Nagin Lake looked absolutely stunning in the morning light – perfectly still with perfect reflections.
I did not look forward to leaving this idyllic location to go on the long, all day drive to Gulmarg with D and Mr B. That, I reasoned, would have involved a lot of loud talking by Mr B., a long and bumpy road trip, a rather long walk or a horse ride and a ride up a gondola that would go too high for me to be able to breathe properly. And who knew where the ‘loo’ stops would be. That important part of daily planning did not seem to be on Mr B’s list of considerations at all. So I wisely decided to stay on the boat and enjoy the beauty that was right there, all around me. I had the houseboat to myself on a glorious sunny morning; life was indeed good. Not only was the view delightful but there were lots of birds to watch.
A lone heron kept me company. He stood on one of the mooring ropes, quietly gazing at the view, just as I was doing.
A magnificent eagle, its call like that of a ‘whistling kite’, soared backwards and forwards across the water in front of the house boat. At times he seemed to be moving and gliding in perfect time with the Mozart piano concerto that I was enjoying through my headphones.
A black and white kingfisher fished from a perch on the next houseboat. It flew high above the water, flapped its wings at a great rate as it hovered before darting straight down into the water for its catch.
A tiny bright blue kingfisher darted back and forth as it skimmed the water for food.
A large group of pigeons cooed from the roof of the next houseboat.
Small ducks dabbled happily in the weeds that are beginning to choke the lake front.
And of course there were a few hawkers that I had to dissuade from trying to sell me their wares.
And out on the lake there were a few ‘shikaras’, perfectly reflected in the still waters.
That was my morning. Perfect.
And it seemed that it was perfect for others, too.
One or two shikaras glided over the water – and the guests on board seemed to be very relaxed.
This local was off to do a spot of fishing – but he was not in a hurry.
Nothing was moving – the reflections were perfect.
The sun was warm; the whole scene was soporific; I began to nod off to sleep.
I had not had a good night’s sleep. This was catch up time. Not long after we had gone to bed, the mosquitoes flew in – and they would not be caught! Then, during the night, the light that we had left on in the ‘loo’ area had gone off and not long after that so did all the electricity… and all the outside security lights. It was very, very dark which is not a problem until nature calls and a visit to the ‘loo’ becomes essential. Now going to the loo in the middle of a very dark night in a strange place is always a bit of an obstacle course, but this adventure included a couple of steps. Groping in the dark, I finally found the loo and on lowering myself, as we women have to do, I discovered that the loo seat was no longer attached to anything. It slid around all over the place and ‘bit my bum’- not nice when your need is by now urgent! Getting back to bed was another ‘bumping into things’ adventure. And just when I finally got to sleep, the dawn ‘call to prayer’ began – very loud and very long. I know. I know – I was in India. One expects these things. It’s how it is.
Both loos and electricity are interesting facets of houseboat living. Electricity seemed to be ‘stolen’ from the mains power by many of the houseboats. How? Simple really! One end of a stiff, plastic coated, copper wire is bared and then bent into a hook. This is thrown at the live wire and, when it hooks, hey presto, the house boat has electricity! Of course this isn’t done in front of guests but the evidence is there for all to see. When an inspector comes lurking, the wire is unhooked and hey presto, the lights go out! No more electricity. We also discovered to our dismay that the loos were not connected to anything at all – except the lake beneath the boat! We wondered what the e.coli count would be – off the scale perhaps!
I was wakened from my nap for lunch by Majid who had made me a sandwich and yet another cup of tea. As we sat and chatted for awhile, I realised that the house boat lounge where he slept with its carved tables and chairs and tapestries on the wall was a far cry from the home he had left behind in his small hill village, 100 kms away. He returns home for only four days a month. He’s working on the houseboat to support his wife and three small children as well as his sick brother and his wife and their two children. The family all live together in one small house in a village of about 500 people. The two women grow some vegetables and a little rice for the family’s food. It’s real subsistence, survival living.
As we talked, the local grocery shikara came by. Majid told me that these men live on their craft – it’s their way of life.
And then, as we chatted, my idyllic day took a turn for the worse – the peace was shattered. A couple of shikaras arrived with a total of ten new guests, a group of Indian friends. Two were to sleep on our houseboat, and four each on the boats on either side. For some reason, not at all clear to me or to Majid, they all decided to congregate on our boat. Perhaps it was because ours was the middle boat. Without so much as a nod in my direction, they simply took over the front deck and the lounge room and made me feel like I might as well be a fly on the wall. The chatter and laughter was loud – happy, yes – but they certainly made no effort to include me in any way whatsoever. I retreated to our bedroom. With no good book to read, no internet connection and no human interaction possible, the time went by very slowly. If I was to be on my own during the day, this was just not going to work. I would have to move and leave the houseboat to the others.
I thought it would be best to move to the Srinagar LaLit Hotel where at least I’d be land based with a garden to walk in. When David came back from his long day out in the countryside, he’d already decided that a move was our best option and had made arrangements with the hotel. I was sorry to leave the houseboat and Majid but not the least bit sorry to leave the noisy new visitors. We went to the peace and quiet of the Lalit Hotel – and had a very good night’s sleep!
JT for “jtdytravels”
Photography © Jt of ‘jtdytravels’
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