GUEST POST BY HERB LEVENTON OF EPIC PHOTO TOURS
Dal Lake in Srinagar is at 6,000 feet altitude and I think that height has possibly impacted the functioning of the houseboat owners where we are staying. In the 60's the Beatles stayed at Butts Clermont and smoked great ganja, sang and laughed and felt peaceful. Their houseboat is still there but sunken in mud, with peeling paint, totally dilapidated, lacking windows and really looks like a wound and not a relic. This sunken houseboat isn't a national treasure or an ancient ruin but an eyesore in a magnificent location. The houseboats are furnished in old carpets and the couches seem to be from my dead grandmothers apartment in Brooklyn. Bob and Ann, two extremely nice fellow travelers and photographers are staying at another one of the houseboats that is half on land and half in mud. When I asked Bob about his houseboat he said to him it was a plywood shack in mud and he was fearful that Ann who was in the next room would slip while taking a shower and wind up sitting on the toilet because of how the boat was lilting in the water.
The owners are a group of brothers who all love their inheritance dearly but aren't sure in what direction to take the houseboat complex. So it remains stuck in mud. As a tribute to their departed father they keep it untouched, an interesting business strategy for sure.
This place is in a time warp to the extent that they don't have a refrigerator. I asked how they are keeping the food cold and they said they shopped daily. Definitely from market to mouth while staying here. One of the toilets didn't work and after asking numerous times to have it fixed and offering to call my plumber in New York for technical support it was fixed which they proudly announced and became a source of animated discussion. I just wish that Peggy, who is shooting video, could have captured that scene. They spoke about the plumber for two days and how proud of the new toilet they were – I am sure John Lennon could have written a song about it. When I mentioned that the walkway should reach one of the far houseboats so that people shouldn't always be stepping in the mud/yuck they nodded excitedly and said "inshallah" (God willing) Gabe from Boston, who received this trip as a gift from his parents as a graduation treat, seems to have this yuck as permanent attachment to his feet.
The grounds are magnificent and the flower garden something to envy. The food is excellent and the kabobs far better than any I have ever tasted. The waiter is a wonderful man who has been there for 30 years and I feel honored to have shared his water pipe. The two chefs are constantly smiling and when I went in the kitchen to thank them for another meal they beamed – you could feel that Dal Lake love. Abdullah, the on-site barber, masseuse, and tailor has a work bag that mentions his numerous skills. For 200 rupees ($3) he gave me a scalp and shoulder massage which left my skull red and a memory for a lifetime.
The Beatles are no longer but Clermont Butts remains. When I travel I want a totally authentic experience and the Epic Photo Tours group is surely getting one. Everyone is smiling, in the trip zone, getting exceptional photographs and they all know that this is as good as it gets. I think I will fill out an employment application here at the Butts, but first they will have to find a pen that works…yes, I will return again…I love this place!
Jeremy Woodhouse is a professional photographer and traveller. He leads photography trips to all corners of the globe