I Lost My Mind in Kashmir

By Atisha Paulson

Years ago, against our parents' advice, my sister and I traveled to Kashmir. It was truly a place of incredible beauty, yet the ongoing boundary dispute between India and Pakistan seemed to have turned it into a kind of hell masquerading as a paradise.

Upon arrival in Delhi, we were immediately sweet-talked into getting on a bus and heading north. The ride would supposedly take 15 hours. Twenty-five hours later, after befriending each and every one of the goats, chickens, screaming infants, and toothless pickpockets that made up the passengers on a route dotted with military checkpoints, we arrived in Kashmir.

The houseboat we rented was clean and the landscape breathtaking, so we were able to relax. Chai was served, hash was smoked. Once we settled in, we asked if we could go into town and check the internet. I wanted to let my parents know that we had arrived safely, but we were advised to avoid the town because violence had erupted between the Indian and Pakistani armies. A local politician had been assassinated by a zealot a few days before, and everyone was on edge.

As you might imagine, being told I couldn't contact my family while I was extremely high in a strange land scared the shit out of me, especially when I looked around at our fellow houseboat passengers: men with guns, no women at all, and loads of sketchy-looking Germans with scars on their faces, thinning ponytails, and bad tattoos. I immediately began to regret our decision, but my sister seemed oblivious to it all, relishing the attention she was getting from all the men. She's less cynical than I am and assumes that everyone's intentions are pure.

Our hosts tried to calm us down by saying that perhaps it would be "safer tomorrow," a phrase that ended up becoming the theme of our stay. We had no choice but to settle into the rhythm of Kashmir, which included hash for breakfast, hash for lunch and hash for dinner, punctuated by the occasional dose of opium. Once, an unseen gunman fired a shotgun blast in our general direction. There were actual highlights too, though: excursions on smaller boats through the tributaries of Lake Nagin, a visit to the Summer Palace, friendships we formed with criminals residing in neighboring boats, and an Indian wedding we attended.

Flash forward 13 years. I am getting married. She's the woman of my dreams, except for one, tiny detail: she insisted on going to India for our honeymoon. I told her I'd never return to the subcontinent, but she is persistent, if nothing else, and she hammered at me until one night over dinner, in a moment of extreme weakness, I relented.

I'm happy I did. We had an amazing time in India, I took a bunch of great photos, and my return offered me some sort of closure.

See more of Atisha's work here.

More places we explored to so you don't have to:

Penetrating Jordan's Illegal Porn Cinemas

Facedown in Chitral

Killers of Serpents

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