Not a good night’s sleep at B H Bazaz Guesthouse: crying babies, howling dogs, a 5am call to prayer from what sounded like half a dozen nearby mosques and an ice box of a room. We’re definitely reviewing our pledge to stay here for four nights.
On the other hand, the sky was blue and the sun was shining when we set out this morning, although the surrounding mountains are still covered in a haze. We feel as if we’ve packed a week’s sightseeing into one day today. We walked the length of the Boulevard with its ghats where the brightly painted shikaras wait to take tourists and locals along the canals and out to the house boats which stand side by side here and elsewhere on the lake. They originally appeared in the colonial era as the British were not allowed to buy land in the town. It’s easy to imagine the life led by the Raj set in these often luxurious palaces. Today many of them look more than a little sorry for themselves, although the new owners pretend to a lost grandeur by giving them names like ‘Buckingham Palace’, ‘The House of Windsor’, ‘The White House’, ‘The Crown of India’ and ‘Jazz’. Fending off the touts promoting these places, like those selling shikara trips, can be an exhausting business.
We did a complete circuit of Dal Lake, explored nearby Lake Nageen, went into the Old City and the new, the commercial centre of Lal Chowk, visited some beautifully decorated mosques, some of which were built with alternating layers of wood and brick to preserve them in earthquakes, and gardens, filled with almond trees. We watched in fascination as two fishermen, each in a skiff with a large blue-backed kingfisher perched on board like tame parrots, cast their nets. We felt less at ease in some areas of the city than in others, particularly those which have a reputation for being hostile to Indian rule and pro Pakistan. The Old City is described in the guide as ‘chaotic most of the time and out of bounds during curfews’ but everywhere we were treated with smiles and curiosity, although it didn’t seem a good idea to get a camera out. There was one anxious moment when there was the loud crack of something hitting the tin wall of a building we had just passed. Was someone throwing stones at us? It turned out to be a ball, hit for six by a group of lads playing cricket on the other side of a fence.
Dinner turned out to be something of a surprise. We’d ordered mutton tikka but were served mushroom tikka. We need to be more precise when we order next time.