The guy whom we met just 3 days ago is leading us. Our driver. This place looks like the back yard of some house. But no people around. The natural light is fading. 2 hours earlier we were in paradise and now..
We are cautiously treading through the slippery path. Another guy appeared from nowhere. Slim, tall, protruded cheek bones, small bits of white hair in beard. Talked in Kashmiri to our driver, smiled at us and he walked in the direction of our vehicle.
A bridge in front of us. Not a big bridge. Its made of wood. A make shift one. Looked really flimsy.
"Come on, walk over this and we are home !!", Driver ji announced
"But where is the lake", two concerned voices sounded.
"Lake, Can't you see it, right in front of you. Under the bridge"
The heavy growth of green weeds make the lake look like a well laid out lawn. Foul smell is emanating. " Are we conned again". My better half was already looking dejected. The very same look she had after the Gulmarg episode (Read it here).
Kids weren't impressed either. When I booked this house boat through an agent in my home town, he had promised that a shikara will be taking us to the house boat. And now we are standing in front of a makeshift bridge ready for some adventurous balancing act to reach the much anticipated House boat stay.
"Namasthe", an man in his seventies, standing with his hands folded greeted us. All of us jumped into the house boat. We are standing in a pathway.
"Come on sir!! We can have a look around" announced the owner of the house boat.
There are three bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a smallish balcony in this boat.
"One more family is staying here sir, You can take either one of those bedrooms" the owner pointed to the vacant bedrooms. His accent is very Britishque.
The tall guy whom we earlier met earlier is now back with all our luggage. He is owner's accomplice. To our surprise, he also talked English fluently.
By this time reality sunk in. This boat is not a heavenly abode. Not too bad either. The bedrooms are big. The living area is neatly arranged.
Antique pieces all around. I kept looking at the mini teapoy.
"That is almost 100 years old, My great grandfather made it. Passed on to their heirs and finally me" the owner explained.
There is some specialty in his voice. We could feel the warmth. The dining room is kept ready for us.
A lady soon made her appearance.
"This is my wife, She cooked some special dishes for you. We know you are tired. let us have some food first!". Yummy this food is gorgeous. The best meal we are having after landing in Kashmir.
Now we are feeling as if we are at one of relatives home. Loving and caring. More than the food, more than the luxury, the hospitality is bowling us over.
Some more antique collections in the dining room.
There is a big book shelf. Lots and lots of English novels neatly arranged.
"Sir, all those are gifted by people who stayed here" the owner remarked "Not recently, but pre militancy era. In those good times lots of foreigners used to come here. They just stay in this house boat for a week. They usually don't go out for sight seeing. Just stay here, enjoy reading these books from the deck. When they returned, they used to gift the novels to me"
"And do you love reading them" my query
"Not only me, but my house keeper also reads it". That explains why these two people are talking like knowledgeable people.
The beautiful colored glass door in the living area opened towards a deck.
This boat is stationary. A really cool breeze is blowing across. I walked towards the tip of the boat. Spread my wings (hands) to enjoy the cool breeze. I could feel my wife standing behind me doing the same thing. Did someone say that this posture is copyrighted by the movie - Titanic. Temperatures well below 10 degree Celsius. Watching Srinagar lit up.
I could hear kids raising their voice to close the door to deck and come inside. They couldn't bear the cold air.
Today's long travel must have made them dead tired. Time to get a good sleep.
Itz wood everywhere. The bedrooms are neat and tidy
The windows open towards the lake. But I cannot keep it open. It is soo cold outside. Don't know when our eyes betrayed us.
I could hear the door knocking. A quick glance at the watch. Time is 5.30 am. Someone is knocking at the door. Its the house boy. Yesterday we asked him to make a wake up call at 5.30 am itself, so that we could get ready for the Gulmarg trip. The second attempt. This time armed with an online ticket for the cable car (gondola ) ride.
It is all ready broad day light.
Sipping a cup of tea, watching this scenery is not something which we enjoy every day.
The house keeper was giving me good company.
While my eyes are perched on the still waters, my thoughts were flying around, pilot by the thoughts shared by my friend.
He talked about Britain, USA, the cultural differences between the two nations, he related the current economic development of the nations with their past, how China is fast becoming "The super power", his take on why India is still an emerging economy, why Kashmir is still educationally backward, the hidden agenda of those in power about the lack of development in Kashmir, his life story and many more things.
He is now 65 years old. He joined his current master when he was just 5. After that he never went back home. He is single. He never went to school. His job for the last 60 years is in this houseboat. Can you believe it?
When asked whether he knows where his home is he answered.
"Far across the mountains. 3 to 4 days walk from the nearest motorable road"
"Did you ever felt like going home?"
"Nope sir, I could see the world from this houseboat. I could see the world through each one of the visitors sir. From France, from America, from Middle east, from all parts of India they come and stay here sir. They tell me their stories, shows me the pictures they took, talks about their culture, their traditions, their family, there success, their losses, their ambition. The one who stays longer leaves a lasting impression. I would not have seen these, had I been in the mountains. In the mountains, we are no different from an animal. "
This guy is really enterprising. He seems to know a lot more about the world than me. He is not educated. His life is in the confines of this houseboat. But that doesn't deter him from gaining knowledge. For a moment I felt like, all the things which we learn at school, the grades which we score, the degrees we acquire, everything is meaningless. Being educated never means knowledge gained.
The lake is still. Reflecting whatever coming in its way.
This man is no different. Very much a part of the lake for the last 60 years. The reflection of the all the visitors etched in his mind for ever. My thoughts went on and on.
"Sir, do you want to have a look at some special Kashmiri jewelry" A handsome young lad sitting in a Shikara is asking me, breaking my thoughts. He is a door to door seller.
Annoyed at being disturbed, a firm "No" sufficed. He was away in a flash
"Good morning, Sir" the house boat owner appeared in the doorway.
"How was your sleep yesterday? So today you are going to Gulmarg, Feeling excited".
"Nope", I told about my previous Gulmarg experience.
"Oh really sorry to hear that. Money is making people mad. All guides, boots renting, everything is done for money. They don't know that they are creating a bad name for Kashmir by doing this"
"Wait a minute, I will be back now".
He is back with a 4 sets of winter clothing.
"Sir please chose the right ones for you and your wife, These belong to me and my better half. You can use it for today's journey"
This man is really a fatherly figure. How concerned he is. Soon I got a lot of tips regarding the Gulmarg trip, Tips to avoid Guides, tips to chose the right path when in Gulmarg, tips to avoid "horse trap" and a lot more. Most of the tips came in handy later.
Armed with this knowledge we are ready for the Gulmarg journey !!
The last outing of our Kashmir trip. Tomorrow morning we will board the return flight. Another enterprising day is in the offing. We stepped out of the wooden crafted house boat to the same wooden bridge for one last outing of this odyssey and that too to Gulmarg.
Lot of things expected to happen today and indeed it happened.
Continued in Part 7- Gulmarg
Odyssey to Paradise on Earth - The full story
Part 1 - Delhi
Part 2 - Kashmir Initial impression and Gardens
Part 3 - Gulmarg - A failed attempt
Part 4 - Parimahal and Royal Botanical Garden
Part 5 - Pahalgam: "The Valley" of Valleys
Part 6 - The Houseboat Experience at Kashmir
Part 7 - Gulmarg - Experiencing Asia's Highest Cable Car ride