Mostly famous for the mountain scenery and the houseboats of placid Dal Lake, Srinagar is where vacationers head to when they want to escape the heat of summer.
But despite visiting Srinagar during low season, we found the touts to be as high as the mountains that surround the city. We couldn’t go a few steps without someone coming around to try and hook us into a night on a houseboat or a tour on a shikara (paddleboat), and these people are as persistent as they come. “Shikara? Houseboat? Come, come, I give you good price, my friend!”
Our final destination was actually Gulmarg, a small resort town higher up in the mountains, but the bluebird sky forecast was for Friday, so we decided to kill time in rainy but budget-friendly Srinagar.
In winter, Srinagar isn’t much to behold. The mountains are shrouded in mist or dust, the streets are wet and muddy by day, and completely empty by 9pm. What I did enjoy was the homemade bread and the fruitcakes, which are both fricking delicious, and unfortunately made only in Kashmir.
Unnerving, however, is the overwhelming military presence, proof of the border and political disputes that have been going on for decades. The embroiled territories of Kashmir suffer curfews and road blocks among many other restrictions, and locals despise the military, according to the few people who have ventured to talk with us. Soldiers stand on almost every corner with huge guns strapped onto their backs, and walk around with walking sticks that seem innocuous at first glance. Photos not allowed, of course.
By the way… you know how I said Alleppey had a lot of houseboats? Well, Srinagar has more houseboats than Alleppey has people, it seems like! And they’re built differently too, the ones here aren’t thatched but actual house boats.