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Old 3rd December 2009, 10:22   #1
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Default To Kashmir in the Wrong Season

During my college and university days in Delhi I would think of a Kashmir trip on every approaching vacation. Somehow it had never materialised then and Kashmir remained a dream even as my life began again at 40. Then came those mind-blowing Leh travelogues in TBHP, most notably, Suman's (better leh'd than never). If the BHPians are flocking to Leh and beyond then I must at least get to Srinagar, I thought.

There was the 10 days Puja vacation from 25th Sept and myself and my wife were invited by my brother staying at Gurgaon to spend those days with his family. Kashmir was already cooking in my mind and I asked my brother if he would be game for a driving expedition in his Aveo U-VA. His enthusiastic response was not really expected because his kid would be only 13 months old by then. But both parents were confident of him being tough enough to withstand the gruelling six days trip.

I immediately booked return flights to Delhi and back for 24th Sept and 3rd Oct respectively. We planned to start early from Gurgaon on 26th to reach Patnitop the same day. Google maps and MustseeIndia.com driving directions suggested a direct motorable road from Pahalgam to Sonamarg. I was first inclined to plan our trip that way (Patnitop-Pahalgam-Sonamarg-Srinagar). HVKumar, in response to one of my queries in a TBHP thread, posted that such a link might not be there.

We therefore decided to play it safe and go to Srinagar from Patnitop. The deadline for arriving back in Gurgaon was 1st October. So, either Sonamarg or Pahalgam would have to be given a miss. We struck off Pahalgam from the itinerary. As it turned out, we had to choose between Gulmarg and Sonamarg too, and perhaps ended up making the wrong choice. But more importantly, it must have been the wrong season to visit Kashmir because we never witnessed the heaven on earth that we expected there.

Two months have passed. As I look back I feel that it had been a fairly satisfying trip. There are two sets of people; those who have driven to Kashmir and those who haven't. I'm proud to be in the first of these and now I'm ready to pen down my travelogue.

Pictures being de regueur here, a few random shots are displayed below. May be a case of naach na aaye aangan tedha but the hazy atmosphere made photography more difficult.

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Old 3rd December 2009, 10:51   #2
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Nice pictures. Please post more. On such inviting grounds, I find that Bhpians are more inclined towards offroading than relaxing

I intend to visit some day! How safe are these lands?

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Old 3rd December 2009, 10:54   #3
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Tell us the story now. Nice pictures. TFS.
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Old 3rd December 2009, 10:57   #4
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Originally Posted by aroop View Post
How safe are these lands?
He has gone there, stayed there and returned back. That means it is safe.
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Old 3rd December 2009, 11:02   #5
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Originally Posted by aroop View Post

I intend to visit some day! How safe are these lands?

No safety issues in Kashmir, an occasional bandh may delay or irritate.
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Old 3rd December 2009, 15:24   #6
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its perfectly safe man.

TnH saab, share more!
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Old 3rd December 2009, 15:36   #7
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Nice start TortoiseNhare.
Please do post more pics so that we, who are stuck in South India can enjoy the beauty of the place!
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Old 3rd December 2009, 15:36   #8
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I and my better half took off from Guwahati airport for Delhi on 24th Sept in the evening. My bro recieved us there and we reached his residence at Sec.56 GGN by 9 pm. I needed to feel at ease with the U-VA although I did drive her once about a year ago. The acclimatization was achieved on 25th when I drove her to Faridabad to my sister's residence. Dimension-wise she didn't seem too different from my Palio but the steering seemed to be at an odd position, blocking my view of the speedo console. I had realised that the car had tilt steering but failed to use the function then. In the afternoon, on the way back from Faridabad I went to a filling station to tank the car up. Seeing a non-local, the salesmen played the trick of stopping the pump and restarting to take me for a ride. Though I knew about the trick from a TBHP thread I failed to establish my point and got duped to the tune of about 200 rupees.

Our plan was to start as early as possible next morning so as to escape the dreaded Delhi traffic. We could start at 5.10 am (odo reading 9994) and took the Gurgaon-Mehrauli road and then the ring road via Raj Ghat to get to NH1. My brother was driving and at some place near ISBT I was thrilled to see the Delhi-Lahore bus just ahead of us but could not click any photo. When we were just out of Delhi, a hazy and dusty environment greeted us. NH1 also turned out to be a lot rougher than we had bargained for. The first toll gate was near Panipat where we paid Rs.20. This turned out to be the only toll collection that was worth every paisa of it. I have had very bad experience of getting stuck in Panipat traffic earlier. The corridor/flyover crossing Panipat has made traffic snalrs a thing of the past indeed.

