Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th June – Rocks, Routes and Shoots starts for real

We had a leisurely start to the day today, waiting for our guests to arrive. Helen and I visited the craft cooperative attached to the houseboats and each bought a couple of pretty cotton tops – reasonably priced and no high pressure sales pitch. Our guests arrived in a small flotilla of shikaras around noon.  The group is an interesting mixture of people – a couple have been to the area before, others are keen amateur geologists but new to this part of the world. One or two just have a more general interest in travel.  We ate as a group in the restaurant, which worked well, then people relaxed on the houseboat till just before 5 pm when the shikaras came back to give us a ride on the lake.

Some people joined us in looking at pond life under the microscopes and others went off to do some birdwatching – two different types of kingfishers were spotted, as well as a hoopoe. It was cloudy and humid this afternoon and we thought we were in for a proper thunderstorm, but fortunately this didn’t materialise – we just had a few drops of rain. The shikara ride on the lake was a bit stressful as a group of four boats setting off together proved even more of a magnet than usual for every hawker from miles around and they were very persistent, which made it rather. People were interested in the floating gardens though and a highlight was seeing a kingfisher at close quarters.

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Tuesday

We breakfasted in the houseboats this morning then set off for Pari Mahal again by shikara and car. The parking was a bit less chaotic with our early visit and the views equally spectacular.

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People seemed to enjoy this as a way of getting their bearings. I enjoyed wandering around taking pictures of some of the lovely flowers, both garden ones and ‘weeds’!

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Delphiniums and Convulvulous at Pari Mahal

From Pari Mahal we drove to Shalimar, with somewhat unexpected visits to a place selling dried fruits and a carpet showroom on route!  We returned to the houseboats for lunch and a short break then back to the shikaras and cars to go to Burzahom, the Neolithic cave dwellings and megaliths on a hill between Dal lake and the neighbouring hills. Burzahom is a UNESCO world heritage site for the unique record it provides of the earliest settlement in the Kashmir valley – dwellings between 5000 and 3000 years old with associated grains, lentils and pottery shards and somewhat newer megaliths. It is also a good place for a little geology and ecology.

The reason for the lovely hilltop location is that it sits on top of a ‘karewa’ made of the deep sediments which covered the lake bottom when the whole valley was full of water. The megaliths provided an opportunity for a first look at how to identify rocks, though hardly in their natural condition – several have fallen over to a convenient angle to be used as rock slides and have been well polished by many generations of small bottoms! Our attempts to look at the crystalline structure with hand lenses baffled the small boys distracted from their cricket game.

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On the way back to the houseboats, we noticed that one of the other shikaras was being paddled by two of our guests as well as the driver so we borrowed paddles too, and raced them home! We were delighted to see a hoopoe on our way back to the houseboat from the shikaras. Chappatis for dinner, as well as rice, provided welcome variation in our diet. John gave a brief introduction to the geology of the Himalayas after dinner – and afterwards we relaxed with some of the others in our sitting room.

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