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Boktoo first played golf in 1998 after finding a fairway wood left behind by a guest in one of the boat's rooms. "I didn't know what it was," Boktoo said. "Friends told me it was a golf club, so I got some balls. I was immediately hooked. Golf is so good for the brain--I think clearly after I play. Also, I used to have high blood pressure, but since golf I am relaxed."
And where does he get equipment?
"We have no golf shops in Kashmir," he said. "I buy used things from friends. That's why I was so happy when a friend from Europe recently mailed me a package with new golf balls. But when I opened the box"--Boktoo pauses and breaks into laughter--"the balls were soap!" Boktoo asks one of his daughters to get the balls. She returns with a sleeve of pink, dimpled soap balls. "I will only use these if I get very desperate," Boktoo says.
Like most of the Kashmiris I met, Boktoo is angry toward India and Pakistan. He considers himself Kashmiri, not Indian or Pakistani. "The politicians say they will talk and make peace, but they do nothing," he says. "Both countries are all lies. Meanwhile, we Kashmiris suffer."
"Do you ever think of moving?" I ask.
"Never," Boktoo says firmly. "We are lucky to be Kashmiri. I kiss my ground every day." As Boktoo speaks, he bends forward, splays out his arms and delicately lays his lips on the fluffy white rug.
Three of the five courses in India's half of Kashmir are in Srinagar--Royal Springs, Kashmir Golf Club and a short nine-holer owned by the Srinagar police. There's an 18-hole army course 270 miles east of Srinagar in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, a region of Kashmir known as Little Tibet because of its Buddhists and high altitude. Leh, the lowest town in Ladakh, is 11,500 feet above sea level. The course is surrounded by monasteries and snow-capped peaks, scenery that makes up for the fact that the course is on rocky tundra and has nary a blade of grass, even in summer.
Kashmir's fifth course, Gulmarg Golf Club, is also in a gorgeous high-altitude setting. At 9,500 feet Gulmarg is nestled in a small valley surrounded by glaciers and mountains that are snowcapped most of the year. After Sikander dropped me off at the clubhouse one day, I was struck by the same feeling of loneliness I had felt at Royal Springs. Then a thin, six-foot-tall teenager wearing a ratty down jacket (the temperature was around 55�) and muddy golf shoes with metal spikes suddenly appeared, ran up to me and said, "Caddie, sir?"
"Uh, well, sure," I replied. "What's your name?"
"Sir, I am Altaf Hussein."