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Eventually we turned off onto a road that ran smoothly along the edge of a vast lake – Lake Dahl. Numerous little jetties lined its shores, and we kept driving almost to the last of them. Here I was greeted by a boy, maybe in his late teens. He had maple-coloured skin, and pale blue eyes. Silently, he hoisted my bag from the car into a very strange ferryboat. It was kind of a floating four-poster bed, complete with a canopy. Climbing aboard, I sat down cross legged on the thin mattress – feeling I wouldn't be able to take myself seriously if I sprawled across it, like some bizarre Michelangelo painting. The boy jumped in, taking his seat at the far end, and began to row us out onto the lake. Once we had gotten a fair distance out, we entered what I can only describe as a floating village. I saw a convenience store, a silver merchant, a haberdasher… all half sunk into the lake. Other boats passed us, heading back to the shore. One of them was filled with a group of guys about my age, who asked me where I was from. When I told them, several key words were yelled excitedly over to me; "Kangaroo!" "Aussie Aussie!" "Ricky Ponting!"
I gave a thumbs-up, to wild cheers.
Eventually we came to the place I would be staying for the next few days – a houseboat named 'The Wild Rose', moored on a small island. Honestly I had no idea what to expect, my experience with floating guesthouses in mountain lakes was pretty limited at that point. I was pleasantly surprised though. Waiting on the small dock for me was Ibrahim. He must've been about sixty, with a bit of a belly, wearing a long robe and a pair of glasses. Ibrahim was the owner of the boat, which his family had taken care of for several generations. The boat itself was a hundred years old, so he said. It really was beautiful; I had to give him that – the carefully carved wooden interior was complete with a bedroom, kitchen, dining room, even a well-furnished sitting room. After we spoke for a while, he left me to settle myself in. Well, this isn't so bad, I thought, striding excitedly up and down the length of the boat. If I'd had the money I probably would've bought the whole thing outright, and had it airlifted back to Perth to start a new life on the Canning.
As the day began to fade, I was left feeling a strange mixture of foreboding and exhilaration. On the one hand, my trust for the travel agency (currently in possession of my money) had waned significantly since news of the 'swine flu outbreak'. On the other, I was in an undeniably brilliant situation – no matter the cost, it's impossible for Kashmir to be a rip-off. In the early evening I climbed a small wooden ladder onto the roof of the boat, and gazed around at the incredible panorama. Snow-capped mountains rose on all sides, hawks and eagles cut smooth slipstreams through the cool air. And as the last light in the sky burnt out, songs from the scattered mosques rose and echoed through the mountains. I took a deep breath. It was a relief to let my thoughts go silent for a while, and enjoy such a peaceful surrender. I realised that this trip was never going to be what I had wanted or expected, and for a brief moment it didn't matter.