Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Water truck

This makes me so thankful for what I have.

Two times a day, a water truck stops in my neighborhood and dozens of people gather around with their containers to fill them up with the water they need throughout the day.

The truck blocks traffic, fills the road with puddles and mud and could be considered a general nuisance.

But not if you really think about what that truck is doing there.

And remember that in your own house is running water.
I don't have to stand around a truck, waiting my turn to fill as many containers as I can carry so that I can have water in my home.
That is not my reality.

But it is someone's.
It is for these neighbors of mine.

So I'll turn on my faucet and be a little more thankful today.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Save Dal

There are a lot of "save Dal" signs around the lake.
This is one of the most conviction stirring I've seen.
Kashmir's nickname is "paradise on earth"--or translated here as "heaven".
Hell would be a place of pollution. I guess.

There are conservation efforts happening around the lake; it's just hard to see any result.

I suppose, if there is a lot of signage, it's only because there is a lot to be saved.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hari Parbat

A clear sky will show Hari Parbat in the background of Dal Lake.

The current fort is only about two hundred years old, but the hill has long been thought by Kashmiris to be both sacred and strategic.

The legend goes that the hill was once a lake where a huge demon lived. The goddess Parvati became a bird and dropped a pebble its head, which grew until it crushed the demon. And so it became the hill it is today.

A hill full of all kinds of religious and military structures: gurudwaras, temples and mosques. The fort until very recently has been occupied by military and closed to the public.
Maybe now I can someday see what kind of view there is from up there...

Dress up

It doesn't matter how many times I see this, I always find it amusing.
Indian tourists come to Kashmir and dress up in "traditional Kashmiri clothing" to have their pictures taken. Photographers on shikaras or at one of the gardens give them scarves to put on their heads, plastic flowers and clay pots to hold, and then they take pictures like this.
Or like this one taken by Tim Fitzsimons.
The real tradition, I think, is the one of Indian tourists wanting this to be something they do during their trip to Kashmir, and a picture to take home to show the relatives.

Fast food

This is a fairly new addition to the boats of Dal Lake: the fast food pontoon.
I thought it would be cool if it were mobile, kind of like an ice cream/snack truck might go around the neighborhood playing music. But no, it is more like a drive up. And it seems that plenty of shikaras are "driving up", 'cause it's a happenin' place.

My favorite on their menu? The magi pakora.
I believe that's supposed to be a reference to two different items: the pakora and maggi noodles (the ubiquitous ramen variety). If it were really a pakora eaten by priests, philosophers and sages, that would be something not to miss.

As it is, don't miss the fast food pontoon boat.

The Oriental Apiary

Deep in the back canals of Dal Lake lies the Oriental Apiary, home of the Honey Lady.

I've visited her once or twice and heard her spiel on the wondrous properties of honey, looked through her pictures of other tourists who have visited over the years, and even sampled some of the honey.
She's something of a rare find herself, that Honey Lady.
As for her honey, there are a number of flavors.
As far as I can figure, there is not apple, almond or saffron IN the honey, but the bees live with these flavors.
I don't know how much difference that actually makes, but the honey lady swears by it. And she knows her honey.

Use More.
Honey is a natural sweet.
Honey is a source of quick energy.
Honey gives both sweetness & flavour.
Honey is ready to use as nature made it.


Rainawari. The back canals and waterways of Dal Lake. The "Venice of Asia". The perfect late morning shikara tour.

I cannot find evidence for when this part of Dal Lake was built up.
Supposedly it's really old.
With a bridge that claims to have come from Mughal times.
With an old inscription on it. I don't know what it says, though(can anyone interpret that for me?).

I do know that it's a beautiful part of the lake. The canals are full of old wooden buildings.
Their carvings and windows are full of character.
It's a very Kashmiri sight.

What's sad, though, is that much of the lake is a mess of pollution. The plastic bags floating in the water do not add any attractiveness.
What I would hope is that the recent and ongoing conservation efforts can both clean things up and maintain its historical value and beauty, to preserve a way of life that is so very unique.

The shikara

Life on Dal Lake is one of my favorite things about Kashmir. It uniquely takes place all on water. Houses are on water, stores are on water. Mosques are on water. Gardens are on water. And all transportation is over water.
The shikara, then, is essential in every family. It's what gets you from place to place.
It gets you to the store.
It gets you to the neighbor's house.
It gets you to work.
It gets the tourists to your boat.
It gets you to the shore.

