2013年12月10日 星期二

North Indian Tour 1- Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir (北印度之旅 1 喀什米爾之斯里納迦)

India is full of surprises. Before I stepped on to the plane to New Delhi, India was for me the land of the famous Taj Mahal, of colored men with big bushy eyebrows, deep set eyes, straight nose, thick black beard below his chin upon a turbaned head, sitting on the ground with a gourd-like pipe  luring the cobra out from a wicker basket and dark skinned ladies in colorful lacy saris with hands folded in front of her breasts, a beauty spot right between her two eyebrows turning her head left and right as if it were somehow detached from her upper body always in wavy motion, her bare feet moving in tiny dance steps, of train carriages with people packed inside like sardines, some sitting atop their roofs and some merely clinging on for dear life to the handrails between train compartments, of people bathing themselves on the dusty  banks of a polluted Ganges, of little shops with all kinds of brass and finely crafted silver plated vessels and the land which gave us Mahatma Gandhi, the father of civil disobedience and where Mother Teresa spent a lifetime helping. Is that the India that I found?
I'm quite sure that had Jacques Derrida visited India, he'd probably find it a philosophic paradise: it's a paradigmatic exemplar of his concept of "différance". What a pity he didn't do so. That is the feeling I came away with at the end of my weeklong tour of North India. To me, India is truly a land of diversity, of difference, of contradiction, of heterogeneity, not of unity,  of identity, of consistency nor of homogeneity both in terms of time and in terms of space. I found not just one single India but a multiplicity of Indias!
What do I mean?
It's the world's largest democracy with 1.2 billion people, easily the second-most populous country in the world and poised to overtake China within a few decades, sharing borders with 10 countries Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east and Burma and Bangladesh to the east; just above Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to it south and its Andaman and Nicobar Islands sharing maritime borders with Thailand and Indonesia. Not only that, it's a country rive with 9 kinds of religions 4 of which are indigenous(viz. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) and 5 of which were imported from abroad viz. Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam centuries ago. It used to be separated into tens of different regions speaking different languages, having different climates, different landscapes, different religions, different customs and different traditions. But from the 18th century on, it was ruled over by officials from the British India Company, the commercial arm of the British Empire and from the 19th century on directly by Britain. India became independent only in 1947 after some long and violent and finally non-violent struggles led by Mahatma Gandi and after its numerous soldiers were maimed or even died for Britain. It is now a nuclear power and has the 3rd largest army in the world (with 1.6 million soldiers in active duty) and ranks 8th worldwide in its military expenditure. It's also the world's 11th largest economy by GDP and 3rd largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and is one of the fastest growing major economies of the world. Yet, despite its material progress, it's a country rife with poverty, corruption, malnutrition, inadequate public healthcare and even terrorism although most of its ordinary people are incredibly peaceful, tolerant and hopeful . We can still see today active traces of the influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam in its architecture and the lifestyles of its peoples.
India is divided into 28 states, 7 union territories and has 15 official languages (all printed on its 100-Rupiah banknotes) but in fact, if we include the languages spoken by its ethnic minorities, the number of languages and dialects spoken in India amount to more than double that number. But its constitution recognizes only 21 Scheduled languages.  In such circumstances, it would be the strangest thing not to expect huge cultural diversity in this populous country with a long and variegated history.
India is home to two major language families: Indo-Aryan (spoken by about 74% of the population) and Dravidian (24%). Other languages spoken in India come from the Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman language families. India has no national language. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language of the government. English is used extensively in business and administration and has the status of a "subsidiary official language"; it is important in education, especially as a medium of higher education. Each state and union territory has one or more official languages, and the constitution recognizes in particular 21 "scheduled languages" and 212 scheduled tribal groups which together constitute about 7.5% of the country's population.
Origin of name of India
According to the Wikipedia, the name India is derived from Indus (which originates from the Old Persian word "Hinduš" , which itself is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, referred to as Indoi (Ινδοί) ("the people of the Indus") by the ancient Greeks but the geographical term "Bharat", officially recognised by its Constitution as the formal name for the country, is used with local variation by many Indian languages. The eponym of "Bharat" is "Bharata", a theological figure that Hindu scriptures describe as a legendary emperor of ancient India. The word "Hindustan" was originally a Persian word that meant "Land of the Hindus" but before 1947, it meant a region that encompassed present day northern India and Pakistan and occasionally it's still being used to denote India as a whole.
Short Indian History
