06.05.2009 - 10.05.2009 20 °C
After Amritsar, the Capital of Sikh Punjab, I took the Bus to Jammu, the Capital of the Hindu State of Jammu. I stayed there just overnight, sleeping in the grotty Bus Station dormitory, and left the next morning for Srinagar, the Capital of Muslim Kashmir. There are only two roads in and out of Kashmir. The road I took is the main link between India and Kashmir. It crosses a mountain range, passing through a 2.5 km long tunnel. This tunnel marks the boundary between Jammu and Kashmir. The other road is only open during summer and is the way into Ladakh, a Buddhist mountainous region in the middle of the Himalayas.
There was a significant military presence in Jammu already, but starting at this tunnel you realize that you are entering an area where war might erupt any time. There are armed soldiers just everywhere. We entered the tunnel, which is only large enough for one car (I guess outbound traffic passes through in the afternoon) and pitch black. Pretty much in the middle of the tunnel the car in front had a flat tire. Great! So we spent half an hour in there to change the tire of that car. Fortunately the drivers of the vehicles behind us were smart enough to switch off their engine. It was also pretty funny to watch two dozen Indian men, half of them soldiers, to change one tire. Here's a picture in the tunnel.
When we arrived in Srinagar, we couldn't get into the city, because the military had imposed a curfew. Turns out it was the day before Election Day, so everybody was on edge. Not the best time to visit a city full of militants... Anyway I found a car that brought me to a rickshaw that brought me inside the city. These last ten kilometers cost me half as much as the whole journey from Jammu, but I was finally inside.
Srinagar is a very beautiful city around a lake. The British were not allowed to buy land to build houses on, so they built houseboats on the lake. The tradition stuck and now there are hundreds of houseboats on the lake for tourists to live in.
Since Kashmir's recent past is riddled with violence there are not that many Westerners around, and because of the elections the Indian tourists stay clear of the area as well. This made my stay there rather unpleasant. I didn't meet one Kashmiri that didn't somehow want to make money out of me. I guess the combination of economical crisis and electoral curfew made them desperate. Poor guys, and all they got was me, I must be the worst kind of tourist you can imagine as someone who wants to make some money. Tough times... Well, then again I was a very good customer of the Internet cafes, since I spent a lot of time to get my netbook back to the way I want it. I can't possibly go to the Himalayas without the latest software installed!
I found a small (and cheap) houseboat away from the main area. Very quiet and I got three meals a day there as well.
The last day before I left to Ladakh, I decided to take a look at the old city. I really liked it, it's quite far away from the touristy lake shore and there's a very nice feel to it. If I come back here, I'll definitely stay in the Old City. Here are pictures of the main street in the old city, and the Jamma Mosque (very beautiful inside).
In the end everything was peaceful during the election day. Of course, having police, riot police, tourist police, and about a regiment of combat troops deployed everywhere in the city helped a lot to keep things quiet...