And it's a marvelously slow way to travel.

There's time for thinking when you're on a shikara. Time to look around you and pay attention to something other than yourself. Time to see the world you're passing by.
Time to breath--that's rare, and that's something to savor.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dal Lake houseboats

When seen one right after the other, the difference between a Dal Lake houseboat and Kerala houseboat is striking.

One moves. One is permanently anchored to a man-made bit of land.
One is made with rice mats, replaced every year. One is serious woodwork and paint.
One cruises by palm trees and fishermen. One sits quietly nestled in a Himalayan valley.

I like good contrast.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pilot strike

Our boat engine had broken down.
Our taxi broke down.
So, when we arrived at our hotel in Kochi, I said, "Now what can go wrong here?"
I should have held my tongue.

It's true that we did enjoy a relaxing day and a half of sightseeing. But then it was time to focus on what I knew was happening in the outside world: an Air India pilot strike.

I was hoping they would get it worked out before our flight. They didn't.
A thorough check of the situation left little doubt that our flight was one of the many canceled.
Our choice? Learn to like Kochi a lot for the next few days, or take matters into our own hands and stay ahead of the trouble.

It was 2:00 in the afternoon, so I checked out the evening flights: if we were speedy, we could catch one and arrive in Delhi by midnight. But it meant the end of our relaxing, and a short night's sleep--better than dealing with an airline in chaos, though, so we took the opportunity, packed up super fast, and avoided Air India.

A day or so later, the strike ended and didn't affect any more of our trip--what a relief.
Usually we wouldn't choose to fly AI when there are so many other good, budget airlines out there. I would say our instincts have been right about that all these years, it was way more drama than we were hoping for.

Uncommon statuary

There were some antique shops in Fort Cochin. One of them, it seemed, was a statue shop.
I'm not sure who buys old statues, especially when they are giant wooden peacocks.
Or smiling lions.

But there was also a restaurant here on the water's edge. So we sat near the mermaid and drank some fresh lime soda.


Our noses led us here. The smell of ginger had permeated the street.

The ginger storehouse was full of piles and piles of ginger. In different grades, I guess, because each pile had a little sign with a different number on it.

There were also bags of more ginger stacked floor to ceiling.

There were men who loaded it up, and off it went off to market.

A fun, aromatic little detour.

Jew Town

The Jewish part of Fort Cochin is one of the "must sees". So we went to see.
The Paradesi Synagogue, built in the 1500s, is at the center of this area. One of the coolest things was the old (old looking, at least) signs.

The cemetery is also one of the things the signs all point you toward.
How was it? Not so exciting.
The cemetery is not the only thing around Jew Town when it comes to dying.
In reading about the Jew Town history, I came across an article about the woman who sells tickets at the synagogue. How she is the last female Jew left. Sad.
I can only imagine what it's like to be in her position--and to be written up in history for that reason.
I noticed her when we entered the synagogue and tried to get her to return my smile, but it was a faint, tired shadow of a smile that she gave. What a sad and lonely existence--yet she stands there every day and sells tickets instead of pursuing something that makes her happy.

I find it very interesting how history gets written by the individual choices people make.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ambassador taxi

"I don't know what is wrong with her," said the taxi driver, "Sometime she do this and is then not on."
What does 'she' do?
Die while idling at every stoplight and intersection. Our ambassador taxi was not the most reliable.

"Everything okay, everything okay," insisted the driver. But by the next stoplight he had changed his mind. He pulled over and left us in the car to go in search of another taxi that would take us to our destination.
I might also mention that ambassadors do not have A/C--not that it would have worked without the engine running, anyway.

In five or ten minutes, he found us another ambassador.
It may look like a cool car, but looks can be deceiving.

A glimpse of our ride down the streets of Thanneermukkom.

Monday, May 2, 2011


The mosquitoes in the backwaters are mean.
Big. Black. And abundant.
I suppose that's to be expected on a river in a tropical climate.

So that meant we had mosquito nets in our rooms. They were a refuge.
I never used a mosquito net before. They are surprisingly efficient and I was pleasantly surprised. :)

The cruise with views

One of the best things about the houseboat, is that all I had to do was sit there and the sights and pictures came to me--how nice is that?

In the backwaters, you get to see a lot of things.
I made a list:

Store fronts
Pretty painted houses
Rice fields
Floating plants
Palm trees