“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.”
-Every high school yearbook ever printed
Thank you for your interest in Mushtaq the Tour Guide!
You are about to embark on a life-changing adventure with this specific model of Tour Guide. With a self-described “20 years of experience trekking guide with the Westerners”, your comfort and satisfaction are guaranteed. Handled properly, this Tour Guide will surely provide you with countless fond memories, a lifelong friendship, and will absolutely not try to screw you over, flip out on you, and leave you writing bitter snarky things about him online. Be sure that you have read and fully understand this manual before utilizing your Mushtaq the Tour Guide.
For purposes of humor and intelligibility, all quotes (which may or may not work) by Mushtaq and other Kashmiris have been converted without syntactical changes into dramatic Texan drawls, available for your downloading pleasure by clicking the links below. Let it be noted that we would’ve liked to have added the sounds of the desolate prairie behind these quotes but Indian internet cafes impractically lack audio editing software and sound effect libraries.
And now, without further ado, let the Mushtaq experience begin!
Like most other travelers, you will probably meet him while walking through the Mall in Shimla with your friend, as his business is located just outside of the area. He will approach you because you appear to him like two Californians he had just completed a trekking tour with in the Spiti valley. He will say that he liked those Californians, but he was confused by the indecipherable surfer lingo they used. You may or may not laugh at this point, and feeling nostalgic about home, grow comfortable with Mushtaq. You may also feel inclined at this point to bring up the fact that you are interested in seeing Spiti & Kinnaur, and ask him for advice. He will tell you the places to see in that region, then make fun of one of you for having a pot belly, advising that person to maintain their current level of facial hair for comical reasons.
Mushtaq will discuss his trekking business, and how he loves Americans. He once worked in a phone bank where English dialects were taught, and wanted to learn to speak with an American accent but sadly ended up in the British-English course. He will tell you the prices of the tours he leads – they’re not bad – and he’ll promise you that if you join a jeep tour with him, he will be the guide, and he will stock the jeep with nubile German girls who, though initially unfriendly, quickly “warm up”, if you catch his drift. He will then entertain you with an Indian maxim that is very long, and possibly made up on the spot.
Moving onto subjects of romance, he will then offer another saying that may or may not actually originate in India and may or may not actually reflect anything having to do with Indian society, though he infers that it does in both cases.
Mushtaq will get serious for a second, and tell you that he has a good feeling about you two, and that he rarely gets such premonitions. Far from being the cynical trick of a salesman, this statement does indeed feel genuine. As you exchange phone numbers with and separate from Mushtaq for the evening, you will be enamored by his boundless energy, his goofiness, and his linguistic nuances, such as the fact that he starts many of his sentences with “actually”, and that his ‘r’s trill a lot.
Getting Started: Your Tour With Mushtaq The Tour Guide
Several weeks will pass as you enjoy the people and places in the Dharamsala area. Your desire to see Spiti & Kinnaur will lead you to call Mushtaq up, remind him of his German Girl promise, laugh with him about the size of your/your companion’s now diminished belly, and plan out the rest of your time in Northern India. You will decide as you travel to Shimla to meet with him again and to join his jeep tour, that after your time in Spiti you will go up to Leh, work around Kashmir back to Dharamsala area, or Amritsar, or whatever. Mushtaq will immediately throw off these plans upon your arrival and tell you about the 10 day tour he is leaving for, on the following day, to Kashmir. Also, he will inform you that there is a landslide in Spiti and give you the impression that travel there, despite the usually reliable action of state road services, is unlikely if impossible.
This trip may or may not be based on the fact that Mushtaq has family events to attend to in the following week, but he will spin it in such a way that you feel that by joining this tour you will have a great time and experience things you could never experience anywhere else, such as local weddings and Sufi festivals that Westerners are rarely privy to. You will painstakingly decide on a lower price for the tour with him, and when told this price he will immediately discard the long-term importance of payment, telling you that he feels that you, your companion and he are “brothers”, and that in the long run, such relationships are more important investments. He will of course not state this sentiment so eloquently, but you will get the point and be confident in your decision to join him on the tour to Kashmir.
