So Steve Bastrom (Basmo) and I bought an old VW combi back in Kathmandu from a Canadian couple, Randy and Linda. We planned to drive it the 10,000 miles through Asia to Europe, ultimately ending up in Amsterdam. Randy, Linda, Basmo and I had spent approximately three weeks in India traveling together, and although it was horribly hot, we enjoyed getting to know the culture and history, and eating the wonderful food. The people were amazing and the food was even better. After fixing the engine in New Delhi we drove to Amritsar, just across the border from Lahore, Pakistan.
Amritsar is a busy town and I enjoyed walking from the hostel down to where we finally found the Crystal restaurant we had heard about. The next day we went to the Golden Temple of the Sikh religion. It was impressive. We walked in wearing the required covering over our heads and walked around the man-made lake. In the temple musicians were playing and the distinctive sounds were pleasing, lending a peculiar atmosphere to the reverent surroundings. We went up the stairs and around on the 2nd floor where holy men were reading from various large tomes. We could look down from the center onto the ground floor and see the musicians and people who were praying. One Sikh and his son had me sit down on the floor with them and he gave me some of the holy food that the others were eating. I didn’t want to eat it for obvious reasons, but I couldn’t refuse and found it tasted good.
Leaving the temple we bought some souvenirs for gifts, then saddled up Goldie and hit the road for the India-Pakistan border. The border was mellow—no problems and it wasn’t crowded. The Pakistani border agents even joked with us, and we bought cookies from the cookie man. He also sold Pepsi which we gladly bought and drank.
We drove into Lahore, 20 kilometers from the border, and went right to the Automobile Association Office, the GPO (General Post Office) and the bank. We ate at a place that served a Cheese-N-Beefburger; I think it was called Pejoes. Excellent! Then we got a room at the Country Club Motel on the main drag where the owner was funny: “I just want you to be happy,” he would say. We came to a mutually satisfactory agreement about the cost of the room. It was okay and did have a fan.
After breakfast we went to the Custom House to find out about leaving the van in the locked lot of no-mans-land at the border, while we went back to India to travel up to Kashmir. We got that taken care of and then went to the bank to get the rest of the money to pay Randy and Linda for Goldie. We worked on Goldie a little: new plugs, a horn, and tuned her up.
After some sightseeing we left Goldie at the border. From there we took a cab to the bus station in Amritsar. There we got a bus to Jammu, part of the way to Amritsar—it was a terrible bus. When we got to Jammu all these guys gathered around telling us about hotels and hassling us over our luggage. We finally got a room at the Broadway Hotel, a dive but it had a fan and a shower. The next morning, we were up at 5:30 to get the bus to Srinagar. We went to the bus station but couldn’t find the Class A bus we wanted to take. Finally, we took a taxi to the Tourist Office where the Class A busses were. After much fucking around we left Jammu around 8:30 AM and the long travel day started. The seats on the Class A bus were more comfortable but the suspension on our bus was shot—very bumpy.
We arrived in Srinagar before sunset and noticed that because it was in the mountains it was much cooler there. At the lake we talked with Mr. Alli, on the Bendemeer Houseboat, about renting a houseboat for a few days. He showed us the New Lucky Kashmir and after some hard bargaining with Mr. Alli we rented it. The price included meals so was a pretty good deal. Ramon was our house man and took care of everything.
Our first day there we met Brian Mackintosh, Basmo’s friend from Australia. Brian is an Aussie who was traveling back to Canada with his girlfriend, Birgitte Anderson. They were on the Sinbad Tour that went across Asia and then up into Russia for 10 days. Brian and Birgitte went with us to the Mogul gardens on a shikara (small boat). It was pleasant and relaxing in the shikara while we paddled there and back over the calm lake waters. The water didn’t seem very deep—we could always see “seaweed” under the water and many minnows. The gardens were nothing special but nice. We ate hot spiced beans and onion at a food stall, much the way I cooked them at home. We got back from the gardens after 6:00 and had tea before dinner at 7:00. After dinner we took a shikara over to Brian’s boat where we talked for a couple of hours drinking Limca (a lime drink) with Khukri Rum from Nepal. I quite enjoyed the rum—it was nice, dark and tasty.
The following morning, we relaxed after breakfast then went into Srinagar to look around. Old Srinagar was a little like Kathmandu but with fewer people. We saw some Tibetan people there. The problem was that the town was also a pushy tourist area. The people were aggressive about showing their wares. They would even come around to our houseboat in shikaras loaded down with stuff and want to show us all of it. It was an imposition because I wasn’t in the market for the type of souvenirs they were peddling. Other than the peddlers it was restful on the houseboat. Ramon, our “boatman” was efficient, helpful, and brought us good food to eat. But he was also pushy about us buying things from the peddlers. He kept talking about taking us to special shops to buy things, and we just weren’t interested. I knew he wanted us to buy stuff so he would get his commission. After months on the road, I was tired of Asian souvenirs and the people who pushed them on us. I knew they were only trying to make a buck, but it wore us down. The sad thing is that Srinagar is a beautiful area, the weather perfect, the houseboats novel and quaint. The Brits used to go there and stay on those very boats to get away from the heat of the lower elevations in India. Even the quality of the handicrafts was good. It’s just that we were burned out on all of that.
Basmo and I got tickets to fly from Srinagar to Amritsar—they were only around $20.00 US. We didn’t want to repeat the two day bus trip through Jammu—it was an experience to do it one time, but once was enough. We were wait-listed for the flight and I figured we would have no problem getting on for we were high up on the list. I knew that if that airline was anything like Rocky Mountain Airways where I worked in Aspen back in ’73 then we shouldn’t have a problem. We did make the flight and once in Amritsar we took a taxi to the border, then went on to Lahore. I was happy to get to Lahore and Goldie our van because that meant we would be heading West again, not backtracking, finally getting closer to home.
Below please find more photos of Amritsar and Srinagar--Several are by Paula Silverman.
---The next blog post will cover Pakistan and Afghanistan—a crazy adventure . . .