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Old 4th July 2012, 13:07   #1
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Default Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam

Note the Thread is Picture Heavy.

Prologue: The seed for the a holiday in June or July was sown when my younger sister wanted to take holiday after completing 5 years in her organization. Now the hunt started for the destination.

May 15th 2012: I was keen on a Holiday either in United States (loads of friends and family) or Europe. International Holiday defined that we would need minimum of a month's leave from Office. The research started for US and Europe Visa's. Couple of days later I was informed that US is ruled out as my sister has initiated H1 B visa. Europe looked set as the destination.
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Having been to Europe twice previously, I was sure that they will enjoy the trip. My sisters were very keen on seeing the Tulips. Route was identified as land in Frankfurt and a round trip starting from Germany- Switzerland- France-Benelux-Germany for 30-40 days. Fly back from Frankfurt. Now issues started cropping up. Rupee started its free fall. Peak season is starting in Europe. And Budget was getting way out of control. To top it all, Sister's friends informed that the Tulip gardens have closed for 2012. All these Killed Europe as our Holiday destination. We decided to travel within India

24th May: Now the hunt for the place in India. We are from Hyderabad and June in South India is all about rains, ruled out. North (Delhi, Rajasthan belt) extreme heat why even leave home if heat is all I want. East I have already seen a lot there. Again ruled out. My sister always used to tell my mom that she wanted to see Himalayas. She suggested the trip to Leh. Now this one was within our scope.
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Did some basic research and realized that driving in Kashmir/ Ladakh in one of the best holidays in India. Posted my first query on the Forum in Leh Ladakh thread. Actually came to the link from web forgot completely to search here first. Further research revealed that June is peak season in Leh. July the roads to reach Leh might get difficult due to rains. Mid August to Mid September is again good season. The window is very short. We did not want to postpone the holiday to August, so June was decided for Leh trip. Then Came my first post on Team BHP. Thanks to the reply from HVK, I got hooked onto the IPHE and couple of other Leh threads to plan the route, places to visit etc.

No. of Pax, Now was the time to decided who will be traveling on the trip. 3 of us are confirmed. Decided to ask my cousins if they would like to join the trip. When I called their father he was interested in sending them but needed time to confirm. So we were uncertain if we are going to be 3 or 4 or 5.

CarWhat car to take for the trip.

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or

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Swift brand new one with 5k kms or Innova with 186k kms on odo. Based on the feedback I received and it being a one month trip Innova felt like the better alternative. Swift would have been good but for max 2 pax. 27th May Innova win this round hands down. Our Innova has been named by my mother as Pushpaka Vimanam. It is a very apt name especially for this trip

Route: which NH, where to halt, what to see:
24th May 2012. All I knew before hand was everyone goes to Leh from Manali. That is the route most of the Bullets do for Raid de Himalayas. Initial plan was to do Hyderabad - Napgur - Jhansi - Gwalior -Agra - Delhi - Manali - Leh - Srinagar- Delhi and back. Feedback from the forum helped me realize that given the time we have Entry via Srinagar and exit via Manali is the best alternative for acclimatization. Really Helpful advice people.

This route opened the option of skipping Delhi and taking flight directly to Jammu/ Srinagar /Amritsar. Target was to fly as close to Kashmir as possible and arrive fresh there. We were planning to be there in week. Flight availability vs fares was going haywire by the day.

27th May 2012, In the mean time the route and itinerary was mostly identified. Jammu/Amritsar became the destinations to Fly. Getting flight tickets was becoming tight. I divided the tour into 4 legs.
1st Leg Hyderabad to Srinagar including local sight seeing
2nd Leg Leh
3rd Leg Spiti Valley Tour
4th Leg Back to Hyderabad

1st leg was key to get the momentum going. So did not want to loose much time here. I was to leave Pune for Hyderabad on 1st June. Do some final checks on 2nd June in Hyderabad and start for north on 3rd June with 2/3 pax. This is how part of 1st Leg looked @ end of 27th May.

DAY - 1 Sunday, June 03, 2012 Hyderabad – Nagpur – Betul (750 Kms)
DAY - 2 Monday, June 04, 2012 Betul – Indore – Shivpuri/ Gwalior (NH3)
DAY - 3 Tuesday, June 05, 2012 Shivpuri/Gwalior -Agra – Delhi (NH3, Yamuna Expressway) Take some rest here
DAY - 4 Wednesday, June 06, 2012. From Delhi the car will have 3/5 pax. Delhi –Ambala- Ludiana-Amritsar / Pathankot (470 Kms). Driver to leave us here.

At night new places started cropping up. Should we do Vaishnodevi as we going all the way to Kashmir. As there were a couple of buffer days, this looked feasible.

29th May 2012 By evening we received confirmation that total No. of Pax will be 5 in Kashmir. Amritsar and Vasihnodevi have to be done. The hunt for Chopper in Katra started. Realized it was futile exercise a couple of days later. We decided to check chopper availability when in Katra if not Pony/Horse /trek for the climb. Flight to Amritsar gave me the flexibility to start a couple of days early. Instead of me traveling to Hyderabad, we decided that the car will come to Pune on 1st June. We changed the route so that we can reach Amritsar by 4th afternoon. The route got revised to:

June 1st, Hyderabad to Pune Driver will get the car.
June 2nd, Pune - Mumbai - Ahmedabad - Udaipur/Chittorgarh
June 3rd, Udaipur/Chittorgarh, Kishangarh-Makrana-Ladnun-Ratangad-Sardarshahr-Rewatsar-Hanumangarh/Abohar
June 4th Hanumangarh/Abohar-Fazilka-Ferozepur-Zira-Taran Taran-Amritsar
June 5th Amritsar - Katra. Driver to leave after Darshan @ Vaishnodevi. Amritsar to Katra 6 pax.

