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Day 41: Srinagar

Srinagar, India 
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The remains of the Greenway Hotel, Srinagar, destroyed by the Indian army after Islamic militants holed up there.
Michael Palin - HimalayaIt's rusty and fading and must have been there for some time, unlike two freshly dug mounds, crudely decorated with a border of pebbles, containing a mother and a three-month-old baby killed in crossfire outside the Greenway Hotel. There are some 400 graves here and many more lie in similar plots throughout Kashmir. Flowers have been planted around the place, perhaps to represent on earth the gardens the martyrs are promised in heaven. Though governments may see the Kashmir struggle as the troubles, most of those who lie here saw it as a war.

This is brought forcibly and uncomfortably home to me by the bizarre conflation of our own patriotic rhetoric that is inscribed above the arched gateway of the Kashmir Martyrs' Graveyard: 'Lest You Forget We Have Given Our Today for Tomorrow of Yours'.

The only place where the violence seems not to have made a mark is on the water, and along one arm of the lake 60 or 70 houseboats, with jolly names like 'King of Kashmir', 'Himalayan Fantasies' and 'Buckingham Palace', still court the tourists. They're moored up cheek by jowl, end on to the bank, cabins tweely curtained, fenced sundecks ringed with pot plants, waiting for the next boom. Their design is cosy and old-fashioned and can't have changed much since the houseboat era began in the 1880s, when the British got around laws preventing outsiders from buying lakeside property by building their mansions on the water instead.

A white-crested kingfisher studies the limpid surface of the lake. Our presence on the bank has already attracted a flotilla of water taxis and eager salesmen flaunting jewellery, papier-mâché and various ethnic trinkets.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 41: Srinagar
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Srinagar
  • Book page no: 93

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