The lag between the trips and the journals has been increasing exponentially! So, lets see. Where were we last? So in April 2012, we were in Thailand for a week. A blissful week at that! Guess I wrote too much. But well, that’s how much I liked the place! Next we had Leh on the radar. The year we went to Europe is the year when most of my friends went off to Leh. Europe had wiped out my finances. So we solemnly promised ourselves that next year same time we shall be headed off to Leh! And there we were – Independence Week – 10th to 20th August, 2012.
Plan A – Delhi -> Manali (volvo) -> Leh (car) -> Srinagar (car) -> Delhi (flight)
Plan B (in case of cloudbursts/landslide in the Manali route) – Delhi -> Srinagar (flight) -> Leh (car) -> Srinagar (car) -> Delhi (flight)
As luck would have it (or dad’s frantic prayers’ outcome), we ended up with plan B. There was a big cloudburst few days before we were supposed to leave for Delhi. And giving the parents sleepless nights is just plain unfair. God knows how many they have had thanks to me. So, we reached Delhi Friday night, went to Big Chill (my favorite restaurant) and ordered the same thing that I have been ordering ever since my MBA days – chicken salad, mushroom pasta in white sauce and Oreo shake. I know I know, this is a travel blog. But talking about food is second nature. So, bear with it. 🙂
Next day, early morning flight to Srinagar and we headed off to Gulmarg. Enroute, we had our first cup of Kahwa. Kashmiri version of green tea with saffron, cardamom, nuts, honey. Quite a warmth inspiring concoction; perfect for the chilly weather. We had gone to Gulmarg just to see snow. It was there but only on distant peaks. Snow or no snow, Gulmarg is beautiful! Lush, green hills where all you’d want to do is run from one end to another. That’s pretty much what some of us did. We sat, we stared, lied down, snoozed a little, walked some. Nature has a way of stunning you and the next ten days were replete with such instances; Gulmarg being the first!
From there, we headed to Sonmarg. We had booked Paradise Camping right by the river Jhelum, and we had really lucked out with this one! What an absolutely amazing place! A little away from Sonmarg, the tents are pitched right by the river. The view is stunning. Green hills on one side, river on the other and snow capped peaks right behind the river. Almost feels like a dream. 🙂 The tents were pretty comfy. We were 7 of us booked in two tents, and we paid 3500 for each tent. Worked out pretty well, for the place and the service. There were these balcony sort of fixtures built near the river to lounge in. It was the first day of the trip and it was looking pretty good!
As the evening crept in, the Bengali in me started freezing to the bones! Proximity to the river could be a reason. And when it is this cold, the only respite is rum and good spirits! As luck would have it, that was a dry area and we weren’t carrying any. So, the men went hunting as they are supposed to, struck a deal with a shady truck driver and bought ‘Double X’ rum for 1000 bucks (costs 100 bucks tops)! Well, what can I say..sometimes the best evenings are an outcome of cheap liquor, fried fish, Kishore Kumar and like I mentioned, high spirits! In spite of the freezing cold, that was one of the best evenings in the trip!
Woke up early next morning and decided to go for a small hike to the hill in front. For the record, am not very good with hiking or anything remotely related to it. I slip easily, wobble and look straight out of some documentary on how not to hike! Grudgingly and with a lot of hand holding, I did make it to a fairly decent height. Pretty close to the clouds, I’d like to believe. 😀
After the hike, someone came up with a brilliant idea of taking a dip in the river. This river had water at an abnormally low temperature. Even dipping a toe was painful. Screw sanity, we thought, and went ahead. One of those things that you got to do at least once! Stood knee deep in that water and kept repeating in my head – just one quick dip..thats it! And then we did it, one after another. The braver ones went first and then I followed. Water that cold, you can’t feel your legs! I took that dip and it knocked the life out of me! And pretty much everyone else. 🙂
A warm bath and breakfast later, it was time to start the journey towards Leh. Over 400 kms of twists and turns. The trip was off to a promising start! 🙂