The state of Jammu and Kashmir was historically made up of many distinct areas viz. Jammu region, the Kashmir valley, the Zanskar region, the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and Ladakh. Most of the Gilgit region and a part of the Kashmir valley are occupied by Pakistan. You can read about the history of Kashmir, and how it has become what it is today though the numerous websites available on the internet. As most of you must be aware, Jammu, though a part of the state, has nothing to do with the sort of thing we associate with Kashmir. What I mean is Jammu is an extension of Punjab more than anything else. I have been to Ladakh and also to a small part of the Baltistan region which is with us (I visited Dah, Hanu, Kargil etc. if you remember from my Ladakh travelogue). At various stages in this log, I will be mentioning the key interactions I had with various locals, and their take on the Kashmir dispute vis-à-vis India, Pakistan, and ‘Azaadi’.
So, I wanted to visit the heart of Kashmir. The valley. They say that if there is heaven on earth, it is here (Kashmir) and I couldn’t agree more. Let me give you a brief historical perspective of Kashmir before moving on to my travelogue. The main languages spoken in Kashmir are (going clock wise from the Jammu region) Punjabi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Shina, Balti, Minaro, Uighur, and Ladakhi! Not bad for a state that houses just same amount of people who stay in extended Delhi. Kashmir has been a part of the Indian culture for thousands of years. The Mahabharata mentions it and the fact that it was ruled by the Kambojas. More recently, it has been ruled by the Ladakhis, the Mughals, the Sikhs and the Dogras, and the British. Today, it is ruled by India and Pakistan.
Since the eruption of militancy sponsored by Pakistan in the 1990s, the demographics of Kashmir changed drastically. Most of the Hindus of the valley (known commonly as the Pandits) migrated to the Jammu region or the other major cities of Indian like Delhi and Pune. As of today, the Vale of Kashmir has nearly 90% Muslims, where as the Jammu region has around 80% Hindus. The Kargil region is Muslim too, but they are Shia muslims, where as the Ladakh region is primarily Buddhist. Unfortunately, it is also so that most of the Jammu, Kargil and Ladakh region is very pro-India, and a chunk of the valley is anti-India (not necessarily pro-Pakistan). PoK is also a story in itself, but for the people who live there, they have absolutely no rights or any voice via the media. The Gilgit-Baltistan region is very anti-Pakistan (they are just like the Kargil folks), and are severely oppressed by Pakistani authorities there. So much so, that from that whole chunk, the Pakistani parliament doesn’t have a single representative. Another key point to be mentioned here is, Pakistan always claims to be fighting for liberating Kashmir, and not annexing it. Keep this point in mind and we will come back to it later.
My friend (more like a brother) Jatinder and I left for Jammu on the 12th of April via Swaraj Express. There is not much to mention about the journey apart from the fact that it was TERRIBLY hot throughout, so hot that when we alighted at Pathankot station (a little before Jammu) to refill out water bottles, we were so frustrated with the heat that we cancelled our return tickets from Jammu (scheduled on the 22nd) and requested my friend Ashish to book air tickets from Srinagar. This would not only spare us the arduous return journey, but also save us 2 days, which we could in turn use to maximize our trip. We reached Jammu in the evening, checked in to the hotel and just waited for it to be morning. The next morning we got a taxi from there, which would take us to Srinagar. While at the taxi stand, we started feeling the excitement, mostly due to the fact that all the others in the taxi were typical Kashmiris (you can differentiate a Kashmiri from a Jammuite very easily). The journey to Srinagar takes around 8 hours by taxi or 12 hours by bus. It is quite scenic and considered to be a difficult drive, but unfortunately I have ridden across Ladakh, so this wasn’t all that interesting for me.
All the people in the taxi were really nice folks, and the driver Zubair (BA in Economics) was playing lovely Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs! I also had a few semi-political discussions with some of the folks, and most of them seemed very neutral. You see, Kashmiris are those sort of people who can be convinced very easily. We crossed the famous Jawahar tunnel, which is a 2.5 kilometer long tunnel that virtually connects Kashmir to the Jammu region and the rest of the country. Once you cross the tunnel, there is a board which welcomed us to the Kashmir valley. We were well and truly in Kashmir now. We stopped at a town called Qazigund, which is very famous for its dry fruits. Qazigund is also the southernmost point of the now operational Kashmir railways. So, one can board a train from here to Baramulla. Eventually, Jammu will be connected to this line, and that will be a BIG day for the Indian railways and for Kashmir. We then passed through Anantnag, Avantipur, and Pampore, which is renowned for its saffron.
We entered Srinagar, passing through the very beautiful Badami Bagh cantonment, and found a lovely hotel to stay at an up market area (called Sunwar), a few minutes away from the touristy Dal lake. Most tourists stay around the Dal lake area, and it is almost like a tacit understanding exists between militants and the locals, that this area should not be targeted, as tourists, and tourism is Kashmir’s bread and butter. There are also very few security personnel in this area. On the other hand, the old town part, most notably the Lal Chowk area, is notorious for its separatist psyche. A huge number of CRPF and JKP personnel are deployed here, and at its peak, there was nearly an attack that happened every other day. Tourists don’t go to this area, generally, but there are exceptions
That evening itself, we went for the much acclaimed Shikara (a type of a boat) ride, inside Dal lake. The Shikaras are decorated to give a ‘honeymoon’ feel to its occupants, as most of the tourists are honeymoon couples etc. And here we were, two 6 feet plus muscular men riding a Shikara! Dal lake the second largest in the state, is integral to tourism and recreation in Kashmir and is nicknamed the “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir” or “Srinagar’s Jewel”. The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting.
The shore line of the lake, about 15.5 kilometres (9.6 mi), is encompassed by a boulevard lined with Mughal era gardens, parks, houseboats and hotels. Scenic views of the lake can be witnessed from the shore line Mughal gardens, such as Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir) and from houseboats cruising along the lake in the colourful shikaras. During the winter season, the temperature sometimes reaches −11 °C (12.2 °F), freezing the lake.
The lake covers an area of 18 square kilometres (6.9 sq mi) and is part of a natural wetland which covers 21.1 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi), including its floating gardens. The floating gardens, known as “Rad” in Kashmiri, blossoms with lotus flowers during July and August. The wetland is divided by causeways into four basins; Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin (although Nagin is also considered as an independent lake). Lokut-dal and Bod-dal each have an island in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively.