Historians tell us that modern humans arrived in South Asia 73-55,000 years ago although the earliest authenticated human remains date to only some  30,000 years ago: nearly contemporaneous Mesolithic rock art sites have been found in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, including at the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh.The first known Neolithic settlements appeared on the subcontinent in Mehrgarh and other sites in western Pakistan around 7000 BCE and gradually developed the so-called "Indus Valley Civilization" ,the first urban culture in South Asia, one which flourished from 2500 to 1900 BCE in Pakistan and western India, with thriving trade and handicrafts.
From  2000–500 BCE, the various regions on the sub-continent evolved from Chalcolithic to the Iron Age. It was also the period when the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed in the Punjab region and the upper Gangetic Plain. Most historians think that there were several waves of Indo-Aryan migration into the subcontinent from the north-west and it was also during such periods that the 4-tiered caste system (with a top-to-bottom hierarchy of priests, warriors, and free peasants and the "untouchables" ie.  indigenous peoples considered impure because of the kind of work they did ie. waste disposal and cleaning.
By the late Vedic period (around the 5th century BCE), the small chiefdoms of the Ganges Plain and the north-western regions had consolidated into 16 major oligarchies and monarchies, known as the "mahajanapadas". Perhaps, It was owing to the tensions and stresses of increasing urbanisation that its religious orthodoxies began splitting into different religious movements, two of which have since become independent religions: Buddhism (which attracted all classes except the middle class) and Jainism (which became prominent during the life of its exemplar, Mahavira). It's perhaps not an accident that both Buddhism and Jainism upheld renunciation as an ideal. 
By the 3rd century BCE, the kingdom of Magadha had gobbled up other states to build up the Mauryan Empire which ruled over the most parts of the Indian subcontinent except its  southern tip but the latest historical research reveals that its core regions were already separated into large autonomous areas and that the Mauryan kings not just built an empire but were determined managers of its public life, quite unlike the image of the war-renouncing Buddhist King Ashoka, intent only on spreading the Buddhist dhamma.
The Sangam literature of the Tamil language reveals that, between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the south India was ruled by the Cheras, the Cholas, and the Pandyas, dynasties that traded extensively with the Roman Empire and with West and South-East Asia whilst in north India, Hinduism asserted patriarchal control within the family, leading to increased subordination of women
By the 4th and 5th centuries, the Gupta Empire had created in the greater Ganges Plain a complex system of administration and taxation which became a model for later Indian kingdoms.Under the Guptas, a renewed Hinduism based on devotion rather than the management of ritual began to assert itself and its renewal was reflected in the flowering of sculpture and architecture, which found patrons among an urban elites. Classical Sanskrit literature, science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics all made significant progress then. . 
From 600 CE to 1200 CE, India was divided into regonal kingdoms each with its own cultural traditions. When Harsha of Kannauj, who ruled over much of the Indo-Gangetic Plain from 606 to 647 CE, attempted to expand southwards, he was defeated by the Chalukya ruler of the Deccan and when his successor attempted to expand eastwards, he was checked by the Pala King of Bengal. When the Chalukyas attempted to expand southwards, they were stopped by the Pallavas from farther south, who in turn were opposed by the Pandyas and the Cholas from still farther south. During this period, no ruler was able to create an empire and consistently control lands much beyond his core region when pastoralism gave way to agriculture and the caste system was reinforced with regional  differences.
In the 6th and 7th centuries, the first devotional hymns were created in the Tamil language. They were imitated all over India and led to both the resurgence of Hinduism and the development of all modern languages of the subcontinent. Indian royalty, big and small, and the temples they patronised, drew citizens in great numbers to the capital cities, which became economic hubs as well. Temple towns of various sizes began to appear everywhere as India underwent another urbanization. By the 8th and 9th centuries, their effects were felt in South-East Asia, as South Indian culture and political systems were exported to lands that became part of modern-day Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Java.Indian merchants, scholars, and sometimes armies were involved in this transmission; South-East Asians took the initiative as well, with many sojourning in Indian seminaries and translating Buddhist and Hindu texts into their languages.
After the 10th century, Muslim Central Asian nomadic clans, using swift-horse cavalry and raising vast armies united by ethnicity and religion, repeatedly overran South Asia's north-western plains, leading eventually to the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206, which also controlled much of North India. Although at first disruptive of the Indian elites, the sultanate generally left its vast non-Muslim subjects to its own laws and customs. By repeatedly resisting Mongol raiders in the 13th century, the sultanate saved India from the devastation visited on West and Central Asia but set the scene for centuries of migration of fleeing soldiers, learned men, mystics, traders, artists, and artisans from that region into the subcontinent, thereby creating a syncretic Indo-Islamic culture in the north. The sultanate's raiding and weakening of the regional kingdoms of South India paved the way for the indigenous Vijayanagara Empire. Embracing a strong Shaivite tradition and building upon the military technology of the sultanate, the empire controlled much of India and was to influence South Indian society long afterwards.
