Right up on the northern tip of Indian border lies a magical place. Kashmir: paradise land of lotus flower lakes, floating gardens, gaily canopied houseboats, many bridged crystal rivers and flower strewn pastures all encircled by the Himalayas. Himalayas, again. Right! I got somehow sort of tropical fatigue down the Bengal, but now I got back up here in the Himalayas. Kashmir it’s a place so interesting in India also for the fact that is not very Indian, I could say! It’s very Central Asian. Almost everybody knows about the frictions going on between India and Pakistan over Kashmir region and the borders lines. This erupted in the past into 3 wars, last time in ’99, and still the military presence can be overwhelming.
Mughal emperor Jehangir exclaimed ones: “If there is paradise on earth then it is here, it is here, it is here in Kashmir”. The land is fertile and of a striking beauty. In the Kashmir Valley one finds an epitome of all the earth’s beauties. Towns of Kashmir are mountain-crowned, lake-garlanded and flowers, carpets of flowers everywhere. I saw the most flowers in my life over here. Holland region has them also, but there is so organized; here in Kashmir is wild beauty. It can be easily one of the world’s most scenic spots. There is something of the charm of the Alps, and of Loch Lomond. Srinagar is the capital of Indian Kashmir, and it was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by the Emperor Ashoka. It stands on Dal Lake and the Jhelum River overlooked by the green Pir Panjal range. Immense gardens full of color -roses, jasmine, lilies, snapdragons, lavender, pansies, and poppies. Symmetrical rows of cypresses, cherry trees and chinnars, beyond always being the white austerities of the Himalayas.
There is the feeling of central Asia. The Aryan features of the Kashmiris, you drink Kahwa (green tea with cardamom) here, and the black tea is spiced with salt instead of sugar. Kashmiris are very good merchants, their way of dealing reminds me of Middle East. Too bad that after ’89 the tourism is downwards and everybody is trying to sell you something. My afghan style beard helped, even that some kids running after me screaming: Al Qaeda! Or Bin Laden! For them it’s something positive somehow. Not strangely, the Barber shops have Pakistani Cricket players’ posters on the wall. But Bollywood is Bollywood: and Big B and Shah Rukh Khan are everywhere also here.
Like almost everybody, I chose to stay on a house boat for the experience. I wanted to try all possibilities and in few days to try also the cheap options (around 6-10$/day) and also some posh house boat (from 60$/day). I found a family with a calm houseboat, away from the traffic. Good place, even which the owner was very pushy. But I can handle that. Being the high season for the Indians, the pricey boats were crowded. I visited few and did not like them. Kitschy, but in a bad way. Not that kind of funky kitsch which is cool. I stayed at the cheap one. Being behind the main channels, I could enjoy it. Calm, and lotus everywhere. Getting up at 5am, rowing the canoe around with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on my earphones, was unforgettable. Oh, and I bought a Kashmiri jumper. Red, of course.
People of Bengal: West Bengal, Bangladesh…whatever. Same people with the same language? Somehow true…but different religions? Very true this time. One has wait until coming to Calcutta (Kolkata), the quintessential city of Bengal: the cultural capital of all India. A vibrant city with a distinct socio-political culture, Kolkata is noted for its revolutionary history, ranging from the independence days , to the comunists (who are in power for over 40 years now) and unions movements- which in 2 seconds they paralyse a 14 milion people city with their hartals.
First impessions count very much when it comes to a city. For me was: Uha!, yes, i like that, look at that!, Hello from everywhere. Smiles, real ones, food stalls , people everywhere, the only place in the world to still find men pulled rickshaws. The people make the place said someone: All true. I have to say I love this place. The human touch is here. Finally…in India. I switched my camera to white&black and start shooting. This city is about its people. Their faces is what you’ll remember when you leave. You remember how in the middle of Calcutta there are hundreds of dhabas serving food for everybody: elbow by elbow-lawyers, policemen, richshaw wallahs, coolies, foreigner travelers, govt peons….etc. The good vibe is all there, above the poverty and all the existing problems the people face.
* I didn’t put the exclamation sign in order not to be confused with the the world’s longest Running erotic stage musical. Which is brilliant also>
Indian author and guru, born in Calcutta, Tagore came from a wealthy Bengali family. He went abroad in 1877 to study law in England but soon returned to India. For a time he managed his father’s estates and became involved with the Indian nationalist movement, writing propaganda. His characteristic later style combines natural descriptions with religious and philosophical speculation. Tagore drew on the classical literature of India, especially the ancient Sanskrit scriptures and the writings of Kalidasa. His prodigious output includes approximately 50 dramas, 100 books of verse (much of which he set to music), 40 volumes of novels and shorter fiction, and books of essays and philosophy.
In his devotion to peace, Tagore denounced nationalism and violence. He sought to instill in human beings a sense of their unity; he was severely critical of the Indian caste system. His most important philosophical work is Sadhana: The Realization of Life (1913), which echoes the fundamental ideas inherent in sacred Hindu writings. His dramas are filled with lyricism and philosophy, while his poems deal with amorous, mystical, and fabulous themes. In India his appeal was nearly universal. A man of striking appearance, Tagore came to be regarded with the reverence due an ancient teacher. He wrote in Bengali but translated much of his work into English. It attracted attention in the West, and he was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature, especially for his collection of poetry, Gitanjali (1912). His Janaganamana (Thou Art the Ruler of All Minds) was adopted as the Indian national anthem.