In the end I had to leave Varanasi as yet again my macbook pro had broken, the GPU had died again for the fifth fucking time. It would seem that apples ‘pro’ laptops cannot handle pro usage. So I made my way to the only place I could get the heap of junk fixed. Delhi. I made a nights stop in Muthara the birth place of Krishna to make the journey a little easier. Muthara is similar to Varanasi. It is situated along the Yammuna river with bathing ghats, but the ambience and scenery does not come anywhere close to Varanasi. It was an interesting place to wander through and explore but I did not feel compelled to take any serious photographs. I made a few snaps mainly of people and children who asked me to take their photo.
The next morning I headed for Delhi. One of the largest and most densely populated cities in India. I was dreading the thought of navigating this monster of a city on my motorbike, but on entering the city I was surprised to find a very well thought out road network and I was able to find a reasonably priced hotel close to the railway station in the backpacker district without any real problems. After I got the bike parked up, my luggage safely in my room and myself showered it was time to get the important stuff done. On the way I had spotted a subway and it had been over a year since my last BMT!
Now there is lots of things to do in Delhi. Many many things, great palaces, temples and mosques to check out and some of the best foods to eat. However Delhi is bloody expensive and I was going to have to fork out another shit load of cash to fix my Macook poo. So I had to miss out on all this and make my way to the computer district of Delhi called Nehru place. Now if any of you ever go to India and want to buy yourself a good cheap phone or windows laptop this is the place. There are easily a thousand shops all selling the latest phones and windows laptops. Not one of these shops sold any apple computers. There was one shop that specialised in repairing macbook pros. Inside there were 28 other macbook pros waiting to be repaired with exactly the same problem as mine.
After 2 days my now functioning laptop was ready and my wallet was £160 lighter. Christmas was soon approaching and I needed to make my way back to Srinagar as I was going to spending it with the Qadair family who I had stayed with during the Kashmir floods. The ride was going to be a long and risky one. It was now winter and I would be heading through the Punjab that was now thick with fog I would then have ride over the Patnitop mountain that could be covered with ice and snow. The ride was cold with the icy wind biting into my hands and face. The Punjab was full of fog that made visibility a mere 10 to 15 feet, the rubbish headlamp of my enfield made no real difference. When I reached Patnitop mountain the road was clear and a joy to ride. there was no ice or snow yet but the cold was crippling.
Breaking up the journey I spent a night in Amritsar with a plan to photograph in the Golden temple complex. However the weather was grey and cloudy and bloody cold. So I didn’t make any photographs at all. I knew I was going to be coming back through this way again so it was no big deal. When I arrived in Srinagar it was late. The Qadairs are like family to me and I am like one of their own. They like me to keep them informed of my whereabouts and just like my family back home they worry about me making long journeys over treacherous mountains on a motorbike. Thanks to my indian sim card not working in Kashmir I could not call them.
When I pulled up outside their home they heard the very recognisable sound of my Royal Enfield and I was greeted by a very concerned Junaid who told me they had all been worried about me! It was good to be back at my home from home. I had missed everyone very much. The power was on and I had myself a good hot wash with a bucket of steaming hot water then we all sat and had dinner together. God I had missed Tahira’s cooking. There really is nothing quite like home cooked food. With it being so late we chatted for a while after dinner then soon went to bed.
For christmas I had bought the families gifts on eBay in the UK, I literally buy everything on eBay its just easier if theres one thing I hate its shopping for anything. So I had my mum send some parcels over for me with their gifts and few things for me too. So thanks mum I really appreciate you doing that and the Marmite which is nearly gone now! Luckily I am the only one who likes it. Now the Indian postal service were more than a little heavy handed with the packages. The first parcel with the families gifts arrived in a fairly reasonable condition with all the contents in one piece thank god. The other two however looked like they had been runner by a tank. The boxes were completely destroyed and were now loosely held together with Indian postal service tape. They still had gaping holes and the celebration chocolates had mysteriously disappeared. The terry’s chocolate orange was still in there though.
Christmas day was a chilled one. In the morning we drank chai and ate cake that I had bought the day before and what chocolates were left after the Indian postal service had had their fill. Then I gave the family their gifts which were some watches from the UK as the ones in India are crap at best. I bought Reyes the youngest son a radio controled car that I picked whilst in Delhi. Needless to say everyone was more than happy with their gifts. For christmas dinner Tahira cooked a kashmiri dish called Yakni. Its a mutton curry made with curd and milk and was the tastiest thing I have ever eaten the flavours were incredible and the meat just melted in your mouth. The day was going perfectly all that was missing was a nice big glass of quality whisky!