In the early 16th century, Muslim northern India fell again to the superior mobility and firepower of a new generation of Central Asian warriors, the Mughals who instead of  completely destroying local societies, pacified and unified them through new systematic, centralized administrative practices and diverse and inclusive ruling elites. Eschewing tribal bonds and Islamic identity, especially under Akbar, the Mughals united their far-flung realms through loyalty, expressed through a Persianised culture, to an emperor who had near divine status.The Mughal state's relied upon agriculture for its revenue and ordered that taxes be paid in the well-regulated silver currency and thus encouraged peasants and artisans to produce for larger markets and laid the foundation for economic expansion and the flowering of Indian painting, literature and innovation in its textiles, and architecture. New social groups in northern and western India like the Marathas, the Rajputs, and the Sikhs, occupied important military and administrative positions within the Mughal government whilst along the coasts of south and eastern India growing trade gave rise to a new class of Indian commercial and political elites but as the Mughal Empire disintegrated, such elites won more and more autonomy.
By the early 18th century, the lines between commercial and political elites became increasingly blurred. A number of European trading companies, like the British East India Company (BEIC), began to establish coastal outposts and because of its dominance of the seas, its more advanced military technology and its skillful diplomacy, by 1765, the BEIC  had ousted other European companies in the Bengal region and with its huge profits, it continued to expand so that by the 1820s, its armies had most of India under its control. By then, Indian exported not just its handicraft but its raw materials and the BEIC was effectively turned into the administrative and military arm of the British Empire doing for it its dirty work of growing opium and smuggling it in huge quantities into China to solve the negative balance of payment problem because it had run out of silver to pay for Chinese tea and silk.
In 1848, The Governor-General of the BEIC, Lord Dalhousie began a series of reforms to modernize India: he consolidated and demarcated clearer boundaries,started educating its  population, built railways, canals, and introduced the telegraph. But invasive English-style social reforms, harsh land taxes, summary treatment of some rich landowners and local princes led to the famous "Indian Mutiny" of 1857  the effects of which reverberated throughout Central and Northern India. Although the "Mutiny" was suppressed in 1858, the BEIC was dissolved. The territories previously controlled by the BEIC were put under the direct control of the British Colonial Service. To pacify the local political elites, India was given some limited parliamentary democracy and shared some of its powers with local princes and landed gentry(as a feudal safeguard) against future unrest. In the following decades, more and more Indians were involved in the government process and in 1885, Britain established the Indian National Congress but control remained firmly in the hands of trusted British colonial officials appointed from Whitehall.
The introduction of modern technology and the commercialization of agriculture in the latter half of the 19th century led to commercial cropping, especially in the newly canaled Punjab which helped increase food production for the indigenous population. The railway network also meant lower transportation costs and quicker famine relief, something which helped the nascent Indian-owned industry but it also meant that small farmers were subjected to the whims of far-away markets, something which led to an increase in the number of large-scale famines. Although the costs of infrastructure development was borne by Indian taxpayers, there was not much work for Indians because the garment manufacturing processes relying on Indian cotton were done mostly in Manchester and Liverpool in England. After WWI, in which some one million Indians served as part of the British forces, a new period of reforms began but there were also repressive legislation leading to more strident Indian calls for self-rule and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became the leader of a huge civil disobedience movement based on non-violence and non-co-operation to press for full independence. During the 1930s, there were some slow political reforms and the Indian National Congress Party won more and more victories in the local elections.The next decade was beset with crises: Indian participation in World War II, the Congress's final push for non-cooperation, and an upsurge of Muslim nationalism. All were capped by the advent of independence in 1947. But Independence meant that India was split into two states: India and eastern and western Pakistan.
Administrative Division of India
India is a federation of 28 states whose boundaries are based on the language spoken and 7 union territories including those of Puducherry and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, with a constitutional parliamentary system under which "majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law". The 5 remaining union territories are directly ruled by the central government through appointed administrators. Each state or union territory is further divided into "administrative districts", which in turn are further divided into "tehsils" and ultimately into "villages".The Constitution of India, which came into effect on 26 January 1950, states in its preamble that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and India's form of government, is traditionally described as "quasi-federal" (a strong central government and weak states) has grown increasingly federal since the late 1990s as a result of political, economic, and social changes.The federal government comprises three branches with separation of powers:The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary.
