CouchSurf with Jai in Agra

We arrived at Mr Jai’s house around 4pm in the evening, right after we were done with trips with Jabbar and sent back to our hotel to pick up our luggage. It was difficult to take auto-rickshaw that is willing to take us to the address given with reasonable price. They were trying to overcharge us with an excuse today having some festivals around there and not many auto-rickshaws are running. Giving up with the bargain attempt, we agreed with the given price and they brought us to Jai’s apartment directly.

We have not seen many high-rise aparment/ flats in Agra so Jai’s place seems to stand out as a rather high-end residence compared to the community we have seen in the crowded place nearby Taj Mahal. The apartment was gated with security people, and after registering at the security, we called Jai and his daughter Riti came down to take us up.

We were given a neat separate bedroom complete with bathroom. I understand that the room actually belongs to Jai’s son but functioning as guest room sometimes.

To spend the evening, Riti and her friends asked us to play badminton with them at the yard. All of them speak fluent English at young age and we were very impressed. It was great to play bandminton after so long having left it, and the kids playing quite good too! We also talked and asked about Hindi movies and superstars, their school, places they like in India and other stuff. It was fun ;)

Dinner time! We were so delighted to have dinner with the family. Jai and his family are really friendly and treated us like their family members. We expected to eat whatever they eat: vegetarian food. But we were surprised that they tried so hard to accommodate us non-vegetarians with boiled eggs – as if we would die if we dont eat non-vegetarian food! =.= I mean, they shouldn’t have, and it’s unnecessary! We were traveling in other place with other culture and all we love to do is to eat what the local people eat. I mean, when in Rome, do as Romans do. So when in India, eat what Indians eat :P Anyhow, we can’t help but felt touched by their effort, although a bit guilty.

So we can learn by their food, vegetarian people can replace meat-stuff by potato, and also paneer (cheese); like these human-shaped nuggets for example :) We would have thought it’s made of chicken by its taste.. I mean, I had never eaten potato that taste that good! The food we had at Jai’s are all new to us but really yummy!

We had a good chat with Jai and his wife, they shared almost everything we need to know about Agra, and we also shared our incident of being cheated by tout before coming to here. As a newly married couple, we also had among the very best advice from Jai and his wife.. things to keep the relationship at its best. If not because we’re leaving for Delhi tomorrow, Jai would like to bring us at some shops he’s familiar with that sell sarees and kurta that we’re searching for.

The next morning, we woke up to say goodbye to Jai’s family before we left to Agra train station. Riti and Aryan were ready for school in neat uniforms. After quick breakfast, Jai helped us to take auto-rickshaw which will get us to the station directly.

Thank you Jai for the great hospitality and warm welcome! Hope to see you again one day :)

CouchSurf with Sudhir in Jammu

We arrived in Jammu airport in the afternoon and received call from Sudhir that his representative will fetch us at the airport. We had to walk outside the airport gate as people who didnt have traveling document i.e. not using the flight are not allowed to enter even the airport area. We felt bad because our flight was delayed and we could not inform earlier, but the guy who came to fetch us was a kind man wearing turban. We got into his van and he brought to us to a sweet house with large garden which we guess belongs to Sudhir.

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Last day in Kashmir

From Clermont Houseboat to JKT Bus stand: Got ride by Mr Bashir
Shuttle bus to Srinagar airport: Rs.45

Our last night at Clermont Houseboat was in this small cottage in the corner. We had to move out from the big houseboat because there will be some VIP guest going to check-in, but it’s more than okay, coz this cottage is very cozy! In fact, I’m not sure if it’s floating on water like houseboats as well but it’s surely located the same rows with them along the lake bank.

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Lhasa Restaurant, and meeting CSer Shafi

Lunch at Lhasa Restaurant: Rs.340

Shafi is one of the people I contacted in CouchSurfing to be our possible host in Srinagar. Our plans however changed than initial itinerary, where we stayed in Ambassador Houseboat for two nights instead of one, and we didn’t overnight in Gulmarg as planned, and now we’re unexpectedly heading to Mr Bashir’s elder brother’s place when the family we met in Delhi has delightfully invited us to visit their hometown in Kashmir. Nonetheless, we’re still meeting Shafi as he lived not very far from Dal Gate No.2. He’s near Gate No. 4, actually.

