Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mission Kashmir - Srinagar (Day 7)

The last day in Srinagar we decided to see what the city had to offer to the shoppers. And I must say it was quite a lot which made even reluctant shoppers like us actually buy things. There were lot of useful articles made from Walnut wood and Paper mache, the usual Kashmiri silk sarees and Pashmina shawls, varieties of wool, kashmiri kesar, dry fruits, etc...

We made a quick round of the Lal chowk area and Polo view. Gogo bought a Pashmina shawl for over 8000/= after a lot of double checking from Irfan's folks on the quality of pashmina. I must say it was a good buy. We also bought some kesar (Saffron), a few minitaure shikaras made of walnut wood, and some othe random wooden articles. We wennt back to the guest house after having lunch at a local pizza outlet. At the guest house we played cricket again with our new cool bat for a while. We ended the day by watching some television, and thinking we needed to pack our bags for our flight back home the next day.

Mission Kashmir - Pahalgam (Day 6)

It felt a bit dull with 2 of our friends leaving for Leh. Undeterred by that, we decided that the remaining 3 of us will head towards Pahalgam, a hill station south of Srinagar. We headed south of Srinagar on the Jammu highway in our usual Qualis. We stopped in between to look at some ruins of Avantipura which were on the way. The ruins were of some ancient temples.

Going further ahead on the highway we spotted a lot of shops selling cricket bats. The bats were made of wood cut from trees around that very area. Gogo, Irfan and me tried out some strokes on the variety of bats available in one of the shops, and decided to buy one ultimately. We got a decent bat for an amazingly low price of 200/= .

On the way to Pahalgam we decided to do white water rafting on a tributary of the Jhelum river. It was one of the popular attractions among people of all ages there. The experience was really out of the world for someone like me who was doing it for the first time. I was pretty nervous sitting on the bumpy raft initially but then got used to it somewhat to complete a 2km ride. Gogo even did it once again on our return drive from Pahalgam.

We reached Pahalgam just before lunch. We were so hungry that we directly headed out to one of the famous eat out's there called "Nathu's Rasoi". After helping ourselves to some good Chole Bhaturey and Aloo Pooris we started to explore this small hill station. Pahalgam is the place were most people start their Amarnath Yatra, so there was a lot of information about the Yatra all over the place. We ended up mostly wandering around the lush green meadows, some small parks and clicking patel shots. Ah, from patel shots I remember entering a coffee shop called "Cafe Login" in Pahalgam, where there was a huge Gujju family of 20 people already keeping the barista boys busy ordering pizzas and vada paavs ! ( in a coffee shop ! ). We managed to get a small table by the corner there, sipped our coffee while watching the Great Gujju Family eat the hell out of the place.

We headed back to Srinagar towards the evening after exploring Pahalgam and helped ourselves to some light dinner for the night. The next day was all about shopping in Srinagar so we needed some rest.

Mission Kashmir - Sonamarg (Day 4 & 5)

We decided to start the day late since we were planning a stay in Sonamarg over night. We left Srinagar at around 10 am in our usual vehicle. The drive was quite pleasant and we reached Sonamarg just around lunch time. We checked in into the first hotel we could spot near the mountains and it turned out to be pretty good. Irfan somehow managed to bargain the rent to half of what was quoted using his Kashmiri lingo. After finishing lunch at a nearby restaurant, we headed out towards the famous glacier. This was by default since everyone there was gung ho about it.

There was an option to hire horses/ponies to take us there, but we ditched that and decided to walk. The walk turned out to be really pleasant along the meadows. We were warned by some of the horsemen on the way that the glacier is way to far, there is a cold water stream flowing across, and there is no reason we should be walking all the way. But as usual we decided against all that. Gabbar and Ranjan were pretty pleased with the sceneries offered to their DSLRs. Infact we had taken a lot of pictures on the way, including a place by the river Sindh, where some of us actually got into the water for fun.

The walk took almost an hour and when we thought we almost reached the glacier we saw a wide stream flowing right across. People on horses were easily going across with the poor animal bearing most of the chill. We spotted a tree trunk being used as a bridge by some people to cross. I must say it took quite some courage to actually use the trunk to cross, since it was partly broken towards the end.

