HOUSEBOATS ON DAL LAKE – chocolate, hot showers and Zorro! KASHMIR, 1976

[Into Happy Valley and houseboats on Dal Lake by Srinagar in Kashmir – this was the stuff of Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown.  Our Housebout, the Golden Bell, had been run by the same Kashmiri family for generations and they were generous and entertaining hosts.  The boiler was antiquated, the furnishings Edwardian, the meals of meat and two veg and stewed puddings were the menus of the Raj.  Noor and his family lived and cooked on another boat moored behind ours – and a lot less comfortable.
In the 1920s, when my mother was a baby and my grandparents were trekking through the Himalayas on forestry work, she was slung on a makeshift carriage and carried through the jungle.  The world of houseboats in Kashmir in the 1970s probably hadn’t changed much since those days.  I often wonder what has become of those families and businesses as civil war has raged in Kashmir ever since.]

TUESDAY 30TH NOVEMBER, 1976

“Walked up hill to small village (Kud) and had coffee at cay shop looking over mountains and valley below.  Row of cay shops on raised terrace.

Lovely journey through mountains – great wooded slopes of fur trees – kept thinking of Grandad working in similar places.  Beautiful views up narrow deep gullies – eagles flying around.  Had to stop where army were pulling up a truck that had gone over the edge, quite far down.

Had really tasty samovas in small village (spicy filling in batter).  Fairly poor villages – drab clothing again.  They all go around with big coats on and fire baskets underneath – pots with charcoal in basket.  (Noor, our houseboat owner goes to sleep with his sometimes – once the bed went on fire!)

Before lunch we climbed to a pass and went through new tunnel to Happy Valley on the other side (Vale of Kashmir).  Here the mountain sides are bare.  Stopped for lunch – had super view over valley – wide and stretching into mist in the distance.  Looked over small hamlets – taller 2-3 storied houses.  Noise of meuzzin from mosques came drifting up to us.

Met by a boy from the houseboats.  Travelled down valley and arrived at Srinagar.  Trees all bare and everything very brown and dull at this time of year.  At the edge of Dal Lake, all piled out and into shikaras and taken to various houseboats.  Passed chocolate seller in his shikara – looked delicious and tasted it!  Luggage came on, on another boat.

Me, Neva, Paul, Julie, Pam and Mark were all in The Golden Bell.  Older smaller houseboat than some of the others – run by really friendly people – Noor Mohamed and Gulam – houseboat a family concern for several generations.

Lovely hot stove in little living-room – burnt wood in it (fairly expensive).  Had hot showers!!  Stood in old tin bath – tiny bathroom.  Rooms really cold, but each given a hotty at night!  Noor put on stiff white waiter’s jacket to serve on us at supper!  Had delicious lamb, potatoes and carrots, soup and stewed golden apples.  Great to sit down at a table again.  Lovely old-fashioned furnishings and pictures (Edwardian) on the walls.

That evening we piled into a shikara and went over to Maid of the Mountain (Rob, Maree, Diane, Mary, Pam and Sue’s boat) big central room.  Chris, Nicki, Geoff, Jan, Fred, Chris, Hans and Adrian all there too.  Had gin and limes, rum, brandy; then Rob organised a game of charades!  All chose a film title (2 different teams) and gave one to member of the other team to act out  in front of their group – time limit too.  Their group gave us the most obscure titles to act (must have made them up!) eg Robin Hood Maid Marion, Lust in the Dust!  I got the worst one – “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro” What acting!  I was exhausted!  Still they managed to guess it (just over time limit) but Geoff felt I deserved extra for effort!

Really cold that night.  Me and Neva had a long chat about homes, the bus etc (and how cold we were!)”

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