Thursday, September 8, 2016

Day 4 - The God's own Highway: Srinagar to Kargil

Day 4 - The God's own Highway: Srinagar to Kargil

Our houseboat's otherwise affable caretaker gets off the hook if you ask him to give you an early morning tea. So when i sensitized him last night that we would check-out at 5 he threw his usual tantrums but we didn't really have a choice & i could finally motivate him.

Barely half an hour into our 216 km long journey (which took us 8 hours to complete) the great nature started unfolding layers of its magnifisence. It was truly a treat to watch gentle yet pure greeny white water streams giving us their healing company for most part of our trip. The hills along the tricky road would challenge you for any colour blindness as you end up testing your cognitive skills to identify how many colours in different shades of Revlon are actually there on a single piece of rock!! You bow your head in respect when you see what precise chisel work is on display in the nature's workshop. I could hardly decide what to capture & what to leave! Such was my helplessnes in my effort to do justice to the sheer regality & elegance of this road (which at times i thought was teasing me) that my Pa had to gently remind me that we had some unfinished business.

Sonamarg disappointed as there was absolutely nothing to write home anything about it but we got the icing on our cake when we halted at the Drass Memorial. I went 13 years back in time when giving our final year engineering exam we got to know about the challenge our enemy had posed for us by intruding these vary heights which are so strategically located. Blood would run then when we would hear about the ongoing developments on war thru media. I once again had goose bumps as memories of the war & the war heroes who fought so valiantly in enormously challenging circomstances to save our Mother Nation's pride & honour. Meeting some of the soldiers was indeed a surreal experience.

There was nothing to do in Kargil & after landing at 1:30 pm we kept ourselves confined to the hotel room for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Day 2, Part 2 - The understated charm of the Garden City

Day 2, Part 2 - The understated charm of the Garden City

While scripting my itinerary for diffetent locales I would always get stuck in Sri Nagar city. For whatever impression i had about it i never expected it to offer something of its own beyond the shikaras n houseboats. Also, some how the image i was shown by different channels didn't put for a very exciting showing by this pristine town. For instance the revered Hazratbal mosque might find its mention in just one of the dozens of popular travelogues / websites! I personally liked the place very much. Of course, it may not be as overwhelming as Khwaza Moiuddin Chisti's in Ajmer Sharif but it has a presence & religious significance of its own. Don't forget to spend 30 minutes in the serene, quaint, Dal facing lawns of the mosque. I bet my money that you will forget all your miseries & would want to take more than a power nap here.

Which city comes to your mind when you recall "Mughal Garden"? I am sure some would try to instinctively say, "Delhi". I don't fault them for Sri Nagar hasn't let the world properly know it has not just one but actually three such jewels!! Here also, your tour operator might (unknowingly / unintentionally) want to guide you that "Chashma Shahi" is also called THE Mughal Garden. He is right!! Just one third of it if doesn't tell you that "Shalimar Garden" & "Nishaat Garden" complete the mindblowingly awesome trimverate of what was intended to be known as Kashmir's Mughal Gardens. Our cab driver revealed this & i got my money's worth there itself.

Shalimar is an imposing structure which makes you fall in love with it the moment you enter its modest entrance which grossly belies on what it is protecting!  Its lush red n green facia reminds of all those Hindi movie songs which have made certain Chopras n Johars what they are today. I, the solo flying bird, for once regretted having missed the ethereal feeling of being in love with the concept of love. Excuse my gibberish treatment, i am getting overwhelmed by the great artistry. It being a Sunday, the place is thronged by the locals who have come in droves. Did i actually see a bunch of 30 odd free spirits sipping a cuppa tea, served pipping hot from a large vessle, with biscuits??!! My-o-my!! I felt like shamelessly asking a cup for my thirsty soul but my forcibly imbibed civic sense didn't allow me this privilege :(
There i passed by this careless Indo-firang couple engrossed in their own world of literary debate (i just overheard "Othello" by the graceful lady). There were mom's who came with their nursery going kids while their husbands would be deliberating about Dhoni's jibe on Tendulkar.
I realized that i had to keep an evening excusive for this beauteous creation of man. Alas, i had to move to the next one. For all my stay i had this strange feeling that something was amiss. I could sense that even as this Master could give any Mahi a run for his  money on any given day perhaps it was not at its charming best! Could it be put on to the weather which possibly was not the best now? But who is complaining?? I actually am motivated to make sure that the Champ returns to its full glory when i seek my next appointment with the royalty.