What To Expect On the Tour to Kashmir:
Before you head to Jammu from Chandigarh, seating you on a trailer in a dark dirt parking lot, Mushtaq may feel inclined to tell you all about his weird marriage problems. Due to a feeling of maternal-based guilt thirteen years ago, your Tour Guide may have entered into an arranged marriage despite his inclinations towards the love-based marriages of western culture. Your Tour Guide may also, after sowing three children with his arranged wife, have decided that he wanted an open marriage and essentially forced this upon her. Depending on how you see it, these problems may or may not come across as more technically “problematic” for his wife and kids (who will some day have to come to terms with their Swinger Dad), and not for him, but you will hold your tongue and swear yourself to secrecy.
Later on the trip in the town of Pahalgam he will tell you about other members of his family, for example, his nephew who was forced with the unenviable decision of either joining the Indian Army or the Kashmiri separatists simply because he loved to hold guns.
If you should encounter any dying or possibly dead birds on your tour, your Tour Guide will likely stoop down, pry the animal’s beak apart and dump half a bottle of water into its tiny, defenseless, conceivably not-so-thirsty body. If you return to the site an hour later and notice the bird has gone missing, your Tour Guide will take credit for saving its life, NOT, however, for over-saturating what would’ve been an otherwise tasty meal for the stray dog or marmot that probably just carried it off.
Getting To Know Your Mushtaq the Tour Guide:
In the village of Aru you will share many good times with Mushtaq. He may or may not simply hand you and the other members of the tour off to his friends and disappear for large portions of the day, but in the evenings he will join you for dinner and socializing. When a harmonium is brought out of its case, it is likely that he will wrest it from a professional musician and play a ghastly quasi-pattern on it for several minutes, then possibly make you pose for a photo. If you question him about the music on his phone — Miley Cyrus, Enrique Iglesias, classical guitar concertos, and Indian hip hop — you can expect to hear his musical philosophy.
He may or may not have a funny linguistic slip-up whilst saying “all of you?” that will greatly amuse you and the other members of the tour.
You may discover in Aru Mushtaq’s deep desire to constantly play card games. And while playing cards with Mushtaq, encountering his intense need to win and the great pleasure winning brings him is also likely. Possibly greater than this pleasure will be his desire to see the female member of your tour lose at cards. He will pass a decree on her losing at cards, and over breakfast he will tell her his thoughts on honey and how it relates to her.
Highlights of your time in Aru may include Mushtaq sharing more of his sayings with you, wrapped in a flimsy aura of hard-earned wisdom.
Though the possibility of such an event is unlikely, while in Srinagar with Mushtaq, you may find yourself getting into a fight with him in The Mughal Gardens about his shitty tour guiding, which may or may not have deteriorated to the point that you spend your first day sitting on his friend’s houseboat listening to sales pitches about overpriced local products from his other friends all day, then, the following day, sitting in a shakara boat for five hours.
If you choose to question him on his intentions, he will explain to you that this full day was to be based around a boat trip, and this was always the plan for that day despite him not telling you about that until a minute before you were supposed to get on this boat, and him having alluded to, the night before, the “many, many things” you’d be doing. You may find it odd that he has worked with Westerners for 20 years and has yet to pick up on the fact that many Western travelers don’t like surprises on guided tours. Do not point this out. Placed in a difficult situation, you will most likely find it prudent to back down on your point, then chalk up your earlier concerns to a simple misunderstanding.
Though the argument may seem cleared up to you at this point, it is feasible that Mushtaq will pick out one of you named Steve and list off the many times that person named Steve has been “rude” on this trip. If, he may continue, you come to his village with him and this person named Steve acts in such ways, it will be “[the] biggest mistake of [Mushtaq’s] life”. The prime example of said rudeness, that this person named Steve “laughed on” Mushtaq’s salesman friend during a moment of confusion, may or may not reveal that Mushtaq has completely misinterpreted the situation. To rectify this, one of you named Devon may have to explain to him the concept of humor deriving from misunderstandings. This may seem odd at the time, especially when explaining something so abstract across a thick language barrier. He may or may not respond to this explanation at all, and may continue to fume.
