The Himalayan Hospitality

Well, it’s said that travel is not only about the places we visit, it’s also about the people. Following are the experiences from trip in the recent past.

The local guy at Ghat No. 19

We wanted to visit the early morning Vegetable market, for which the Shikhara has to be booked in advance. We were negotiating the rate with a boatman and an owner. A localite noticed our conversation and said something to the boatman in Kashmiri. Curious, we asked him what he said to the boatman. He said – “I asked the boatman not to cheat you and provide a reasonable price. After all, tourists are the bread and butter for Kashmir.” Our first taste of Kashmiri Hospitality.

The (Gentle)men of Kashmir

We were walking on the Dal Lake Boulevard at around 7:00 pm. We passed by a vendor selling some street food (which appeared like bread). Viki being the foodie he is, wanted to taste it. We stopped and looked behind, still undecided whether to taste it or not. At that moment, there were 3-4 friends sitting next to the vendor, who noticed us and said “Good Food … Come, taste it”. Finally, we decided to taste it and went to the vendor. The friends group paid the amount and left as soon we reached the vendor. He was selling Kashmiri Kulcha, with Onion-Tomato-Mirchi paste spread on it. We had one (probably) and after relishing it, took out the wallet to pay bill. The vendor said “Your bill has been paid by those friends gang. They are good people”. Again, a taste of the Kashmiri Hospitality.

The Rotiwallahs

After the vegetable market was closed, Viki suggested that we take the walk on the wooden platform into the city. So, we sent the Shikhara back and started walking. While walking, a localite invited us to have Tea at his house. We politely said no. He insisted 3-4 times, before walking away. After 10-15 minutes, we reached a road. There was a shop on the street, where fresh breads (Roti/Naan) were being baked. We asked them the route to the main road and since we woke up at 5:30 wanted to eat something. We asked for 2 Naans. Viki asked them about the Nun Chai (the salted tea) and the guy at the counter said it’s available on the main road. Soon, we got into a conversation with them and 3-4 people from the shop and a neighbor of theirs joined our discussion. They were warm people and another guy from the shop offered us the Nun Chai (in big glasses). We mentioned that, they are lucky to live in such a beautiful place. However, they said the situation, though improved, is not good yet. In the words of the second guy at the shop – “Hindustan should do something for us”. Later, they obliged for a photograph and we were set to leave. We again took out the wallet to pay. But the guys at the shop refused to accept the money. We insisted. One of them said – “Our’s is not a hotel. This is a house. We make bread and sell to locals. We will not accept the money from you”. It’s the gesture, not the quantum of amount involved that touched us.

The elderly men in the bus

We visited Taelbal – a village close to Srinagar. A guy on the bus asked us 3-4 times and each time he gave a smile, when we said that we are going there just like that. After roaming around for some time, we decided to return and boarded a local bus again. I was in the last seat and 2 elderly gentlemen were next to me. One of them became hyper and kept saying something in Kashmiri. Finally, he said by pointing to the camera – “The technology will get you nowhere. You should seek the path to God” and he got down from the bus. The other elder said – “Hindustan ne hathiyaar bhej diya. Aur Pakistan bhi hathiyaar bhej diya. Hamari halat aise hai”

The Sardarji businessman

Viki wanted to buy Saffron from the local store and we went to main shopping area. We kept asking the locals for the directions and met a Sardarji businessman who just closed his book shop. He explained in detail about how to select the Saffron and how some shops sell Saffron imported from Iran and not the local Kashmiri version.

The American who knew about India more than some Indians

There’s this place called Dzomso in Leh, where the water bottles can be refilled at Rs.7 per liter. They also sell good apricot juice. We met an American on his second visit to India and had a chat with him. This guy was so well informed about India that he knew that Hyderabad is going to be the Joint Capital of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for 10 years. Though many of us don’t like our country, one needs to speak to such guys to know why they make repeat visits to India (naah … it’s not about budget travel alone)

The Hotelier & his family

Zahir bhai and before him his family members have been running their hotel – Khan Manzil Guest House for the last 30 years in Leh (one of the 3 oldest hotels). We had to cancel 1 hotel room and since it was less than 24 hrs, Hostel World would charge the total amount. Zaheer promised not to charge the cancellation amount and did so. Also, we wanted a room for extra day and when we went to pay him the amount, he wanted us to subtract the online service charges to the website and then pay him.

There was this elderly gentleman, Basheer Bhai, who laid the extra bed in the room. He was sort of the caretaker in the hotel and he helped us in different ways. One day he wore a blazer for Namaaz, as it was the month of Ramzan. After seeing him in blazer, we thought he must be some distant relative of the owner. Since, he helped us, we wanted to tip him at the end of our stay. One day, we asked him if he was related to Zaheer, he said … ‘Yes, I’m his father’. Rare are these kind of humble souls, in spite of owning one of the oldest hotels.

The Bookstore Owners in Leh

Since we used the DevilonWheels website for our planning, we wanted to participate in their causes for Responsible Travel. 3 of us decided to gift stationery/books to the students in the villages of Nubra Valley. We went to one of the bookstores in the market area and told the guys in the shop about our idea and asked them if the schools would be open on Saturday. They immediately said that due to Kala Chakra, all the schools are closed for 10 days. Don’t think one would find such honest guys in our part of the country, where people would have just sold the items.

The impatient driver – There has to be a sour apple, isn’t it? Zakir Bhai who was the driver of the first leg of the trip (and ditched us soon after), was very impatient and always wanted to rush to the next stop – untypical of the Ladakhi hospitality. We did manage to take long breaks despite his resistance.

There’s still hope for humanity :) …. There’s something about the Himalayas and its people.

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