30th May 2012 Flights are booked for the ladies till Amritsar. Innova wnet for a general checkup today. Had a few parts replaced including suspension. Tires have done 25k but left them as it is; driver informed that they have been trouble free the whole time and have more than 25k in life. Oil Change was also not done because based on the route, we should be in Leh by the time the 190k service is due. Decided to replace Oil and get general service done in Leh. Final Route to be done:
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While planning was happening in Pune, Mom was busy preparing Chikki, and Crispys (Chakkalu and Chakkarlaru , yummy snack items)for our trip. Those were the fall back options in case we did not like food or were stalled anywhere. Dad was coordinating with uncle for the trip to go smoothly. Uncle (Sandeep's father) was also researching to guide us when required. Both the families were working in full swing now to make the trip a success.

31st May 2012Till now most of the trips by road for us have been in places densely populated. So never felt the need for any spares and it being Innova was trouble free always. When I saw the spares checklist, it was really comprehensive. Driver picked up few spares like Engine Oil, distilled water and Coolant from service center on 30th. I asked my cousin to buy emergency kit (tow cables, jumper cables, gum boots, air pump etc) for Innova. But he could not buy any. And here I was in Pune thinking that car is starting with spares.

Booked Hotel Best Western Merrion in Amritsar for 4th Evening. Later in the day I had to cancel and rebook the same flight due to some misunderstanding. Finally end of the day bags were packed and the tour was ready for Kick off.

Last edited by indian21r : 26th July 2012 at 07:38. Reason: spell check
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Old 17th July 2012, 13:40   #2
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Default Re: Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam

1st Leg. Uneventful first 3.5 days followed by hectic 3.5 days

June 1st: Hyderabad to Pune - 520kms
Car started later than expected from Kavuri Hills in Hyderabad @ 4:30 am. Picked Up Sunny @ Kondapur by 5:30. The only eventful thing on this day was when Cops stopped the Car in Maharashtra for documents check. Here we got to see the first of the state specific rules/logics. Registered Car owner is not in the Car, so you have to shell out 100 bucks as penalty. Do they seriously expect owner to go everywhere the car goes??

Praveen & Sunny, Day 1 pax
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I decided to pick up the emergency spares in the evening after office. Met up with Sunny in JM road @ 5 pm. We were lucky that with in a Time span of 3 hours, we got everything that we were looking for in Nana Peth and surrounding areas. I was very happy when I found foldable chairs (director's chair) for which I searched a week in various shops in Pune. Got roof carrier fitted in JM Road and finally reached home by 10:30 pm. Informed the guys that we are leaving @ 2 am and asked them to get some sleep. But none of us slept at all. I was busy packing and sunny chatting. Finally at 1:30 am we decided to get whatever sleep possible

June 2nd Pune ‐ Mumbai ‐ Ahmedabad ‐ Udaipur/Chittorgarh
We started @ 4 am, 2 hours later than planned. I decided to drive the first few hours. This kind of set a tone for the trip as well where I drove the car in the morning. We topped up fuel in Pune and continued driving on Expressway till Lonavala where we had our first halt @ 5:00 am. Wasted a lot of time in Cafe Coffee day for the order to come. Continued on the expressway and reached Panvel around 6:15 am. We missed the route via Airoli bridge to join eastern expressway and were forced to go through all the Thane Roads. We were using Google Navigation which tends to pick the shortest route. After crossing umpteen number of speed breakers (no back breakers, surprisingly huge ones), we reached Eastern expressway @ 6:40 am. We were stuck with almost 2 Km long slow moving traffic near the National park on SH42 (Ghodbunder Road) and Joined NH 8 @ 7:10 am.

Me With Pushpaka Vimanam@ petrol bunk in Pune
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Breakfast @ 7:20 am. At 7:45 am we started driving and decided that we should not waste too much time for food breaks as we are not sure about traffic/road ahead of us. There was heavy Car and Truck traffic on NH 8 till Vapi which was probably due to it being a Saturday and end of summer Holidays. Overtaking was painful even in the 3 lane road. Once we reached Gujarat, car traffic reduced and the drive was smooth. Bypassed Surat at 11:30 am and continued on to Vadodara. We stopped for a few pictures near the Swaminarayan Mandir in Baruch.

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We took the expressway to Ahmedabad instead of NH 8. Man this stretch is butter smooth. Reached Ahmedabad in 50 minutes flat@3 pm but were able to exit the city only by 4 pm. We were doing good distances now averaging close to 70 kmph. At the start of the day we decided to Continue driving till 9 pm but felt that if the roads are as good as we were doing, we should not have much issue in reaching Amritsar, so decided to halt in Udaipur itself @ 7 pm. Before taking hotel, we went to see lake palace but could not see much there. Surprised to find most of the hotels fully booked. A couple of them were available but did not have parking, finally settled down in Hotel Darshan Palace @ 9 pm (129, Saheli Marg, UIT circle Udaipur). Got a Triple Room for 1200 bucks.

Udaipur, near the lake palace
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Total Distance for the day 900 km. Time 15 hr including breaks. Average 60 kmph. This is the longest distance done by me in a Day and I was sure that we could have done more without much struggle. Once upon a time traveling 600 km a day was an achievement

Girls used this day to do last minute shopping in Hyderabad. They were having gala time over there.