In order to fully assuage Mushtaq, it will be necessary for you to tell him that he can from now on consider you to be like his younger brothers, and that he can smack you around and tell you when you are being rude. Though he will not find humor in you joking about this and remain kind of gruff.
In the event that you continue to walk through the Mughal Gardens, you may inexplicably get thrown into a very bizarre conversation between yourselves, Mushtaq, and two Kashimiri youths who you met on the bus to the Mughal Gardens and told that you were cowboys. They will share with you the following information:
A) That you have to read the Holy Koran
B) Israel caused 9/11
C) The Indian Army is bad
D) The Holy Koran says this and this and this, and it is true
E) Pakistan is good because “they have nuke”
F) Russia is going to take over the United States. I don’t remember where I heard this but it is true.
G) In X number of years, 55% of Europeans will be Muslim
H) When are you going to start reading the Holy Koran?
Note! – Though Mushtaq will tell you that the youths you met in the park contain “young blood” and “have lot to learn”, he will impress upon you the importance of watching Peace TV, an Islamic television station filled with violent rhetoric that portrays 21st century life on earth as a constant struggle between the pure, righteous, monolithic Islamic world, and the impure encroachments of the degraded, monolithic Christian/Zionist world of the West. You may find this really, really fucking unnerving.
WARNING MESSAGES AND DISPLAYS
If you have recently arrived in Mushtaq’s hometown, you may find yourself being slightly to very annoyed by his rude, dirty, cocky children, and you may also get passed off to younger members of his extended family as he tends to Sufi-related business. Thankfully, Mushtaq the Tour Guide is equipped with a backup Tour Guide named Pintoo, aged 15. You will, due to Pintoo’s honky voice and inordinate use of the affirmative word “wah”, be reminded of the voices of the adults in the “Peanuts” cartoons, and thus call him Peanut. Peanut will ask you about the rumored falsity of professional wrestling, and you will confirm his doubts. Peanut is very forceful in his speech and may appear rude according to Western conventions, but he means well. He will at one point call himself your brother and attempt to fix the hair of one of you.
Though head of his class (and thus charged with dispensing corporal punishment to his fellow students as is the rule in Kashmiri schools), Peanut will reveal an inability to properly question his news sources, which puts him in line with other young Kashmiris you have spoken to (see Troubleshooting).
Throughout your time in Agru, Mushtaq may feel obliged to share more of his “culture difference” lessons. These may or may not actually illustrate substantial differences between your cultures, especially when it comes to hygeine or proper placement of pants or relationships formed between neighbors. Questioning these lessons is not advised.
You may notice in your time in Agru that your Tour Guide will grow more distant, kind of angry (especially around his children, one of whom he may or may not beat in front of you), and patronizing around you. Do not worry, he will still manage to let out the occasional humorous linguistic slip-up, possibly pertaining to a Russian espionage case.
If you feel it necessary to inform your Mushtaq the Tour Guide that you are related to a beloved 20th century Urdu poet, you may be met with skepticism and an apparent desire for your relationship to said poet to be worthless.
At the Sufi event that Mushtaq takes you to, do not eat the salad because it has not been washed properly, and will give you awful diarrhea for the next three days. Maybe even giardia for the next twenty; you’ll never really know.
IMPORTANT FAQ REGARDING YOUR MUSHTAQ THE TOUR GUIDE
Q1: If your Mushtaq The Tour Guide suddenly starts hinting that you need to leave Agru, and makes it explicit that going through Srinagar to Leh is impossible because of strikers suddenly attacking every vehicle they encounter, including tourist jeeps and heretofore solidarity-boasting fellow Kashmiris, how should you respond?