The government is led by the President and head of state, elected indirectly by a national electoral college for a five-year term whilst the Prime Minister is the head of the government and exercises most of its executive powers. Appointed by the president, the prime minister is by convention supported by the party or political alliance holding the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament. The executive branch of the Indian government consists of the president, the vice-president, and the Council of Ministers—the cabinet being its executive committee—headed by the prime minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of one of the houses of parliament. The executive is subordinate to the legislature; the prime minister and his council are directly responsible to the lower house of the parliament.
Government of India
India has a bicameral parliament, comprising the upper house, called the Rajya Sabha ("Council of States")( a permanent body of 245 members who serve in staggered six-year terms, mostly elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in numbers proportional to their state's share of the national population) and the lower house, called the Lok Sabha ("House of the People"): all but two of the Lok Sabha's 545 members being directly elected by popular vote; they represent individual constituencies via five-year terms.The remaining two members are nominated by the president from among the Anglo-Indian community, in case the president decides that they are not adequately represented.
India has six recognised national parties, including the Indian National Congress  Party ("INC") and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and more than 40 regional parties. The INC is considered centre-left or "liberal" in Indian political culture, and the BJP centre-right or "conservative". For most of the period between 1950—when India first became a republic—and the late 1980s, the INC had a majority in the parliament. Since then, however, it has increasingly shared the political stage with the BJP, as well as with powerful regional parties which have often forced the creation of multi-party coalitions at the centre.
India has a unitary three-tier independent judiciary that comprises the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India, 24 High Courts, and a large number of trial courts. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over cases involving fundamental rights and over disputes between states and the central government: it has appellate jurisdiction over the High Court and has the power both to declare the law and to strike down union or state laws which contravene the constitution.The Supreme Court is also the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.
In the 60 odd years since its independence, India has remained a secular democracy with no state religion, retained an independent press and an activist Supreme Court which preserved civil liberties. The economic reforms in the 1990s led to a 10-fold increase of its GDP and the creation of a huge urban middle class and turned India into one of the fastest growing economies and Indian movies, music, and spiritual teachings play an increasing role in global culture. But many problems remain unsolved : rural and urban poverty, religious and caste-related violence ;Maoist-inspired Naxalite insurgencies; separatism in Jammu and Kashmir and in Northeast India, unresolved territorial disputes with China, which escalated into the Sino-Indian War of 1962  and also with Pakistan, which flared into wars fought in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. The India–Pakistan nuclear rivalry came to a head in 1998.
Indian Religions
The 2001 census reported that Hinduism, with over 800 million adherents (80.5% of the population), was the largest religion in India, followed by Islam (13.4%) (70% of whom are Sunnies and 30% Shiites), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.8%), Jainism (0.4%), Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the Bahá'í Faith. India has the world's largest Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian, and Bahá'í populations and has the third-largest Muslim population and the largest Muslim population for a non-Muslim majority country.
Indian cultural history spans more than 4,500 years. During the Vedic period (c. 1700 – 500 BCE), the foundations of Hindu philosophy, mythology, and literature were laid, and many beliefs and practices which still exist today, such as dhárma, kárma, yóga, and mokṣa, were established.Its predominant religion, Hinduism, has been shaped by various historical schools of thought, including those of the Upanishads,the Yoga Sutras, the Bhakti movement, and by Buddhist philosophy.
Indian Economy
According to the IMF, as of 2013, India has a GDP of US$1.758 trillion and is the 11th largest economy by market exchange rates, and at US$4.962 trillion, the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). With an average annual GDP growth rate of 5.8% over the past two decades, reaching 6.1% during 2011–12, India is one of the world's fastest-growing economies. However, if measured by its nominal per capita GDP, it ranks 140th worldwide and 129th in terms of per capital GDP at PPP.
Influenced by socialist economics, until 1991, all Indian governments followed protectionist policies and with widespread state intervention and regulation and was a relatively closed economy. However, because of an acute balance of payments crisis in 1991, it was forced to liberalise its economy. Since then it has slowly moved towards a free-market system by emphasizing both foreign trade and direct investment inflows.Today, India's economic model is largely capitalist. Since 1995,  India has been a member of WTO.  As of 2011, its 486.6-million labour force is the world's second-largest and its service sector makes up 55.6% of its GDP, the industrial sector 26.3% and the agricultural sector 18.1%. Its agricultural products include rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, and potatoes and its major industries include textiles, telecommunications, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, food processing, steel, transport equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, and software.
