So here I am in Kashmir, India, my vote for the likeliest spot for nuclear conflagration between India and Pakistan over control of the divided state. Throw in some Kashmiri independence insurgents and the War on Terror, and you have a recipe for fun.
And I’m here.
Because, didn’t you know, Kashmir is also ski-and-snow capital of India, home of the Himalayas, where tourists throng to sleep in houseboats under a phalanx of stars and trek through the mightiest mountains in the world!
Or so I let a Kashmiri travel agent in Delhi convince me. If Delhi – by far the most appallingly polluted and overwhelming place I’ve been, ever, knocking Cairo out of first place without the slightest bit of effort – hadn’t had me by my pair (think above the waist), perhaps I would have reconsidered.
So here I am in Srinagar, summer capital of Kashmir. This is nothing like Delhi. It doesn’t even seem to be anything like India. This is central Asia. The only thing that lets me know I’m in India is that the shops have English signs – oh, and the fact that you can’t go for more than 50 feet or so without seeing an Indian Army soldier toting a machine gun.
The journalist in me couldn’t resist the absurdity of vacationing in Kashmir. But until 1990, tens of thousands of mostly Indian tourists came every year. I’m here to learn why.
And now some are coming again. You wouldn’t know it from my visit. Crowds gather when I am near. Jaws literally drop open. It’s like I’m a celebrity. Angelina Jolie here to snatch another baby. Or a spy. I am definitely the only Westerner. There aren’t even many Indians. With the authorities, I keep the “journalist” thing to myself. Meet Jennifer Pinkowski, “consultant.”
Pretty photo posts of Thailand – including the much-awaited baby elephant shots – were supposed to be posted tonight, but various technical difficulties have conspired to not let that happen. Kashmir isn’t exactly wired.
Tomorrow morning I’m off for a three-day trek in the Himalayas. More when I return!