The two places in India that I have always wanted to visit and travel around extensively have been Kashmir and Assam, I did not do so earlier because I wanter to have sufficient money and time to travel in comfort. Now I find I have kept it too late. Not in this lifetime, I am not going to see Kashmir and the states of the North-East Frontier.
Kashmir, I did visit once, but for a brief period of three days, marooned by havy rains in Srinagar and confined to a very modest hotel in the town square and a tea shop on the opposite side of the square.
From the square I could see the shankaracharya temple on the hill, when the clouds cleared briefly in the afternoon before the rains once again set in, but nothing more. But for georgraphical knowledge, I would not have known I was in the valley of Kashmir.
Dead plants floated on the Dal Lake, among creaking empty boats, and the tourist shops in the town, with their jolly picturesque names, looked like bad jokes. In the main part of the town, where the local population resided, the gutters overflowed with decaying garbage and water and not all the water seemed to be rain water.
The Kashmiris themselves went about covered in thick blankets, carrying little charocal fires in container inside the blackets. It kept them warm, like electrically insulateb blankets, but the wet blanket also gave out a foul steam. All Srinagar smelt of this steam. I left the valley as I had come, through avenues of seeping Chinars. At the border, they checked my permit, then let me through. You required a permit then to visit Kashmir; now you need guts, police protection, security.
The visit was a disaster, the weather and the wrong time of the year year both cospired to make it so. Another visit would have changed all that. Now I will go to my grave carrying the impression of than first visit.
But of Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, the miles of tea estates, the game parks with rhinoceros, I will carry no memories. One brief half-day drive along a highway to Phuntsoling is all that I have covered in this area of the coutry. Now the place has become inhospitable and unapprochable. And there are other areas of the coutry that are becoming so. Soon we may all become like out ministers, afraid to move about without security guards around us.