But although India's nominal GDP per capita has steadily increased from US$329 in 1991, when economic liberalisation began, to US$1,265 in 2010, and is estimated to increase to US$2,110 by 2016;  it still always lower than those of other Asian developing countries such as Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand and is expected to remain so in the near future.In 2006, the  external trade accounted for 24% of its GDP up from 6% in 1985. In 2008, India's share of world trade was 1.68%; In 2011, India was the world's tenth-largest importer and the nineteenth-largest exporter. Major exports include petroleum products, textile goods, jewellery, software, engineering goods, chemicals, and leather manufactures.Major imports include crude oil, machinery, gems, fertiliser, and chemicals.Between 2001 and 2011, the contribution of petrochemical and engineering goods to total exports grew from 14% to 42%. According to a 2011 Price Waterhouse and Coopers report, at an annualized GDP growth of 8% because of its increasingly well-educated young population, India's GDP at purchasing power parity could overtake that of the United States by 2045. But the World Bank cautions that,India must continue to focus on public sector reform, transport infrastructure, agricultural and rural development, removal of labour regulations, education, energy security, and public health and nutrition if it's to achieve its growth target.
India has a thriving movie industry. It produces the world's most-watched cinema: established regional cinematic traditions exist in the Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil, and Telugu languages. South Indian cinema attracts more than 75% of national film revenue.Television broadcasting began in India in 1959 as a state-run medium of communication, and had slow expansion for more than two decades.The state monopoly on television broadcast ended in 1990s and, since then, satellite channels have increasingly shaped popular culture of Indian society.Today, television is the most penetrative media in India; industry estimates indicate that as of 2012 there are over 554 million TV consumers, 462 million with satellite and/or cable connections, compared to other forms of mass media such as press (350 million), radio (156 million) or internet (37 million).
Living Standards
Despite impressive economic growth since the 1900s, India has the largest concentration of people living below the World Bank's international poverty line of US$1.25 per day, the proportion having decreased from 60% in 1981 to 42% in 2005 but still 48% of India's children under the age of 5 are underweight, half of such children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkand, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh, which account for  more than half of  India's popultion, 70% of the children between the ages of six months and 5 years  are anaemic. Its Mid-Day Meal Scheme attempts to lower these rates.Since 1991, economic inequality between India's states has consistently grown: the per-capita net state domestic product of the richest states in 2007 was 3.2 times that of the poorest. Corruption in India is perceived to have increased significantly, with one report estimating the illegal capital flows since independence to be US$462 billion.
According to the WHO, nearly a million Indians die each year from drinking contaminated water or breathing polluted air.There are only around 50 physicians per 100,000 . The number of Indians living in urban areas has grown by nearly 1/3 between 1991 and 2001, yet, by 2001, more than 70% of its population are still living in rural areas. According to the 2001 census, there are 27 million-plus cities in India and in the sam year, the literacy rate has grown to nearly 3/4 of its population: 65.46% among females and 82.14% among males.
Social Classes & Traditions
Although ifficially abolished in 1947, the caste system, defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed as jātis, or "castes" and numerous other anti-discriminatory laws and social welfare initiatives, numerous reports suggest that many Dalits ("ex–Untouchables") and other low castes in rural areas continue to live in segregation and face persecution and discrimination but in urban India and in international or leading Indian companies, the caste system has pretty much disappeared. Family values remain important in the India and multi-generational patriarchal joint families are the traditional norm in India but nuclear families are becoming more and more common in the cities. But an overwhelming majority of Indians still have their marriages arranged by their parents or other family members, though now often with their consent.  Marriage is thought to be for life. Indian divorce rate is extremely low. Child marriages are still common, especially in rural areas; many women in India still marry before they're 18, the mimimum age for a legal marriage. 
Many Indian festivals are religious in origin e.g Chhath, Christmas, Diwali, Durga Puja, Bakr-Id, Eid ul-Fitr, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, Navratri, Thai Pongal, and Vaisakhi. Three national holidays are observed in all states and union territories: Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti. Other  holidays, between 9 to 12 are officially observed in different states.
Geography & Climate
India has two main rivers both originating the Himalayas: the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, both draining into the Bay of Bengal with such tributaries as the Yamuna and the Kosi whose  extremely low gradient often leads to severe floods and course changes but the Narmada and the Tapti drain into the Arabian Sea. There are also marshy areas in Kutch in western India and an alluvial delta eg. Sundarbans in eastern India which is shared with Bangladesh. India also owns the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a volcanic chain in the Andaman Sea.
India has two seasons, the wet summer monsoon from the south east between June and October and the dry winter monsoons from the northwest shaped by the high Himalayas which send colder and drier air down into the subcontinent and the Thar Desert which draws in moisture from the sea. But the Himalayas also keeps out cold Central Asian katabatic winds from blowing in and help keep the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations at similar latitudes.Overall, there are 4 main types of climate in India: tropical wet, tropical dry, subtropical humid, and intermontane.

