A Journey to Paradise

By S. Raghul

My dream came true this year in the month of May when my dad told me that we were visiting Jammu and Kashmir. My joy knew no bounds and I was filled with excitement and curiosity. Even before my semester exams were over, I was ready and done with my packing. On the morning of 12th May 2014 we started from Chennai by Air India flight at 6 am and reached Jammu by 10 am.  I couldn’t believe that I had travelled almost the entire length of our country in a mere four-hour journey. We were greeted by army jawans lined up, guarding the exits of our flight. As soon as we descended on the soils of Jammu and Kashmir, I could smell the beauty of the state.

A DIVINE START:

We hired a taxi to cover the 40 km distance from Jammu airport to Katra , a small town in the foothills of the Trikuta Mountains, where the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi is located. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city. What took me by surprise was a display board at the entrance of a bank which read:

NO ARMS AND AMMUNITIONS ALLOWED INSIDE. PLEASE DEPOSIT WITH SECURITY”.

This reminded me of the display boards in our state:

NO FOOD ITEMS ALLOWED INSIDE”.

Ironically people there give as equal importance to arms and ammunitions as we give to food.

The next day, we started trekking to have a darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi seated atop the great Himalayas. The path solely consisted of mountainous slopes and caves, bordered by shouting stones (boulders that slide off from the slides on rainy days). It was a really tiring journey as it took us nearly seven hours to cover 13 kilometers uphill. After reaching the bhavan(that is, the temple), we had a great darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi amidst the loud chants of “Maa Vaishno Deviki Jai “. After having lunch at the bhavan, we prepared ourselves for the return journey. During the return, we experienced ‘ice rain’ with heavy fog, reducing the visibility to less than 2 meters. The rain made the breeze very chilly and so it was difficult to walk. Finally we reached Katra at 8:30 pm and just fell to our beds in our hotel, even unable to stand.

 SRINAGAR- GATEWAY TO PARADISE:

The next morning, we undertook a 300 km journey from Jammu to Srinagar . One of the highlights of the journey was the Jawahar Tunnel. It spanned 3.7 kilometers and throughout the ride, it was totally dark except for the headlights of our car. We could see army men in every nook and corner guarding the roads, holding guns and looking in all the directions. The path also has many cricket bat companies which manufacture the famous Kashmiri willow bats used by many of the international cricket players.

Around 7 pm, we reached Dal Lake in Srinagar and were welcomed by the gleaming lights of the several thousand house boats dotting the waters of Dal Lake. We had arranged for a night stay in the house boat which had all amenities including Wi-Fi, television with dish TV, refrigerator, bathrooms with heaters and bathtubs, garden and two bedrooms. Above all this, it was in the middle of the almost frozen Dal Lake, with the temperature dipping to sub zero conditions.

dal lake

houseboat

The next day we went to Pahalgam also called as the ‘Mini Switzerland’. We enjoyed the horse ride which took us deep into the mountainous forests. Later we proceeded to Gulmarg , a hill station where we were taken for a “Gondola ride”(a French masterpiece rope car). It is regarded as the world’s highest ropeway (14000 feet) in the icy mountains. As we alighted from the Gondola at the peak of Gulmarg we were astonished by the snowfall with the temperature at -2 degree Celsius .We walked on the snow and played with it by throwing snow balls at each other. The cold was biting in spite of the heavy boots and jackets which we had hired. There were several rides at the peak like sledging, ice skating etc. We returned to Srinagar and halted there for the night.

miniswitzerland

gulmarg

JOURNEY TO LADAKH-EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED:

The next day at 3 am, we started for our ultimate destination, Leh-Ladakh. At Zozilla pass (11 575 feet), the view was mesmerizing.

zozilla pass

Lines of cars and trucks moved, on wet roads with ice and snow piled up on both sides of the slippery road. En route we visited the Kargil War Memorial to pay tribute to the martyrs who had laid down their lives for the national cause during Kargil war in 1999. A sense of pride filled me as I walked past the flaying Indian tri-colours. All through the trip we had to forgo food, as South Indian foods like Idli and Dosa were Greek and Latin in those lands. That night we halted at Kargil and I couldn’t believe that we were staying on the soil which holds rich legacy.

The next day, as we neared Ladakh we were travelling on the roads which are shown in most of the car and bike advertisements.  We passed by the Magnetic Hill which automatically pulls your car and lessens your speed when you cross that hill because of the presence of excessive magnetic minerals inside the hill. We were at an altitude of 11562 feet and Leh being a cold desert, one can expect temperatures to dip below 0 degree Celsius as a routine.

magnetichill

Later, we made a dash for the Pangong Lake which was shown in the climax of the movie “3 idiots”. The lake becomes frozen between the months of September-January.  When we crossed the Changla pass ( 17 590 feet), we saw a sign board saying:

PLEASE DO NOT HALT HERE FOR MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES. OXYGEN LEVELS CRITICALLY LOW“.

We too could feel dizziness in just a couple of minutes and we hurried back to our car. My eyes had become allergic to white colour as I had gazed at never ending cover of snow till the horizon of my eyes.

changla pass The next day we went to Nubra valley via the Khardungla pass (17600 feet) which holds the distinction of being the world’s highest motorable road. The valley was very deserted with no trace of human habitat. Chill ran down our spines when our driver informed that the Pakistan LOC was just 8kms from the spot and added in a lighter note that we may end up unknowingly venturing into the neighbouring country. We stayed in a tent house that night and it was really adventurous.

tent house nubra valley

khardungla pass

THE HAPPY END:

At last, we came back to Leh and took our flight back to Chennai via Delhi. We breathed a sigh of relief as we mounted our seat belts on the flight. As the flight took off, we could see ourselves leaving back the icy peaks of Himalayas glistening with pride in the glowing sunlight. We came back home with unforgettable memories, leaving traces of our footsteps on the soils of the paradise-JAMMU AND KASHMIR.

aerial view of himalayas

By S. Raghul

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