A1: In such an event, you should definitely not question Mushtaq’s authority on the subject of Kashmir and tell him that he doesn’t need to worry about you. He has already prepared two options for you to leave Agru tomorrow. These include:
- Paying his cousin 1000 Rs to travel to Srinagar in the middle of the night, then paying his friend 1000 Rs/person to stay on his houseboat until they deem it “safe” to leave for Leh and stop handing them money.
- Paying his cousin more than 1000 Rs to travel to Jammu, 8 hours in the opposite direction of Leh, then nixing the entire Ladakh portion of your trip for a trip to Spiti & Kinnaur, which he’ll assure you is “same” as Ladakh. Coincidentally, he could even suggest a great model of Tour Guide you could pay to take you there.
Q2: But what if Mushtaq The Tour Guide told us that we could stay in Agru as long as we liked? What if he said that Kashmiri hospitality is renowned?
A2: Well, he changed his mind. Also, he didn’t tell you this before — or he just made it up — but by staying in Agru he is losing 1000 Rs/day to his company.
Q3: Is it acceptable to object to the two terrible options provided to you by Mushtaq the Tour Guide?
A3: After becoming enraged at your impudence, Mushtaq will provide you with a third, slightly malevolent option of going to the local police station and signing a waiver that said he was no longer responsible for you. When you point out that nobody has ever had to sign a waiver like that, ever, he will inform you that your friendship is over in a funny-sounding way, and make himself seem like a great humanitarian (also in a funny way).
Q4: Would it be possible to stay in a fellow villager’s house, possibly paying them, until Srinagar is safe to enter?
A4: Such possibilities will be quickly yet still kind of humorously shot down by Mushtaq, who will then accuse you of harboring secrets from him, remind you about what an honest, upstanding man he is, and tell you that you “act like a 16 year old, not a 23 year old”. The next morning, you should tell your Tour Guide that you will accept his cousin’s offer to drive you to Srinagar but that you will find your own accommodation.
Q5: Will it be possible to use Lonely Planet to find accommodation instead of paying through the nose to Mushtaq’s friend and thus, through commission, to Mushtaq?
A5: According to the Mushtaq the Tour Guide regulations, this will be viciously derided as “impossible”. But you will be able to, easily, within about 5 minutes.
Q6: What can we expect out of our Mushtaq the Tour Guide in our final day with him?
A6: After you patch things up with Mushtaq, you can expect a brief return to normalcy in your relationship to him. At one point you may have a good laugh with him as he jokes about Western toilets to his cousin.
However, at the end of your evening, as you are being driven into Srinagar, past police roadblocks, with an unidentified child in the car as “insurance” against hypothetical violent yet deeply principled rioters, Mushtaq will spontaneously accuse one of you of gravely insulting his family. In your subsequent argument, Mushtaq will expel every last ounce of his arrogance, self-importance, ignorance about the world, irony, and alternate interpretations of events, and lack of empathy for the intentions of others. Per his subsequent demand, you will probably spend the rest of the ride sitting in heated, tense silence, as Mushtaq’s monolingual cousin, who has not understood any of the shouting in the car, wails traditional Kashmiri songs to himself.
Proper Disposal of Your Mushtaq The Tour Guide
If you find that you have become increasingly disgusted with the character of your Tour Guide during your time with him, and he has suddenly forced himself into your hotel room in Srinagar, telling the manager that he “owns a hotel and tour agency” in Shimla and is interested in bringing guests to this establishment in return for commission, the proper mode of disposal is advised:
After filling in your passport information at the front desk, Mushtaq will be sitting in the lobby looking furious, watching a Bond movie on the small lobby television. One of you named Devon should walk by him and leave him with the following zinger:
“Well Mushtaq, thanks for the wonderful tour! See, there’s some more sarcasm. That’s a little ‘culture difference’ for ya!”
And one of you named Steve should laugh very hard about this. Then both of you should spend the next four to five days viciously dismantling your previously positive mental image of Mushtaq the Tour Guide.
There is no warranty. You just gave this asshole a lot of cash.