2007
12.24

6- Murree Food at Street VendorSYNOPSIS:  ABOUT KASHMIR AND A TRIP INTO THIS FOUGHT-OVER REGION.  ABOUT A CLOSE CALL ON THE ROAD, A “BRITISH-LADY” GLASS MOSQUE AND ABOUT ESCAPING A POLITICAL RALLEY AND A WEDDING. 

Talk about exhaustion!  It was about midnight when both Nicola and I decided that we simply could not keep awake and wait any longer for the most likely delicious food that would arrive at some point to top off the wedding party which by now had dragged on for over four hours.   But it was anyone’s guess, when.  It was an amazing opportunity for us to be at a wedding, provided as always by our gracious travel agent Saeed.  One of his distant relatives got married and Shabir, our driver, had taken us to the event.

A huge tent had been set up and people were watching the most amazing line-dances I have ever seen performed by lay people.  Obviously these young people had been practicing for weeks if not months for this and there was no end in sight.   Punchy disco music combining Western and Middle Eastern elements filled the halls and kerosene lamps provided both warmth and soft light.  Intermittently, traditional live music was performed by two guys with drums, perhaps, to please the older crowd.  Completely contrary to my expectations, there were young people of both genders mixing and dancing together at times rather suggestively.  The women were not covered and for the most part wore daring, short-sleeved, deep-cut dresses.  The older ones (like us) sat modestly on the side lines sipping tea or pop – no alcohol, mind you…  I wonder what the Taliban would have said to this.  Certainly, a party of this caliber was unthinkable in the NWFP we had just visited yesterday!  I was sad to leave, but there is a limit to everything and we both had a big long day behind us and were looking forward to another full day tomorrow.  We needed sleep.

We had gone to the Kashmir province today.  Why?  Saeed asked.  There is nothing to see there.  You won’t get far as most of the province is closed not only to foreigners, but also to Pakistanis.  We figured he was right, but Eid prevented much other travel activities and we just wanted to see for ourselves.  Saeed gave in and sent along Shabir our driver and Adam, his 20 year old son, as travel companions.  Neither one of them seemed enthusiastic about this excursion and we heard quite a few derogatory comments about the “lazy Kashmiris” as we headed into the mountains.  Racism!  Who would have thought?  But this was unmistakable detest of the Kashmiris even though neither Adam nor Shabir even know anyone from this region!  Why?

After the plains of Islamabad, the mountainous landscape of the Kashmir province was great to look at.  Of course these mountains are nothing in comparison to the Himalayan region further North, the Gilgit area where both Shabir and Saeed come from.  But that region was inaccessible because of the season.  It was still winter and the roads up North are blocked several months every year due to snow and ice.

Preoccupied with the view, I had no idea what just happened when Shabir hit the brakes and we came to a screeching halt!  A five year old boy had run after his dog right into the street, and right under our car…  The dog was fine, but the boy had been hit.  Not too badly, thanks to Shabir’s fast reaction.  But he had fallen and now was in shock.  Nicola checked up on him, but there was little we could do but leave him in the care of his parents who had come running out of their house.  This was not a good start.

To make a long day’s story short:  There really was nothing to see in the Kashmir province.  We got as far as the capital Muzaffarabad where we had lunch.  We saw the mountains, the river with hanging bridges made of ropes, tight and dirty living quarters at the capital, and an earth-quake hit area still recovering from damage a few years earlier.  And we saw funny signs along the way from misspelled invitations to “Sandwitches” to the ominous “Rooms for Short Stay”… to advise on cow’s milk.  And yet, a lot of little things added up to a very interesting day:

First, ¾ up serpentining into the mountains we spotted a curious glass building.  It sparkled in the sun light due to thousands of glass and mirror panels.  It was a mosque!  It was the “British New Muslim Lady” mosque as the sign proudly proclaimed.    What a gaudy building.  And who was this converted British Lady anyhow?  We did not find out.  But talking about it to Saeed back home prompted him to this comment:  Why would anyone convert?  What is wrong with Christianity?  An interesting question.  What is wrong with Christianity is what so-called Christians have made of it.  And if you don’t like Christianity, you are quite free to leave it and go your ways.  On the other hand, if you are born into Islam and follow your parents’ religion, by the time you find that you might not like it, you are stuck.  Strictly enforced Islamic Law (Sharia) puts the death-penalty on apostasy.   Why would anyone convert is indeed an interesting question.  What did this British Lady find in the Islamic doctrine that she could not have found in the Christian one?  Did she even study the religion, or did she convert for a man?  I would have loved to know.

On the way back, we stopped in Murree.  As the summer residence of the British and the Indian Rajas it has quite a history.  Fancy villas and a lively bazaar, great restaurants and breathtaking views make it a favorite tourist town.  For us, the most interesting moment was that we found ourselves in the middle of a political rally by unexpectedly turning a corner.  That was precisely something we were advised to avoid.  But there was no getting out of it.  The crowd had just listened to the speech by a candidate from the “Tiger Party” and re-organized into a parade through town.  All we could do is stand by the side-lines and hope for the best.  Nothing happened.

And after all of this we found ourselves at the wedding party, practically falling asleep in our seats and eventually abandoning ship.  We are not 20 anymore.  It shows…  Good night.