After Christmas I went in search of snow. It was all around the mountains of the Kashmir valley but refused to fall in the city Srinagar. My friends Sahil and Shahid who lived in Sonamarg had insisted on me visiting them again if I returned to Kashmir. They were now living in the town of Kullan just 11 kilometres south of Sonamarg. This is where they spend winter every year as the snow in Sonamarg reaches 11 feet or more! The road was still open and clear of snow so I made the spectacular ride up into the mountains and the village of Kullan.
Now the Sheikh families home is very different to the city home of the Qadairs. It is very much a traditional Kashmiri way of life up in the mountains. Outside the house is farmland, cows, horses, chickens and dogs. Set against the backdrop of snow covered mountains. It really is quite beautiful. The house is old and made from wood and mud bricks, all the water comes from the near by river that flows from a glacier. Their mum cooks food in the traditional way on a clay stove that is fuelled by a wood fire. Everyone sleeps on the floor under a mountain of heavy blankets called a bistar and the power is off way more than it is on, and its cold very cold. At night it was averaging -11ºC.
It seemed that the only ones brave enough to face this cold were the kids of Kullan who were out playing with there homemade sledges on what remained of the previous snowfall from a few weeks back. We had planned to go up to Sonamarg to see the snow however their father Mansood said the road was still iced over in parts and didn’t like the idea of us going up that way. Pulling out an absolutely massive shotgun from behind some blankets he suggested we go hunting in the mountains just behind the house instead. This sounded amazing so obviously this is what we did!
Sahil went off to do some work at the local fishery he works for while Mansood, Shahid and me made our way across the farmland at the back of the house in the direction of the towering pine clad mountain. As we walked Mansood dismantled the monster shotgun and it was soon concealed under is jacket with a few inches of the barrel poking out of the bottom. When we reached the mountain it was staggering how bloody steep it was. What was even more staggering was the way that this did not seam to slow Mansood down one bit. He even sparked up a cigarette and still kept up the same pace while me and Shahid huffed and puffed tens of meters behind him. When I asked Shahid how the hell his father was capable of this he just answered ‘he’s had training’ not wanting to ask to many questions I left it at that.
We were climbing the mountain all morning in the search of wild forest hens for the cooking pot that evening. Unfortunately even with Mansoods excellent tracking skills we were unable to find any. It was good to get out in the wild and do some exercise though. By the time we returned my legs had turned to jelly and my thighs felt like they had been beaten with a baseball bat!
The following day the road was now safe and me and Sahil made our way to Sonamarg where the snow was two feet deep. This was the first real snow I had seen in Kashmir. I had finally found what I had been looking for. The mountains were all covered in a beaming blanket of snow. The sun was strong and it was painful on the eyes when you removed your sunglasses. As we climbed the mountain we passed the Indian tourists sledging, ski-ing and snowball fighting. We then headed up towards the glacier where the snow was virgin and our feet were the first to break its brilliant white surface. There was no one there but us. Then I remembered what Mansood had said to us about only staying where there is other people because of bears. Luckily we weren’t mauled by any bears with a taste for human flesh.
In the following days the blue skies turned grey thick with clouds and on the peaks of the surrounding mountains you could see fresh snow forming, then one late afternoon it began to fall in the village. It soon covered everything in the stuff. It was funny to watch the puppies in front of the house bouncing and playing in it. The snow continued through the night and by morning Kullan had been transformed into a magical winter wonderland. It was beautiful everywhere you looked it was white with deep snow. The poor animals didn’t know what to do with themselves. The children were all out sledging and having fun and I was out photographing this spectacular moment.
I was now officially trapped in Kullan as the mountain road to Srinagar was now covered with ice and compacted snow making it impossible to ride a motorbike. Over the coming days I explored all the village and the surrounding area and even worked a few shifts in Mansoods fathers shop. By the time I left I knew the prices of all the sweets, cigarettes, soap, milk, fruit and vegetables. It was funny to see the reaction of people who turned up to the shop to see me sat there. Luckily Shahid was always there to keep an eye on me. Eventually the snow on the roads melted and it was safe to make the ride back to Srinagar. It was now obvious I had to soon leave the Kashmir valley for India as another snowfall like this would definitely cover the Patnitop Mountain on the Jammu road making my journey a suicidal one.
Thankyou Sahil and Shaihid and all of your wonderful family for taking me in under your roof and looking after me like part of your family. I had an amazing and unforgettable time with you all and I look forward to seeing you all again when I return.