June 3rd Udaipur to Hanumangarh / Abohar We had a good sleep and woke up @ 6:30 am. I was relaxed because the roads were good and once we entered Rajasthan, traffic free also. We decided to have breakfast en route and started @ 7:30 am for Chittorgarh. Reached Chittorgarh by 9:30 am and continued onto Kishangarh. When we reached near Ajmer, Praveen mentioned about the Dargah there. We decided to take a detour to Ajmer City @ 11:30 am. In Ajmer, we were stopped by cops stating that we jumped the signal. It was really irritating because we waited for the signal to actually turn green. When we said we are ready to go to the PS to check if we jumped the signal, the Cop backed out. Prior to the trip I informed anyone driving the car will have to follow the rules strictly. We do not need unnecessary attention. Parking became a problem when we reached the Dargah. The car was Jam packed with Luggage so we could not leave it alone. We did the Dargah is 2 rounds. Ajmer started the Secular Run for us. After Dargah, we went on to cover Gurudwara, Temple, Monastery and Lotus temple as well. We had Lunch and left Ajmer by 2:30 pm. Lost more time here than anticipated.

Desert ...
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Parched Look. Now that I think this expression is Luffy in one Piece manga
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We got directions for SH7, Kishangarh ‐ Makrana ‐ Ladnun ‐ Ratangad ‐ Sardarshahar ‐ Rewatsar ‐ Hanumangarh road. This road was Highly recommended by HVK. I second this. One of the best roads to drive with 3 foot shoulder. Car can cruise for miles together without facing any traffic. We filled Fuel on the Highway @ 3 pm and did 400 km in span of 4 hrs 45 min including 30 min break. We did consistent speeds of 110-120 kmph. We faced sandstorm for almost 50 km. I could actually feel wind while sitting in the car, amazing feeling. We finally reached Abohar @ 8:40 pm. Checked into Hotel Girogio. Rent @ Rs. 1250/-. The place is so hot that even after running AC for 2 hours there was no effect. Got our room changed from second floor (top floor) to first floor @ night 11:45 pm.

Sandstorm, faced it for 50kms
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Sun, looks like moon
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The Amazing SH7. road is like this throughout
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Enjoyed driving in the sandstorm
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Total Distance Covered: 800 km. Travel Time 10 hrs (Excluding Time spent in Ajmer). Average travel Speed was 80 kmph.

June 4th : Abohar to Amritsar and Local Sight Seeing
Day’s Target was to reach Amritsar by afternoon and leave luggage in the hotel. 250 km started feeling like peanuts after the long drives. We started @ 7 am for Amritsar and planned to take the following route Abohar ‐ Fazilka ‐Firozpur ‐ Zira ‐ Taran ‐ Amritsar. But in end we did what Google navigation showed Abhohar – Malout – Shri Muktar Sahib- Firozpur ‐ Zira ‐ Taran ‐ Amritsar. Route between Abohar - Malout was ok; Shri Muktar Sahib (SMS) did not have a bypass. As far as I remember the road was really good after Firozpur.
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Between SMS and Firozpur, we were stopped by a cop. He was very pleasant and asked us where we are going etc. Then put a bouncer, you cannot drive a car in Sandals or bare feet. We were stumped and got the second of the state specific rule (Rather Third if we include Yellow Sticker on headlamp for Gujarat). After discussing with him for 5 minutes he let us go without any fine. Near Taran there is a Y junction without any board as to which is bypass. We took the right road but had a doubt if we missed another bypass but luckily that was not the case.

In Hyderabad, around this time girls were at the Airport ready to board their Hyderabad to Delhi flight. My Brother In law dropped them off at the airport.
akka, bawa, Cousin, cheli in that order
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At a crossing near/after Taran, we were stopped by cops again. This time it was for sun control film removal. We have 3M film that were 2 years old. They gave us option to remove it on the spot or in Amritsar along with a hefty fine. Decided to remove the Sun film as it may be an issue at most of the places that we plan to go and it is not worth wasting the time. It felt really good to see nature in its natural colors without rolling down the windows. We reached outskirts of Amritsar by 11:15 am where we surprisingly faced a lot of traffic @ noon and reached Hotel Best Western Merrion only by 12:15 pm. When the bellboy was carrying the luggage it felt as if we were moving a house, 20 odd bags. I did not expect this many bags (more surprises in store here later in the day). Room Cost Rs 3500/night. Clean and well kept rooms.

From here on we were traveling without any hotel bookings. I spent some time searching hotels in Katra which was next halt on our route while sunny was busy updating Facebook. We started for the airport @ 1:15pm and reached by 1:45pm. Ours was the only flight to land but the counter guy was clueless if it will be on time. After waiting for an hour, the flight arrived @ 2:45 pm and my sisters came out. Here I was expecting them to come with handbags where as they were carrying 4 bags apart from handbags. I was wondering where we are going to put this luggage. Even with roof carrier it will be painful because we have to load and unload them every day. Till will reach Katra, Praveen will also be with us, so Amritsar - Katra looked like struggle. We reached hotel by 3:30 pm and unloaded the remaining luggage also in the hotel room, which now started looking like a Cloakroom. Missed taking a pic.
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In between my Sisters had an interesting experience at Delhi Airport, They had an hour change over time to catch the next flight to Amritsar from Delhi. But their flight from Hyderabad landed 30 minutes late. On arrival at the transit lounge, they were informed that they have to catch the flight in 7 min as they were the last passengers. It was first time in T3 for all of them. They literally ran in the airport to the departure gate and boarded the flight on time only to hear the announcement that flight is being delayed by half an hour to collect passengers from a canceled Ludhiana flight. Air India sure made them worry that they were going to miss the flight.

