It was early hours in the morning that I arrived in Srinagar, the capital city of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We parked into the Sitara Lodge which was just opposite the main road and the vastness of the beautiful Dal Lake. There was a chill in the air and the traffic on the road was terrible as I escaped into the crowd wearing a white sherwani and leather chappals in full Kashmiri style.
As I walked past shops and hippies, I caught the glimpse of the lake. Its stillness and tranquillity were soothing for the eye. Various shikara boats floated on the lake. Some were looking for passengers and some were just floating lazily on the lake. At the back of all these were houseboats all clumped side by side. Each houseboat had a distinctive name like Bloody Mary, Chaplin, Nausrath, Dawn and other such names. The sun came out in the afternoon and the lake was shimmering with its radiant light. Holidayers and tourists wearing colourful clothes, jewellery and shawls walked side by side enjoying ice cream, kehwa and cold drinks.
It was time for us to head towards the houseboat called Rose Marry in the middle of the lake. I ventured onto the shikara boat that would lead us to our destination. My tour guide Sagar was with me and he carried booze, chicken, mutton, seekh kabab and a hookah with him. This was my grand gift for the evening – sleeping over at a houseboat on the dull lake while smoking a Hookah.
Our houseboat keeper was a local Muslim fellow called Kasim. He was thin but tall, fair and had a typical long thin Kashmiri Nose. “The militancy has died down now sir. Yes, I know we still have stone throwing, bandhs and lockout especially at Lal Bazar area but those are just pent up frustrations of the local unemployed youth.” he said as he arranged the Hookah for me. He carefully lit the charcoal and then poured tobacco and essence into it. He puffed away with some large pulls to get the Hookah really burning. The smokes filtered through the water in the apparatus as one inhaled and then puffed it out.
The fragrance of rose and sandalwood filled the moist air as I peeked out at the lake from the window of my shikara. “Can we get some stuff like you know, Kashmiri chars?” I asked Kasim with a glint in my eye. “It is possible. I know someone who can get it from the mountains across but it will take time. It’s one hell of a walk.” I gave him money and asked him to get the stuff. So what if I got married to LSD, I couldn’t lose the opportunity to get high on the dull lake.
I waited for my cherished rose as Kasim came back with the stuff. “I used to know a lot of people in the Azadi movement who used to sell this. It was their mode of earning. I used to befriend some of them.” He sprinkled the char as powder on the top of the steel foil on the mouth of the hookah. That’s it. It was lights out from there as I sank into my dreamy world intoxicated by the moonlit night in the shikara on the Dal Lake. The plants, trees and skies looked different now. They almost stood out as if they were trying to reach me. The air grew musty as the smoke of essence coped with chars sent up into the air from our shikara. It was truly Dum Maaro Dum Rose Marry!
Suddenly, the strange pungent smell of something burning started coming from our room. I jumped up as my Razai was on fire. “Arrey, it’s the hookah you fool! You were so out and intoxicated you didn’t see the charcoal that fell on the carpet. Now, the whole thing caught fire! You are lost my friend and now you will have to pay for the damages!”
I was unhappy with the way Kasim rubbed me. After all, I was a guest and accidents like these happen all the time when one is partying or on vacation. I gave him a 100 rupee note for the damage that happened. Then I drank my hot Kashmiri nahi and walked straight to bed still intoxicated with the Dal Lake.