[Me and Noor on his shikara]
[Life on a houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir might have been an echo of the Raj but we were seeing it in the bone-chilling winter. I recall wistfully in a letter home that ‘it must be idyllic in the spring or summer drifting around the lake in a shikara …!’ As it was, the monotonous brown of bare trees and dead vegetation was relieved only by snow covered peaks and the blue flash of a kingfisher. After an hour of sitting freezing in an open boat, we aborted a trip to the Moghul Gardens across the Lake, and asked to be taken home. Noor, our host, abviously thought us a bunch of wimps and declared us ‘artificial’. Only the familiar and welcome cry of ‘chocolates! macaroons!’ and the sudden appearance of the chocolate seller’s shikara, lifted morale.
I observed in a letter home: ‘you can get everything off these passing shikaras from shawls to vegetables. I think some of them are telepathic, because you just had to murmur that you’d fancy a chocolate and they’d be there outside the window!’
This experience was used as a setting for a tense moment in my mystery novel, THE VANISHING OF RUTH]
FRIDAY 3RD DECEMBER, 1976
” Porridge! Omelette!
Taken by shikara to woodwork factory deep in middle of the Lake past slummy looking houses – very quiet up narrow canals – lots of vegetables growing. No carving being done because still a holiday – very ornate carvings of dragons etc.
Loads of us in little shikara on way back – one fella carrying bits of mutton – cut them the first day, give them as presents the next. [This was still the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha] Taken to bank, then me and Neva had a short walk up to bridge – most of shops closed. Lovely lunch of fish, tomatoes, chips, carrots followed by apple in pastry (very smoky taste).
Very cold trip in shikara to see Moghul gardens Stopped at post office on a houseboat on the way. Really freezing, so asked them to stop at small floating restaurant (government owned) and had cup of tea. (Saw Maharajah’s house in distance, old king’s dwelling on mountainside and fort away in opposite direction. Snow on hills in front. Got them to turn back. Had a go at paddling! Stopped the chocolate man and had macaroon! Noor said we were “artificial” for not wanting to go on (but would have been caught in the dark if had gone all the way). Saw 2 blue kingfishers on fence by water.
Thawed out by stove. Hot shower and good meal – felt better. Noor pestered me to sell him my shorts for 5 rupees, so finally agreed.
[Neva and Julie in shikara]
Women wear great head gear – veil pinned at back of head and hanging quite long.”