When we thought we left chaos in Amritsar or at the border with Pakistan, nothing was less true. Chaos was either following us, or we following it, all the way to Kashmir.
Welcome to chaos
We are stuck in the longest traffic jam of my life. Trucks driving everywhere, left to right coming and incoming. They even find themselves against the traffic just to go around the jam. It’s insane. Honking as if that makes any different. Cars come from all sides and we try to squeeze Alexine in between. It has been going on like this for at least 25km’s now. Some people think pushing the horn continuously will help the traffic jam disolve. Well, it doesn’t. The only thing it does is getting me irritated.
They say it’s because of a landslide because of the rain. And it will take three to four hours. We embrace ourselves to a long long way to the North. Welcome to Kashmir, welcome to chaos!
And that chaos actually started in Amritsar. The first city we visited in India. All the car honking without reason. It’s insane!! Truly! And I don’t get it. Whenever I hear a car honking now I don’t give a shot because they just keep doing it all the time. Kind of like taking antibiotics when you’re sneezing. When you actually need it? It won’t work anymore. And then there is the smell, the horrible smell of a rotten cow. Oh and of course the dirt. Waste everywhere.
Well, there is also the kind people, the deliciously smelling (but way to hot) food, the incredible architecture, the impressively green forests, monkeys (!!!!), beautiful roads and so on. We even had good coffee on our first day in India!
The military in India
The Indian Armed Forces are under the management of the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India.
With strength of over 1.4 million active personnel, it is the world’s second-largest military force and has the world’s largest volunteer army. It also has the third-largest defence budget in the world.
From chaos to tranquil mornings
So despite the chaos, the smell, the dirt we do enjoy our time here already. We found ourselves a spot in a forest park which unfortunately, just like Kalam in Swat Pakistan, becomes more a themapark with all the hotels, waste and party people than the beautiful forest it ones was. The clouds are below me and try to enter the forest, through the trees they find their way towards me, blocking the sun and make my skin chill. A feeling I was longing for. My hair gets wet, the birds quiet and the forest that unjust saw in the morning sun becomes a mystical spectacle. The wind rushes through like an eagle in full speed. I get goosebumps. Oh my, I forgot what does feel like. The past half a year it has been so hot wherever we went. Too hot to sleep in the van, too hot to do anything but chilling in the water, too hot to breathe. And now here in the Indian forest while cicades sing the morning song I get goosebumps and remember what the cold is like.
Of course we had cold before. We stayed at the high plateau of Deosai for a couple of days (4500 meters up) where it was pretty cold at night. We have been in North Iran when it was raining cats and dogs. We slept at a 4700 meter pass in the Himalaya. But those moments are countable on one hand. Luckily, because Alexine is a good weather camper. Cooking and living outside, driving and sleeping inside. She’s tiny which is what we like but if you only have rain and cold then Alexine is not the van you want to be staying in. Although it can be very cosy. For a while. Then it just gets too petite.
It doesnt look like the sun will come back. Which is a pity because I love how the sun touches the dew on plants and trees. How the water vaporises in the early morning light. How the birds and insects wake up with beautiful songs and sounds. How the world is slowly coming to life with every sunray. Its those moments I will miss the most when I’m back home. I now wake up every day around 6:30. Get out of bed and just watch the sun waking up every living being on earth. Humans are still asleep except for some farmers. Its just me and the wide world asking me for appreciation. And getting it. Its when dreams come to me, while I’m awake. It’s when new ideas and plans pop into my head. It’s when I am happy, when I appreciate what I have, when I think of whatever comes to mind and lay whatever worries me to rest. The birds make the melody, I find the words.
After a while Yuri wakes up. My coffee maker, thus very welcome to disturb my morning ritual. As long as he does it in silence of course 😉
Here in the forest the only reminder of India might be the waste on the ground. A forest park we had to pay €1,- to enter but for what exactly? There are no toilets, waste is not collected and not far from where we stand is a small Luna park for kids. Then further down the road are many many hotels and shops and attractions. You can picnic, ride a horse and enjoy the loud music. It’s a pity because the forest must’ve been a great one. The trees are so tall, the scenery so green and the view on the mountains impressive. A bit more natural preservation would be nice for a place like this. But, no need to complain. This morning is great. I’m all alone, the sun was out for a little while and there is a lot of green around me.
Today we will be heading further north. Our plan is reaching Srinagar, the city of the floating market. It will take a while because in India you never know about traffic. Oh and of course monkeys. Monkeys make us go very slow because we love them and want to observe them as much as possible. I love to do that from a distance so i won’t interfere. Unfortunately many people do not care and feed the monkeys. That’s why you’ll find them near hotels and attractions a lot. I prefer to see them in a place as wild as possible. But oh my do they make me happy. Jumping, running, climbing. Playing with each other, fighting, grooming. I love how they show affection to each other, how they climb into each other’s arms and how the little ones follow their mums. I love the expression on their faces and their body language. The way they hunt, climb into trees and swing from branch to branch. Ah what’s not to love about monkeys? Did you know that I travel the world with my travel monkey Sir Gawain since 2012? 😁
Second day of chaos; military convoy
If I won’t die today in traffic it’ll be a wonder. Today it’s not a landslide blocking our way but military convoy. And not just one nor two or three. We’ve had to stop at least ten times for military vehicles passing. Why? Because Kashmir is the most militarised place on earth. There are 1 million soldiers stated in Kashmir while there are 500.000 people living. Insane and unnecessary of course. And if you think it’s to protect the borders against Pakistan, that’s even wrong. Apparently it’s also to keep the Kashmiri people in line. “No one trusts us” a man tells us. No idea why but as always we will find out.
But let’s get back to the convoy for a while. So the military stops all traffic hundred of times to let a convoy pass through. A convoy of twenty maybe thirty trucks full with equipment, soldiers and guns. This is how they drive through the country to Kashmir. And when the cars are allowed to pass chaos returns to the road. And with chaos I mean chaos. People driving from all directions on one road, overtaking where there is no space, honking the cars when there is no reason. At one point the one tiny road turns into a freeway and at another moment a big road turns into an airstrip. Cars stop whenever they want to, they speed up whenever they feel like it and whenever they can they’re on the phone. And that’s so dangerous! People aren’t paying attention when they’re on the phone. They go from driving 80km/h to 50km/h at the moment they pick up the phone. They drive in the middle of the lane and so not look left nor right when they want to overtake or turn. It’s insane!!! We thought we would be used to this since Iran but no. While in Iran they drive insane as well (against the traffic without lights and helmet in the dark) the Indians are almost worse. There are no rules, there is no social behaviour and there is only me me me. My heart pounds in my throat the whole way to Kashmir and multiple times I fear for Alexine. Im almost certain we well get her back to The Netherlands the same way I bought her seven years ago. Full of dents, rust and other cars’ paint on her.
It hurts and it scares me but we get through without accident. And that’s a wonder. I’m now sitting at the Dal lake in Srinagar watching the boats float on the lake, thunderstorm in the distance and still alive. I’m still alive. Surprised and happy.
Love, Milene & Yuri
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