The last few days have been....Well.... less then ideal. After visiting Agra, where I was slapped in the face with a huge culture shock, we arrived in Srinagar, Kashmir in northern India.
I was slapped even harder.
I thought I was being stared at in Agra, but here, I initially felt like a freak show.
Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim state. About 90% of the people here are devoutly Muslim, the other 10% Hindu. This means women cover their heads. As a non-muslim I arrived without my head covered. I was acutely aware of being the only Caucasian women on the flight into Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital, and I believe I am the only white women within an hour flight of here.
I now know what it's like to be a visible minority and to be stared at because of that. It a feeling of both amusement and annoyance.
The staring I can deal with, it was the ignoring that I couldn't.
Wait, did I just say I was being ignored as well as being stared at? How is that possible? Let me explain.
I am traveling with my brother. The people we have been interacting with have addressed questions and comments to only my brother. This includes the taxi driver, hotel workers in Gulmarg ( small little town ) and the waiter who served my brother food first, nearly taking the spoon out of my hand as I reached to serve myself. They've introduced themselves to only my brother as I stand there.
In Agra, this happened but on a less obvious scale. Here in Kashmir, it's more pronounced. And it's a bit upsetting.
We traveled to a small skiing town called Gulmarg. I am almost certain I am the only white women many of the people here have ever seen. The hotel was very rustic. Think log cabin with wood heat level of rustic with a bed that felt like a plank of wood ( which I had to share with my brother. Ewwww! )
I hated it and I couldn't get warm.
So.....cold....so very cold.
So, I decided to leave and head to New Delhi. My brother wants to ski so he's staying in Gulmarg. But that meant I had to spend a day in Srinagar, by myself, before my flight left. That should be interesting.
And interesting it is.
Was the taxi guy and his friend flirting with me? ( The driver even sang one of his favourite songs ) Did the guys at the hotel ask to add me on Facebook? ( Yes they did. ) Did that man at the check point say hello to me? ( He sure did. ) So what gives here?
I have a theory involving two parts:
First, my brother is not around.
Second, I covered my head.
It's like magic. All I had to do was ditch my brother and cover my head. It was that easy.
I'm currently lying on a bed on a house boat located on Dal Lake in Srinagar. It's a hostel I booked for the night. When I arrived, I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. The manager and his father warmly greeted me, serving me tea and cookies. Sitting on the floor, we talked for a bit and they showed me to my room. It's old but completely welcoming.
It has a wood burning stove for heat and this adorable little vanity and mirrors.
The manager not only arranged but accompanied me on a sight seeing tour. I spent too much money on a hand made Kashmir wool carpet and hand embroidered pashmina, but I consider it worth it. I learned how the carpets were made. The size I bought takes over a year to make with the larger ones taking up to 4 years. Just for one carpet! I'll go into more detail on this later.
And guess what I decided to do?
Stay another day!
I know, crazy white girl in a Muslim state, but Srinagar has kind of grown on me and I'd like to see a little bit more.