We planned to do Wagah and time was going to be an issue as we were yet to have lunch. Hotel staff informed that there are not many places near Wagah to eat, so we went to Crystal for lunch. We enjoyed the food there and started for Wagah @ 4:30 pm and reached by 5:30 pm.
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Wagah border on Indian side was crowded.
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Forget about getting seats, there was no place to stand also. To top it all weather was extremely bad. 5 minutes in the sun, we were sweating as if we ran a Marathon. After we managed to reach as close to the Stands as possible, we saw Indians girls dancing
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and singing while Pakistani's were siting silently in empty stands. We also had huge female population whereas there were none on the other side of the border (can be seen in the background)
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It was very lively atmosphere. We waited till 6:30 pm but the event was not starting. As the heat was taking toll on most of our group, we decided to skip the main event and head back. I never expected to see such weather in Amritsar. Mumbai felt like heaven. We started back for the city with a plan visit Golden Temple @ night. On the way we saw this store.
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In Telugu Pandhi means pig, literal translation can screw up things big way. Had a good laugh. Reached Golden Temple by 9:30 pm. The Temple was absolutely beautiful and peaceful in the night. After Darshan, we had dinner @ Bharawan Da Dhaba and reached hotel by 11 pm. We were dead tired and crashed within a few minutes of entering the room.

@ Golden Temple
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Total Distance Covered 350 km for the day

June 5th : Amritsar Local Sight Seeing, Amritsar to Katra
In the morning we went Jallianwala Bagh followed by breakfast at the Hotel. Only Entry /Exit Gate to Jalliwanwala Bagh
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Bullet holes on the walls
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Eternal Flame
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Buffet @ best Western was very good.
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Our Plan was to leave Amritsar by 12 pm but due to some unforeseen circumstances, the group was on the verge of splitting. Finally it took us till 1 pm to get all the issues resolved and check out of the hotel. There were 25 bags in total now apart from chairs and 6 passengers. My cousin folded a comforter we had and placed it between the 2 Captain seats to create a temp 3rd seat. This actually turned out a blessing in disguise, the middle seat was comfortable to sit (not great to sleep). Because of this we did not feel the need to use roof carrier for the majority part of the trip. Till Katra we had one person in the rear seat and one seat folded. After Srinagar, both the seat were folded and we stored all the luggage in the last row itself. Innova has tonnes a luggage space once the rear seats are folded. We decided to have lunch in Amritsar itself and went to Crystal again. The mouth freshener they provide here is amazing. Crystal is worth visiting just for that.
Girls @ Crystal Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn8324.jpg

At 3 pm we finally started our drive to Katra. Our plan for the evening was to store the luggage in cloak room @ hotel Sree Hari Niwas and then do the climb to Viashnodevi temple @ night. Have Darshan in the morning and reach katra again by next day evening. But the plan went for a complete toss. Retrospectively I feel that it was a good thing to happen. More on this in a short while.The Journey was uneventful till we reached Jammu and Kashmir Border. The first view of the trees and rivers near in Punjab J&K border was spectacular. 10 km after we crossed the border, we were stopped by J&K police. They asked us for various documents and if the car was rental or our own. Looks like they catch a lot of cars which are registered as private but run as taxi's. After they were convinced that ours was not a taxi, they put the bouncer (3rd State specific rule). Cars are not supposed to have stereo at all. I had to talk with them for 5 mins and convince that these days a lot of cars come with a factory fitted stereo and it is accepted everywhere. Still they were not relenting. Finally I asked them to just cut a challan so that we can move on when a senior officer approached us and instructed his Junior not to harass tourists. That law is for taxi's and not private vehicles. Eventually we started our Journey again. The road was really smooth and double lane(I think, was sleeping here) until the start of the Ghats. Once the Ghat started it was single lane and road widening work was going on.

We were expecting all the phones other than BSNL /Airtel to stop working, but to our surprise, Idea post paid worked perfectly till Srinagar.

Because of the heavy traffic we reached Katra town only by 9:30 pm. We asked for directions to our Hotel but were lost 3 or 4 times (later I realized that I was asking guidance for wrong Hotel name, my mistake). Finally @ 10 pm we reached the Hotel and asked them to store the luggage. When I informed reception that we wanted to go to the Top Trikuta Hills, they asked if I took the parchi. I told them we will pick it up on the way to which they told the counter closes by 10 pm. I was wondering whose idea was it to close the counter @ 10 pm, if the temple is open 24 hrs for Darshan and people climb the hills 24/7. With no option left, we decided to start early next day morning. We took 2 rooms and crashed for the night. I slept worried that we may loose one more day for rest here. (Estimate for climb was and descent was 8hr each way. Darshan for 2-6 hrs). Hotel Shri hari Niwas, room rates Rs 2200-2500 /night. Rooms were ok

Total distance 270 km

June 6th : Katra to Viashnodevi and Back
We sent Praveen to get the parchi early in the morning @ 6 am. Later on he went to book his ticket From Jammu to Warangal for 7th evening. Meanwhile in the hotel while others were getting ready, I decided to meet Praveen and collect the Parchi. But could not reach him so I took another one in the parchi counter. At 7:30 am rest of gang joined me and we headed towards the entry gate to climb the ghat.

Girl Ready to the start the climb
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Man the entry was really crowded and stinking with all the horses and mules. We managed to start our Climb @ 8 am in the nice cloudy weather. We did not opt for horse or palanquin as we were all youngsters and also were not keen to travel on horse back for so many hours. We were doing good speed and reached halfway point at 11 am. We were surprised to see the lack of proper facilities for the devotees. No benches or shelters. Toilets were stinking from a distance

After climbing for 3 hours
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We caught up with Praveen @ 12 pm who was telling his tale of failed train ticket booking. He stood in the line for almost 30 minutes. By the time he reached the counter, ticket was wait listed. I was simultaneously trying in vain to book tatkal ticket on the phone. I contacted my dad and asked him to check if EQ ticket was possible. I always wonder why do people have to suffer so much just to travel from one place to another in India. This topic surely needs a proper discussion @ some other time.

