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Himalaya

Day 40: Srinagar, Kashmir

Michael Palin - HimalayaIt's still only breakfast time as I get back to the houseboat moored on the western shore of the lake, which will be our home for the next couple of days. Mr Butt, the owner of Butt's Clermont Houseboats is worrying away at a table laid out in what was an old Mughal garden, believed to have been built by the Emperor Akbar and called the Garden of the Morning Breeze. Soon we're chomping on eggs, pancakes, thick toasted bread, honey and Kashmiri tea, a fragrant alternative to the straight cuppa, made with saffron and almonds.

Mr Butt circles nervously. He is a man of immense enthusiasm, very responsive to compliments and given to hugging the bearer of them with delight. On the other hand, the slightest thing that goes wrong produces intense anguish and much shouting at the staff. There seems to be no middle ground between euphoric happiness and utter despair.

This makes him an anxious but attentive host and even before I'd checked in he was proudly showing off the signed photographs of previous guests that adorn the walls of his office. They range from Lord Louis Mountbatten, the man who partitioned India and Pakistan, to George Harrison, who stayed here in 1966 to learn the sitar from his friend and guru Ravi Shankar. I ask which boat George had stayed in and a small cloud passes over Mr Butt's beaming features.

Later I could see why. It lies in a side channel, half submerged with water. Mr Butt couldn't afford to keep it afloat.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 40: Srinagar, Kashmir
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Srinagar
  • Book page no: 90

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