s prayer area, I found some magnificent ceramic tile pictures, which only added to its charm. 

Then it was off to the Pir Dostgir, the Sufi Mosque. Sufi Moslems are exceedingly friendly.  The exterior of welcoming green and white tiles makes one want to see what’s inside, which upon entering I found was full of life.  The main focus of the mosque was a glassed mausoleum where the body of the original Sufi leader’s son was laid to rest.  Two large prayer rooms, one for men and the other for women sided this glass encased shrine.  Sufi women sat on rugs surrounded by their children.  Men sat in their section, but some sat on the edge so they could indulge in whispered conversations with the women in their designated section.  Both milk tea and little cakes were there for every one to enjoy.  A Sufi woman brought me a small cake and a Sufi man and woman briefly chatted with me about their religion.  Sufis impressed me as a happy clan who took delight in their God, religion and each other.  (Read Nine Lives by William Darwymple – one chapter discusses how more radical Moslems in Pakistan are trying to wipe out the Sufi sect of the Moslem religion).

Down the street from the Sufi Mosque is a Christian church where Jesus Christ is reputedly buried.  A few years ago it had so many visitors, the Srinagar government closed it down.  Although it has been reopened, I did not go in.  I am not sure why.

My last excursion was to Sri Pratop Singh Kashmir’s main Museum. To get in, I had to pass along a barred wire dirt path past a military barricade with more soldiers holding those guns again, while another group staying at my guesthouse told me that when they to visited the museum on the same day, and they had to wait twenty minutes during prayer time before they could enter.

 A new museum building had been built and was sitting shiny and fresh in the distance but has not yet opened. The museum I entered was old and badly organized.  Much of the artifacts were either poorly labeled or not labeled at all. As usual, there was a room full off old guns, left over from the British and their Sepoy legions labeled ‘guns,’ and military implements.  The cloth and material section from the British Colonial Era was the most enjoyable, and I wondered where the artists were who could be making a fortune copying and selling these wonderful patterns?

Although Ladakh has many army bases and one even has to pass through some to get to different monasteries in the Ladakhi area, Kashmir was the most militarily guarded place I have ever been.  There are small barricades in the metro in Delhi (with soldiers carrying guns) and one must go through a metal detector ever time you enter, and have your bags go through a machine, but in Srinagar there were soldiers everywhere even strategically placed along the back street where my hotel was located every evening until about 11 p.m.  The place was fortified, except at the mosques and on the lovely back waterways, military was everywhere. 

After an over night train ride to Pathencot, I got on a bus to Dalhousie, a hill station that I had heard a great deal about.  Had to go!  Unlike the bus drivers in Nepal, this bus driver not lonely drove sanely, but also did not unindate his passengers with insanely loud Bollywood music. Unfortunately it was the rainy season.  I mean almost constant rain! I had booked a guesthouse which was recommended as number 3 on a highly respected website and found it had paint peeling off the walls, and it was so poorly insulated that the bedding was wet to the touch.  Also n the morning on the inside pane of the window, I wrote my name in the condensation.  Dalhousie is a lovely place for long walks and magnificent views, but not much else seemed to be happening there.  Although I did check the price of better quality guesthouses/hotels, these ranged from 70 or 100 dollars a night (I was within my budge at 600 rupees), in the monsoon season.  What must their prices be during their regular tourist season if they were too pricey for my blood during the monsoons?  So I decided to leave.  After one night, the next morning, I took an incredibly expensive four hour ride in a private car back down the beautiful mountain to Mcleod Ganj, known as the rainiest location in India, to the Pema Thang guesthouse (my favorite), which I knew was at least well sealed from the rain, at a rate I could afford with a view that would indulge my soul. 

Note:  Coming up – Dharmarsala/Mcleod, home of the Dali Lama
                                 Elora and Ajinta Caves, outside of Aurangabad, India
                                A Buddhist Ladakhi Wedding