NH1 continued however to be a big disappointment. Slow moving vehicles occupying the right lanes, polluting vehicles, pot holes etc contributed to us not enjoying the drive and the scenery was nothing to write home about. The weather was not hot but we were forced to pull up the windows and switch the AC on because of heavy pollution. As we reached Karnal we saw the lines of eateries including the famous Zilmil dhaba. We didn't want to stop as none of us felt hungry. The next toll plaza was not far away and we paid Rs.78 or 80 there. Since all of us were bad at taking photographs from a running vehicle, both the cameras enjoyed extended rest.
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Old 3rd December 2009, 17:33   #9
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Great photos there! Looking forward to more!
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Old 4th December 2009, 10:22   #10
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We had passed Karnal before 8 in the morning and little did we know that the roadside eateries would just vanish soon. From about 8.30 we kept looking for a decent place to stop for breakfast in vain. At about 9 we spotted a rather nondescript dhaba where a few trucks were parked and stopped there. The odo read 10211 then, i.e. 217 km in just less than 4 hours. Alu parathas tasted good there and our ladies were not too unhappy about the bathroom too.

We were averaging a little over 56 kmph till then and Patnitop being about 700 km from Gurgaon we thought that an average of 50 over 14 hours would take us there by 7 pm. We were under the illusion of being ahead of target and no thought of a plan-B came to our minds. I then took the driving seat and we left the dhaba at 9.30. We reached Shambhu toll plaza at 10.15 to pay Rs. 47. We had the same dusty condition outside and saw nothing worth taking out the cameras. It didn't take much time to reach Khanna but that place turned out to be a real pain in the backside with those red lights every 100 metres or so. By 12.30 it was time for another toll payment of Rs.80 at Ladowal plaza. I don't exactly remember if it was before or after Ludhiana. We were impressed with the rich and glittering side of Ludhiana. Saw quite a few marriage parties on stretched limos and only later came to know that the limos were available for hire. But then we had to pass a road crossing which would put the worst traffic jam in my city to shame. The toll taxes seemed utter injustice then.

We entered a decent looking roadside eatery near Jallundhar at about 1.30 pm for lunch. The odo read 10415, i.e. we had done 421 kms in 8 hours and 20 minutes. The place was well maintained and washrooms too were neat and clean. The food however was mediocre. When we started again at 2.35 our average looked below par - 421 kms in 9 hours and 25 minutes. We hoped that the major portion of the traffic would take NH1 towards Amritsar and we would get a free road along NH1A. We could not have been more wrong. Four laning of NH1A was in progress and there were frequent diversions and bad stretches. To make matters worse, the number of trucks on the road seemed to increase exponentially.

Just before Pathankot we saw petrol pumps selling fuel at cheaper rates. Actually those pumps were within Himachal Pradesh where taxes on petrol are much lesser. We tanked up in one such petrol pump. By 4.30 pm we were at Lakhanpur toll post paying an entry tax of Rs. 70 into Jammu. Narrower and uneven roads and trucks conspired together to reduce our speed even further. We had earlier planned to take the Samba-Udhampur road to save some time but it was totally unfamiliar terrain for us and we didn't know anybody in the whole of J&K. With the 13 months old Bwana with us we could not stray off the highway after dark. The kid displayed exemplary demeanour though; we expected a lot more trouble from him.

Plan-B had to be worked out fast. We sure didn't want to drive till late into the night. None of us was happy to negotiate long lines of trucks at night; more so while ascending heights. Patnitop seemed too far away at that moment. On the other hand we didn't note down anything about Jammu either. I remembered once being told about transit accommodation for Vaishno Devi pilgrims near Jammu station. By the time we reached the point where Samba-Udhampur road bifurcates, it was dark and we had made the decision of spending the night at Jammu rather than Patnitop. Our cameras had all along been in hibernation.
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Old 4th December 2009, 10:32   #11
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This would be one of the travelogue i would be glued to. My wife wants to visit Kashmir and this would be guide for me.
Excellent pics. Do post more pics and info. i would be your audience all through the thread.
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Old 4th December 2009, 11:34   #12
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Default A Night to Remember

The road to Jammu was neither smooth nor free of traffic. Since we never had Jammu in consideration we didn't study staying options in that city before setting out. So our night halt had to be Vaishavi Dham, the lodging facility run by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. After entering Jammu we had made quite a few wrong turns in trying to reach the Railway Station, next to which the Dham was situated. We finally reached there sometime after 8 pm. The odo then read 10642 kms. That means 648 kilometers in 15 hours. Poor average indeed!

