Leh in winter is bitterly cold, the forest rest houses of Kumaon are treasure troves of 1940s knick-knacks, driving across the vast mud flats of the Sambhar Salt Lake can be eerie, but there really is no place more haunting or more beautiful than Kashmir. The journey down the Jhelum by shikara, from the Dal lake to the Wular lake was once popular, but has today largely been forgotten. Past the Dal, the river flows under cantilever bridges, and soon the wooden houses are replaced by avenues of poplar trees, and villages where chestnuts lie drying in the sun. Further downstream, the vast pastures of Mughdamir sprawl in the shadows of the mountains of the Harmukh range, and beyond them comes the vast Wular lake, its banks lined with fields of mustard. The landscape is stunning, and life on the shikara — camping on riverine islands, eating freshly caught fish, rowing, drinking endless cups of kahwa, spending long nights listening to villagers play the rabab and talk about the years of suffering — left me vacillating between well-being and a nostalgia that bordered on sadness. It also made me want to do the journey again, to understand the place better.

The information

 Ibrahim Chapri (ibrahimchapri@yahoo.com; 0194-2477796) organises shikara cruises from the Dal to the Wular lake. Shikara rides on the Manasbal and the Wular lake, and a rabab performance are add-ons. The Shikara Association (2479341) can also arrange cruises for you. You might want to hire two shikaras though, since a single boat can get rather cramped.

 



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