 

We’re now leaving this place! So sad.. *_* And me with pretty decorated shikara.. we havent ride one yet, only took boat to cross to the houseboat. Not much difference anyway~

 

So after checking-out Ambassador Houseboat and said goodbye, we with our luggage walked further the Boulevard road to the agreed place, and when I called Shafi, he immediately came over to see us and we walked to his place which is located a few steps away behind the front buildings at the street.

Shafi runs a hotel named Hotel Mount Inn, and at its backyard there’s a nice garden where we sat having tea and chat. He was a nice man willing to share many things about himself and Srinagar. He brought us to see the rooms in his hotel and he said we could come stay here if we have more days. The rooms are really decent and so are their attached bathrooms. The good thing about hotel over houseboat is they usually have centralized heater so you won’t be freezing at night and earlier morning as we are when staying in houseboat!

Apart from hotel, Shafi also owns a souvenir shop where he sells Kashmiri shawls and jacket. He’s a real businessman! I bought one duo-tone pink-blue shawl from him and it was one of the prettiest color I’ve seen in shawl.

 

There’s also bigger shawl with traditional Kashmiri embroidery which is also pretty! But I already made my promise to limit my shopping as we still have more days to spend here :P

Watch the message by Shafi! :D

  

Shops and streets nearby Shafi’s Hotel Mount Inn. We didnt realized that there are many other shops and hotels hidden at the back of the visible buildings from Boulevard Road.

Because of last incident in bus coming back from Gulmarg, I now dont want to risk getting sick even more if we take jeep/taxi/bus for 9 hour on bumpy road to Jammu as we had planned. So we agreed to purchase another flight Srinagar to Jammu, although it’s a bit last minute but we had to go for it. Or so I said.

So Shafi helped us to find a nearest Internet Cafe for me to do the flight ticket purchase. Got panic at first when the Cleartrip system seem to reject my credit card payment when I’m doing this from here (while I didnt have any problem doing the purchase back home in Malaysia!) and I started wondering if it’s related to tight security here in Kashmir (like for example, non-Kashmiri sim card cannot be used in here, and SMS is not supported). We had no choice but to ask the Internet cafe to book for us and we paid him in cash. Now we’re a bit short in cash by few thousands Rupees.. aiyo.

Shafi brought us to this Lhasa Restaurant walking distance from his place. It has a nice open air dining area like a garden, and I guess it’s named so because they have Tibetan-influenced type of food.

Although, Shafi had another matter to do so we were left here, and Az had to go for Friday prayer at mosque nearby, so I had to wait here alone before placing food order.

 

Dining area inside the building, if you dont prefer being outside. And Lhasa Restaurant’s menu booklet. Lhasa restaurant is also featured in Lonely Planet book among chosen restaurants in Srinagar.

  

The food is nothing Kashmiri now.. the vegetable soup and beef noodle taste similar like we have back home in Malaysia, with a bit Chinese taste. And the fruity naan is called Kashmiri naan! I mean, we randomly chose something that is Kashmiri, without knowing that it’s actually a sweet-taste naan, full of dried fruit, coconut and yogurt! Although feeling regret, we had to finish them anyway.

  

Some photos Az took when he went for Friday prayer at this mosque. He simply follow the flow of people going for prayers, and ended up at this small mosque. It was during the very same Friday prayer time, in another mosque in Srinagar, an incident happened when an Imam was killed. I dont want to elaborate further about this, but Alhamdulillah we’ve been protected.

Thanks Mr Bashir, until we meet again!

After our dinner on third night in Delhi (2D 3N since arrival night) we managed to take pictures with Mr Bashir’s family. Seen here from left: Mubashir, Showkat, Az, Ilyani, Ammi (Mr Bashir’s sister who is staying in the US and was currently back home for wedding) and his niece. They are Kashmiri family but the men live here in New Delhi running their business, and go back to Kashmir regularly to see their wife and kids. It was fun to talk to them especially when we were heading to Kashmir after this, so we got to get alot of help and info regarding Kashmir from them.

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