All Hell Breaks Loose
Srinagar Travel Blog› entry 35 of 41 › view all entries
As I rounded the waterway by Factasoon's store, what looked like every shikhara on Dal Lake hovered near the Erin. I thought Mick Jagger must be back. One of the taxi boaters had told us that he vacationed the previous year on the Alzira which moored next to the Erin. Mick was probably drawn by the quiet solitude of the Kashmir Valley, far from screaming fans.
But as I neared, a heated discussion was taking place in a vicious exchange of words not found in our Hindi phrase book. Screams flew, fists waved, and fingers pointed in rage - primarily at Rehman who paced the deck of the Dongola, three boats down. Rehman's bucked teeth made him appear smiling but it soon became apparent that he wasn't. He hollered back at the drifting crowd in a tantrum-like anger, hurling a fire-pot into the lake. Chris witnessed the events as they unfolded and told me that shikhara paddles, pieces of firewood, and even silverware soared back and forth. Our teapot was gone.
Apparently, three Canadian women had checked out the Erin but found it too big or too expensive so Rehman brought them to a friend's houseboat. The other owners fumed, accusing him of not following a 'turn' rotation for prospective guests. When it came to Rupees, no one played fair. The Canadians took accommodation on the New California which moored far from the Nehru Park area.
That night, more hell broke loose. Lightening flashed the lake and mountains with brilliant color as thunder rolled into the valley. The power went out. When chilling rain fell from blackened clouds, Chris and I retreated to the wood-stove in our candle-lit hut. A chipped wash basin and two blue Amul Cheese cans pinged with drips from our leaky roof.
By 9:30 the rain turned to light drizzle. I bailed two inches of water from the shikhara with the heart-shaped paddle and set out for the Langoo Palace, the backwater houseboat of Rehman's older brother. The darkened lake was quiet and calm with no other traffic. Parlors of several houseboats flickered a dim yellow candle-light, indicating a growing number of new arrivals. The power came back on as I rounded the corner by Factasoon's, lighting the neighborhood like a Christmas tree. The heavy-set Mister Langoo shouted "Come in! Come in!" from a sliding side door as I approached the Palace. He and his family were always delighted whenever Chris or I visited.
The Persian carpeted floor of the 8 X 12-foot room was crowded. While two elderly ladies sat against one wall, four children huddled under a heavy quilt. The also weighty Mrs. Langoo, attired in a gray faron and maroon head scarf, sat cross-legged on a straw matt puffing hashish from a tall waterpipe. A small television set, propped on a shelf, was broadcasting an English news channel from New Delhi. Finishing a story about a railroad derailment in Punjab, it went to the weather report which called for rain or snow in most of the Kashmir region. A satellite photo showed a band of white clouds covering the Himalayas. Mister Langoo clicked the set off manually.
We sat against a wall in his more spacious corner of the room chatting and sipping chai while 'Give Peace a Chance' quietly played from a scratchy cassette player. Mister Langoo explained that the disturbance at the Erin today was a common occurrence among the boat owners this time of year. They were all over-eager for the coming season. Dark clouds were nicely backlit by a half-moon and reflected a mirror image on glassy black water as I glided back to the Erin.