Next on menu was Nishaat garden. Like Shalimar it is also crafted under the foot hills of a gigantic hill. Its tall boundry walls conceal what's gonna be revealed. On entry my immediate reaction was, "Thank my good heavens, it's not going to sap me of all my pluck". Trust me you guys truth couldn't be any closer to my poor imagination. Barely did i end up relishing the breathtaking beauty of the mazzanine floor i realized there were some stairs meant to take me to the next level. To cut the story short, it was a multi story beauty with each level (there were at least seven i vouch) trying to attract the penthouse premium from the other! Yes, each level had its own infiniti pool & a centrally liberating waterfall!! The size of all of them was at least that of Wembley and some of them could indeed aspire to beat the biggest olympics stadium hollow! I particulary got impressed with the way children & elders had UNRESTRICTED access to the pools. Every body just seemed to have forgotten that they were in a public place as they enjoyed with gay abandon. Kudos to J&K tourism for being so open & considerate on this largesse to its patrons. What a master stroke!! Even as by now i was literally dragging every single bone of me to the next higher level i finally gave up on the second last (and for which i won't forgive myself). What a visual treat it had been! I cursed myself for not researching well before coming here or i could have managed my stay more judiciously.

The last one was Chashme Shaahi & i got relieved when i realized that it was a poor second cousin to its more decorated siblings, both in sheer size & maintenance. I quickly winded up in just over five minutes & came down with (medically) heavy head wanting to hit the sack immediately. Then came the shocker! "Haven't you brought the water with you?" On my dead zombie like reaction the shopkeeper giving company to my Pa all this while educated me that there is a continuous stream of water coming out of a fish eye opening and that it had some medicinal properties to keep your digestion in order. So much so that the legend has it that Nehru Ji would get his daily dose shipped to him DAILY. I couldn't say no to the silent curiosity my Pa had & went up again first to drink myself besides filling in a bottle. As they say, "Every Chashma has its Shahi day".

1. To be able to do justice to the royal gardens don't pack them back to back on the same day. Trust me you'll end up missing all the fun & your limbs also won't shower praise upon you.

Day 2, Part 1 - Awesome Gulmarg Gondola

Day 2, Part 1 - Awesome Gulmarg Gondola

Wow! Had quite an engaging day unlike y'day. Enjoyed a lovely morning weather on way to Gulmarg with cool, pleasant breeze gently massaging every single pore of my body n soul. Ah, sitting beside a driver was never so carefree n relaxing!! Gulmarg treated us with downpour while on way to the Gondola from taxi stand. This is something deliberately done to favour the pony-wallahs as the long 1.5-2.0 km stretch can actually be demotivating for someone not used to casual, brisk walking even as motorable roads are available!! Then i had to negotiate my way thru the unrelenting touts who make it a point to prove that for riding "Pushpak Vimaan" all such efforts n pain are worth. Gondola itself was truly awesome as it takes u to an elevation of 3,950 mtrs. Getting out of our Gondola itself was an enthralling experience. In the company of some state sponsored VIP's you also feel privileged. I made up for the missing 50 mtrs (from the psychologically ego boosting 4k mark) by climbing to the snow point which shouldn't be anything less than 250 mtrs above from where Gondola leaves us. It was a surreal experience to feel the real "snow" in hands & get myself clicked in 4 different poses on a ski at a measly 50 bucks. Coffee n maggi at that remote place were always meant to be worth every cent spent. It's a real pity i couldn't climb up to the ULTIMATE heights as we had to go down within 3 hrs!! On our way back to the taxi stand we hired ponnies & saw the lush 21 holes Gulmarg golf course, probably the most decorated one in the country.

1. Always carry one umbrella each for all the group members.
2. Don't get frustrated with the forgettable Gondola booking experience. The management is hands-in-glove with the unscruplous touts but keep your spirits high for what's in store ahead.
3. On reaching stage 1, don't just stop there. It would be a good idea to immediately proceed to the stage 2 which is worth all the time u can spend (or are allowed to spend).