Srinagar

I am woken this morning firstly by the morning call to prayer in surround sound then, when I doze, by the evocative sound of birds crashing around on the tin roof. Something else that takes me straight back to Jos, though I’m not sure these are noisy enough to be vultures. Sadly, no mountain view this morning, though the hotel gardens are pretty enough.

After breakfast Tahir and Tashi appear to take us to Dachigam National Park. They have Fouzia with them too, Indus’ representative in Srinagar, so now we are six. The National Park is technically closed because several bridges were washed away in the floods, but Tahir is able to wangle us in because he works for SOS Wildlife, who have a sanctuary for Himalayan black bears just inside the entrance to the park. We visit the bears first and enjoy watching their antics – they are in a big, natural-looking enclosure but are quite interested in us.

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Himalayan black bears

After a cup of chai with the bears’ keepers, we go for a walk in the park itself. This is quite beautiful and what strikes us is the number of trees and plants which are familiar from home – hawthorn, horse chestnut, buddleia and, of course, Himalayan balsam.

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Valerian pyrolifolia

The temperature on the shaded paths is lovely too, even in the middle of the day. The noise of cicadas rather gives away our location though, as do the tracks and spoor of bears and leopards we are shown.

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Bear paw print

This will be a great place to start our look at the ecology of the Himalayas – familiar and yet exotic. One of the species we are not familiar with, to Tahir and Fouzia’s surprise, is mulberry, Morus serrata. As they both learned ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush’ as a nursery rhyme when first learning English at school they, naturally, assumed it to be an British plant. Maybe it would be more familiar to John and me if we hailed from further south in the UK but the plant definitely has Asian origins, which begs the question of how it came to feature in such a popular English nursery rhyme. Something to do with the Silk Route, perhaps. I need to hunt out the Opie’s Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes to see whether I can find out.

From the National Park we head into town to try and get to a bank as John, Helen and I need to change money. It’s the first time we have been to the areas worst affected by the flooding and it’s sad to see the damaged houseboats and places where the river bank has caved in. In fact, there is still a lot of flooding around the bank and nothing is working there, so we end up using an ATM on the university campus later.

In theory, the hotel have sent us out with packed lunches but these turn out to be a round of jam sandwiches each. Fouzia is much less than impressed and phones the hotel to tell them we will be coming back for lunch! Lunch is slow to arrive which means we are running late by the time we get to the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Kashmir to meet Dr Chandra.

After our meeting, we drive back to the hotel along Dal Lake and stop to take photos as the sun is setting.

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Dal Lake

It’s very beautiful in the soft evening light but, looking at the clouds, John confidently predicts the first rain of our trip. Back at the hotel we have tea with Tashi, Tahir and Fouzia and spend a pleasant hour or so talking about next year. Whilst we are sitting in the garden, we see the first flashes of lightening in the distance and soon it starts to thunder too. The others head for home just as the rain starts. John, Helen and I watch the dramatic thunderstorm roll around the valley from the shelter of our balcony, trying to catch the lightening in photos.

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The rain is hard and persistent and we feel for the people in temporary shelters – the last thing they must want to see is more rain. I wear the new top I bought in Sonamarg for £5 for dinner – I’m very pleased with it but am sure it’s not really cashmere! I’d hoped to have a chance to buy a proper shalwar kameez and also some spices to take home but the chances of that are looking a bit slim now. Maybe next year…

After dinner John and I spend some time consolidating the notes from this afternoon before a last game of Scrabble. The journey home starts tomorrow, though we hope to have a chance to see something of Delhi in the afternoon.

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