It was quite cold when we reached the glacier. We decided to have a cup of tea from the nearby tea stall before we started walking on the snow. For some reason Akshay introduced us to a few guys who operated wooden sledges on the glacier. He somehow made friends with them even before all of us reached the point. His intention was to go to the possible highest point on the glacier and come down on the sledge. Before the others could realize Akshay had left with a sledge guy towards the top. By then all of us finished our cups of tea and started walking on the snow. I grabbed a pair of boots for myself since my sport shoes were not really up for the wet snow. Some sledge guys followed us eagerly even after we told them that we were in no mood for sledging ;-) . Gabbar even ran away from them literally on the snow capped hill. Ultimately after a lot of eprsuation, the sledge guys managed to convince Ranjan, Irfan and me to ride. They gave up on Gabbar eventually. I sat behind the sledgeman on the wooden sledge and the guy took off. In front of me I saw Irfan's sledge going smoothly until it toppled on the snow just near a place where there was thin ice. Irfan almost broke his nose and struggled to get back up on the ice. For obvious reasons he ditched the sledgeman and descended from the ice on foot. I managed a turbulent but decent ride back down and so did Ranjan. Gabbar came down walking and we started waiting for Akshay.

We got a bit worried since it was getting dark and cloudy and we had a 3km walk back to the hotel. Akshay was nowhere in sight, and even the guys who traded his shoes for snow boots had given up on him. We tried to ask around everywhere but no one had any clue about him. After a tense half an hour wait, with some nervous cups of tea being gulped, we found Akshay coming back , totally excited about his sledge ride back. All of us were furious at him for making us wait for so long. We were now almost at risk of being caught in the middle of a snow or rain fall ( Well.. whatever will fall eventually from the dark sky! ) since we were quite tired, we decided to take the ride back on horses thinking they would be faster. Although Gabbar and Akshay decided to take a walk back. The 3 of us on horses realised pretty soon that it would have been faster if we had walked back. But it was quite late now, and the snowfall started right in the middle of a cliff on the way back. Drenched we somehow made it to the nearby taxi stand, from where we got a taxi back to the hotel. The taxi was quite a saviour and we reached the hotel which was nice, warm and cozy. Akshay and Gabbar managed to run back quite successfully, with Akshay toppling head over heels once. That being the only hiccup for them but all of us were unhurt. We ended the day with some decent dinner and a good game of cards.

The next day in Sonamarg was quite lazy. We had no plan in particular so we headed out to the nearby village where we found a decent place for breakfast. We were the only ones out there, and the restaurant owner was quite excited. We orderd for some bread omlettes and aloo paranthas which went quite wlel with our morning cups of tea. Gabbar enquired about buses to Leh from there, and we got to know that they would have to stay overnight in Kargil and can reach Leh the next day. Akshay decided to go with Gabbar and so only the 3 of us headed our way back to Srinagar. We had lunch at Mughal Darbar in Srinagar which was really good. Ended the day with some local shopping and planning for the next day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mission Kashmir - Gulmarg (Day 3)

It was decided the previous day that we would go to Gulmarg next. And so, after a lazy breakfast at the guest house we boarded our Qualis. The driver was kinda unhappy that we caled him at 8am and we had not even woken up by then ;-) . Irfan called in sick and could not join us for the day.

We started our 2 hour journey at around 10am ultimately. The ride through the srinagar roads was pretty good and once we hit the highway it just got smoother. All the way towards gulmarg , we could see the snow capped mountains and the lush green meadows. It was almost like the mountains were eager to welcome us. The only hiccup in the drive was a traffic jam for over one hour because of a protest from school children of a village.

We reached Gulmarg at around 12 in the afternoon. The sight was amazing. We decided not to waste more time and go up the snow capped peak. Gulmarg has a trolley service which takes you all the way upto the peak, and we did just that. Once we got into the cable car, a few of us were kinda nervous about its stability. someone remarked that the trolley was struck with lightning last month, and it was getting just a bit cloudy ! Nevertheless the ride was smooth up the mountain. When we got down, it was all white on the ground. There were some skiers, who were offering us a ride to a nearby point from where we could see the LOC. 3 of us tried that while Gabbar managed to run on the snow. After a few patel shots at the peak, we decided to go back. Gabbar meanwhile had managed to run quite far , enought to attract the attention of the army posted there in outposts. Luckily enough the army was from our country and Gabbar managed to come back after a few threats from them.