At present, the Dal Lake and its Mughal gardens, Shalimar Bagh and the Nishat Bagh on its periphery are undergoing intensive restoration measures to fully address the serious eutrophication problems experienced by the lake. A massive investment of around US $275 million (Rs 1100 crores) is being made by the Government of India to restore the lake to its original splendour. There is a small garden inside the lake (Jawahar Lal Nehru garden) where we alighted and did some photography. There are also fruit sellers, and other merchants who offer their stuff to you when you are in the Shikara. We finished the ride, paid the Shikara owner (300 odd bucks) and wandered through the many intriguing lanes of Srinagar. Srinagar is famous for its bakery products, and we got a chance to experience this when we bought some stuff from the famous Mughal bakery. We headed back to our room. It was quite late (10 pm or so) and we were the only souls on the streets apart from the uniformed men. We loved that feeling. We retreated to our rooms and watched some IPL matches that were going on. The next day we were to explore the remaining parts of the city.
In the morning at 7 am, our rickshaw driver (Mohammad) was there to pick us up from the hotel. Mohammad was a really nice guy, and we first went to the Chatti Padshahi Gurudwara in Srinagar. Till today, there are many Kashmiri Sikhs, who add to the dwindling level heterogeneity in the region. After visiting the Gurudwara, we went to a famous shrine of a sufi saint. There wasn’t much to do there, so we visited the area quickly and decided to move on. The shrine is located at the base of Hari Parbat, which is a fort that overlooks Srinagar. Hari Parbat houses a CRPF camp in it, and it is out of bounds for civilians. We decided to give it a try! We approached one of the two entrances, and explained to the guards who we were and that we had come from very far etc. I also flashed a few high profile visiting cards, just to assure them that we were tourists. This entrance wasn’t actually the entrance, which was on the other side. Later we found that we were lucky to have used this entrance. The guards allowed us, but told us to make it quick and low profile. We ascended to the top of the fort, passing other guard posts etc. At the top, there was a Sikh soldier who greeted us and escorted us to his sitting area. He then called the gate (the main gate) to verify that they had allowed to people to come through, to which they responded NO! I immediately explained to him that we have come from the other side, and again flashed a few cards. This needed to be done, because for him, we were unauthorized visitors inside the CRPF camp in Srinagar. Not a good thing!
Anyway, since we spoke in Punjabi, he cooled down and made us some tea. We then explored the forts and took a lot of pictures of the spectacular views of the town that it offered. The solider added that there is a cable car project which is being considered from this hill to the Shankaracharya Temple hill, which is opposite this one. There is a temple and a Gurudwara inside the fort, we paid our respects and left. The soldier insisted that we leave from the main entrance, so we had to call our rickshaw driver to this entrance! We exited the main entrance, much to the surprise of the guards posted there, who obviously had no clue where we came from! Anyway, after explaining everything to them, we boarded the rickshaw and headed to the famous mosque of Hazrat Bal. Located on the west bank of Dal Lake is Hazratbal. It is one of the most scared of shrines in the Kashmir Valley as it is believe to house, a single hair Prophet Mohammad, which is believed to have been brought all the way from distant Medina. When it arrived in Kashmir in 1699, it was first kept in the Shrine of Naqashband Sahib in the heart of the city and later shifted to Hazratbal. Made of white marble and screened with intricate filigree work, the shrine has a single dome with an accompanying minaret.
The ground around the shrine is paved with stones and several Chinar trees growing within its premises enhance its aesthetic appeal. On important religious occasions of the Urs celebrations, and at other times of year, the landscaped gardens around Hazratbal host a fair where by the decorated waterfront, cottage industry craft, the produce of orchids, and livestock is traded.
After going through Hazrat Bal, we moved towards the first of the many Mughal gardens of Srinagar, Shalimar Gardens. Mughal gardens are a group of gardens built by the Mughals in the Islamic style of architecture. This style was influenced by Persian gardens and Timurid gardens. Significant use of rectilinear layouts is made within the walled enclosures. Some of the typical features include pools, fountains and canals inside the gardens.
After exploring Shalimar Gardens, we moved on to the famous Tulip gardens, but in between, stopped at the recently discovered Buddhist archaeological site at Harwan. I spend around ½ hour at the site and then we hurriedly proceeded to the Tulip garden. The tulip garden is Asia’s largest, and only second to the one in Amsterdam, Holland. We spent a lot of time doing photography here, and though the weather was overcast and not apt for photography, the garden was gorgeous. This garden had a lot of tourists, unlike the other places that we visited which had more locals. It was nearing dusk, and we still had to visit Cheshm-e-Shahi, so we left form Tulip gardens and moved to our final destination for the day.
Cheshm-e-Shahi is a beautiful garden situated at the distance of almost eight kilometers from Srinagar towards Harvan. It was a natural spring around which a garden was developed by the brother of Nur Jahan, the famous queen of Jahangir, the third Mughal emperor. He was so fascinated with the surroundings that he not only decorated the spring’s surroundings with beautiful floral plants and ornamental trees but also roofed the spring. A reservoir was constructed around the spring from which water gushed through canal network to causing fountains to play day and night, creating a soothing atmosphere during the summers. Shahjahan added several trees and had the ceiling and had the roof of the spring decorated. He added several apartments to the Pari Mahal and a permanent settlement for the royal family was created which was in vogue till the regime of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab came to rule the area.
That was a long day. Mohammad dropped us back to the hotel, and also promised to take us to the airpot and anywhere else when we needed to, so we took his number. We walked around Sunwar, and found a dhaba for having dinner. I must add, most Kashmiri food, which might have its own fan following, seemed very ordinary for the Punjabis! Especially if you don’t eat an expensive restaurant, it is pretty crappy. Anyway, we had loads of food at the dhaba, a little too much in fact, and then walked back to our hotel through the deserted roads of Srinagar. It was an amazing feeling, a fearless feeling. We were the only civilians on the road. Anyhow, we reached the hotel and watched some IPL match before sleeping. Tomorrow morning, we were to leave for Gulmarg.
