his feeling is all too familiar. I experienced it earlier this year when I read that the volcano Nyiragongo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, erupted, killing scores of people and leaving 12,000 homeless. It hit me again when I read about Maoist groups slaughtering entire villages in Nepal.

The siege of Sarajevo, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the attack on tourists at the Valley of the Kings.

The World Trade Center.

I flip on the TV or turn the page of a newspaper and discover that some place I have visited as a tourist, some place where I connected with the people who make it their home, has experienced true horror.

As I write this, India and Pakistan stand poised to go to war over Kashmir, a sparsely populated, mountainous portion of land in the northwest corner of India.

I spent three memorable weeks in Kashmir about 18 years ago. The region has few economic resources, but from the time of the British Raj its most sustainable revenue source was tourism.

English bureaucrats used to escape the withering heat of Delhi by taking their holidays in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital. Permanently moored houseboats on the shores of the city's Dal Lake provided floating castles with spectacular views of the Himalayas. Travel books from the era often describe Kashmir as paradise.

The owner of the houseboat I stayed on was a gracious man who always wore a peaked, lamb's wool hat over his silver hair. He, his son and infant granddaughter had the clear, sky-blue eyes that are a distinctive mark of the Kashmiri Moslem community.

It was a slow year for tourists, but unlike many of the merchants I met, he wasn't upset. Things will get better, if God wills it, he said.

David, a waiter at a restaurant I went to frequently, asked me to take pictures of him to send to his girlfriend, who was in Madras.

He had a number of poses planned, designed to tell a story -- he looked longingly out a window in her direction, contemplated a flower, and put on gloves and pretended to shiver to show her how cold it was (though it wasn't that cold).

I met Dilip Kumar, a Bollywood movie star who was vacationing in Srinagar. He was swarmed by crowds every time he took a walk, and shook every hand that was extended toward him.

During the treks I took, Gujar tribesmen made a few extra rupees by offering me rides down snowy hills on their homemade sleds, and then helped me -- gratis -- to keep my balance as I crossed logs straddling high mountain streams.

In the Ladakh area, on the Tibetan plateau, I was invited to share a dinner of lentils and rice by a group of young monks. They were grateful, they said, to live where they were and not under Communist rule, like in Tibet.

Kashmir was not without its political strife then, either. One day, I found myself on a rural road about six miles from Srinagar when a curfew was declared. As a tourist, I was in a state of grace, stopping at army checkpoints every half-mile or so and being permitted to pass along the road filled otherwise only with soldiers.

It was a surreal scene, with helicopters flying low overhead and Kashmiri faces behind the windows of every house I passed, staring out at their changing world.

Travel agents take on a level of responsibility that's seldom written about. When they send clients on their way, they unlock dimension to names that are printed on flat maps.

There usually is an immediate reward for travelers who connect with people from other lands and cultures, but there also is the possibility that they will experience residual emotions for establishing ties with people all over our inherently unstable and dangerous world.

The houseboat owner's infant granddaughter must be a young woman now. I imagine that David the waiter married his girlfriend and is raising a family in Srinagar.

The Gujars must see a lot more soldiers than tourists trekking in the mountains these days. Are the monks, now grown men approaching middle-age, still grateful to live in Kashmir? Is Dilip Kumar concerned about his adoring fans in the Himalayas when he watches the evening news?

I've been thinking about these people a lot lately. The phrase "Things will get better, if God wills it," replays in my mind.

While I worry about the ones I met, I'm most haunted by the Kashmiris I never spoke to -- the anonymous faces behind the windows, staring at soldiers in paradise.


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