i have arrived at my volunteer post here in Mumbai, India's cultural and financial capital. it's a big city, long and narrow, and so in some ways is reminiscent of new york. it's modern and cosmopolitan; people wear jeans and t-shirts, and are doing all kinds of interesting work. and the film industry is here, i've seen 2 shoots going on already. at some point i'll look into getting involved; i hear that they hire westerners to play small roles in soap operas and that there is voice over work available. i could be an extra, but i've done that in the states, it's a lot of sitting around, hurry up and wait, for very little money here. but it's fun to run into a shoot.
i've found an apartment, more on that later, have a new mobile phone number, and am starting to get to know the city and even meet some people.
but first, some ketchup:
we finished our time in kashmir, probably staying a couple days too long, just enough for some of it to start to become wearisome. the seemingly nonstop visits from trinket salesmen on boats, who not only come onto your houseboat uninvited and sit in the living room until you show up, but also ride up next to you when you are out, watching the sunset or going somewhere, and hang on to your boat, and throw jewelry or pipes or papier maché boxes on your boat. they’re hard to get rid of.. apparently only the 30th “no” means no to them. yes, that got old. and while the food was great, after a while we longed for some variety.
but don’t get me wrong, dal lake was so peaceful and beautiful, we loved our sunset cruises, and we did get some nice souvenirs, including a couple magic boxes for my niece and nephew. they’re magic because they have a trick to opening them, which i shall not reveal here.
and YES i went water skiing on dal lake! haven’t been in like 20 years, but i used to do it all the time in high school. my friend joe shostak drove a boat for the miami airport hilton and whenever they didn’t have customers, he could take out his friends. i used to love water skiing, so on our first big boat trip, we passed by the “bathing boats”, which have little powerboats taking people skiing. they have a big wooden board that floats, kind of like water skiing lite, where you just stand and hold on and don’t even get wet. it was a hoot seeing indian tourists in their saris skiing around the lake. but they also told me they had regular skis, and i said heck yes, and they pulled them out for me. they told me it’s an extra 50 rupees every time i fell (because the boat had to circle around and start over), so that was some incentive. i fell the first time (swallowed some nasty lake water), but the second time we tried i was up and not going down again. it was incredibly fun, i never thought i’d be doing that here but it was amazing. heather’s got a video i’ll link to shortly. later that day, we were boating around in some of the local residential neighborhoods, the locals just throw their garbage into the lake, so those areas were nasty. we even saw a big decaying goat or something floating in the water, and i thought back to the lake water i inadvertently swallowed while waterskiing. no wonder i got a little sick there!
the day before we were going to leave there was an incident in Srinigar. Kashmir as we all know is a troubled region, the flashpoint for 2 of the wars between india and pakistan, and the location of tensions in 2002 that almost led to another war between the 2 nuclear states. it’s a very long story, but the short version is that when pakistan was partitioned away from india, creating a muslim state next to the hindu-majority but democratic and pluralistic india, both sides wanted kashmir. and although it was and is predominately muslim, the maharaja was hindu. he stalled in 1947, pakistan invaded, and then he asked india for help. most kashmiris want some kind of independence. whenever there is trouble, either from pakistan directly, or from pakistan-supported kashmiri militants, the indian army overreacts and thereby does not endear itself to the people. they want less of an army presence, but then again, the army is protecting the borders and they would be overrun if not for that protection.
it’s true that there is a huge indian army presence in all of kashmir, not just the city of srinigar. on the drive up there were checkpoints (where we had to register as foreign travelers), and lots of little bunkers protected by razor wire and manned by a soldier with a machine gun. there were jeeps on the roads with roof mounted machine guns, and dozens of army trucks with personnel and equipment. to tell you the truth, i was happy to see them, i felt like they were keeping kashmir safe, but i’m sure their presence irks some locals, and they don’t always act (or react) as one would like.
anyway, there was a good example the day before we left. in a popular town square (the one where we were to have found a car out of town the next day), there was a shooting. militants, muslim separatists who oppose indian rule, shot a couple army officers in the street. everyone in the crowded plaza ran, some got trampled, and then the indian army got angry and beat up some locals, just because they were there. they closed the plaza and it was all over the news. we were supposed to go there the next day to catch a car out of the valley! i don’t know if any tourists were there at the time, but that was a little close for comfort. our host, the wonderful Yusef Peer, always went with us into town, joking that if anything happened he would know which way to run. i guess it wasn’t a joke though. we weren’t scared of anything else happening, and we were leaving anyway, but we hired a private car to drive us down. it was a little more money, but safety first, right? it took about 7 hours to drive down to jammu, the nearest train station, where we bought a ticket for the night train to amritsar, only 4 or 5 hours away. we arrived at 2 in the morning, and walked across the street to the Grand Hotel, where we woke up the attendant (who was sleeping on the floor near the front door), and crashed, hard.