We continued our climb and finally reached the hill top by 2:00 pm. We were lucky there was no queue for Darshan. The facilities on top of the Hill are appalling to say the least. The toilets were stinking from almost 100m away. Temple staff were dumping garbage on the side of the mountain. Looks like the garbage pile will itself become a new hilltop in the future. There is no proper place for people to sit. And this was not even the peak time. If you do not have a room or bed on the hill top, it is going to be really difficult. Getting a room even a week in advance is difficult. We had peaceful Darshan of Devi. Later we had Darshan of Lord Shiva. We tried to to get Prasad but realized that there is nothing similar to Tiurpati laddu here. We were wondering whether to do Bhairav Baba or not; but all of us were tired and we did not have a room to fresh up. Further weather was getting cold on the top. So we decided to head back to Katra immediately after having lunch. We went to the place which was advertising Pizza etc but that was closed so tired the next place. Man this restaurant has worst service. Half the people who came in walked out because of the attitude of the staff. Food was below average.

Just inquired about the palanquin and got a quote of Rs 5000/person. We decided to walk down also and started the descent @ 4pm, reached midway point by 7 pm. From here on the Horses and people take the same track. I do not know if it was the effect of the climb or the horses **** smell, we all started feeling really tired. We all got foot massage done to get some relief(seemed to have worked for my sister but not for me). When we were around 3 kms from the base station, I saw the steps. While climbing I was wondering how come there were no steps. We started taking them and were happy that we were going down really fast and also avoiding horses. But sometime later the girls started to complain that there legs are shaking. So we slowed down our descent and started taking more breaks. Finally @ 10 pm we reached the entrance. Man it was the longest that any of us have ever walked /climbed in a day. We finally reached hotel by 10:30 pm and had a proper dinner. Dal Tadkha was very tasty.

June 7th: Katra to Srinagar
After yesterdays trek everyone got up quite early by 10 am and were eager to start the journey. We packed our bags on the carrier and started from Katra by 11:45 pm. Here Praveen left us. He was going to take a taxi or bus to Jammu and from there train to Warangal. We started going on the Jammu road towards the Y Junction near Domel, when I realized that there was Katra Udhampur road. We headed back to Katra and started on the Katra Udhampur road to join Jammu- Srinagar highway (NH1D, NH 44 now). This actually turned out to be a mistake. The road was pathetic, rather there was no road for almost 10 km. After that it improved a little until we joined NH 44. I was a little worried as we were doing speed of just 30 km/hr and loosing a lot of time. I was not too keen on driving in the Ghats @ night. Also I had heard from locals that the 280 odd km from Katra to Srinagar can take anywhere between 8-12 hrs.

At 3:30 pm, it started drizzling. We stopped to put a cover for the luggage on the top when it started raining Heavily.
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Me Drenched in Rain
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Girls Posing for a Photo
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With rains looming I decided that we should drive slow as we are not aware of the terrain. I wanted to cross Jawahar Tunnel before 7:30 pm; after which the road more or less becomes flat. We did not see sign boards for long distances and my phone GPRS was not working. We contacted my BIL and uncle to check how far we were from there. In the mean time @ 5 pm we got the first glimpse of the Snow Capped Mountains. All of us were really excited to see them. All the tiredness just seemed to vanish away. We crossed the Tunnel around 7:00 pm and stopped for the toll gate (was this after or before the tunnel I do not remember now). Here we got nice ripe cherries to eat. But that was only the top layer. Bottom half of the pack were at the other end of spectrum, raw.

We continued our drive and reached Srinagar by 9:30pm. Reached our hotel by 9:50 pm only to be informed that the rooms were not vacated by the previous party as some of them fell sick. They offered us room in some other hotel but we did not like that. Had dinner @ 10:30 pm and finally checked into Hotel City Plaza @ 12 pm, (Rs 2500 per night). The rooms were really ordinary. We decided look for another hotel or houseboat next morning.

The road between Jammu and Srinagar is a beauty. We heard a lot about it. It truly lives up to the expectations that we had.

Total Journey 300 km. Time Taken 10 hr. Average 30 kmph

This brings to an end the First leg and First Week of the Journey. We had a really good start and were really enjoying the trip. From here on we did not have a single booking nor were we sure where we will be when. Plan became more of a guidance than anything else. More to come in the next Post. And Looks like I exhausted the maximum no. of pics per post 30

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Old 26th July 2012, 18:13   #3
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 26th July 2012, 19:43   #4
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amazing travelogue and very crisp style of writing !!
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Old 27th July 2012, 18:43   #5
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From here on, the main trip starts for us. Each day may get a full post to itself like this one.

June 8th Srinagar, Local Sight Seeing
We all woke-up to a rainy June morning in Srinagar. The rains were early by a fortnight or so with this weather not seen here in the last 20 years. @ 8:45 am, we decided to take a tour of the city, check house boats and hotel Nishat View. Our first view of Dal Lake with the houseboats in a light drizzle was simply spectacular
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn8380.jpg

Deepthi wondering whether to get out in the drizzle
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn83851.jpg

Rain has stopped, We can get out now and pose yay
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3090.jpg

Below picture is one of my favorite shots we have of the lake
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3085.jpg


We checked the rates for Shikara ride which are: Rs. 200 for 30 min, Rs. 300 for 60 min and Rs. 500 or 600 for a 6 point ride.
Deep discussions going on here
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3089.jpg

As Sunny was taking rest at the hotel we decided to do Shikara later in the day. We just drove around the lake for some time enjoying the view from all directions. University of Kashmir and NIT are the places to study (if one likes being close to nature). The university campus was really nice and has nice view of Dal Lake.From here we went to hotel Nishat View where we met a group of 20 from Hyderabad. They were telling us about their holiday, what all they saw/missed in Kashmir. We really felt sorry for them as heavy rains over the past week have made their holiday a mess. After talking with them, I realized that if weather permits, we should see as much Kashmir valley as possible (it was not the key part of itinerary). We can adjust days later on by skipping Delhi, etc. We booked 2 rooms for 3 nights and planned to make day trips to Gulmarg and Pahalgam before heading to Ladakh with a halt in Sonamarg.

