Sunday, November 12, 2006

Guns & Ammo

I remember well the first time I left North America; I was 21, and I went to Oxford to do a summer study program. It was the summer after my father died, and before I boarded the plane my mother gave me her wedding ring; I've worn it whenever I've travelled, superstitiously, and I'm wearing it now, as I type.

When I dismbarked at Heathrow, I was shocked to see armed police, big, black guns gleaming, patrolling the airport. I had never seen serious weapons out in the open like that. By now, I'm sure this is not an unusual sight in America, or anywhere else. Here in Srinagar evidence of danger is common, as Indian forces form road checks and patrols all over the city. Soldiers and guns still unnerve me, but they go almost unnoticed by the locals.

crow's nest

A few days ago, I took my first long, unchaparonned walk in Srinagar. It was unplanned: I left the houseboat saying I'd be at the internet cafe, but I decided to get a Nescafe first, and then I wanted to sit by the lake and enjoy it, and then I was having such a nice time that I decided to have an amble. I was planning to walk for a few minutes and then return to my stated destination, but as I was walking, I saw a sign for a temple, and I followed it. Soon, I had to pass through a security checkpoint and record my passport. The soldiers there were friendly and curious, wanting me to stay and talk, but I set out on the 5.5 kilometer road up a mountain overlooking the lake.

After about 15 minutes, just as the oppression of being constantly accompanied was begining to lift and my legs were hitting their stride after their long sleep, a truck pulled up behind me and 6 soldiers climbed out. They caught up to me, and I slowed down to let them pass. Noticing my lagging, they said, in the typical Indian overuse of the imperative, "Come," and "Follow me, Madame." Annoyed at the sudden military escort, I followed as slowly as possible. Soon, they came to a path and said , "shortcut," beckoning me to follow. Thinking that I didn't want to shorten my walk or follow unknown men (uniform or no) into the woods, I replied, "No thanks, I'll stick to the road." So, they disappeared into the trees.

my military escort

I was supposed to leave my matches and cigarettes at the checkpoint, but nobody inspected my bag, so I didn't hand them over. About an hour up the road, I stopped at a bluff overlooking the city, and then I went further into the woods to violate the law. I was sitting there enjoying the view when I heard a rustling in the bushes below and a camo helmet came into view. I said, "Shit," and began to put out my cigarette. "Carry on Madame," was his reply. So I offered him a smoke, and he took it with pleasure. He was a long way from home, Mumbai, a Hindu, and not enjoying what he called his "jungle patrol."

Although I'm frightened by guns, I'm also fascinated by them. I had been wondering since I arrived in Srinagar what kind of guns the soldiers were carrying, so I asked this one. It turned out to be a rifle, and I told him a story from my childhood: I must have been about 9, and my uncles took me for target practice behind the barn. They gave me the rifle, and when I shot it, it knocked me flat on my ass. The soldier laughed, and then he offered to let me shoot his gun. I slightly regret that I declined.

gaurding the lake

I finally saw the temple after 2 more security points where I had pretty much everything in my bag except paper confiscated, and I came down from the mountain 4 hours after I began. Yasir found me at the internet cafe a bit later, and he said at least three people had been looking all over the city for me. I apologized, but I sure did enjoy that walk.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok crazy woman! Certainly nice of Yasir & Co to watch out for you - I still say your pictures look like places in Montana - Love you . M.

5:22 PM GMT-5  

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