Photographically, my trip to India was a complete disaster. Immediately prior to the trip, I had taken some photos of the night scenes of the Hong Kong harbor in conditions of very dim light and so adjusted the ISO of my camera to 12800 but I forgot to check it again before using it in India and for the entire trip, all photos were taken at the ridiculous setting of 12800 ISO!   Anyway, what's done is done. No use crying over spilt ISO!

We flew direct from Hong Kong to New Delhi where we stopped briefly for lunch at the hotel where we were to stay the night.

The bell boy smartly dressed in white with a panash over his head and sash over his belly

Our hotel

The roadside of New Delhi are lined with such little shops selling crisps and other pre-packaged food or a kind of fried local bun or the Indian version of doughnuts.  

A trolley and some fruits and you're all set for a day's business

Early next morning, we had to catch a two hour connecting flight to Srinagar in the Jammu Kashmir state in northern India. This is the concourse outside the New Delhi Airport opened in 2006 just to be in time for the Commonwealth Games

The entrance to the departure hall

The Indian Elephant is an important cultural icon in India. According to mythology, the gods (deva) and the demons (asura) churned the oceans in a search for the elixir of life - 'amrit' (nectar) so that they could become immortal and as they did so, the 'navratnas' (nine jewels) surfaced, one of which was the elephant. The indian elephant can grow to about 6.5 metres long and 3.5 metres high, has grey-brown skin with patches of pink on the forehead, ears, base of the trunk and chest and usually lives in groups of 6-7 related females led by the oldest matriarch and may occasionally join other groups to form transient herds, become sexually active at age 9 but only become fully mature at at 14-15, giving birth to a calf once every 2.5 to 4 years or 5-8 years and spend 2/3rds of each day feeding on grass, tree bark, roots, leaves and small stems and also like bananas, rice and sugarcane and need to drink once a day. India has nearly 60% of the Indian elephants, the rest being found in Borneo and the Andaman Islands. Like animals everywhere, their habitats are now dwindling by human invasion through the development of roads, railways, deforestation. 

The departure hall

bronze sculptures of human figures spiraling up 

The airport is huge

The Himalayas from the tiny window of our airplane

patches of snow collect on hollows in the hilltops

 a closer view of one of the moutains

An even closer view

A river valley

Mountain chains after mountain chains as far as the eye can see

Folds upon folds on the roof of the world

They rise above the clouds to face the limitless blue of the sky

 Mist collecting at the waist of the mountain

It looks as if they came out from a Chinese ink painting

We are approaching descent. My final look. 

Once on the ground, we were taken by such jeeps along some pretty bumpy dirt roads to the boat houses at the side of Lake Dal, where we would stay for the next two nights

The complex is called Wangnoo Sheraton. What a name!

Before we could reach our boat houses, we had to pass through a small collin and a garden

where we found some chrysanthemums.

Some of them have already faded whilst later comers valiantly brace themselves for the arrival of winter

 These look undaunted

So are these
There are altogether more than 1100 houseboats in Srinagar all anchored at the lake and the river feeding it, more than 900 on one side and slightly more than 100 on the other side. Although the Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir restricted the building of houses in the valley, the British circumvented this rule by commissioning lavish houseboats to be built on the Dal Lake. Generally made from local cedar-wood 79–125 ft long and 10 to 20 ft wide, they are  graded in a similar fashion to hotels according to level of comfort. Many of them have lavishly furnished rooms, with verandas and a terrace to serve as a sun-deck or to serve evening cocktails. They are mainly moored along the western periphery of the lake, close to the lakeside boulevard in the vicinity of the Dal gate and on small islands in the lake. They are anchored individually, with interconnecting bridges providing access from one boat to the other. The kitchen-boat is annexed to the main houseboat, which also serves as residence of the boatkeeper and his family.The houseboats have been referred to as, "each one a little piece of England afloat on Dal Lake." After the independence of India, the Kashmiri Hanji people have built, owned and maintained these houseboats, cultivating floating gardens and producing commodities for the market, making them the centre of their livelihoods. Each houseboat is served by a butler who takes care of making our bed in the morning, switching on the heater, the hot water heater at night and preparing our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our house boat was on the other side, just behind a private garden. By the time we arrived at our house boat, it was already evening .The Dal Lake has been called the "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir"  or "Srinagar's Jewel" is the second largest lake in Jammu & Kashmir. In winter, its temperature can drop to −11 °C (12 °F) and freezes over. . The wetland is divided by causeways into four basins; Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin (although Nagin is also considered as an independent lake). Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively.


Our dining room. Not much is available in Kashmir, just carrots, cabbage, eggs and chicken cooked simply and we got pretty much the same stuff every meal.

Our sitting roomOur sitting room, with a divan, some sofas and chairs and a TV, a place where one can relax if one wants to. But because all electricity to the boat was supplied by a small generator. the lights were extremely dim so that one can't really read a book there in the evening. Night life in Srinagar is non-existent and everyone lives by the sun.

A corner of our sitting room

Our first Kashimiri meal, mostly carrots, cabbages and a bit of chicken cooked with chillies and tomatoes. Our first taste of local food.

