Don't mess with a Kashmiri Muslim shopkeeper fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. That was the mistake I made. I was thinking about buying some shawls from him and he insisted on me taking them before I paid; that I could pay him later. He even said I only need to pay him half while I'm in Leh and the rest when I go to Goa (many of the Kashmiri shopkeepers go to Goa during the summer to sell.) So I took the shawls with me thinking the gesture kind rather than as a ploy to make me obligated to buy them. I came back the next day and told him I had second thoughts, that it was too much money and then we renegotiated a lower price and he again told me to take them with me. Two days later after lying in bed unable to sleep when it really started to sink in how much money I had spent on shawls and the carpet, I resolved that I would just tell the shopkeeper I couldn't afford them. But when I came back and told him I wasn't going to buy, he's suddenly wielding a giant, gleaming knife and demanding of me who told him his shawls were poor quality; how he does a lot of business and has many customers he could have sold the shawls to and that he was going to kill the bastard who told me his shawls were no good. He knew I had been shopping around, and the first time I had come into his shop I had asked his opinion of the shawls I had bought elsewhere. I then had questioned why the shawls he was selling me were so expensive if they were plain wool and not pashmina. So he was convinced I had been told by one of the other shopkeepers the shawls he was trying to sell to me were poor quality. This reaction totally caught me off guard and I suppose any sane bloke would drop the bag of shawls, appologize profusely and get the hell out of there as fast as possible. But I think I've already demonstrated that my sanity is in question. Instead, I assure him I didn't go to any other shopkeeper about his shawls, that it was truly about my having overspent my budget (in other shopkeepers' shops no less, which isn't helping my case much). I finally get him on my side again and he puts the knife away. I tell him I will buy the shawls and that I'm sorry for jerking him around by not buying after having held onto them for a few days. He is all friendly with me again and offers to lend me money if I need it (to demonstrate the successful and big business he does, he had showed me a stash of US hundred dollar bills he had while he was waving the knife around.) But, for some reason, I think I'll hold off on his generous offer and resort to borrowing money from my family first.... So this is the way of the Kashmiri business man. He'll do whatever he can to earn your trust. But help you God if you betray that trust. "I give you my guarantee" they assure you. That if you don't like their shawl, you can say that bastard Rashid ripped me off. Oh yes, it's a good guarantee alright; makes you buy with confidence.
Well, between knife wielding shopkeepers and high pressure salesmen who took me into their home for dinner, I have had quite an experience lighting up the dollar signs in the eyes of Kashmiri shop merchants and overspending on shawls and a carpet. Although I still maintain I got good deals on the textiles I bought.
Bardi, a very mild mannered and a bit funny shopkeeper I bought some shawls from. He wasn't too well versed at chess. He didn't know that pawns become any piece they want upon reaching the other side of the board and he didn't like the en passant rule.
Well, I finally arranged a trek. Leaving tonight back to Manali by jeep, back over the same treacherous mountain pass on the same winding, wind beaten road. I'll be leaving my gear that I won't be taking on the trek in the same guesthouse Nori, Rachel and I stayed in in Manali. It's then up to Kaza, a small town near the border of Tibet where the trek will commence. I'll be travelling with two others, the Israeli guy, Ronin, whom I briefly mentioned earlier, and a british bloke Andrew. Really looking forward to this trek. Ten days through two valleys. Andrew tells me the second valley, Parvati, was the inspiration for Tolkien's Rivendell. We'll be hiring a couple porters, much like the trek Solomon and I did in Peru. Except this trek will be taking us higher and farther. The trek will take between 8 and 10 days depending on how shanti we are about it. The first of the two valleys is Spiti valley which will be colder and more demanding before the big pass we have to go over which is 4810 meters. After that it's smooth sailing through the greener Parvati valley. Wish us well as this isn't a guided trek and we will be starting near the end of the ideal season of mid September to mid October.
I walked up to a temple yesterday and on my way got a little lost through some back alleyways. The fall colors and smells bring me back home for a moment. Was very beautiful.
At one point the bridge was out on the road, and the foot bridge didn't really lead anywhere useful....
Even the cows, like some of the locals, looked at me curiously, not sure what to make of the sunglasses wearing westerner.
Finally I made it to the temple which requires you to hike up 500+ steps.
Two nights ago had me another adventure. Denzing, the man in charge of my guesthouse, had another party "last full moon party" (referring to the end of the trekking season I believe) at the same place as the first one when I first arrived. I was the only westerner there which got me a free beer-- the rest were locals or tourists from nearby places in India. Well, the locals like to slosh their bear about. I didn't much appreciate getting beer on me but some friends told me to let it go.
Getting funky with the locals before things got ugly
Later, the same bloke who sloshed beer on me, gets a proper bar brawl going. After a lot of shouting and pushing and a bottle smashed on the floor, party is over but the brawl is just getting started. It moves outside as me and a couple friends go outside as well to go home. Three of us get into the backseat of a car arranged to take us home since the bus only goes back at 6am, but it seems we're not the only ones who want to go home in this car. The mad throng of shouting, pushing and hitting people (I have no idea what all the fighting is about as they are all yelling in foreign tongues) are pulling open the car doors and one of the two other guys I'm with is kicking them out. Finally we lock the doors and people on both sides of the car are still banging on the door and trying to get us to let them in. I just sit tight trying to understand what is going on. After about five minutes the other two suddenly get out of the car -- the door shuts, and I lock it. The driver is still in front revving the engine and people are still outside the car trying to get in. I figured the car was the safest place until I see a guy with a rock threatening to break the driver's side window. I move to the middle and try to size up which is worse... remain in the car and risk the man with the rock breaking the window or get out and hope the throngs of people don't attack me. I feel fairly certain I have nothing to do with the fighting so I decide to make a run for it. Several guys assure me I'm not a target and ushe me out of harms way and we pile back in the bus and get out of there as fast as possible. As we pull away from the riotous mob, we look on from the relative saftey of the bus as we see people hanging onto the car as it speeds away in first gear, the driver too desparate even to shift into second; one guy falls off the car as its speeding away and the rest run after it.
I still have no idea what the fighting was about, but I reckon the fact it was a full moon might have had some countenence on the situation. Denzing should hire proper bouncers and/or not throw parties on full moons....
Really, though, I am really enjoying myself shanti style in Leh.
Not sure if this is the best tactic to sell...