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Vicariously Yours Indulgent, Masturbatory, Escapism for your Repressed Wanderlust

Escape From Kashmir

INDIA | Wednesday, 13 May 2009 | Views [473]

It went as follows:

Lucy, knocking once, twice (short grumble), three times finally rouses me enough so that I can respond. "Okay. thank you. I'm up." MY head collapses back into my pillow. 'The silk sleep sheets we purchased were great buys,' i muse in a pseudo dream state. And it's true; they are light and extremely comfortable, just don't report me to the vegan police. It was silk or cotton made by child slaves. Besides, this is a must have for traveling cheaply.

It's 5am. we are scheduled to leave at 630 after breakfast but we need to get up and pack first. Breakfast is a mediocre omelet again of presumably chickens' eggs, though, based on the scam and lies, I wondered aloud to the other captives if we were not eating pigeon eggs - there seemed to be a more than a plethora preening, roosting and scratching around overhead atop the thin tin roofs. who needs a wake up call when the pigeons gladly do it with so many clicks, flutters and Kashmiri coos. We eat as much as possible to keep ourselves filled for the 13 hour ride ahead of us. for Al, that consists of barely half of her food. for me, that consists of my food plus as much of Al's as possible. Finally we leave, with much tip groveling and with very little fanfare as, since we arrived, we began to stir up seeds of doubt and discontent in the other travelers. leave it to the new yorkers to get somewhere and encourage everyone else to complain rather than bear their anxieties and disappointments quietly.

The driver speaks very little English. we cast off in a jeep, the 3 of us, Lucy and Al in the back, and I'm in the front. Lucy is another captive, having been tricked into going to Kashmir just the same. She is traveling alone and had already been to a few places in India as well as Nepal. She is in her 40s and is from Canada. She is very sweet and helpful and laughed at my jokes, so I liked her.

With each rotation of the wheel, each passing moment the dark cloud above our heads begins to left and we begin to feel free. We make a few turns and i recognize we are well on our way, about to cross the bridge out of town. then, BAM! roadblock. 'are you serious?' I ask rhetorically. the driver attempts to answer. the military turns us around. "don't worry. there's another way," answers the driver who senses our collective dismay. we turn another corner after backtracking a bit to meet a similar fate. "now what? did those con artists mastermind this traffic boondoggle in order to keep us here still longer? will they force us to visit the carpet store again and force us to buy?" I must have said some of this out loud because Lucy and Al laughed uneasily and the driver answered that he knew another way out of town. the long way. the long, long way. around the 8km long Dal Lake, 45 minutes out of the way. no matter. as long as we get the hell out.

three quarters of the way around we hit a wall of traffic. there;s been an accident. "damn you travel agency!" I curse, shaking my fist at the heavens. "have you really gone this far?" no. it seems legit after a few conversations with the driver. he knows yet another way. we make a serious 3 pt turn, pissing off everyone in the process and back track half a mile to a dirt road. it leads us down some back lanes by farm plots and stone quarries, past oncoming tractors and surprised common folk. after snaking our way through some tight back alleys, once getting stuck due to an oncoming donkey drawn cart, we make it on to the main road ahead of the traffic. finally. we can breath another sigh of relief.

we are moving now. we pass farmland with small identical townships in between. the townships inevitably consist of the exact same shops, raw materials for building, snack shops, hole in the wall eateries and the standard shop of miscellany. Lucy regales us with stories of her travels. we soak up as much info as possible, though i leave most of the note-taking to Al at a certain point, since after an hour or so, we are driving up hills into the mountains, making one hair raising turn with nothing but the air space between our road and the ground 100ft below to stop us from unexpectedly careening off a ledge. we are headed toward 1 of 2 mountain passes, 1 of 2 escape routes by road
out of the kashmiri valley. One twisting ascent leads us to another twisting descent, to another twisting ascent to a tunnel, the other side of which leads us to an even more twisting and sharp descent to another ascent. the mt. driving is a harrowing experience, particularly for the front seat passenger. driving in this land is already chaotic and nerve racking, but add to that the constant fear of plummeting off the roads, lanes too small for 2 way traffic, cheddar sharp turns and you've come close to describing this experience. it takes us hours to go only a few km since we are driving up one hill side, back and forth, round and round, only to cross to another to do the same. there are markedly few protective rails and in some cases, where there is only 1 lane, there is still 2 way traffic. there are long landslide zones through which we must navigate replete with large rocks in the road, huge trucks to pass, oncoming traffic with more trucks and a menagerie of wildlife to dodge; birds, cows, sheep, goats, camels, monkeys, dogs, cat, people, lizards, yaks, mongooses and more. at some points there are rock outcroppings the way under which was too dangerous to pave - yet we still drive on.