I had a Kingfisher, a famous local beer.

My room was at the rear end of the boat. A bed fit for an Indian prince of old?

The corridor to some 4 or 5 rooms, separated by thin wooden partitions

After lunch we were taken to a tour of the city. This is the famous Jamia Masjid Mosque of Srinagar, right at the centre of the old town, built by Sultan Sikandar in 1400 AD and extended by his son Zain-ul-Abidin, in beautiful Indo-Saracenic style with a magnificent courtyard and 370 wooden pillars, offering a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the old bazaars right outside its gates and a place where thousands of Muslims assemble every Friday to offer their prayers. It can hold up to 33,333 people at the same time and if its spacious courtyard were to be used too, up to 100,000.

 Some of the famous wooden pillars

the other side of the mosque

The arched door

One of the trellised windows

The beautiful dome making use of colored glass

Another view of the mosque

The sun streaming in through one of the windows

people warming themselves by burning a discarded log at the road side, quite a common sight

Some of the shops around the mosque

 This one sells dried chillis, garlic and all kinds of spices. rather like the shops in rural Chinese towns

Saris in all kinds of styles and colors

legs of lamb/goats for sale

he sells what looks like the entrails of goats

wicker baskets, trays, pans and brooms for sale

male headwear

More "modern" designs for ladies

pots and pans

All sorts of goods for sale, rather like Chinese stores

Brooms of all colors sweep as clean?

Do they like bright basic colors to relieve the basic humdrum dreariness of their lives?

Everywhere one looks, one find that the Kashmiris enjoy colors

Another spice and grain shop

Colorful Kashmiri patterns

More ladies dresses

Really bright looking yellow with nice bands in front

All kinds of bags for sale

Artificial flowers

Miscellaneous items for sale arranged in no particular order

Aromatic soaps with jasmine, rose, sandalwood etc

A man dying cloths right in front of his shop

Completely engrossed in his work

A house with a double spiral staircase


Not every one is rich enough to have his own shop

pan fried peas for sale

Kashmir is famous for its long hair wool: cashmere. This shop collects wool from breeders wholesale.  The longest and finest wool is "shatosh", "cashmere" is only next.

The proud owner of the  shop

The scale he uses

muttons and trotters for sale

Another mutton butcher's 

Sitting behind his freshly slaughtered goats

de-scaling and preparing fresh water lake fish for sale to a waiting housewife

Another competitor

An old man singing hymns outside the mosque

man's robe

Beautiful Indian cloth for sale

All kinds of patterns and colors

Another roadside clothier stall  

another wall side stall

cheap ready-made garment on sale

freshly opened coconuts 

 and oranges

it appears that Indians abhor simplicity: everything must be colored and pasted with different intricate patterns that co-exist in abundant profusion