More Dal lake. It is a really good place to cycle daily. Wish we had something like this in Pune.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn8388.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn83861.jpg

Having completed the bookings, we went back to City Plaza with my sister driving Innova. A lot of people were staring at our car as if woman never drive cars in Srinagar. Is that the case by any chance? I did not see any female drivers for sure. This we experienced later on at a couple of other places as well. At 12 pm we checked out of the hotel and went to Nagin Lake hoping to get a house boat for at least a night over the next 3 days. Hazratbal and Boulevard road were packed with traffic as there was continuous rain/drizzle. We did a circular loop around Nagin Lake but it is not as beautiful as Dal Lake from the road. On this loop, we faced a roadblock due to some local disturbance and had to turn back. Access roads to the Houseboats were Tar but really narrow, hardly 10 feet at some places. How 2 cars will fit at the same time, god only knows? As we neared the houseboats, we got into a Muddy stretch where Innova started skidding out of control. Luckily we did not fall into the ditch nearby. I found a wooden plank on the side which I placed under tires, while Sunny drove the car onto good tar road again. Locals seemed to use this plank when their cars are stuck. Skidding created a doubt whether I should have got a 4x4 vehicle for the trip. But Ladakh being a cold desert, I had no doubt we will manage without much struggle. We stopped looking for the Houseboats and went in the direction of Nishat View on foreshore road. The Road from Shalimar Bagh to Hotel Nishat View is absolutely beautiful and its view from one of our rooms (208 or 209 donít remember) was as if we were in Switzerland. Simply breathe taking. We decided to skip house boats for now as shifting our luggage will be difficult and we have 23 of them (To reduce the load, we asked Praveen to carry 1 bag with him to Hyderabad). We didnít want to leave the car with almost 15 bags in some remote parking lot. Further getting a deluxe house boat was tough without bookings in advance.
The rain was relentless and it looked like the day was lost on us.

Couple more Lake Shots. Even I can't read this much theory
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-dscn8387.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3156.jpg

At 3:15 pm we decided to at least visit Sankarachayra Temple and if possible da a Shikara ride. While going to the temple we took a wrong left turn near the Chashme Shahi Gardens, what a road it was with thick trees. Jogging/Running on that road will be fun. We reached the top of the temple by 4:00 pm by when rain reduced to a very light drizzle. Road to temple was really scenic with thick green cover all around in the Ghats. The view of Dal Lake and houseboats moored in it from the hills were spectacular. The temple with its rich history had a calming effect on us. We had Darshan after which my sisters sang a couple of bhajans. ITBP personnel posted there were surprised to see someone singing there in evening. They told us normally bhajans are sung there in the morning and also briefly explained the templeís history. At 4:30 pm we got down from the temple by when rain has more or less stopped. There was a ray of hope now for Shikara.

Gang after climbing down the temple stairs and clueless at this time what to do next
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3093.jpg

Me with my sisters
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3102.jpg

Sunny & Sona
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3097.jpg

As we joined Boulevard road @ 5pm, we had clear sky with Sun shining brightly. Yay! We are going on a Shikara. We negotiated a 6 point ride with Yarana Full Spring Boat for 500 bucks. The seats in the boat were super comfortable; it was like sitting in a Sofa.

Gang in the boat
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3344.jpg

After the boat started, we realized that except for a point and shoot, we left other cameras in the car. The boat ride gave us amazing view of the hills in the background.

Hill shots are only for memory now and if any are relegated to the background like here
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3201.jpg

We got our first floating shop selling some junk jewelry which was followed by a photo studio. Everyone except me took their Photographs in traditional Kashmiri Attire. Photographer made a cool 300 bucks in 15 minutes time.

My family's Doppelgangers. Surprised to see everyone here except me:
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3109.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3123.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3143.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3146.jpg

We opted not to do water sports as we did not want to get wet in the short ride. Next halt was a floating restaurant where we ordered some Maggi.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3208.jpg

Another boat supplied us fresh corn. I guess I trying to flick it
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3170.jpg

Final halt was @ the shopping district where girls picked some clothes and Saffron. Well not at this shop
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3272.jpg

Meanwhile I had chat with the rower (is that what are they called?), who was telling that last winter lake was completely frozen. You could run from one end to other end, play football, cricket, etc. on the lake. Also tourist traffic has been increasing for the past few years and is quite heavy this year. When asked what they do for during off season, he said they normally are involved in making the handicrafts.

After a couple of hours the Shikara ended. At the shore we collected pictures taken on the boat. Dal Lake is a really nice romantic spot. They need to maintain it well for it to retain its charm forever. I was sad to see so much weed growing in the Lake (unless it is part of the ecosystem there). Now that Shikara was done, we were fully satisfied. As a final stop we went to Mughal Gardens. The place is neatly planned with nice collection of trees and plants. Took some photographs and got out at the closing time. Without any lamps, it seemed to have retained its original charm.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3361.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-img_3362.jpg

There were more gardens to cover in the next 2 days but none of us in the group were that keen. If Tulip garden was open it would have been a different story. No regrets on missing others.

We reached hotel Nishat View @ 8:30pm and had dinner in the Moti Mahal Deluxe restaurant (branch of the Delhi ones). Food was tasty but place surely is very expensive. We crashed for the day with plans to start for Gulmarg by 6 am.
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Old 28th July 2012, 13:27   #6
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Awesome thread Rahul! And keep no illusions to yourself, you are quite a good story-teller! Keep on with the updates!

