The newspaper changed our travel plans.
We had just sat down in a cafe in McLeod Ganj -- India's Little Tibet -- for a relaxing pot of Tibetan butter tea, which tasted like twelve sticks of butter melted into a thimble of boiling water. I grabbed a newspaper off an empty table -- the first paper I had seen in days in this remote hill station -- and began reading. A banner headline on page four jumped right off the page and began worming through the more cowardly parts of my character: "Kashmir still on the edge."
We had been planning on going to Kashmir in two days. I kept reading the story. The first subhed was "Tourists flee," and the text underneath quoted a businessman with a vested interest in drawing tourists to Kashmir as saying that tourists ought to stay away.
We read a couple more stories in other papers. Massive protests of thousands upon thousands of angry and riotous young men -- justified, perhaps, in their anger but not their means -- blockading major roads in Srinagar, attacking police (who often attacked back, if not first) and bringing the fragile state government of Jammu & Kashmir to the brink of collapse. AFP called the violent protests among the biggest in two decades, with at least 300 injured and 3 dead. It didn't exactly sound like the houseboat holiday we'd expected in one of the world's most notoriously beautiful (and most fiercely fought over) destinations.
So we changed our plans. We may be a little crazy, but we're not stupid.
We're off to Bangkok tonight, bidding India farewell -- at least for now -- after a wild year here.
So goodbye, India. It's been real. In spite of everything, or perhaps because of it, we'll miss you.