After our tour of the old bazaars,we were driven to see must-see spot: the Shalimar Bagh, (Hindi: शालीमार बाग़, Urdu: شالیمار باغ) aka Shalamar Garden, Farah Baksh and Faiz Baksha, linked through a channel to the northeast of Dal Lake, on its right bank near Srinagar. The Bagh was built by Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619 and is considered the best example of Mughal horticulture. However there had already been a garden there as far back as the 2nd century, built during the reign of Pravarsena II, who founded the city of Srinagar and ruled in Kashmir from 79 AD to 139 AD. Originally, he  had built a just cottage for his stay at Dal Lake and named it Shalimar (a name of Arabic or Persian origin because a Muslim King would never use a Sanskrit name for a royal garden) on his way to visit a local saint called Sukarma Swami at Harwa. The name of the village remained "Shalimar". It is here that Emperor Jahangir started this dream project to please his queen Nur Jahan ('light of the world') by enlarging the ancient garden in 1619 into a royal garden and called it 'Farah Baksh' ('the delightful') and another Emperor, Shah Jahan had it further extended in 1630 and renamed it ‘Faiz Baksh’ ('the bountiful'). It has since become a favourite place for the enjoyment of the Pathan and Sikh governors who followed Zafar Khan.Emperor Jahangir and his wife Nur Jahan loved Kashmir so much that they moved from Delhi to  Srinagar with their full court entourage for at least 13 summers during which the garden and its associated building served as his summer residence and the Royal Court. To reach it, they had to cross the arduous snowy passes of the Pir Panjal mountain range on elephants. 
The Shalamar Garden is based on the so-called Islamic Persian gardens in the form of a square with four radiating arms from a central water source. But to get water a central channel had to be built through the garden axially from its highest to the lowest of its three stepped terraces, leaving out the radial arms so that its shape is rectangular rather than square.It covers 12.4 hectares (31 acres). Each of its 3 terraces has fountains and chinar (sycamore) trees. The garden was linked to the open Dal Lake water through a 12 yard wide canal about a mile long that ran through the swampy quagmire. The lakeside is planted with willow trees with broad green paths lined with rows of chinar trees. The garden has trellised walkways lined by avenues of aspen trees planted at 2 feet interval.
The first terrace or the outer garden is open to the general public and ends at the Diwan-e-Aam (public audience hall). In this hall, a small black marble throne was installed over the waterfall.
The slightly broader second terraced garden along the axial canal has two shallow terraces. The Diwan-fa-Khas (the Hall of Private Audience), was open only to the noblemen or guests of the court, now derelict, is in its centre. However, its carved stone bases and the fine platform surrounded by fountains can still be seen. The royal bathrooms are located on the north-west boundary of this enclosure. The fountain pools of the Diwan-i Khas, the Diwan-i-Aam, and in turn, the Zenana terrace follow each other with a total of some 410 fountains. On the third and highest terrace, the axial water channel flows through the Zenana garden, flanked by the Diwan-i-Khas and chinar trees with two small pavilions or guard rooms (built in Kashmir style on stone plinth) to protect the royal harem. Shahajahan built a baradari of black marble, called the Black Pavilion in the zenana garden, encircled by a fountain pool that receives its supply from a higher terrace. A double cascade falls against a low wall carved with small niches (chini khanas), behind the pavilion. Two smaller, secondary water canals lead from the Black Pavilion to a small baradari.
Above the third level, two octagonal pavilions define the end wall of the garden. In the background, one gets a magnificent view of the snow mountains.The Shalimar Bagh is well known for chini khanas, or arched niches, behind garden waterfalls. In ancient times, such niches were lighted at night with oil lamps to give a fairy tale appearance to the water falls. But now, such niches hold only flower pots to form reflections on on the cascading water.

 This used to the emperor's summer palace

part of the garden

The path leading up to the third terrace

There are not very many flowers there because it's winter

Some of the flowers

The central channel with its fountain head. This is the original model for fountains at the Taj Mahal in Agra.


In the background one see the shores of the Dal Lake

In the background are high mountains

We see here how the water at the third terrace drain into those at the second terrace

Another view of the cascade

A sectional view of the cascade

Fallen leaves on the pond

An Indian sitting quietly enjoying the sunset

The setting sun


The falling sun between sycamore leaves


The trees here are quite old

The Dal Lake

Another side of the 6.9 square-mile Dal Lake

Lake Dal, all covered in mist back from our houseboat

 The temperature had dropped to below zero during the night. So when I went out to have a look at the surroundings early the following morning, I found that the leaves of the trees were all frosted over

frosted chrysanthemum

more frosted yellow chrysanthemums

a rose with frost over its petals. My first experience of a rose in such condition.

An orange chrysanthemum in the morning frost

In the evening of our second day, we were taken on to one of these shikaras for a short water tour of the lake

Some of the houseboats on our side of the lake

Whilst gliding over the surface of the lake, in these shikaras for ferrying guests to the shore or water tours, a kind of lake taxi, each about 15 feet with a canopy and a spade shaped bottom and the cultural symbol of Kashmir, we were constantly approached by other shikaras trying extremely hard to sell to us silver, brass, copper, tin boxes, mementos and saffrons

Our oarsman in his "Phiron" (traditional dress)

The oarsman of another boat

One such pedlar paddling towards our boat

A second such pedlar

Some of the stuffs he's trying to sell to us. A girl on our boat bought something from him.

There are some houses close to one of the houseboats

The other side of the lake. Some say that the lake is of glacial and other that it's of fluvial origin. But whatever its origin, it looks beautiful in the evening mist.

There's a floating garden on the lake, known as "Rad", consisting of a mix of matted vegetation and mud.  We were told that in summer, it's really beautiful, with its lotus flowers in blossom during July and August. But not much is now left except some rushes. But there's a certain bleak beauty to them too.

The surface of the garden were full of these small floating leaves and rushes and the stalks of lotus flowers. The lake is not quite deep, varying from 20 ft to just about 8 feet.

Reflection of the trees on the other side of the lake

The evening sun hiding at the bottom of the rushes


It's a very peaceful lake. There is silence all around. One hears only the sound of the oars as our oarsman slides his oar at an angle into the calm surface of the lake, stroke by stroke, in the kind of rhythm which probably had been used by his parents and his parents' parents for I don't know how many generations. Sitting in leisure as our boat glides almost silently across the barely ruffled surface of the lake, I can understand why India is the country where meditation first started.

The hour long water tour is nearing its end. The boats are returning to the tiny jetty at the end of our houseboat.