We woke up at 5 am….it was cold and there was some rain. Rain in the mountains…is a good thing when you are indoor. Plus, we had decided to use ONLY shared and public transport to travel, since this gives a lot of opportunity to interact with the common Kashmiri man. We took a shared minivan at around 7 am to a place called Batamaloo. This is the bus/taxi stand of Srinagar. We took a shared taxi which would cost us 40 bucks per head. To go to Gulmarg, one needs to first go to place called Tangmarg. Then we need to change the shared taxi, and head to Gulmarg. The journey was scenic, and we had a tourist family from Bombay with us, apart from some locals. It took us some 2 hours to reach Gulmarg.
Gulmarg has been a resort for the kings like Yousuf Shah Chak and Jehangir who used to visit frequently. The old name of Gulmarg was “Gaurimarg”, the name of Lord Shiva’s wife. Yousuf Shah Chak changed its name to Gulmarg, meaning the place of roses. During the early part of the 20th century the famous Central Asian explorer Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862 – 1943), made his home here in a tent between his expeditions. It was a favourite summer holiday destination for the British stationed in India. The surrounding areas were politically restive during the 1990s in Kashmir, but since a ceasefire between India and Pakistan in 2003, the town has enjoyed a period of relative peace and quiet. The town is nestled within the imposing Himalayan peaks, and lies within miles of the Line of Control. It receives heavy snowfall during the winter season and is a popular ski resort.
With the abatement of militancy in the area, Gulmarg has quickly become one of the state’s most visited destinations. The slopes of the Afarwat Hills of the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalaya chain boast one of the longest and highest ski slopes in Asia. The total distance covered by ski lifts is five kilometres and the resort peaks at an altitude of 3,950 m (12,959 ft), accessed by an aerial gondola (telecabine). The skiing project was inaugurated by the Chief Minister on 25 December, 2004. The entire hill is guarded by the army at all times. The army, which is seen everywhere in the cities of Kashmir, is not in the town or the actual hilltop. Frisking is only done midway on the access road at 3 places: Tangmarg, near an army camp on the road from Tangmarg, and 5 km before entering Gulmarg. Gulmarg does not have any permanent residents. All living in Gulmarg are hotel employees and guests. Everyone else is required to leave the village by sunset, due to a curfew imposed by the army in 1990. Gulmarg boasts Asia’s highest cable car project, the Gulmarg Gondola. The two-stage ropeway ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Kongdoori Mountain, to a shoulder of the nearby Afarwat peaks (4,200 m (13,780 ft)). The ropeway project is a joint venture of the Jammu and Kashmir government and French firm Pomagalski. The first stage transfers from the Gulmarg resort at 2,600 m (8,530 ft) to Kongdoori Station in the bowl-shaped Kongdori valley. The second stage of the ropeway, which has 36 cabins and 18 towers, takes skiers to a height of 3,950 m (12,959 ft) on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of the nearby Afarwat peaks.
We reached Gulmarg at around 10 am to breezy morning. The weather was clear, but it was quite cool. As soon as we alighted from the taxi, we were accosted (albeit in a friendly manner) by loads of porters, guides, horse/pony riders etc. We decided to have breakfast at a Sardarji’s dhaba, but the food turned out to be the most tragic Punjabi food I have eaten in my life. We wanted to walk around the whole place, but decided on hiring a guide so that we don’t miss any important spot. At this stage, another gentleman whom we met in the car was roaming around with us so the guide’s cost (300 bucks) would be divided by three…even better.
Amongst other things, and scenic ‘points’, the guide took as to the now dilapidated mansion of Maharaja Hari Singh. This served as one of his many summer resorts. It was a really beautiful structure and looked like we were the only ones who came to see it in a long time. What a pity! Moreover, we were also lucky enough for the caretaker to be around, and he gladly opened the house for us to look around inside. Can’t imagine what it must have been like in all its glory. We then strolled about the many more green slopes of Gulmarg and finally headed towards the gondola. The ride is quite pricey, with 300 bucks for the first stage and another 500 for the second stage. The second stage is only open subject to good weather, as it is really high. There was no way I was not going there though!
The ride to the first stage was very beautiful, though the incline was soft (as compared to the second). When we alighted at the gondola station, we were greeted with snow slopes and loads of people trying to ski on them. If one looked closely, there were many brown spots at this altitude (where there was less or no snow). We didn’t waste much time here and continued to the second stage. This time the incline was far more vertical, and the scenery was breathtaking. We reached the station and alighted into the snow. It was quite cold (sub zero) and we didn’t have the much of cold gear. I had a pair of gloves, but Jatinder didn’t. Jatinder decided to ski with some experts (with whom you can tag along), and go close to the LoC (supposedly). There was 3-4 feet of snow everywhere. I could see the top of the Afarwat peak, approximately a 1000 feet climb. I wanted to go there, but there were two glitches. One, I was carrying a 40 lbs haversack on me and wasn’t obviously in the right gear to trek in snow, and two, I could see that some adventurous folks had ventured quite a bit towards the peak, but were being constantly asked to come back by vigilant policemen posted there.
I introduced myself to the cops and told them that they needn’t worry about me when I go up as I have encountered such situations very often. Started climbing and met a Korean couple a little before halfway. The girl was stuck in a mini-crevasse due to some lose ice. So after helping them out I moved further, with great difficulty, mostly due to my backpack and the soft ice. Around halfway, there were some rocks and I decided to dump my sack there and pick it up on the return. To my surprise, there was a gentleman (Sachin) sitting there and on inquiring he told me that he was a tour leader with a tour group from Pune. His group was at level one, but he was keen on seeing level two (he had been to level 1 several times). He was about to go back, as he had ventured quite far. I told him that I am going further to the top, so if he wants to come he can, and needn’t worry. After some thinking he decided to take the chance, and so we moved further.
The trek further was more challenging with large boulders and ice making a deadly combination to tread upon. One has to stay on the boulders as the reliability of the ice between them isn’t something one can count on. I am used to hopping between boulders but Sachin was finding it really difficult to do so. And one mistake, would not kill you, but certainly make things very uncomfortable for you! Slowly, we reached the ‘top’ as we had thought. We were high; at about 15000 feet. It was very cold and quite windy. The view from there was exhilarating. You must see it to know what I am talking about. This travelogue and the pictures together can’t do justice to it. But on reaching the top, I realized that it really wasn’t the top, and there was more to climb behind this ‘top’ which couldn’t be seen from the Phase 2 gondola station. It started snowing as well, and owing to limited time, and the fact that it wouldn’t be fair to ask Sachin to descend by himself, we took a lot of pictures and started descending.
