Thursday, May 22, 2008

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.

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