While going back, we decided to walk down for a short distance. Within minutes we found ourselves walking on plush green meadows intercepted by streams of water running down the mountain. Pink, yellow and green flowers, added to the beauty of these meadows, and made our walk really amazing. It ended up to be a good 1 hour climb down to the place where we left our car. Without wasting more time, we drove back to Srinagar with a small break in between for tea and samosas .

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mission Kashmir - Srinagar (Day Two)

The plan for the next day was to go sight seeing around Srinagar. After a lot of persuation, all of us woke up from our peaceful sleep. We had hired a Qualis to take us around the city. We started the tour with a visit to the Shankaracharya temple set on a small hill. The view from the hill itself was amazing. We could see the whole of Srinagar city, including the beautiful Shikaras and houseboats on Dal lake. From the temple we moved to the dal lake itself, which was really really beautiful. We took a 3 hour ride in a Shikara which was totally worth the 700 bucks we paid for it. The shikara took us all around the lake including all the local attractions like "The Char chinar" and "The vegetable market". The lake itself is right in between the valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. Together with lotus plants and water lillies, the view was completely breathtaking. One of the cool things which I noticed was mobile shops on shikaras. These ranged from fruit sellers to people selling kesar, ornaments etc.. to tourists.

We ended the shikara trip with some good food at one of the decent hotels near dal lake. Not to mention the boys were really lazy after that, but we somehow managed to end up in some of the famous gardens of Srinagar. We visited the Pari mahal, mughal gardens and the Shalimar Gardens. The gardens were full of roses and various other flowers amounting to over 50 different colours. Being in such a beautiful garden right in middle of a valley was simply mind blowing. There were quite a lot of snaps being clicked since we had two D-SLRs with us along with a point and shoot camera.

From the gardens we moved on to the famous Hazratbal shrine, situated on the shores of Dal lake. A lot of us were awed by the sceneic beauty of the place itself, a source of some of our best snaps. We ended the day with some "light" dinner at the guest house, which for some reason included Mutton rogan josh as a part of its lightness !

Mission Kashmir - Take Off (Day one )

An impromptu decision to actually take a vacation a few weeks back, made us sit on a plane all the way to Srinagar (yes you read it right, its in Kashmir). At that time Sreekant (a.k.a Gabbar) was in China, Ranjan was in Pune, Akshay, Irfan and me the only ones in Banaglore. Considering the unpredictability of our work, life, and habits, I would say it was really a miracle that all 5 of us made it to the Bangalore airport at six in the morning on a Sat. Gabbar felt it was a great achievement looking back at his track record of how many flights he had missed. Akshay was also pretty pleased with the effort he had put in to wake up after getting drunk for some unknown reasons, the previous night.

Kingfisher airlines provided us with some decent breakfast and then we landed in Delhi. Our connecting flight to Srinagar was after 2 hours. We managed to find a lounge bar at the airport where few of us got some beer. We also managed to get some coffee, some muffins, and even a mc donalds burger at the airport. All this, just about an hour after having breakfast on the plane !

We were all excited about the next flight to Srinagar, since no one had actually gone there other than Irfan who was actually a local (Now that was one of our main motivations for this trip ;- ) ). The view from the flight was not great since it was a cloudy day. But once we came out of the airport after clearing the formalities, we were greeted with such a sceneic view of the valley, which no words can describe. To top it all, the fresh and cool breeze blowing, was priceless to us bangaloreans. Irfan ensured that we got a taxi and reached the guest house which he had arranged. The guest house itself was beautiful, set in a quiet residential area, with a big lawn in front of it. Some of the servants there were actually playing cricket and we joined them. We played for almost 3 hours in the cool breeze and it was mind blowing.

Irfan called us home for dinner. Irfan's mom had cooked the most delicious dinner that some of us would have had in the last 10 years ! I wont go into the details of it as it might need another blog entry by itself, but that just rocked the day !!!