The descent was terrible, especially after I picked up by haversack. My leg got caught in sinking snow several times, but in a while I was used to it and hardly reacted to sinking a couple of feet in the snow! I made it back to the gondola station, and only very few people were left as we were nearing the time when the last gondola leaves for Gulmarg. Jatinder was back from his skiing excursion, and we sipped on some hot tea before hopping on the Gondola which took us back to the phase 1 station. I must mention, that from the gondola, we could see behind, below, and then passing us, several expert skiers (the guys who take tourists like Jatinder on ski trips) skiing down from Phase 2 to Phase 1. It was really an amazing site and I made a video of it too, which you can see in the My Videos section.
We reached back to Gulmarg, and we were to head to Baramulla from Gulmarg, for probably the most interesting part of our journey. We hitched a ride with Sachin and his entourage in their tour bus till a small village called Narbal, from where we were to take a shared taxi for Baramulla. Baramulla is a gorgeous city in the Baramulla district in Jammu and Kashmir state in northern India. Its breathtaking natural beauty has been a constant source of inspiration for a number of religious priests and eminent scholars. The geographical terrain rivals that of New Zealand and many parts of Alaska. Baramulla (originally Varhamull) is the third largest city of the Jammu & Kashmir state after Srinagar, Jammu and Anantnag. Baramulla was founded by Raja Bhimsina in 2306 B.C. It is of the ancient towns and has acted as lifeline and gateway to the Kashmir Valley in pre-partioned India. In the 15th Century, Baramulla became important to Muslims, as the famous Muslim saint, Syed Janbaz Wali, who visited the valley along with his companions in 1421 AD chose Baramulla as the centre of his mission, and after death was buried here. His shrine attracts pilgrims from all over the Valley. There are other religious places of importance near Baramulla town namely Haji Murad Bukhari of Kreeri, Baba Shakuruddin of Watlab, Baba Rishi of Gulmarg etc.
Shri Guru Hargobind Ji visited Baramulla while being accompanied by the then Mughal Emperor Jahangir during his visit to Kashmir in 1620 AD. Another historical Gurdwara s located in Baramulla and was constructed to commemorate the visit of Shri Guru Hargobind Ji. Baramulla is a town where approx 12,000 Sikhs and Hindus live in relative peace with their 57,000 Muslim and 2000 Hindu companions.
In Baramulla there are very old Hindu Temples -such as “Devibal” (Goddess Shelputri) popularly known as “Shalay Hund” which is on the banks of River Jhelum and on the way to the famous Muslim Shrine “Janbaz sabh” near Khanpora. On the hilltop is a very famous Hindu temple popularly known as “Gosaintang”. It is believed that Lord Rama along with his brothers and wife Sita visited this place during his 14 years of exile. Gosaintang can be seen from “Chatti Padshahi” and from “Devibal”.
After this historical perspective, let me also add the Baramulla is also one of the very sensitive areas of Kashmir, where India and especially the Indian Army aren’t liked much. It was a militant hotbed till a few years back. We were to visit Baramulla to meet my friend Gaurav who is with the army, and has been stationed there for a couple of years. Being guests of the army is a nice thing to do, but not quite in Baramulla. Anyhow, we alighted from the tour bus and waited with some locals for some sort of transport for Baramulla. The locals were very excited to see a few alien looking people roaming on the streets. I spoke with many of them and even clicked a few pictures with them. One realizes that the locals from the villages are so much friendlier than their city counterparts. Perhaps it is because their minds haven’t been poisoned against us. Finally, we got on a shared taxi to Baramulla. Gaurav had arranged for someone to pick us up from the main junction in town.
During the journey I met a gentleman named Sameer. He seemed a very well groomed person, and once our conversations began, I found out that he was a highly educated businessman from Baramulla. He was very young though…may be in his late 20s. I spoke a lot with him about the socio-political scenario in Kashmir and gathered his thoughts. He was extremely well aware and all his statements were factually accurate. He argued that most educated Kashmiri’s realize that we are much better off with India, than Pakistan, and the fact that the idea of an independent Kashmir is just a political ploy with no future. I did mention the point that you shouldn’t be with India because we are better than Pakistan, but because you and Kashmir is India and will always be. He just nodded, perhaps wanting to say something, but due to the fact that we were in a shared cab, didn’t. He wanted us to come over to his house tomorrow evening and have dinner with them. He was very keen, and we exchanged numbers. We promised him that we will try. Sameer also recommended that if we were feeling very adventurous, we could try and visit the Bangus valley, in Kupwara.
We reached Baramulla and it was quite late, too late for comfort to be in Baramulla. While waiting for our pickup, we interacted with a Kashmiri Sikh, and he told us that there were protests in Baramulla this morning, so the atmosphere isn’t at its best. Our pickup arrived, and it turned out to be an armoured car of the Army. We got in and were greeted by 8 troopers from the infantry. We passed through the old town where the atmosphere towards us was exceedingly hostile. We reached Gaurav’s camp, which is next to the Jhelum river, slightly on the outskirts of the town in about 20 minutes. Gaurav was there to greet us, and the air smelt lovely. It was cool, and the picturesque backdrop of the Jhelum made it a perfect setting for a lovely camp (not really for an Army camp!). We cramped into Gaurav’s room and had some well deserved dinner.
I spent a lot of time talking to him. Gaurav is an exceptional officer, very knowledgeable and humane. I am not saying this because he is my friend. I spoke a lot to him about his take on the violence, militancy, opinion of Kashmiri’s etc. He said something similar to what Sameer did, mentioning that most of the educated people are quite supportive, and that most of the rural folk of Kashmir and very indifferent to the whole separatist ideology. The troublemakers he said, were some older people from the towns (especially Sopore, Baramulla, Anantnag), who are very radical and won’t change their views for anything. I must add that Gaurav takes the initiative to interact with various religious leaders from the town and presents the Army’s opinion and plan for better harmony. He also interacts with school and college going youth and tries to clear many of the misconceptions that have been ingrained into them though mindless propaganda. The next day, Gaurav had planned a lunch for us with some other officers at a nearby botanical garden that houses a nice restaurant, owned by a Kashmiri businessman, who knows Gaurav and the other guys well.
