1971, the year of my first trip to Asia, was full of buzz about Nepal. It was the place to go, to discover. For this very reason, my father made up his mind that we wouldn’t go there and sought to be original. He choose to make a two day trip to Srinagar, easily reachable by flight from Delhi.
His Indian associates tried to warn him that the weather there in February was very different from Delhi and Rajasthan, and that the people there very tricky. My father didn’t like people trying to tell him what to do so they went ahead and made what arrangements they could, telling him approximately how much he would need to pay for accommodation.
From the plane, Srinagar looked bleak. On arrival a short man in an oversized coat and astrakhan hat greeted us. He was a little obsequious, which put my father on edge, especially when he started calling him his friend. The first piece of news was that we were coming off-season so the hotels were all closed, but we had the opportunity to sleep on a houseboat. When he stated the price, way over the Delhi estimate, there started a long discussion, something my father was very good at, which seriously deflated the guide’s expectations, while my mother and I watched helplessly.
I thought the houseboat was fun, there was another houseguest, an unflappable Englishman in this early forties, who could very well have been a kind of James Bond, my mother was convinced of it anyway. It was quite cold and we seriously lacked warm clothing, so the guide sent off a boy in a wooden boat who came back an hour later with a selection of local garb, woolen formless tops that reached to the knee. They probably had been picked here and there and were not new, but I was soon wrapped in a burgundy one with gold embroidered neckline. My mother declined, choosing to stay in her Dior Spring weight coat.
My father had read about the area and said he wanted to visit the gardens. The guide timidly said that we could, but it wasn’t the best time to see them. The main Palace was closed, so we saw a grey flowerless garden after another, driving on bare poplar lined roads in the rain. I got my fill of photographs, though my parents were disappointed. That night, we sat in the houseboat around a stove with ‘James Bond’ telling us stories of his travels. The boat was freezing, though the hosts did their best to keep the fire lit.
We left for Delhi the next afternoon, and when my father expressed his disappointment, the Indian associates restrained themselves to a knowing smile.