We have been in India for almost 2 weeks now. Arriving in Delhi, we spent our first couple of days doing a mix of admin jobs and sightseeing.
Our main admin job was to obtain a VISA for Burma. They say in India that nothing happens quickly – after a rickshaw, taxi (with a customary stop at the petrol station) and a trip to the bank (the Burmese embassy don’t accept cash or card, only a bank draft), we at last had a piece of paper stating that we could collect our passports with Burma VISA the following afternoon.
The challenges of the morning left us in need of some R&R, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon in a rooftop cafe oasis, an excellent place to look down on the hustle and bustle of the busy market street below, but not be part of it.
The following day we played tourists and visited the Red Fort. Constructed at the height of the Mughal empire this was a majestic fortress made of sandstone, lavishly decorated with marble and precious stones. Converted to barracks by the British and looted over the centuries, it has lost some it’s splendour, but is still an impressive collection of buildings.
We then headed to nearby markets in the search of food, before returning to the Burmese embassy and successfully collecting our VISAs.
The following day we headed out of Delhi on a flight to Srinagar, where we had booked accommodation for the next 3 nights. This was a slight detour from the original plan, which was to head up to the Himalayan regions of Manali and Leh. The notorious road between these towns, which passes along the sides of steep gorges and over high mountain passes, was at high risk of landslides following several days of heavy rain.
Srinagar is part of Kashmir, a province of India which has experienced high political tensions and occasional violence since Indian independence in 1947; however luckily for us the situation is currently stable. We arrived to pouring rain (it would appear that it wasn’t just Manali that was receiving higher than usual rainfall) and were picked up by a guy named Show, who drove us to our houseboat accommodation.
The main attraction in Srinagar are the iconic houseboats, which first appeared in colonial times, when the British were forbidden from owning land. Our boat, “H.B. Young Sunbeam”, is around 70 years old, featuring beautiful hand carved wooden panels and ornate period furniture. Nearly all of the houseboats are situated on Dal Lake, a beautiful, mirror flat stretch of water which perfectly reflects the surrounding mountains.
Our boat is owned and run by the Dundoo family, who have hosted guests for several generations. This is recorded in their extensive collection of handwritten letters from visitors, which date back to 1917!
We learned on route that this was day 5 of continuous rain. The drive from the airport was punctuated with roads under several feet of water. Unfortunately the rain kept falling and the level of the lake continued to rise.
Two days after our arrival the rain finally stopped; however swollen rivers from the surrounding valleys caused the water level to keep rising and rising. By this point, it was decided to evacuate the family (who lived in a house on stilts behind the boat) to their large home on the mainland. It wasn’t long before the same happened to us, and we were extremely fortunate to be taken into the family home, where we have been well looked after. As well as being a refuge from the flood, living with the family has been a fascinating cultural experience.
After several more days the water level finally reached a maximum, having resulted in the worst flood in living memory. Many buildings were underwater up to the 3rd floor, forcing thousands of people out of their homes, with the military offering aid in the form of rice and water. Electricity and mobile phone signal were both turned off, resulting in a lack of information and no means of outside contact.
Despite our immense gratitude to the Dundoo family for their hospitality, nearly a week’s confinement to the house and the small surrounding area of dry land has left us eager to escape the flood. We are hoping to head up to the nearby mountains for a few days of trekking as soon as the roads are passable…