Today has been a long day, or rather two days. John and I set off from Glasgow and Durham respectively by train yesterday morning and met at Heathrow with oodles of time to spare. We caught up with three of our party before the flight and a fourth on the plane. The journey went smoothly enough, but there is something disconcerting about having dinner at 9 pm and then being woken for breakfast at 2 am, even if its really 6.30 am Indian time! We met the remaining people on our flight on arrival at Delhi. Getting through the e-Visa queue turned out to be slower than for John and I with our conventional visas but we had lots of time to change money, freshen up and take up residence in the Costa coffee shop whilst waiting for the second flight to arrive.
Unfortunately this didn’t go quite so smoothly – one person got held up in immigration and, in the end, the rest of us had to set off on the shuttle bus to the domestic airport, leaving the Indus rep. to help her. If air-conditioned Delhi airport felt much like every other airport across the world, the shuttle bus felt like we’d arrived in India with a bump. We didn’t remember to collect coupons for the bus in our rush and the conductor had to clamber all over people and their bags to try and collect the fares he was owed. Miraculously, we found our way to the right departure gate and bag drop just before this closed and were very pleased to have Yasin there to help us hurry through and onto the plane.
Yasin explained that, because of recent trouble in Srinagar, we’d be taking a different route to the houseboats on Nagin lake. This turned out to involve linking up a chain of five shikaras to a motor boat on at the shikara stand on Boulevard Road and travelling the much of the length of Dal lake and then under the bridge into Nagin lake in a rather shaky convoy.
This took a good 90 minutes but gave everyone a chance to relax and see much more of everyday life on the lake than we have before, from the evil-looking dredgers scooping up water lilies…
…to people sitting patiently fishing and kids out for a Sunday afternoon paddle.
There were plenty of birds to see; egrets, little bitterns, terns and black kites and a pair of beautiful pied kingfishers.
Egret waiting patiently for dinner
We also got a closer look at some of the water plants clogging up the lake as a result of eutrophication – water chestnuts and azolla, as well as the ubiquitous Nymphaea and pond weeds.
Pink-flowered Nymphaea water lilies
In places it was difficult for our convoy to work its way through the tangle. Our route took us past floating gardens sporting a fearsome scarecrow and areas of Nelumbo water lilies (lotus to you and me) cultivated for their roots and seeds. We got lovely views of Pari Mahal and Nishat Bagh gardens from the water and a close look at Char Chinar island, though only one of its chinar trees looks particularly healthy now.
Char Chinar (four chinars) island
Arriving at the houseboats felt like coming home (see We’re here). Kawa tea and bisccuits sitting in the garden under the shade of an old parachute refreshed everone and there was time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere before dinner at 8pm. There is functioning free wifi, but apparently only in the garden, so most of us were gathered there by 7.30 e-mailing home. It remains to be seen whether the bandwidth will be enough to post a blog with photos. I have the same room as last year with the same awful views…
After dinner we talked briefly about plans for tomorrow – both Shalimar and Nishat Bagh gardens are closed, unfortunately, but it looks like we’ll have a chance to visit Shankaracharya Temple with its spectacular vantage point.
Shankaryacharya Hill from Pari Mahal last year