The morning was gorgeous, and I was up early look at the Jhelum wind its way into enemy land. We had a nice breakfast and just strolled around the camp area. We made our way to the garden for lunch at around noon. Gaurav was in his uniform, so he had his escort party with him. We walked to the garden, and each Kashmiri who crossed us greeted Gaurav personally. We reached the garden and Gaurav’s friends, who were two other officers in Baramulla joined us soon. The owner was also present and we sat and chatted for a long time. The owner also owned a stone crushing business, and was a rich guy. In my interactions with him, when the other folks weren’t around, his talks reemphasized the fact that most educated Kashmiris aren’t anti-India or anti-army. He said that these officers are such nice people, who and why would someone not be good to them. We had lots of food and left. The owner refused to give us a bill, and Gaurav insisted on one. He did pay for the food in the end. Later the owner also mentioned another incident where his relative (who stays in PoK) had mentioned that if a uniformed army officer from Pakistan visits his store, they NEVER pay.
Gaurav explained to me that most youth, as we know, are misguided. He told me that in his interactions with the youth, he is able to convince and clarify to them that the army is genuinely there to protect them. Gaurav later showed me a small booklet/code of conduct that each officer has signed by the General of India. The first point written there was remember, in Kashmir or anywhere in this country, you are dealing with your own people. Never forget that. This is what I call the spirit of the Indian Army. We spent the remaining day talking and I did a lot of night photography that night. When I stepped out of the camp at night with my camera, two armed guards escorted me everywhere! It was a weird feeling; hard to describe. Tomorrow morning we planned to visit Wullar Lake in Sopore district, which is Asia’s largest fresh water lake.
The next morning the owner of that Kashmiri restaurant in the park dropped us at the taxi stand from where we got a taxi to Sopore. Sopore is probably the most hostile and restive region in Kashmir, where one can genuinely feel unwelcome. It is also the hometown of separatist leader Geelani. To go to Wullar lake, one must first go to Sopore, take another taxi for Bandipore from which one must alight at a village called Watlab. We reached Sopore and took a taxi for Bandipore. This was really a great experience, as every moment one could feel hostile eyes prying upon you. Not that people would say anything or would be rude, but for example, I did not discuss any politics with any one in Sopore! We alighted at Watlab. The weather was hazy, but we could see the magnificent Wullar lake in the backdrop of the village. One has to walk nearly 2 km to get to the lake, and we passed through Watlab village and a school. We became the subject of a lot of attention and commotion as everyone wanted to see us. The school virtually stopped. I had a short chat with one of the teachers….he was a very warm gentleman. I also interacted with a few other locals, who were exceptionally warm people. The kids through were pretty scared of us (perhaps it was Jatinder’s mammoth body!), but a few reluctantly agreed to pose for some pictures. A major difference between Kashmir and Ladakh is that in Ladakh everyone wants to pose for pictures. We continued towards the lake and reached an army/navy check post. I introduced myself and soon passed the post. We were standing just next to the lake. It is almost like a sea, humungous. It isn’t very clean, or at least doesn’t appear very clean due to the weeds and stuff. There wasn’t much of human pollution though.
There are a couple of fishing villages next to the lake, a little below where we were standing. We decided to go down to at least one of them. We were a little higher, may be thirty feet above the village and there was some sort of a folk celebration going on with women singing and dancing. It is very important to realize here that as soon as you get out of the towns, like Sopore, Baramulla, Srinagar etc., the women in the villages are quite open, dressed without any hijaab etc. And one can even talk to them. We were looking at their celebrations when they noticed us and suddenly the whole village was looking at us and murmuring amongst themselves. Then a bearded gentleman said hello to us from down there and invited us down, so we descended to the village. His name was Ashraf. To my surprise, the man was extremely hospitable and inquired with us about who we were, and where we were from. He said it was extremely rare to see tourists come to Wullar, and especially to their village. Their village was called Bangladesh! I asked him why, to which he explained something in his broken Urdu that it had got something to do with the day Bangladesh was liberated from West Pakistan.
He then explained that the women were preparing for a girls marriage. We had tea with them and spoke about politics . They were quite good, and pro-India if I could say. He was mentioning that Wullar lake should be developed as a tourist spot, so that they get a chance to prosper, like the people from in and around Dal lake. Most of them were fishermen, and relied on the lake for their livelihood. I asked him if I could click a picture of the women, to which he said sure! I was surprised again…he told the women that I want to click to which most of them ran away/blushed. I managed to click one though with a few of them, my only picture of women in Kashmir. We exchanged numbers and he walked us to the check post. I clicked a few pictures with the soldiers there and made our way back to Watlab.
Now we were faced with a problem. There were no buses to Sopore. We had to rely on something coming from Bandipore and heading to Sopore. The problem was that all shared taxis were obviously full, and very few people get down at Watlab. We waited for a long time, but to no avail. Finally I stopped a truck! I told the driver that we needed to get to Sopore. He accommodated us in his truck. Now, imagine this, we are roaming around hitchhiking between Bandipore and Sopore. The guy was very nice, and had another guy with him. We chatted, but I stayed away from political talk. He dropped us at Sopore, in front of JKLF’s Sopore office with a picture of Yasin Malik on it! On the other hand, he simply refused to take any money, and I genuinely tried very hard to pay him. We were subject of a lot of attention there. I went to a shop for some water, and witnessed the first rude Kashmiri man there. I don’t blame him. We had to wait for a shared bus for nearly 30 mins. Many curious people asked us where we wanted to go. These shared buses are those old Tata 407s, with lots of Urdu written on it. There are very similar buses that are user in the villages of Pakistan. We reached Baramulla in another 45 mins, and the Kashmiri hotel owner came to pick us up. We were back at the camp. Gaurav was probably a little relieved to see us back in time and safe! Soon, it was dark and we had dinner before chatting like the last night!
At night, I spoke to Gaurav about the possibility of visiting the Kaman post on the LoC with Pakistan, in Uri district. Obviously, civilians can’t go there without permission, and though he might have been able to arrange for the permission, how would we go there? The great guy he is, he spoke to another Kashmiri friend of his (young chap) and asked him to lend his car to me! He then called up the regiment on duty in Uri and asked the Commanding Officer there to arrange for a pass for us (Jatinder and I) that we can collect at the first check post in Uri. I was thrilled…so thrilled that I didn’t sleep the whole night. This was going to be a rare….a very rare opportunity. At night, Gaurav showed me a SMS which he had received a few days back from one of his Kashmiri Muslim soldiers who was transferred. In the SMS the soldier thanked Gaurav for being an exemplary leader and for doing everything for the people of his state not withstanding their behaviour at time, and that he would always strive and fight against the enemies of India till his last breath. It was very moving.
