The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Srinagar, Summer 2013
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Monday 1 July 2013:
We were an interesting looking bunch, a strange collection of black women in exotic veils, Kashmiri men, and a tall Chinese guy. With mostly people from small villages there, we became a freak show, and drew large crowds, with villagers stopping, staring, and snapping photos.

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*.

After all, Muslim women are not the easiest to photograph, and Muslim women from small villages even more difficult. But this was amazing. They were approaching 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.

This woman really is the trophy in my showcase of Kashmiri villagers. She stopped and stared, walking to the back of our picnic area to secure an unfettered view. Twice she ran off as soon as I turned my camera on her. But the third time's the charm, as they say, and as she circled back to the same out-of-the-way location a third time, she saw that the efforts were equitable, and that being photographed once was a fair price of admission for the ability to stare while only arm's length from the Kuwaiti women.

Kashmiri schoolgirls continued to hang around, watching the Kuwaitis eat.

One Kuwaiti woman asked me if I wanted cheese with my chapati. "It's from Kuwait. It's very popular there."


She reached in a bag and pulled out a plastic squeeze bottle. One side had Arabic writing.The other side said "Kraft Cheese."

SPLRRRRT! Out came this white liquidy cheese that looked a bit like mayonnaise.

"Oh....I want to stare....but he's taking a photo of me. What to do?"

Talking and relaxing and staring at the Kuwaitis.

At many times, there were over fifty people circled around the Kuwaiti picnic.

Kashmiri schoolgirls will have something to talk about the next day at school.

English wasn't so common out here in the countryside, so the broken English questions came.

"Why they have veils?" one man asked, pointing to the Kuwaiti women. "Why are these women here in veils?" I asked, pointing at Kashmiri women. "Muslim." And there you go.

"What you are?" "I yam what I yam."

"You are what country?" I answered Bhutan to one, France to another, Ghana to one more, and Liberia to the last. It didn't matter because they didn't know where any of us really were from anyway.

"Where you go?" "Here." "There."

"You like Kashmir?" "I *love* Kashmir."

"Why you go now?" "Why not?"

One of the villagers broke rank from the semi-circle of gawkers, walking up to one of the Kuwaiti women. She was beyond curious. But she couldn't speak to her. So she smiled. And smiled.

And here, we have a meeting...Kashmiri villager, living high in the hills of the Himalayas, shaking hands with a women from Kuwait, living in the hellish desert heat of the Middle East. Both Muslim, but worlds apart.

Kashmiri village women. This was quite a bonanza, being able to photograph more Kashmiri female villagers than one could ever hope for. It made me think I should always travel with Kuwaiti women, for that had brought me such good luck in the brief time that I had known them.

But the fun with the Kuwaitis wasn't even over yet. No, we had a river to explore.

I took their photo. For some inexplicable reason, everyone picked up heavy stones to lift for the photo. I'm okay with that. Actually, I'm more than okay with this. I encourage this sort of free thinking. And so should you.

Beautiful. So beautiful. This is by Aharbal along the Veshu River, a tributary of the Jhelum River, about 70 km outside Srinagar

We twisted and turned on a beautiful road that wound its way through green pastures, mountains, pine trees, farm land, mosques, and more. One Kuwaiti lady asked if I were single and called me "habibi" (sweetheart or darling). Another loved my American accent. We played more Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan while singing and clapping. They playfully shrieked when we would round a sharp bend. The Habibi Express was in full swing.

Back in Srinagar, we stopped off at the Snack Hut for some ice cream. Pistachio ice cream, cashew ice cream, mango.....oh yeah. The Kashmiris, the Kuwaitis, and the tall Chinese guy wolfed down these delicious treats while discussing shawarma, falafel, hummus, muhammurah and more. "We really love Americans." one said. "We should meet here again next year and go on more trips!"

I could not agree more. This was fun. If this is what Kuwaitis are like, Kuwait must be a great country.

One of the Kuwaitis ponders the long day as we paddle back to Ajanta Palace Houseboat.

Jhangir is delighted with the day.'s proceedings.

He is hoping to start a travel agency when he is through with studying Hotel Management studies.

This was certainly a fun way to cap off the week-long visit to my Kashmiri family. They said they were going to kidnap me until Lisa showed up. They asked if I could stay 2, 3, weeks, or 2, 3, months next time. They kept asking when Lisa would come to Kashmir.

One week was too short, and my heart felt heavy as I realized I had to leave tomorrow morning.

Tuesday 2 July 2013 - Flight from Srinagar to Delhi:
I was back in hot Delhi after a beautiful trip to Kashmir, and before that, Ladakh. I was sad to have left my Kashmiri family after only a week of visiting, but happy to be able to visit my Indian family. Because, you know, I have an Indian family too. Tom is my brother, and his family is my family, after all.

As promised, I called Mithu when I got settled at Hotel Grand Westend in Vikas Puri. Mithu immediately invited me over for another delicious Bengali dinner of mashed potatoes (apparently Tom loves these as well), aloo paneer, dal, eggplant, plum chutney, and to top it off, Bengali sweet yogurt with mango, delicious!!!!


This pigeon has a great view of Vikas Puri in Delhi.

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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