A therapeutic hour in the garden yesterday morning seemed better preparation for my journey than unpacking and repacking my bag. There were plenty of things to make me think about why I was looking forward to this trip so much, though the backdrop to my pretty yellow clematis was so much less interesting than when we saw it at Shang Sumdo last year!
My journey to Heathrow went so smoothly that I was there a good hour before the baggage drop opened and John and Helen arrived just half an hour or so after me. We then had a lot of of sitting around to do before our flight left at 7.25 pm but much better than being stressed by running late. The oernight flight worked well and we all got at least some rest, though a nasty patch of air turbulence an hour or so into the flight delayed dinner somewhat.
Friday 26th June
The views from our houseboat this evening are every bit as stunning as those from the Grand Dragon in Leh, though quite different!
Our flight arrived in Delhi around 7.30 am local time, 3 am UK time, though having slept a little and had breakfast before we landed did make it feel a little more like morning. We then had to take a shuttle bus to Terminal 1, the old airport, to get our flight into Srinagar but did this with plenty of time to spare. It’s a bit depressing to see so many familiar, multinational food outlets – I found myself drinking an iced latte in Starbucks without thinking about the wisdom of this because even tiny Terminal 1 felt so much like anyEuropean airport. At least colour is added by the women’s beautiful saris – shot and dip dyed silk in glorious colours, just for travelling!
I had the window seat for the hour’s flight to Srinagar and disgraced myself by falling asleep before we had even taken off and sleeping soundly as we flew over the Pir Panjal mountains which ring Srinagar to the south. We landed ahead of schedule and Tahir arrived to meet us shortly afterwards and dropped us off at the shikara rank to be taken to our houseboat on Nagin lake.
Shikara rank, Nagin Lake
The houseboat is beautiful, one of three which our group will use come Monday. We have enormous wood-panelled rooms, which are more like suites, with our own dressing rooms! There is a dining room and large lounge shared between the guests and a lovely shaded veranda at one end of the boat. We were served Kashmiri chai and biscuits on the veranda by our boat ‘captain’, GM, and spent a good part of the afternoon relaxing here. There are plenty of birds to watch – the ubiquitous black kites, some little tern-like birds, buzzards and egrets, amongst the most familiar. I hope we’ll see kingfishers too.
I thought I should make the most of having a dressing room by hanging up my clothes properly, as we’re here for six nights, then we took a shikara ride up to the floating gardens at the north end of Nagin Lake. These are made by tying bundles of reeds together to form a mat on which soil can be heaped, then crops are planted on top – mainly cucumbers and pumpkins in the gardens we saw. It makes plenty of sense – presumably the roots grow through the mats to the nutrient-rich lake waters below so there is no need to add fertilisers or to irrigate crops.
Cucumbers growing in floating gardens, Nagin Lake
It’s very peaceful being on the water but as soon as we set off in the shikara we were besieged by other boats with wares to sell – food, drink, paper mâché goods – you name it, they sell it. They did give up eventually when we showed no interest! It was warm when we set off but clouds rolled in quickly and we thought we were in for a thunderstorm. This didn’t materialise but meant the evening was pleasantly cool, at least. We had dinner, a selection of tasty curries, in the shared dining room with the occupants of the third room on our boat – a Japanese family with a baby who have been living and working in Delhi and are just here for a short holiday.