one of the more interesting things about our trip thus far is the simultaneous existence of the modern and the old fashioned. despite the ubiquity of internal combustion chamber automobiles, there are still gypsies and other local folk moving about with animals as their conveyance, or with their feet as conveyance animals in tow. the herders, mostly gypsies, walk long the same roads on which we drive. they move their flocks this way, walking along as if they don't see the cars - indeed, they might not. some of these folks live a very isolated life, in every sense. i cant think of them off the top of my head or find them with a quick google search, but i remember reading about the Tainos, the native population in the Bahamas when Columbus first visited. It has been suggested that the ships may have been docked for weeks, or visible for weeks, but that the native peoples could not see them. that is, they saw the ships with their sails and mass as clouds or some other thing. this is a blindness to the unknown the existence of which i found quite interesting due to its potential applications to our culture, space and other scientific research. anyway, perhaps these gypsies did not see these cars. they sure acted like it. even if this is not the case, these people seemed oblivious to the engines roaring by dangerously so. to the point where they seemed immune to the dark puffs of diesel engine waste, feared not the proximity to massive speeding automobiles whose momentum could crush the people and their entire flock.

the roads snaked their way up and down, but also in and out. imagine a sin curve with length and height. now rotate it in the z axis dimensions 90 degrees. the roads followed this shape as well. at the inward apex of the curving roads there were often waterfalls and natural streams cascading down off cliffs, but also over lesser precipices, crossing over or under glacial boulders and rock slide debris. at many of these points there were formed impromptu rest stops, primarily by truck drivers in need of a water break, bath or a clean windshield. herders and gypsies too, utilized these 'stations' some of which were dammed so pools could form. there were many of these that we passed, providing us opportunity for sightseeing. at one such stations, we stopped to let monkeys pass (hopefully i have a picture here)

the ins and outs, ups and downs besides being dangerous, provided us incredible vistas of white capped mountains competing to be the tallest and equally compelling green valleys and rocky waterways and channels. the terrain ranged from coniferous forest to subtropic to arid and back again. the flora seemed to change from one mountain to the next. it was incredible. no matter where we were were and in which direction we looked, we managed to spot at least someone making a home at an unthinkable altitude or inhospitable bit of rock, in a dry valley or near the top of a seemingly insurmountable mt. peak. how and why would people live there in those conditions?

the whole trip, 13 hours, was navigated without air condition. the majority of the trip i tied my bandanna around my face like a bank robber to filter the terrible air whenever possible. we crossed paths with buses so filled they teetered to one side, yet they climbed the slopes and cornered without hesitation.

out of the main hills we traveled through some very dry towns where dust abounded, the rivers were near or completely dry and the people were somewhat sullen, desiccated like the terrain.the dryness and the cracking affected the roads which were pot-holed and cracked worse than any you might encounter mid winter in the Bronx. that is, when there were paved roads. we crossed bridges that used to be 2 lanes, used to be paved, whose skeletal structure used to be hidden beneath concrete and stone. this was a major route on the map. i cannot conceive of the state that the 'back roads' might be in. then again, if the locals used them frequently the roads might be just fine - they tended to fix their roads.

random observations: whereas in the US we use flares to signal an accident or a car stopped near or in the side lane, in Kashmir and elsewhere, they use stones.

13 hours, including a few stops, though less than one might expect considering we had only 1 driver. others slept, i could not. someone had to keep an eye out to anticipate and warn the others of imminent crash or sudden departure from the course (as if i would have even been able to tell) whence we might be brought to Pakistan and sold as sex slaves, well the women at least; i would be shot and thrown from the moving car off a cliff. thankfully, my imagination, per usual, exceeds the creativity of actual things.

just one more narrow ascension to Dharamsala and we would be done. though, this mt. driving was in the dark. the roads upward at this point were truly one lane - one lane in the cooper mini sense. again, tons of people and animals on the road, bikes, rickshaws, auto's, more animals, motorcycles and even horse drawn carts. we made it. it was a beautiful ride filled with new experiences and information. never again would we make such a ride we told each other. though, i would highly recommend it as a 1 time experience.

 

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