The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Srinagar, Summer 2013
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Saturday 29 June 2013 - Lal Chowk in Srinagar, continued:
A group of us were visiting some of the sites around Srinagar. After visiting Hazratbal and Jamial Mosques, we began shopping for food and books at Lal Chowk in Srinagar.

This is Gulshan Book Store in Lal Chowk, a fantastic book store, and an absolute must for anyone staying in Srinagar. Fantastic book selection, with many books on Kashmir that are unavailable elsewhere. You may also order these books online.

Jigar shops for shawls for his mother and wife.

Our field trip was a lot of fun, with a constant stream of jokes, observations, and surprisingly heartfelt candor about life. And our combination of people might have been the beginning to a joke: "A Hindu, a Kashmiri, and an American go to the mosque...."

The weirdest part of the trip?

Stopping off for a beer.

This has to be the weirdest way of purchasing beer I've ever seen in any country. We pulled into a place with a very large gravel parking lot. Two sides of the parking lot had buildings with very large black cages. You paid money to a man behind these black cages, and they handed you beer through a small opening in the steel cage. Inside was a restaurant if you wished to drink the beer there, but there was a gate and a sign that said "No weapons allowed beyond this point." The very transaction felt very shady and illicit, as if we were buying Kalashnikovs from Waziristan or elephant tusks from the African black market. We drank in the parking lot and then continued on.

Sunday 30 June 2013:
Someone - was it Viru? - caught a fish right on the steps near the houseboat.

Monday 1 July 2013:
It felt like I had just arrived here, but this was in fact my last full day here.

I woke up early to photograph the front of the houseboats from the shikara in the water, getting some good light around 6:30, but taking some photos earlier, around 5:45.

I also paddled across to Ghat 15 (Dal Gate 15) to get some long shots of the houseboats as well. I was happy with how the photos turned out, and even happier that I had paddled the large shikara successfully and not lanced anyone. This had been the first time I had paddled the large shikara, doing so because it was more stable and therefore better for taking photos.

This is a shot from the ghat, Dal Gate 15, across from Ajanta Palace, Hotel Green View, and Queen of the Lake.

Dal Lake as seen from the Ajanta Palace Houseboat, with Chankarcharya in the distance. This was the first trip in which I did not walk up to Chankarcharya. I'm not sure why.

And I know I will be asked this by someone, so no, I did not go to Khanyar Rozabal, which some claim may be the tomb of Jesus. All Kashmiris I spoke to, including Showkat, who lives very close to the tomb, say that it is not safe for foreign tourists to go there because the locals have gotten rather upset at the attempt to extract DNA previously as well other things. Also, I can't imagine that the increased attempts of foreign tourists to go there helps either, as the Lonely Planet guide devoted almost an entire page in their "India" edition to the alleged tomb of Jesus, previously never mentioning it.

The Habibi Express Goes to Aharbal
I walked in to the dining room on the island near Ajanta Palace to say good morning to the visiting Kuwaiti ladies, and was immediately invited on a trip with them and Fayaz and some of the crew to Aharbal, a charming green mountainous area with a large river. Naturally, I accepted, and wow, am I glad I did.

We wound our way through villages listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, passing fields of saffron and willow. Saffron stores and stores selling cricket bats made from the wood of the willow could be seen lining the road. But perhaps most surprising were the startling amounts of cannabis growing freely along the side of the road. On huge swathes of the roadside were waving green plants of cannabis, just...simply....there.

More village scenes on our way to Aharbal.

Near Aharbal, the Kuwaiti people and I got out to admire the scenery.

"Excuse me, photo please."

I began holding out my hand.

"No, no, your camera." Okay, this again. <click>

He nodded thank you and walked off.

Finally, our three cars disgorged and we set up a picnic under the shade of a walnut tree.

With mostly people from small villages there, we were a freak show, with people stopping, staring, and snapping photos while our strange conglomeration of black women in exotic veils, Kashmiri men, and a tall Chinese guy looked back at the villagers.

People's reactions differed. Some were indifferent. Some were uncomfortable. Some were embarrassed. Some were a little cheesed off. But me? I thought this was *fantastic*.

I immediately flew into action, reasoning that if they could stop and take photos of us, I could certainly do the same. I've always wanted photos of Kashmiri village girls, and sure, maybe a few photos of the guys as well. I approached quickly with my camera. Strangely, many hiked up their veils or turned away, provoking gales of laughter from the Kuwaiti women. It was okay to take photos of us, but when the tables were turned, things were different for many. No matter. The ones who didn't run away from my camera posed, and I got lots of great photos of Kashmiri village girls. This was fan-tas-tic. "Salaam alekum!!" I said, and clicked away.

Muslim women are not the easiest to photograph, and Muslim women from small villages even more difficult, but here I was, clicking away freely, them coming to us!!

As a photographer, could you imagine anything better?

An old village woman shaking hands with a dark Kuwaiti woman while grinning into my camera? Check.

Smiling village schoolgirls giggling? Check.

A man wearing a shirt with a 7-11 logo that actually says "7 1/2 inches"? Check.

The ability to pose with a village man while holding up "rabbit ears" behind his head? Check.

But still they came, wave after wave of villagers, determined to catch a glimpse of the strange sight before them, Kuwaiti women picnicking. They had never seen a sight like this before. And really, neither had I.

The village women, of course, were the shyest. Now, it was okay for them to stop and snap photos, but they were still reluctant to be photographed themselves. In some of the photos, such as this, you can see the unease as they perhaps ponder the dilemma between wanting to take photos of others, but not wanting to be in a photo.

Was photographing someone else important enough to stomach being photographed? Some decided no. Some weren't sure, like these women here. And some felt, yes, this was a good trade.

And not to leave male villagers out of this, I photographed them too.

Remember, follow the little forward and backward autorickshaws to navigate.

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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The Himalayas of India: Summer 2013


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