Saturday, October 18, 2008
My Astonished Eyes
I arrived in India with only vague ideas about what to do and how long I would stay. In less than 48 hours, THE DREAM whisked me away from New Delhi on a magic carpet ride and set me down on a big houseboat that I have all to myself on a pristine lake at the foot of the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir. Furthermore, I have my own personal servant, Mansoor, who prepares my meals, takes care of my room, escorts me everywhere and even puts a hot water bottle in my bed at night before I retire. I did not plan any of this . . . it just arrived with THE DREAM.
The population in these parts is 90% Muslim, so I hear the call to prayer five times a day. The people are upright and proud, very sturdy and live close to the earth. Religion is central to their life and they get up at 5:30 AM with the first call to prayer. Most of them have had little schooling and the government does not do much to help.
People shuttle around in canoes, rowing themselves wherever they want to go. They either crouch at the tip and pull themselves along, or row from the back. I have not seen a single motorboat. Various vendors come by in their boats, including Mr. Wonderful the Flowerman. He glides around with his boatfull of colorful flowers he has grown. I bought a bunch of dahlias and zinnias from him, and also bought a variety of seeds from gorgeous Kashmir plants. Sometimes, when I am on the lake, amid water lilies and lotus plants, with the majestic mountains all around, the air pure, quiet, and peaceful, I feel bliss, and wonder, am I in heaven?
Srinagar is the city close by. To get into town, I must board a dinghy and be rowed (about ten minutes) to a landing where I can catch a waiting taxi. All my costs are included in the package, so I do not need my wallet, but simply enjoy the ride. I am living for less than it cost me in Europe.
Everyone treats me well, and often I am asked, “Are you happy?” There is a small community around the houseboats and I am already part of a circle and continually invited places. I will go to a wedding soon, and tomorrow I have been invited to lunch with a family and to go for a drive. Traditionally, weddings are held in the fall and they are big events with lavish food, music, dancing and many hundreds of people.
There are four seasons, and it is chilly at night and then warms during the day. The local language is Kashmiri, but people usually know a little English. My landlord knows English very well and we have good conversations. My servant Mansoor never went to school but knows at least four languages—all learned from tourists. His wife just had a baby, their second child.
Kashmir is offering me so much, the days are flashing by, so I am staying two weeks instead of one. Certainly, THE DREAM will surprise me again, so I keep my thoughts from straying too far away from the present, and simply trust what is ahead will be unfolded before my astonished eyes.