The morning, Gaurav’s friend Rafiq came with his car. He was a bright young guy, may be in his early 20s. We took instructions from Gaurav, filled fuel and off we were! I could not believe it…I was driving from Baramulla to Uri in the heart of the Pir Panjal range, in a locals car, without him. The scenery was breathtaking and soon we exited Baramulla district and entered Uri, the gateway to Kashmir, as they call it. We crossed a number of check posts until we reached the first post in Uri, after which only permitted people, army and locals can go. There was board which showed the distance to Muzzafarabad, the capital of PoK! We got hold of our permits there, and again set rolling. The scenery was getting better, and we reached the small but historic town of Salamabad, 4 km from the LoC. The ‘Karvaan-e-Aman’ weekly bus, which operates between divided Kashmir, goes from here, as this is the last stop on our side. The next post was at the famous ‘Laal Pul’ or the red bridge. We crossed the bridge and a nice board that read “You are driving along the LoC” reminded us of the great privilege that we were enjoying. The Jhelum was flowing on our right, and it was now in PoK and so were the mountains on the other bank of the Jhelum. We reached the Kaman Post and were greeted by the soldiers there, who checked our permits and let us in. We parked the car and walked towards the LoC and there we were, standing in front of the gates/bridge where my nation ended and enemy lines begun.
There were various boards welcoming Kashmiris from either side on both sides, in Urdu and in Hindi. On the other side, there was a distance board which showed distances to Chakothi (first village in PoK), Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. It was a thrilling feeling, and we took some pictures of the bridge, the board and PoKs posts. I was looking through my camera lens towards the Paki soldiers, and the soldier was look at me through his binoculars, obviously curious about what the sudden movement was on our side. The Pakistani visitor area was a couple of hundred yards away and they don’t really get to come up to the LoC as we did. I must mention here that on their side, they have a ‘Azad Kashmir’ flag and a Pakistan flag hoisted. You remember I mentioned about Pakistan not claiming to annex Kashmir. Here you are. Why is there a Pakistani flag then? We all know why…
One can take pictures of the Pakistani side, but not of our own posts and soldiers. Later the officer there escorted us to the VIP lounge/view point a little higher. The PM, the CM, many ministers, and the top officers of the army visit this place, so there is a nice place made for them. Photography was not allowed there, but the view from there of LoC and PoK was spectacular. It is shielded by bullet proof glass and has instructions of what a person should do if fired upon from the Paki side! We had some tea and biscuits before we noticed that some Pakistanis had also come to see the LoC on the other side. Our officer told us that it is very rare to see someone on their side. We looked at PoK and the Jhelum for one last time, thanked the soldiers, wished them best luck in retrieving our lost ground, and left for Baramulla. The drive back was quicker as I didn’t stop much for pictures. We reached the camp in Baramulla and as soon as we alighted from the car, the tire punctured!
Anyhow, that was fixed and we thanked Rafiq for lending his car and making this extra ordinary trip possible. We had to depart for Srinagar in the evening itself, so after eating some snacks, we bade adieu to Gaurav and co. Rafiq and another of his friend dropped us to the shared taxi stand in Baramulla town. We took a shared taxi back to Srinagar and reached around dusk. Unfortunately, the place where we were staying earlier was full, and we had to scramble a little to find an alternate accommodation, which we finally did. We were to leave for Sonamarg tomorrow.
We left early, as usual for Sonamarg Jehangir chowk. For going to Sonamarg, one first has to take a shared taxi to a village called Kangan, and take another one from there to Sonamarg. Sonamarg is towards the northern end of the Kashmir valley, and as you cross it and pass the Zoji La, you enter into Kargil region. The drive to Kangan was allright, bearable, After we changed taxis at Kangan, the ascent increased substantially, and in no time we were driving between freshly cut glaciers. It was very cold, the coldest we had witnessed so far. Plus, the taxi was very crowded, and another two guys somehow managed to jam inside, so I had one Kashmiri man sitting on my lap. He probably hadn’t taken a bath for a month or so, as most villagers do, but he was smiling…which kept me calm. We finally reached Sonamarg. It was very cold, and we were immediately accosted by numerous pony owners and guides. After shooing everyone away, we sat down for some breakfast at a restaurant and had some kababs and parathas. The parathas were crappy, ask Jatinder about them, but we managed to eat it all, knowing that we would need the energy.
Sonamarg is at an altitude of 3,000 metres above sea level, and is 87 km north-east of Srinagar. The drive to Sonamarg is though yet another spectacular facet of country side in Kashmir, this time in the Sindh Valley. It passes through deep rock-girt gorges, to open grassy meadow land and village-dotted slopes. Sonamarg, which means ‘meadow of gold’, has, as its backdrop, snowy mountains against a cerulean sky. The Sindh (Indus or Sindhu) meanders along here and abounds with trout and mahseer, snow trout can be caught in the main river. Ponies can be hired for the trip up to Thajiwas glacier a major attraction during the summer months.
The climate of Sonamarg is very bracing; but the rainfall is frequent though not heavy, except for two or three days at a time in July and August with fine spell in between. From Sonamarg, trekking routes lead to the Himalayan lakes of Vishansar (4084 msl), Krishnasar (3810 msl) and Gangabal (3658 msl and on my hit list). Other lakes in the region are Gadsar, stocked with snowtrout and Satsar, glacier-fed and surrounded by banks of alpine flowers. A close by excursion is to Baltal, 15 km north of Sonamarg. This little valley lies at the foot of the Zoji la, only a day’s journey away from the sacred cave of Amarnath. Trekkers can also reach the starkly splendid roof-top of the world – Leh, by crossing over the Zoji La pass.
The main point of attraction at Sonamarg, is the trek to Thajiwas glacier. Not everyone goes to the real glacier, but there are many interesting spots along the way, with enough snow to content most! We of course, would definitely head to the glacier. We picked up some gloves and a couple of overcoats, as there is approximated 6-8 feet snow at the glacier. We also hired a guide, who would accompany us to the glacier.