We found Vaishnavi Dham to be a clean and well maintained place with a secured parking facility. Bad news was that there was only one 2-bed AC room available other than dormitories. The manager told us that the room was large enough for two extra mattresses on the floor. we were satisfied with the arrangement and the room was to our liking - nice vinyl flooring, wood paneled walls, climate control AC etc. Most importantly, the bathroom was squeaky clean and the geyser too was working fine. The total cost including parking came to only Rs. 900. We took dinner at the dining room of the lodge (vegetarian of course) which was very good for the low price.

Tomorrow would be another long journey through hilly terrain. We all were very tired by now and needed a good night's sleep. The beds were ready. The weather was hot and the AC had to be kept on. Even as I was about to switch the lights off I heard my wife scream, "God, what are these!" She herself knew the answer and told us, "these are bedbugs!" Indeed they were! Three of them were seen at first. We all were crestfallen. How do we sleep now? If we could not sleep how would we drive tomorrow? My wife refused to sleep in the makeshift bed on the floor thinking that the extra mattresses had them. We all knew that at this time there was no point making a hullabaloo with the manager/caretaker and we had to rather wait for the night to be over. We decided to let the two women and the kid sleep on the main bed. Myself and my bro volunteered to take the bedbugs head on down on the floor. I asked the others to keep lights on as I heard that the bedbugs didn't like light. Perhaps they couldn't hear me and someone switched off the lights.

I was dog tired and fell asleep almost immediately but in the mean time all hell broke loose and the whole bedbug fraternity decided to make a grand meal of us. I had to wake up within minutes because of the sensation provided by the bugs in the act. Saw all of us awake and I was told that bugs were in the main bed too. We were now really scared about the kid. I just asked the ladies to take care of the kid; I myself didn't know what to do. Because of tiredness I fell asleep again (so did my bro I think) only to be awakened by the bites. Switching on the lights I saw blood stains all over the white bed sheet - we were killing some bedbugs (rendered immobile by excessive bloodsucking perhaps) even in sleep. This process kept repeating throughout the night and we got off our beds early in the morning. Before packing our bags we had to make sure that no bug had sneaked into our clothing.

By 8 am we were ready to start the second leg of our journey to Kashmir valley. And finally the cameras were woken up from the slumber. Only for a couple of clicks as of now - these would make us remember the great night at the Vaishnavi Dham, Jammu.

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Old 4th December 2009, 16:54   #13
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Default Into the Kashmir Valley

Just out of Jammu city we noticed a signboard where the distance to Srinagar was shown as 298 Km. That made me expect to reach Srinagar by 4pm. But that calculation had the wishfull thinking of a truckless highway which was not to be. Wifey nevertheless kept clicking away at whatever remotely interesting sight presented itself. We spotted some temple on top of a hillock far away when we were near Udhampur. For some time we assumed that to be the Vaishno Devi shrine (wrongly!).

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The view of the railway bridge was breathtaking but the cacti were the last thing I expected in J&K.
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Before entering Udhampur we saw a bifurcation, one leading to the city and the other byepassing it. We took the byepass and it was one of the emptiest stretches of road we traveled by throughout our journey.

The previous night's misadventure had left all of us a bit jaded. Before reaching Patnitop I made an almost fatal driving error. Thinking that I might
be feeling sleepy my wife from the backseat had offered my some chewable. We had just climbed an incline and the road was turning right at that point. The thing slipped from my hand and fell on the seat in between my thighs. For a moment I forgot that I was driving and took my eyes off the road searching for the chewable on the seat. Thank God, my brother alerted me in the nick of time, or else, rather than turning right along the road the car would have taken all of us down hundreds of feet below.

We reached Patnitop without any major hiccups after that and didn't stop
there. Patnitop is perhaps the highest place in Udhampur district and from
there we had to climb down a long way. Then we reached a place (Batote?) with a few shops and a restaurant just alongside the road. We were hungry by that time and had our lunch there.

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The hazy atmosphere refused to clear. But there was a welcome sight of a river. Is that the Chenab? Should be, because Banihal was near.
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These fellows would be regulars on the road.
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Bro took over the driving seat from that point. Trucks were ever increasing
on the way. It was very irritating but we realised that it was the season of
Apples and also that the rail link not yet being ready the entire state was
dependent upon trucks for all kinds of supplies. Our progress was very slow
as a result. Finally we were into the Jawahar tunnel, the almost 3 km long
wonder tunnel.

