After an endless journey by train and bus – and what a bus! – We are finally in Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir. We know that his friend Gilles lives on Dal Lake, in a boat converted from British colonization. But Dal Lake is very big and there are a lot of houseboats.
Srinagar,Kashmir, July 1975
Kasmiri Masala. The best spice blend to make Kashmir curry. Blanch the onions first until they become translucent. Add Patak’s Kasmiri Masala Minced Spoon, firm and firm. Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and other vegetables. Simmer a good hour over low heat. The more it cooks, the better.
But I go astray. The delicious aroma of all these street food stands, mmmh, makes hungry. The chapatis of breakfast are long gone. However. We have no money. Not a penny. Not a rupee, not an arrow. As long as we did not find our mythical savior, Gilles, it’s cheap trip, guys. Better forget junk food and the rest.
On the lake, turn the shikaras. Small colored boats with embroidered bench under awning, shikaras are the local gondolas. Change of scenery, luxury, tourist trap. An expensive trip. Easily we forgot the money we don’t have. Without thinking, we embark. We will see later when paying.
By then, we will meet Gilles, that’s for sure. This brave taxi will take us to his boat. He says he knows him. He knows where he is caring. By falling on the seat of our boat lovers, we find the easy life of Europe. Amsterdam, Venice, Bruges, the familiar follies. While the rower lets the shikara drift limply, we are saved.
Patience. Life on Dal Lake is that of another world. Nobody had warned us. India is a repeated shock. We would soon discover it. But for the moment, only the voluptuous sensation of slipping limply among the lotus, on the calm waters of this Himalayan lake, with this incredible smell when the ganja diffuses its vapor in contact with the coals.
The shikara prepares a welcome pipe, or rather a hookah, the traditional water pipe used in India in the Maghreb, where she is challenged by the shisha, much less poetic. Floating limply on the calm lake of our foggy consciousness, our shikara has just moored a love island, totally incredible, absolutely Indian.
He is small. A miniature temple occupies the whole surface. On the small beach, two teenage girls in sari dance as they know it. The powerful vapors of incense mingle with those of ganja. An orchestra emerges from where, on a flat boat, distils the divine harmonies of sithar, tampura and tabla.
It sounds like a real show, a performance given in our honor. Saul, Micha and I, elsewhere, but far away, like two officers of his gracious majesty enjoying the Himalayan holidays that were once the rest of the warrior, we are not very present. We hear, we hum and we see the scene through several layers of sails.
It is far, too pretty. It’s beautiful to faint. That’s it, I take myself for the Maharadja of Gopal with his dear Maharani. Our good people love us and give us an aubade. What is the name of this Maharadja who built the Taj Mahal to serve as a tomb to his beauty? How awful ! The architecture is beautiful but the act is monstrous. Violent.
In the evening, Micha finds reason and asks the shikarist if we go soon to Gilles. I landed. It’s true, as long as we have not found our friend, we are two little French lost at the end of the world without a penny in his pocket, and it’s funny.
But that does not make me laugh. The shikarist connects bows and big smiles, he reassures himself, he says that Gilles lives nearby. On this he turns around and returns to the pier. Or rather on a magnificent boat transformed into a luxury hotel.
We had noticed this great floating palace, near the wharf, and we had dreamed for a moment that it was Gilles’s. But our shikarist had deceived us by moving his boat to the other end of the lotus lake, in the pretty little temple. It looks like he wants to dock.
What is it ? A museum ? A cinema? The shikarist palaver with a group of children piling up on the steps of the back ladder. Micha is impatient, what we want is to see Gilles, nothing else!
– Micha! Xav! What the fuck are you doing there?
Hey, it’s him. It is Gilou who tumbles into a barcasse flat bottom, much less glamorous than ours. But gratos! His first reaction is not particularly affable. He’s mouthing because he has to pay our fees. And it starts badly. Very bad. It was deceived by embarking on this tourist trap, and now the man of the shikara is claiming a fortune for the all inclusive one-hour ride at the Grand Luxury Rate with testing of ganja, attending a temple show, including sadhu, dancers and musicians salaries.
– You must know that I have nothing of a millionaire, Gilles throws me out of a palaver with Shikara Man. I will take care of you, but it will be my way.
Micha keeps on smiling, but I know she’s disappointed. She knows Gilles’ legendary sting. Will have to play tight. There, right away, she would like to visit the splendid houseboat where Gilles lives. The kids have gone to camp, the stairway is free. Following Gilles, Micha climbs the stairs to get on board.
– Will we go around, anyway? she drops between her teeth.
– Hey! You just arrive and you wanna leave already? said Gilles. Yes, we will go, but not in tourist traps. We will sleep outside, we will live the Indian way, no problem.
Fucking shame! We pass for two tourists jerks. We got fucked all right. All that was pure show for pure morons. I’m sheepish. And the following hours will show me clearly the difference between shitty folklore and baba-cool delirium. No confusion please!