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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

When the Scenic Route Hits a Road Block


In 2019, my daughter, Rebecca, and I flew from Leh, Ladakh to Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, both in India. If we had thought the security was tight in Leh, we learned what real security was in Srinagar. Lots of check points with well-armed police. The day was overcast and dreary. My mood began to match as our driver took us to a boat to get to the houseboat AirBnB we had booked.


When Rebecca told me we were going to stay in a houseboat on Dal Lake I envisioned what I knew of houseboats. From living in Sausalito, California, I believed that houseboats were anchored to docks from which one can walk into town. Houseboats on Dal Lake are moored to other houseboats. None are accessible by foot. You have to own a boat or call a water taxi. I was immediately uncomfortable about this arrangement, but I kept my game face on.


I had that face on as Rebecca and I walked to our room in the houseboat down a long corridor piled with damp rugs. The smell of mold and mildew hit me first, like a sick wave. I sat on the bed, looked at Rebecca and said, “Find us somewhere else while I use the bathroom.” She looked stunned, but could read my deep dread of the place. The bathroom did not have toilet paper. That really sealed the deal.


Rebecca was worried about how we’d explain that we wanted to leave. The young man and his brother who ran the AirBnb from their family houseboat were kind and thoughtful. I agreed, we wanted to be kind. Then hammering and the sound of a sledgehammer fired up.

Rebecca and I looked at each other. What the heck? We went into the hall and learned that the floor had been removed from the room next door to ours and work was to be done during the day for the duration of our visit. Oh, hell no!


This additional development made our escape a lot easier. When we got back into the main room we learned that a meal of runny omelet and toast had been prepared. I prayed it was safe to eat and dived in because I was quite hungry at this point. As we ate, we broke the news that because of my allergy to mold and the floor work we would be leaving. The owner was sorry but he did understand. I said that I would, of course, pay for the two nights we had booked. He assured us that was not necessary. Like I said, he was a really good guy.


He also had arranged for a dealer of the area’s best saffron to come to the boat which is something we had requested as well as a boat tour of Dal Lake. Both were wonderful experiences. The saffron dealer had the best saffron I’ve ever used in cooking. The boat tour showed us the variety of habitats on the lake from human to flora and fauna. We learned that stores selling everything from antiques to baby food dotted the lake. We saw children playing on the decks of their boats and vast fields of water lilies.


After a lot of handshakes and expressions of appreciation we got in the same taxi we had taken from the airport to the houseboat and headed north along the lake to the the Fortune Resort, Heevan Hotel. The hotel chain is called “Heevan,” but for Rebecca and I it was heaven. We giggled with joy as we threw ourselves onto our comfortable clean beds. Two restaurants with excellent food that understood the western digestive system (i.e., we could eat the salad without worry), large green lawns, and a gym awaited us.


That night we learned more about the city’s military presence. The City of Srinagar was placed in lockdown and internet access was interrupted because of threats of violence over an issue with Pakistan. We couldn’t leave the hotel grounds. Contacting anyone outside Srinagar would be difficult. Those beautiful grounds were all ours. We weren’t on a small smelly boat. We were so happy we put on music and danced. Sometimes it’s a good idea to follow your instincts, eh?

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