Heaven for first-time hawkers

Kashmir is known for its shopping.
Kashmir is known for its shopping. Photo: AFP

I'VE never been much of a salesman. I was sacked from my first job for giving free ice-cream to mates; from my second for granting "overly generous" discounts to cheerful customers. Ironic then, that my chances of getting home now hinge on my entrepreneurial skills.

The problem had started on my last morning in Kashmir when, already running late for my flight back to Delhi, I had been unable to pay my hotel bill. "No money, Mr Wincent?" the manager had asked as he repeatedly swiped my debit card, failing to receive electronic approval each time.

I knew there was money in the account and the card looked fine, so I tried a nearby ATM. No luck. A call to my bank in Australia confirmed my suspicion: having failed to inform it of my trip, and with a spate of recent cases of fraud committed against said bank in India, my card had been deactivated.

The friendly banker immediately reactivated the card but, unbeknownst to me, the hotel manager had just exceeded my daily quota of transaction attempts, meaning my plastic wouldn't start working again for 24 hours.

After an embarrassing call to my mum, my hotel bill is paid and I use my last rupees to catch a cab to the airport, just in time to see my plane take off. I am told the next flight is in an hour but I must buy a new ticket; with the prospect of missed connecting flights looming, I have no choice. What can I pay with? Slowly unzipping my brimming snowboard bag, I have an idea.

In the middle of Srinagar Airport, with a crowd of intrigued locals forming a circle around me, I loudly start hawking my bag's contents. Before long, outrageous bargains are being had at Mr Wincent's airport bazaar. I sell a hand-me-down Australian Olympic snowboarding team jacket to a soldier for $30, the thrilled beneficiary letting me hold his

AK-47 while he tries the garment for size. A weather-beaten old chap walks away with a $400 sleeping bag for $40 and my new Bose headphones are stripped from around my neck in the hysteria, with a handful of tatty rupees slapped down in return. Despite one haggler's insistence, I resist his offer of $10 for my snowboard.

Kashmir is known for its shopping, with pashmina jumpers, cashmere shawls, fresh saffron and papier-mache sculptures just some of the local wares for sale at great prices. Regrettably, I'm adding to this city's reputation.

Amazingly, within 10 minutes I have scrounged enough cash to buy a new fare - for the last seat on the plane, as it turns out. I hand over the money, get my ticket and rush to check in. As I plonk my bag down on the scales, I shake my head in disbelief at what I have just done but I'm heartened by the weight I can see displayed on the scales before me.

At least I don't need to worry about excess baggage.

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