Btw if I remember correctly, in the choice of Swift vs Innova, I believe there should be a third choice too!

And for the record, it's "Dal Tadka"!

Awaiting more posts! What a great trip this is turning out to be!
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Old 28th July 2012, 14:27   #7
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing man.

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amazing travelogue and very crisp style of writing !!
Thanks Buxx. First time some one commented on the way I write

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Originally Posted by ninjatalli View Post
Awesome thread Rahul! And keep no illusions to yourself, you are quite a good story-teller! Keep on with the updates!

Btw if I remember correctly, in the choice of Swift vs Innova, I believe there should be a third choice too!

And for the record, it's "Dal Tadka"!

Awaiting more posts! What a great trip this is turning out to be!
Thanks Ninja, I do not write much and very reluctant to write anything at all except for Exams. In fact I just realized that other than Tbhp, I generally do not write anywhere else.

Now that you corrected me on Dal Tadka, I will treat you to heavenly Andhra style Dal Tadka if you drop by my place.

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Old 28th July 2012, 14:30   #8
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Now that you corrected me on Dal Tadka, I will treat you to heavenly Andhra style Dal Tadka if you drop by my place.
Considering that we live/work in adjacent cities, it's funny that we have to plan of meeting at Hyderabad. But yes, just for the drive to Hyd, I'll definitely take up that offer.

Now stop doing tp and get working on the TL
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Old 28th July 2012, 14:37   #9
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Considering that we live/work in adjacent cities, it's funny that we have to plan of meeting at Hyderabad. But yes, just for the drive to Hyd, I'll definitely take up that offer.

Now stop doing tp and get working on the TL
Dude I am still in Pune. Plans to move to Hyderabad have gone for a toss
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Old 2nd August 2012, 19:00   #10
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Default June 9th Gulmarg

When we started @ 6:15 am for Gulmarg not even the security was there at the Hotel Gate. Dal Lake in the mornings is a beautiful place for walking, jogging and cycling. With Google Navigation guiding us on a wonderful double lane NH, we were near the turn to Gulmarg by 7:15am. We stopped at the first open dabha for breakfast only to get Maggi, milk or coffee. Picked up a few bananas from the neighboring shop and continued on the road. Next halt was just before the Ghats start in Tangmarg, where there are a lot of rental stores for winter wear. We were not keen on oily food as others felt a little uneasy from last night. Hoping to eat Idli we went to a south Indian restaurant only to come back with empty stomachs; bananas became our breakfast.

The drive through the fir-covered hillsides after Tangmarg is really nice. It was traffic free after a high intensity drive from Katra couple of days back.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-1-dscn8430.jpg

When we reached Gulmarg @ 8:50 am, surroundings felt like a different country. Simply spectacular!
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-2-dscn8393.jpg

Golf Course in the background. It is unique for something. don't remember
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-3-img_8937.jpg

Unless one has a hotel booking in Gulmarg, car parking is just before the gate near golf course. From here it is a 1km walk or horse ride to Gondola. We decided to walk as we wanted to enjoy the scenery. Snow caps were now feeling within our reach contingent on Phase 2 being open. We were not having much hope though based on the days forecast and feedback we were getting from locals. The road adjoining the golf course would have been even better to walk if the horses take a different track.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-4-dscn8394.jpg

At the Gondola station, we rented gum boots. For anyone planning to rent, my suggestion is to do so here as it is not comfortable walk in them for long. At the ticket counter, I showed my online booking (time slot was 9am to 10 am) and got the tickets for Phase 1, Kongdoori. There was a long queue for both spot tickets as well as to get onto the ride. At 9:40 am we got onto the Gondola, man it was a nice 15 min ride to the top. Elevation gain is 400m over a length of 2.65 km. We had a nice of view of the pine trees. From the top we could see the track that horses take to reach Kongdoori and the huts of the locals.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-5-img_8940.jpg

View 0f the mountains from Kongdoori
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-6-dscn8407.jpg

At the end of first level, we saw lot of crowd. Initially I assumed that people were coming down but realized quickly that Phase 2 to Apharwat peak is open. Yaahooooooooooooo! Chahe Koyi Mujhe Junglee kahe, we are going to play in the snow. I was also really happy that we came for the first slot because the more the crowd the worse the snow will become. I immediately ran to counter to buy second level tickets (in June, we could not book these online in advance, but now they can be booked).

Queue for the counter in the background
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-7-dscn8416.jpg

The booking counter was closed as there was a crowd waiting already and they were not sure how weather can change. After waiting for almost 20 minutes, the counter reopened. At this point some tourist started shouting abuses at the security fellow that how can one person be issued a huge bunch of tickets. He threatened to remove him, claimed to be some high ranking officer,etc. Now the poor chap was trying his best to control the line. In the meantime others behind me in the line also started shouting and it was getting chaotic. I jumped in and asked the crowd to calm down. If a group is coming with a guide, they expect the guide to get tickets for them, so obviously he has to collect for the group. We had a few minutes of words after which everyone backed out. I understand everyone is worried phase 2 may close anytime due to weather changes, but that is not in organizers control as well and it did not really warrant a shouting scene.

We got tickets and entered the line for Phase 2, queue for which was double of Phase 1. Phase 2 can transport 600 people per hour compared to 1500 of Phase 1. Behind us in the line was a family from Rajasthan who were really surprised to see us drive all the way instead of flying. And were literally shocked when we said we were brothers and sisters.

