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A couple more highlights from Kashmir

Srinagar, India


Pahalgam is an old British Hill Station from the days of the Raj (when the British ruled India for 150 years after taking a liking to it when they started the East India Trading Company). The British families involved in government, military, and business in India would come here to escape the Indian summer heat and humidity brought on by the monsoon from June-September.

Life is good at the Himalaya House Hotel in Pahalgam. After a great night's rest in a bed that is actually pretty soft and using the attached bath with a Western toilet, you're already feeling like a Prince. You walk outside and the first employee you see kindly takes your customized breakfast order. You sit on the bank of the river in the flower garden and soak up the morning rays, which begin pouring over the mountain range to the East, creating a majestic morning alpenglow on the peaks to the West. After eating, you either relax in the hammock or retire to your room for a couple hours of birding or reading. Just about the time you're getting thirsty, Nagendra brings you a Chai, with the customized dose of sugar he has memorized, and a smile as well. At lunchtime you reconnect with the river and garden, drinking in the view with your Kashmiri tea. Hiking is in store for the afternoon, for further-reaching exploration of this exotic land and its people. The daily ritual is way too comfortable here, but definitely a safe way to experience this slightly unstable region of India.

The scenery makes you feel like you could be in Switzerland or the Sierras, but then you suddenly recall your location in India as your eye follows the flow of the river to a woman doing laundry on the opposite bank. With the right soap, it could be the single most sustainable washing system on the planet. I don't know the percentage, of course, but a large portion of Indians bath regularly, if not exclusively, in the nearest body of water. How easily we forget what a luxury it is to have indoor plumbing. But, we definitely miss an opportunity of communing with nature by cleansing the body in the wild river.

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When interacting with the Kashmiri men at the hotel, it feels like you are at the negotiating table at all times. Even when performing a seemingly innocent and straightforward task such as asking for someone to kindly pass the salt, they make you feel like this effort will somehow need to be repaid in the future. Indeed, Kashmiri salesmen have an international reputation of being, shall I say, persistent?

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Today I subtley discovered that the gardeners eat whatever is leftover from my lunch. Tomorrow I won't indulge quite as much. We should always know not to overconsume, for it always will leave too little for someone else along the line. The same world that is satisfying to me is utterly devastating to those least fortunate. But by the grace of God, there would be I. I must remain simple in my requirements for a "good" lifestyle. What if the rich didn't consume so much? My guess is there would be more resources to go around to the billions of humans just scratching by. With a hugely increasing global population and constrained natural resources, the wealthy should be morally compelled to do with less, which is so very easy. I hope things don't just go back to the way they were before the sub-prime crisis. We must learn not to let our lifestyles inflate the "bubble" to unreasonable volumes.

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I've been spending some time observing the entire staff here at the Himalaya House. There is certainly more than heirarchy at work here, as the caste system, despite great progress in the last 50 or 60 years, is still very much relevant in India. To the average "Western" mind, this appears and is categorized as discrimination. I'm currently reading a very good book, A Fine Balance, which is written by an Indian author and describes, with fiction, the lives of four individuals from separate castes whose stories converge. They become mutually dependent upon one another, and the borders of caste begin to come crumbling down. I'm halfway through the novel, savoring the brilliant language on each page. It is set in 1970's India at the time of Indira Ghandi's election scandal (she cheated to win and then changed the law after the fact) and ensuing "Internal Emergency" during which many gross human rights violations occurred across the country.

Very quick primer on India politics: Ghandi and Nehru started the Congress Party on the principle foundation that India needed to move beyond the caste system and grant rights and freedoms to all citizens. Nehru was the first PM of independent India in 1947. He is the guy always wearing the white cap in the film, "Ghandi". His daughter was Indira Ghandi, who took power shortly after her father passed on. She was assassinated by her Sikh body guards (Katy and I visited the site in Delhi) after her goverment ordered a brutal massacre at the Golden Temple in Amritsar (which Katy and I also visited). Her son, Rajiv Ghandi, assumed power, and was also killed. His daughter, Sonia Ghandi, was born in Italy, and is currently the President of the Congress Party. Everyone says that although Monmohan Singh is the PM and appears to be the leader of the country, Sonia Ghandi is pulling the strings. So, this country has essentially been run by one family for the entirity of its existence. For the most part, the people of India seem to be just fine with this arrangement.

permalink written by  Katy and Mark Lewis on June 5, 2009 from Srinagar, India
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Katy and Mark Lewis Katy and Mark Lewis
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We are two siblings from Colorado (aged 24 and 26) who find ourselves simultaneously between a job and a graduate school program. We both came down with a case of itchy feet, so we're going searching for the cure while we've got the chance!

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