The initial part of the hike is casual, and we were walking on grass. The views were stunning of course. It was warm with the coats on, and we were getting a little impatient. I about half an hour, we got the first views of the glaicer at a distance. In about an hour, we were at the area which had lots of tourists frolicking in the snow. We bypassed that area and crossed a stream, and were now hiking on snow. We could see that it was another hour at least, to reach the heart of the glacier. The snow was soft, and there were crevasses at a few places that we needed to be wary of. A couple of times, Jatinder’s foot went straight it, but after a few times, he was cool with it! The beauty was haunting. We were by ourselves, as the views of the others vanished in the horizon.
The last part was a little tricky and slippery. I had better boots, and was able to manage well. Jatinder slipped a few times and needed to be very cautious, as there was a stream on one side, and a slip to bad would take one straight in it. We reached what we can call the heart of the glacier. We spotted a small avalanche on our right, which reminded us not to venture any further. We spent some time there, looking around, partly unable to comprehend the location. I did a lot of photography here, and my ‘best pic featuring me’ was clicked by Jatinder here! We explored the area a little bit, played in the snow and then started or journey back. On the way back, I insisted that we go a little higher towards the mountain on our left. We went a little higher and then we sledged down (without a sledge) on our backs. It was a lot of fun, and we finally reached the same place where all the tourists gather. This whole excursion was 4 hours up to this point, so we were quite tired. We freshened up and went back to Sonamarg village. We had tea with our guide, paid him and bid him adieu. It was quite late (by Sonamarg standards), and the last taxi was the one we managed to get. All the other tourists who were still here would be staying at Sonamarg, or had their own taxis.
We reached Srinagar, via Kangan and Ganderbal in the night. We had some dinner, from Mughal Bakery and settled into our room to watch some IPL match. I was betting on Chennai (which of course won later). The next morning we were to leave for our final destination of the trip, Pahalgam. We had saved the best for the last, and we weren’t disappointed! We were going to stay at Pahalgam for a night, so we could leave a little late tomorrow morning, so we decided to visit the Shankaracharya temple in Srinagar before in the morning.
The next morning, we went to the temple as soon as it opened, 9 am I think. Jatinder was not keen on seeing, to I went upstairs. Photography isn’t allowed so one has to deposit the camera at the entrance. There is a lot of security there. Strange huh, Hazrat Bal has no nearly no security and I was taking photos where ever I wanted inside it, but this place was like a barrack! Says a lot about the religion of peace, and its tolerance doesn’t it. Anyway, this temple is really significant. The Shankaracharya Temple, also known as the Jyesteshwara temple is located in Srinagar, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is located on the summit of the Takt- e-Suleiman hill overlooking Srinagar town. The temple dates back to 200 B.C.
The temple is said to have been built by Raja Gopadatya. At that time, the temple was named as ‘Gopadari’, after the name of the King. It is believed that Shankracharya, the great philosopher, lived here during his trip to Kashmir. The legend left the place centuries ago, ever since, the temple came to be known as Shankaracharya Temple. The structure of the temple boasts about the architectural style of those times. However, many additions and changes have been made to the original structure. Erected on a high octagonal platform, the temple can be reached by a flight of steps. The fencing walls of the steps have some inscriptions on them. Inside the temple, there is a Persian inscription that dates back to period of Shahjahan.
The main shrine is in the shape of a circular chamber and provides a breathtaking view of the valley. After numerous repairs, the ceiling of the main chamber appears to be modern in its approach. Shankaracharya Mandir is regarded as the oldest temple in the valley of Kashmir. Throughout its life, the temple has seen many repair and renovation works. The first work of renovation is considered to have taken place during the reign of Lalitaditya. When the temple got damaged in an earthquake, the second repairs were done by Zain-ul-Abideen, under the rule of Sheikh Mohi-ud-Din. The stone steps that lead to the main shrine, are known to be built by Maharaja Gulab Singh. In 1925, the temple was electrified.
After leaving from the temple, we made our way to Batamaloo and took a shared taxi for Anantnag. On our way, we passed Pampore, Avantipur and a few other villages. Just a quick mention here; of the many attempts that regions with an Islamic majority over the world undertake to kill/negate everything that is pre/non Islamic. Since the name Anantnag is a clear reference to Lord Shiva, the radical locals refer to it as Islamabad and not Anantnag. This was the worst thing I came across in Kashmir, and for a moment felt like a radical Indian/Hindustani in an enemy land. I quickly quelled those thoughts and at Anantnag, we changed taxis and boarded one for Pahalgam. There we two Kashmiri men with us on the rear seat. As the journey progressed and I started my conversation with them, they came across as very well informed people. In some time, two informed me that they worked for Doordarshan (DD Kashir) and were going to Pahalgam for some work. They were from the production side of things, so seemed to me that there might be some program that was going to be shot there. Both of them were very pleasant and very keen to visit Bombay.
The drive is very beautiful, along the Lidder river. There is a checkpoint where tourists need to register, but since tourists never use this sort of local transport, we didn’t even stop there! We reached Pahalgam, and it was drizzling. As usual, we were accosted by lot of people offering accommodation, pony rides, guides etc. After managing to survive the assault, we checked out some rooms. Our only criteria were that there should be a TV and it should have Ten Sports, as tonight was the Champions League final. One guy, Afzal Bhatt kept insisting we come to his guest house. We did go all the way to his place (Zabrina guest house). It was like an extension of his own house, a small dingy place. But the TV worked and it had Ten sports. It was clean and the guy was really nice. We took the room and immediately left to explore nearby areas.
It was cold and it was drizzling. I was in shorts and Jatinder was in sleeveless. I had my rain poncho on, which looks quite funny to be honest. We were the subject of a lot of attention throughout, primarily due to our attire. We were heading to the Betaab valley, which is supposed to be a very scenic locale. Why it is called so, you will know soon. The hike till the valley was gorgeous, and the weather made it even better. Instead of following the main route, we used a trail that villagers used, and passed through some small villages. Again, it was a lot of fun as almost everyone was on their door to see us! Eventually, we reached the Betaab valley and it was a scene straight out of a Bollywood love song. The famous film Betaab, starring Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh was filmed here, and the house (which the people who have seen the film will remember as a dream house) is located here.
