It’s early evening now, I’m exhausted after another long and hot day traversing Srinagar and the surrounding areas to meet people for Nelson’s project. I’m sitting in the airy front verandah of a houseboat, watching the sunset over the sheet-metal roofs of the stilted homes on Dal lake. In the distance, I can hear the evening call to prayer, summoning devotees to the mosque on the shore of the lake.

Downtown Srinagar…

The boat were staying on has been in the family for over fifty years. She is a scant twelve feet wide and forty-five feet long. And, begins and ends with a long narrow prow. Walking in through a low hanging and engraved entryway there are two living rooms with bright teal walls and red Kashmiri carpets. Large wooden windows line the walls, and this time of year they remain open to catch the soft evening breezes… Traveling farther down through the boat, there are four smaller rooms all connected in line, and laid with time worn running boards that make up the different bedrooms. Each of these is painted a different color.

Our house boat sits with hundreds of other boats in long and shallow canals dug into an island in the middle of Dal Lake. The boats are all double/triple parked for as long as you can see (so it would be more true to say they are floating residencies than vehicles for travel). On the narrow slats of land that separate the canals, poplar trees rise up and provide shade, roses are blooming, grapes and squash are growing in the narrow gardens… Where there is any space between houseboats, small and modest/living spaces with tin roofs are erected on stilts above the lily-covered surface of the water. The homes, gardens and boats are all connected with creaking and aged wooden walkways that seem to be held up by the web of spliced power lines and cloth lines.

The owner of our boat is a third generation houseboat owner. The way it is looking, when he retires, his daughter will take over the family business and make it four generations. The house boats are not native to the Kashmiris, but actually a relic of the British colonial period in India. As the British were barred from owning land in Srinagar, they improvised a solution. And, that solution was to construct hundreds of enormously lavish houseboats in Dal Lake complete with caretakers, cooks and staff to run them. The owner’s grandfather tended one of these first boats and the family has continued to do so. The house boat has truly become a part of the community and culture here in Srinagar. There is usually an enormous boat in the very front of the canal that is used to generate income by housing the many Indian and international tourists that come through Kashmir, and the family lives in smaller much more modest dwellings behind the main boat.

Women on one of the canals inside the island…

Nelson and I came to stay in the houseboats because the downtown area in Srinagar where we were staying, was about to undergo its fourth and most stringent day of curfew. Friday is a holy day within the Islamic community, and the separatist groups in Kashmir called the people to go to the gutted Dastgeer Sahib shrine (that caught fire earlier in the week) to go pay their respects and mourn the communities loss. Because the sacred shrine caught fire, tensions between the Indian Army and the Kashmiri people were yet again increased. A three day peoples strike took place and also a three day undeclared government curfew… As an outsider, it’s hard to tell which it really was… But, after spending the better part of three days in our hotel room overlooking the main square, Nels and I opted to throw our shit into an auto-rickshaw and find a place on the lake… This last Friday (that next day) the entire square was closed off with razor wire and heavily patrolled by the Indian Army. No one came or left the square for close to 24 hours and the entire city of 2 million was under curfew as well as the rest of the Kashmiri state.

View from the front of the of the first boat we stayed in…

Thus, we came to stay in an ultra-posh, Victorian era housboat in the majestic Dal lake. But, at a whopping 40 dollars a night (2,000 Rs), we couldn’t afford to stay there for more than a few nights. (To give some perspective, one of the pits I stayed at in Dharamsala was a modes $2.15 a night)… Upon telling the owner that we needed to find cheaper housing, he led us through the floating garden filled with blooming summer flowers and to the houseboat he himself was raised in…

 And, it is here that we are staying, right next to the stilted home that the owner, his wife, three daughters and granddaughter live in.  We even have access to our own rickety wooden shakara that we can paddle the shallow lake with and swim off of. In the evenings, we share our meals on the kitchen floor with the owner and his family. I noticed my hand has been stained a pale yellow from eating the curried vegetables and dahl with rice by hand…

One of the homes our host family lives in…

During the last few days we have been focusing on the women’s voice here in Kashmir. Across the board, women suffer the most and have the least say when it comes to political turmoil, conflict and poverty. Thus, Nelson and I have been making connections and photographing women in families that have been hugely affected by, and yet not taken any part in, the conflict here in Kashmir… Some wild stories… incredible loss… families left with nothing but enforced acceptance of the disappearance of loved ones… and still, years go by yet the courts pay no attention to their sorrows. Leaving murky futures for most it seems…

But, things are good on my side… All is well… Opening, grasping, cherishing the indominable human spirit…

One of the wemon we interviewed walking past a concrete structure in the compound the family lives in…

I have a lot more content to post, but due to political climate here, I am going to have to do some sort of post-analogs portion of the trip… I will probably do this soon after I return to the states… So, do be looking for them…

It has now been three weeks here in Srinagar and we have talked to some truly amazing people. Their stories, their lives, the place itself… is so rich… Nelson and I are off to the Tibetan Buddhist portion of North-Eastern Kashmir, called Ladakh within the week. Although it will be nice for a bit of a change in atmosphere, I feel like we’ve met some amazing people here and am also a bit sad to leave so soon…

 

Salaam Alyakum (peace be upon you )…

Signing off from the verandah,

Alex