Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 12, 13 & 14 - Adieu Kashmir!!

Day 12, 13 & 14 - Adieu Kashmir!!

It would be an understatement if i were to claim that barring few aberrations it's been an absolutely memorable journey. i had a coveted dream of seeing this trip the light of day since long and i am glad it eventually came good.

The last few days at the fag end of this trip could actually have sprinkled some icing on the cake but for some mismanagement /miscommunication by my travel solution provider who (un)intentionally goofed up.

Tso Moriri is another beautiful lake but for some reasons Indians find it a poor second cousin of Pangong as one could see that almost 90% of its visitors are foreigners. After reaching there it paid rich dividends when i decided to climb up the hill right behind the tents we were booked at. Though for a person like me who is not used to exercising at all it felt like climbing the great Mount Everest, when after reaching the summit i realized that suddenly a beautiful rainbow has emerged from the lake after a small drizzle it alleviated all the pains & my 2-stroke bike cylinder like heart beats got nicely settled.

It was a shocker for us to find that we would have to spend the night once again in a tent. Though i personally wouldn't have minded if we didn't get a room, having my Pa in my company made me conscious. And now despite of repeated assurances by our tour operator only few hours back we had to forcibly stay in a tent as the local camp administrator had received the confirmation voucher for "tent" only by the camp owners. Predictably, dad had a tough time in the freezing tent as he developed some common medical symptoms.

Thankfully, the night passed without any major hassles & we started early next morning to reach our next pit stop i.e., Sarchu.

Tso Moriri to Sarchu is a laborious journey of 7-8 hours but the entire stretch is very rich in flora n fauna to gently force you into keep forgetting the residual distance to Sarchu.

For all its (Sarchu's) widespread popularity as a stop-over it won't be a bad idea to keep yourself motivated & do another 110 Km to reach Keylong in 4 hours. Sarchu doesn't have too many good camping facilities and after having already experienced camp stays elsewhere (in Hunder, Pangong, Tso Moriri, etc.) it's not exactly worth to expose yourself to some more precarious weather conditions and end your Kashmir sojourn on a rather disappoiting note.

Keylong is a good town with better lodging facilities and it indeed redeemed our expectation from it.

Only the next day while on our way to Manali via the Rohtang Pass did we realize another advantage of staying overnight in Keylong. Though distance between Keylong & Manali is slightly over 100 Km, due to enormously challenging road condition for a good part of it with immediately preceding & succeeding 5-6 Kms stretches on either sides of Rohtang getting heavily muddy even in the thinnest of rains it won't ever take anything less than 5 hours to reach Manali from Keylong itself! Personally, it seemed to be the most intimidating single stretch in my little over three decades of existence.

Even for its tricky nature Keylong-Manali is an insanely beautiful track with very few other mainland roads giving it a real run for its money.

I saw even the bikers getting stranded in the long marsh-like stretches and to see small cars needing a push from no less than 4-5 passersby was a sorry sight. People shouldn't venture on this track unless they are traveling in heavy vehicles or SUVs with better ground clearance & sturdy engines. Somebody's misfound adventure (or even oignorance) could easily turn into miserably frustrating experience for scores of others.

Manali is a hill station with not too many sight seeing options apart from few temples with ancient significance. Of course there are some adventure activities to indulge into but their availability / relevance is entirely a function of complimenting weather conditions.

i have consciouly refrained from either endorsing or criticising any of my nine places of stay during this fortnight long vacation but as they say, "keep best for the last". This is what precisely happened when i checked-in Manali Holiday Cottages today. Let me share that during the entire vacation this was the most elegant looking & well managed / maintained property under the personal supervision of its proprietor Mr. Roshan Thakur. I chose to neglect the malfunctioning TV in my room which couldn't get corrected despite the best efforts of the hotel staff.

So this was the culmination of our two week long siesta in Kashmir n Ladakh. I do look forward to visit this heaven on earth again soon. i am truly glad & humbled that some of my non-Indian readers have got encouraged to rethink on their apprehensions about visiting this region. Let me assure one & all that contrary to what many would like to believe (and what some sections of media would also portray) today the law & order in Kashmir is no less than any other state of the country. As a matter of fact, in some ways it is actually stricter than anywhere else. A case in point is restricted network connectivity with complete ban on "roaming" prepaid mobile connections. Also, the fact that in any part if the state, especially the Ladakh region, army's presence is more than significant makes one feel secure, even when during your road trip on many occasions you won't find a single human being for miles. Army has done its bid for the holistic development of surroundings by actively collaborating with the locales. A case in point is that the army has opened many "Army Welfare Schools" in some of the remotest areas to support the society's underprivileged kids' education.

The locals have truly imbibed a "visitor as a state guest" culture and it reflects in all their (in)direct actions. I have never experienced more affable local residents anywhere else, within or outside India. They go that extra mile to make you confortable.

The ever increasing population of foreign tourists of all age, both males n females on bicycles & motor cycles, outnumbering even the locales / Indians at times is a laudable sight & their faith in our country's hospitality is so much self-confidence inspiring.

Dear George Brown, i absolutely do not have any problem in you re-publishing my blog to any one if you find it appropriate to let me know details of your intended audience in advance. Also, it would be great to know your own country of residence. Lastly, it would be my pleasure to help address any residual concern you still might have and/or any requitement to plan your trip to this absolutely adorable creation of God.

1. Never, ever rely on your tour operator blindly and make the full payment in advance, more so when a third party is involved critically. i did both and had to pay for it, both materially & otherwise.
2. Do not go just by the words of your tour operator and take even the miniscule of details like itinerary, place & type of accomodation, vehicle type, etc. in writing to avoid any last minute surprises.
3. Always have some quick snakes handy as on any section in Ladakh restaurants are a luxury.