We could not get any decent photograph inside the tunnel due to darkness. A couple of clicks of the entry and exit points are the ones below.
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After coming out of the tunnel we could see the first view of the Kashmir

Soon it was time for paying another toll of Rs.70, this time for entry into
the Kashmir valley (at Lower Munda). It was already 4.25 pm there and I took the driving seat once again from that point. Soon enough we were in the plains.

First view of Kashmir valley.
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I would like to confess here that I always had the wrong impression of
Srinagar to be a hilly place like Shillong, Darjeeling or Manali even though
the place had always been in the Valley. So getting to drive the last 70 odd
kilometres in the plains was a pleasant and welcome surprise.

Last edited by tortoiseNhare : 4th December 2009 at 16:58.
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Old 4th December 2009, 22:21   #14
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Default Srinagar at Last

We entered Srinagar soon and reached the Boulevard road amidst chaotic traffic at about 6.30 pm. Staying in a houseboat was not in our agenda and we didn't book any hotel in advance thinking that there would not be many visitors. Surprise, surprise! Srinagar was choc a bloc with tourists, 80% of them Bongs! We entered hotel Heemal run by JKTDC and the odo then read 10946. We were lucky in two counts - one, there were exactly two rooms vacant, and two, a recent govt. order allowed a steep discount of room rent if booked for three or more days. We promply took the two available double bedded rooms for 3 days at Rs. 1250 only per room per day, incl. taxes.

Bwana withstood the rigours of the last two days admirably but was now totally turned off by the inside of the car. My wife and sister-in-law, after getting down from the car, took him to the lawns of the hotel when we were finalizing the formalities with the hotel manager. When it was time to move into the rooms he steadfastly refused to budge from the lawns. It took us some time to understand his psychology. The kid had no idea of what our destination was and had started hating the car ride. He felt that getting out of the lawns would lead to getting inside the car again. Some coaxing and cajoling later he relented.

Once inside our rooms the horrors of last night came to mind immediately. I told my wife that BHPian Suman had stayed here with his family and she can rest assured that there will not have any bedbugs. "We'll come to know soon," she remarked. The view of the Dal lake and the Hari Parbat fort from our balcony looked very nice.

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We took our time to freshen ourselves up and then went out to a nearby Punjabi restaurant for dinner. The whole area was abuzz with tourists. There was not even a hint of any security issue. In fact, we saw army men on duty on all sorts of places starting from paddy-fields to rooftops but we were never stopped for any checking/frisking. After dinner it was time sleep like a log.

We woke up late by the standard of the last few days and took our own sweet time to get ready. Also clicked a few snaps within the Heemal hotel after ordering breakfast. We were going for a shikara ride shortly.

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Old 5th December 2009, 08:38   #15
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The night was a bit cold and we used light blankets. Cool wind was blowing in the morning too but the caretaker told us that in a couple of hours it would get hot and the shikara ride may get unpleasant. So without further delay we hired a shikara right in front of our hotel and set out for the ride.

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The ride was pleasant and the enormity of the Dal lake came to our view only then. But the dusty haze refused to clear. It turned out that the heavenly pictures that we used to associate with Kashmir valley could not be witnessed in late september. The flowering season was also almost over. In autumn tree leaves in the valley change colours presenting another stunning visual. Alas! We were too early for that scenery too.

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Mission Kashmir was shot here. The tourism related folk here seemed to be very fond of talking about that movie.

After showing us the dilapidated houseboat where the movie Mission Kashmir was filmed the boatman dumped us into a floating market. Of course, the ladies appreciated that. By that time it was hot like summertime in Guwahati and the shops had fans running. The shopping spree extended the time beyond the contracted limit with the boatman and at the end we had to pay up Rs.500 to him. The boatman was a thorough gentleman and whatever he had charged he justified so politely that we couldn't bargain further.

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Back from the shikara, it was time for lunch. We were suggested Mughal Darbar restaurant for genuine Kashmiri Cuisine. We looked for the restaurnt in Lal Chowk where it was not located. Someone there showed us a swank looking restaurant where Kashmiri Cuisine was supposedly as good as in Mughal Darbar. We ordered Mutton Gustaba along with biryani and kebab. The gustaba turned out to be extremely poorly cooked.
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