As I mentioned, the location was amazing. We did some photography alongside the river and then explored the area. There were many other tourists as well, and much to my annoyance too many Lays and Kurkure eating tourists. There was also a group of boys who had come in a bus. We interacted with them, and they turned out to be students from other parts of Kashmir and a few from Punjab and Jammu who had come to see the place. The rain was increasing, and everyone was leaving. We were the only ones on foot. The students offered to drop us to Pahalgam in their bus, which was too comfortable an option to resist. We had a lot of fun in the bus, and even sang some Punjabi songs! Most students were from Badgam and Srinagar. Some were from Pathankot, Punjab. We got off near our lodge and wished them luck.
We were glad to be in the warmth of the room. The weather was deteriorating. Afzal Bhatt served us some Kahwa (Kashmiri Tea) and some snacks. We ordered for lots of dinner, and I ordered for lots of kababs. We just rested for some time, and it was night before we knew it. There were thunderstorms now, lots of lighting and heavy rain. It was a great setting to be with your beloved, but alas I was with Jatinder! Afzal served us dinner and we ate it. The food was good, but my kababs were full of cinnamon and pepper, which made it taste awful. Later, after dinner, while we were waiting for it to be midnight (for the football match), I has a long chat with Afzal. He was an extremely knowledgeable person, not educated though. He was also very patriotic and gave me his take on the Kashmir issue. He was of the opinion that he and most other in this area have never even thought of accepting Pakistan. He said that he was very proud to be Indian, and narrated a few incidents where his pride hadn’t gone too well with some others.
He also narrated stories about youth from this area going across the LoC to receive arms and training. On the issue of Azaadi, he was very clear. He said that Kashmir has got nothing of its own. All the food, the money, the infrastructure is from India. What will Kashmir achieve after separating from India? He also said that people in the Pahalgam area were more pro-India as compared to the remaining areas of the valley. Another interesting thing he said was that the Kashmiri pandits, who left the valley, were never troubled or forced to leave by any local. He said there were sporadic incidents of militants targeting them, but added that the average Kashmiri Muslim never wanted them to leave. He said that since most of them were learned people, they moved to the cities in search of opportunities. We chatted for at least 2 hours before he left and it was time for the game.
I was half asleep during the match and it was quite cold. Jatinder occasionally told me something about the game and that is actually when I looked at the screen. I don’t know when I slept, but we woke up at 6 am or so. The weather was still cold and wet, and we decided against going on another 3 hour trek (the room was just too cozy to leave for once). We woke up at around 9 am and freshened up. The weather had cleared a little. We had our breakfast, cleared our bills with Afzal and moved out. On our way out, a cottage to our right seemed familiar. Upon investigation, we realized that it was the cottage from the film Bobby!
We went back to the taxi stand through the market and took a taxi for Anantnag. On our way to Anantnag, I decided that I will alight at a small village and make my way to Mattan (Martand). Jatinder would continue to Srinagar and make arrangements for our stay. It is one of the last bastions of Hindus and Sikhs and Kashmir. It also houses a very old sun temple. There is also a Gurudwara within the precincts of the temple complex. I roamed around at the temple and then took a small mini bus to Anantnag. The weather was bad again, and it was raining. At Anantnag, I had to make my way to the taxi stand through the rain. Luckily for me there was a taxi which just needed one passenger to complete the 8 that are required. So we moved pretty quickly. I had also planned to alight at Avantipur on our way to Srinagar. But due to the rain, I decided against it. The gentleman with me was another of those ‘educated’ men that I got a chance to meet with. He turned out to be a businessman, with interests in the telecom sector. His car was at a garage on the way to Srinagar, and so he was travelling in the taxi. We spoke quite a bit, and he had been to Bombay and Delhi.
He offered a ride in his car instead of the taxi, and said he would drop me at Dal Gate, to which I agreed. There was a lot of traffic at the Badami Bagh cantonment area and we finally managed to get to Dal. He dropped me and we exchanged contact number before he drove away. Jatinder was there, but there was no space in the hotel, and he wasn’t able to find any other one with empty rooms either. After nearly an hour, we found one close by and moved in. In the afternoon, we went to the ever troubled area of Lal Chowk and Jahangir Chowk in the old town. This is a dangerous area, and you can even feel the hostility in people sometimes. Every second day there is some riot, firing or attack here. But it really is the heart of Srinagar, and we weren’t prepared to miss it. We had made friends with some local policemen (JKP) who patrol Lal Chowk. Ghulam was one of them and we met him there. We had lunch, and then some tea. I bought some dry fruits from a Sikh’s store there and wanted to buy a waist coat for my Pathanis. Ghulam sent one of his friends with me to Batamaloo, where there were a few stores that stocked waist coasts. We found a good deal and then returned to our hotel. Jatinder’s shoe had torn, and he had a tough time managing with it. We picked up lots of stuff to eat from Mughal Bakery and rested for some time. We packed our bags and stuff, and asked Mohammad to come in the morning to pick us up from the hotel for the airport.
Mohammad was there on time, as usual and we reached the airport in time. Rickshaws cannot go up to the airport, so either you walk a kilometer, or you have to board an airport coach that shuttles between the two points. The flight was smooth and we were in Bombay in 5 hours, as compared to 38 hours that it took us to reach Srinagar, Well worth the money. With this another really epic trip came to an end. We did a lot more than what people do, and can do in Kashmir and enjoyed each moment thoroughly. Gaurav’s help that allowed us to go to the LoC in Uri was probably the highlight of the trip. Each one of us must visit Kashmir, sooner rather than later. The people overall are very friendly to tourists, and those of you who are still unsure, it is just that certain areas can be avoided. As I finish this travelogue, I am simultaneously reading news about 3 protestors being killed in Kashmir and two CRPF posts being attacked. Baramulla, Sopore, Anantnag are synonymous with this stuff, but luckily for us, it was largely peaceful during our trip.
I do not know what will happen to this dispute in the future. All I know is that it is a very beautiful region, with beautiful people, till religion and politics is not discussed. I do hope that this region becomes more stable, and also would like to see immediate segregation of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Anyhow, a common man can only hope and wish that some things happen, and so we all wish. With this, I have covered almost all the parts of J&K, with the exception of Gurez and Zanskar, which will be my penultimate trip to the region, sometime soon. I hope you enjoyed the travelogue. Feel free to post/email me any questions or comments. Jai Hind.