Phase 2 ride is 100 times better than Phase 1. In a span of 2.6 km, elevation gain is an amazing 880 m to reach altitude of 3979.50 m with some really steep ascents. The terrain changes completely from fir covered trees near Gulmarg, phase 1
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-8-dscn8423.jpg

to a small plateau in the middle to Snow Covered Mountain on the Top. first view of snow
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-8-img_8968.jpg

It was first time in snow for 3 members of the gang so it was really special day.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-9-img_8969.jpg

Snow View
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-13-img_8970.jpg

Near the top station, the snow was muddy. But as we reached altitude of around 3980m snow was clean and fresh. There seemed to have been snowfall early in the day.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-14-img_9082.jpgAkka

We were playing in the snow like small kids. It was slipping, sliding and snow man time.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-10-img_3403.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-11-img_9007.jpg

Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-12-img_3428.jpg

A perfect spot for photography identified. Snow was pristine white in the backdrop of clear blue sky. Now time for some poses.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-15-img_9108.jpg

Trying to fly or is it Neo from Matrix
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-18-img_9111.jpg

Girls Say Cheeeesee!
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-17-img_3446.jpg

Sunny and me posing
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-16-img_3466.jpg

We wanted to reach a board that was placed near the top of the peak targeting 4000m altitude
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-19-img_9099.jpg

The climb
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-20-img_9062.jpg

But elevation became very steep and we finally settled @ altitude of 3992m (GPS measure, MyTracks)
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-21-img_9078.jpg

After an hour or so, we started feeling really cold (due to wet clothes)and decided to head down to Kangdoori. My younger sister was feeling a little dizzy now causing us to worry if it was altitude effect and if she can make it to through the high passes.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-23-img_9103.jpg
But luckily that did not turn out to be the case later on.

Sunny posing with the Ski's
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-22-img_3552.jpg

We were waiting for sunny who took one of the rides to see K2 and LOC. While we were near the station, it started snowing. Yay! we saw snowfall live. We got into the Gondola @ 1:20 pm for the descent which was as enjoyable as the climb.
Gondola
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-24-img_3567.jpg

Descent
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-25-img_3572.jpg

Unpredictable weather
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-26-img_3574.jpg

We ate at Kangdoori where the food was ok.
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-27-img_3578.jpg

It is a nice picnic spot. We saw lot of school kids sitting on the plain land and having lunch. As we were on the way to the middle station it started raining heavily. We reached Gulmarg @ 3 pm, gave the rental stuff back (75 buck/pair) and headed towards the parking lot. There was a steady rain now. A vendor who was selling gloves in the morning starting selling umbrellaís , perfectly catering to the market demand. We purchased gloves in the morning as well as umbrellas in the afternoon.

Sunny went ahead to get the car in as Deepthi was still feeling dizzy. But the fellows at the gate were adamant and did not let the car in. She did not want to ride a horse, so the slow walk back started. We were getting really worried about Deepthi, when akka realized that Deepthi may be feeling dizzy because of a Dolo tablet taken in the morning. What a relief it was as the effect of dolo wears off after 5 to 6 hours. At the parking lot, we were in a dilemma whether to head back or see more of Gulmarg. In the end we decided to drive through the town (nothing much though) and head for Srinagar.

Nice View of the mountains from the road
Middle Earth to Paradise in Pushpaka Vimanam-28-dscn8422.jpg

On the way back, we stopped at Tangmarg again to have snacks. This time the south India stall had idli but they were so bad that we left them as it is and moved on. Once we reached the city we decided to buy some Kashmiri apples, but were disappointed to learn that they will reach only after 2 months. Since it was only 5:45 pm, girls opted for shopping; we drove around and reached Polo View Road/Residency Road. While girls were doing there shopping, wanted to buy a Jacket. We saw shops advertising 80% discounts here which is a big Farce. They jacked up MRP 4 times their usual price and are giving 80% discount. Afterwards, we went to Tourist reception center (TRC, open 24 hours) to inquire about availability of hotels in Sonamarg, Kargil and white water rafting in Pahalgam. Finally we reached Nishat View Hotel by 8 pm, ordered room service and made plans for Pahalgam;

In between, Hotel guys informed me that they are having a problem with rooms for 3rd day. They gave us option to shift to a house boat but at higher price than the rooms. The one major thing we were not doing in Srinagar was also getting realized, so I opted for the Houseboat. I informed the hotel guys we will leave our luggage in the cloak room in the hotel and collect it on our way to Leh.

With that issue resolved, we were done for the day with a drive of 150 km. While I crashed, I realized I had fever. My body Temp was 100F, felt it was not much to worry so did not inform others.

Off Topic: Srinagar has really nice architecture. Some of the houses are really beautiful, on the Highway towards Gulmarg and near Nagin Lake.

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Old 2nd August 2012, 21:34   #11
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Keep it coming!! I was planning for a Kashmir vacation but plans changed. Good to see all this from your eyes!
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Old 3rd August 2012, 00:26   #12
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Hi indian,

Great report! Good write up, was reading it all through! Find it useful and if you can publish a consolidated co-ordinates of the places and hotels with your input, will become a useful tool for future doers!!

Happy Motoring!
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Old 3rd August 2012, 09:19   #13
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Keep it coming!! I was planning for a Kashmir vacation but plans changed. Good to see all this from your eyes!
Nope Man you should do it at the earliest before the place gets crowded like Manali. At this point I feel Kashmir Valley has optimum traffic.

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Hi indian,
Great report! Good write up, was reading it all through! Find it useful and if you can publish a consolidated co-ordinates of the places and hotels with your input, will become a useful tool for future doers!!
Happy Motoring!
I will do that. Initially I wanted to do that at the end of the travelogue but I will probably update now itself. Will make more sense for travelers this year
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Old 3rd August 2012, 19:38   #14
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I will do that
Thank you, Indian. Appreciate it!
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Old 3rd August 2012, 19:47   #15
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@indian21r : Excellent write-up ! & Great Pictures !
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