Well we have survived another couple of days in the mountains & are back in Srinagar staying on our “luxury houseboat” called Princess Palace. We are not exaggerating by using the word “survived” as we were often in doubt if we would as our dear driver, Tashi, did his best on the horrendous mountain roads. The section from Leh to Kargil was 220kms & it took ten hours. Last year they experienced a number of cloudbursts which destroyed all the bridges & they are now using Bailey bridges allowing one vehicle at a time, but the approaches are washed out too & crews of industrious men & women are toiling with pick & shovel & bar hands to repair the roads. Interestingly brand new road building machinery stands idle whilst little women carry baskets of rocks on their heads. We have a theory that grant money went into purchasing machines from the company of someone who is now rich & he/she has not bothered to train anyone to use them. Apparently hundreds of people were lost in the floods last year & some bodies ended up

in China & Pakistan. Our second horror day of travel was only 9.5 hours & we covered all of

200kms. At one stage we were stuck behind a convoy of about 140 military lorries & no-one was allowed to pass them even when one broke down as they blocked the road. Eventually they gave up on the repairs & let us pass. Then, in order to avoid travelling with them our driver & about 4 other cars took to the high road which was too narrow for trucks & buses. However, it

was terrifying looking down upon the crawling convoy below. As Tashi negotiated tight switchbacks on the very rough road descent from the high pass his mobile phone rang &, yes, he answered it. We prayed to the 32 million Hindu gods from the back seat (without seatbelts) & Allah & assorted other deities too as we descended to the most beautiful valley – so green

with pine trees, rugged mountain peaks & even the odd glacier on high. The valley was also covered with thousands of colourful tents belonging to Yatries (pilgrims) who walk abut 20kms to worship at a cave which contains a stalagmite & which the Hindus consider a sacred lingam.

Tashi safely delivered us to Tanu & Hassan on a very quiet backwater of Dal Lake where we settled into the houseboat which is all faded elegance on the outside but inside is a maze of intricate carvings all over the walls, ceilings & furniture. We really do feel like Lord & Lady Muck. After 3 nights of Hassan’s excellent Kashmiri food (including meat at last) & after

being paddled around the lake in style as well as visiting the 17th century, well designed Moghul Gardens, as well as hours of relaxing & watching the kingfishers & other birds from our veranda we travelled to Aru in the mountains. The official state guest house was long past its useby date, but the staff there were excellent & always ready to please us. We looked up to rugged scenery which was often in the clouds & we spend 2.5 days walking amongst the

pines & walnut trees & rushing mountain streams. The local people take their animals into the summer pasture & some of them invite us in for tea, but we took the mountain air with out cuppa rather than squat down in sod roofed earthen floored dwellings which house people at one end & animals opposite. One man even spread a picnic rug on the grass for us & our guide said something like “I’m going to the shop” & sure enough, even in the middle of

nowhere he returned with biscuits. We also followed another guide to a very high glacial suspended lake & for all you geographers we encountered terminal moraine & other glaciated landforms. On our way back to the village Abbas caught four trout from the steep cascades within 5 minutes using a hand line with a spinner. They were delicious. Now we are back at the houseboat for a few more lazy hours before depart for the airport tomorrow morning to fly back to Delhi & to visit Jaipur & Agra before flying home.

Sorry to not write individual replies especially as the electricity often just cuts out (wherever we go) but we will tell all on our return. We just need to thank Lyn Taylor’s Adventure Travel once again for putting us in touch with the greatorganiser, TanuFarewell for now

Love from M & D

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