Wednesday, 30 September 2015

2015 September: With the nomads in Kashmir

September 18th 2015

Lazing on our houseboat in Srinagar was like something out of the Raj, but in spite of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's advice not to venture out of Srinagar, we wanted to see something of the Kashmir landscape.  Rahim suggested Naranag, which is a trekking spot around 90 minutes down the road from Srinagar to Ladakh, so off we went, weaving through the packed buses belching fumes. 

The roads were not made any safer by substantial flocks of sheep driven by families of Gujjars nomads who were on the move from their summer pastures down into the lowlands near Jammu for winter, a steady stream of brightly-dressed families with all their possessions carried on ponies.  

Beautiful Kashmir views

The countryside started looking rather Swiss (although not so obsessively neat and tidy), and we headed up into the hills until the road gave out in the trekking starting point of Naranag - once very popular but now we only say the Indian army on exercises.  We had a chai from a stall, and walked into a valley following the river.  The water was freezing.

Kate in a Kashmir alpine setting
We kept going through dense woods along the river until we came out into a clearing with a nomad camp, complete with tepees and tents from bits of tarpaulin.  Rahim got us invited into a tent with a family who gave us tea.  It was not polite to take pictures, so you must imagine us sitting on the ground being well and truly stared at by old men and some extraordinarily attractive young girls, with sharp features and piercing eyes (like the famous shot of the Afghan girl). They were fascinated by Kate, how she had let her hair go grey, and didn't wear any bangles and had a watch with a plastic strap, whereas they were fully adorned with all their jewelry.

Unprofessional picture of nomad camp with tarpaulin tents and tepee.
When Kate left the tent to put her boots on, all eyes followed her and everyone leaned in to catch every detail.  We showed family pictures on our phones. There were piles of roots drying in the sun that apparently were used in Ayurverdic medicine - they would sell these and their sheep near Jammu.  We said goodbye to a gang of teenage girls collecting berries in the forest - apparently they get education at each end of their annual move, with the school following them.  We felt like the ones with the odd lifestyle being studied, whereas they seemed utterly at ease and charming. 

A fine hot walk down the valley back to the car - at the end of a day's walking I usually treat myself to a pint of bitter and a packet of pork scratchings, but realised that this was not going to happen in this deeply Muslim area.

We negotiated the herds of sheep clogging up the roads, and got back to find there had been people shot near the line of control (LOC) between Indian and Pakistan-held Kashmir, which was about 30 miles from where we were.  But we had felt perfectly safe all day, although we saw no other Western tourists.