India · 11 Days · 27 Moments · May 2015

The Kashmir Chronicles

25 May 2015

Waking up on the day brought a variety of spirits; some high upon wanting to reunite with their beloved homes and the others dampened on the idea of leaving behind such a gorgeous region (I belonged to the latter). Boarding the flight from Leh airport at 11 am, we bade our farewells to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, for it had given us plentiful to remember. Jammu & Kashmir- a state that was terrorised yet daunting, conflicted yet kind, sinister yet beautiful, and above all- glorious in its very essence. I was going to be missed.

24 May 2015

Upon reaching, we opted for a simpler kind of rafting where we would just row our rafts in the calm tracts of River Indus and enjoy the view. We drove to our starting point, put on the gears and we're handed an oar each. As we rowed down Indus, the scene surrounding us was marvelous. I could make out how the river had asserted its course after centuries of eroding this terrain, forming reddish brown cliff-like structures that flanked us on both the sides. We rowed until we neared the bank and had a meek lunch in a nearby cafe. Next, we drove to the hotel and even if we were hardly drenched while rafting, we kids took our turns showering and ordered room service as we watched movies while the adults went to the local market to shop. After everyone was done eating we resorted to lounging in the game room for the last night till it was dinner time.
Day 10: The Conflux of Indus & Zanskar On the very last day, even though everyone wanted to swim and rest, none of us could resist the idea of going rafting in river Indus. Acting upon the idea, we headed out to the point where Zanskar met Indus. However the heavens didn't seem to pleased with our plans and decided to throw in violent gusts of wind with a pinch of dust storm to taste. Huddled up in the car, we debated on whether it was advisable to continue- what if our raft flipped over? We finally decided to wait for the storm to subside before going in for continuing. After half an hour with the dust storm having no intentions to subside, and in fact, showing slight hints of rain, we decided to head home. And as if the weather were taunting us, the skies cleared out in a matter of minutes and sun shone bright. With frustrated groans and bubbling excitement we returned to the conflux of Indus and Zanskar.

23 May 2015

Soon after devouring the lake in all its glory with my eyes, we proceeded to the next step- taking pictures of course. All of us took our turns with getting photos taken, and of course we tried to click pictures of the lake alone but alas, as afore mentioned- the attempts were unjust. Later we took a walk along the bank of the lake, collecting novelty stones and making them bounce multiple times on the surface, absorbing the coolness that enveloped us, and memorising it's beauty. Soon enough, the wind picked speed and it became too cold to hang outside. From the numerous enclosed shacks that lined the parking area, we chose one that said '3 idiots stall' and ordered the obvious - Maggie. With lunch out of the way, we drove back to Leh and mind you, this journey was rather cheerful - considering maybe it was our last one from amidst the mountains for a long time to come.
I truly believe that no picture or the best of words would do any justice to the the magnificence of the lake. But for the benefit of memory and a fond recollection in the years to come more than anything, I feel the need to paint a word picture. Out in front me, the lake sprawled out in all its glory, and rippled- putting on display it's magnificent band of transforming colours. It transcended from a translucent white at the banks, to a lighter part of mossy green, to turquoise blue, to a royal violet and into a dark indigo- all the while being highlighted with random light blue streaks of water- where it finally ended into rising red-tinged mountains that seemed to encircle the lake.
Day 9: Hello Phangong We dressed up for a cooler weather as we headed for the Phangong Lake - thick pants, double T-shirts and warm coats only to strip away two layers in the car. We had expected tbe journey to be arduous and boring, but the view sustained us. Enveloping us from both the sides were barren mountains and chocolaty brown terrain standing up against an electric blue sky punctuated with soft white clouds. What was fascinating was how someone's the rocks of the terrain changed colour to a dull purple, shocking yellow, or a muddy royal green at times. We happened to pass through the Changla Pass which was not nearly as high as Khardungla Pass but freezing cold nonetheless. After taking a short break there, we drove on towards Phangong. Upon arrival, 2°C and strong gusts of wind greeted us as we disembarked and headed towards the Lake. It's breathtaking beauty swept me off my feet and I just stood at the bank- jaw dropped.

22 May 2015

Day 8: Retracing Routes The next day's journey was rather sullen if you asked me. We retraced the route we had taken the day before and halted quite a few times at random snow laden stops owing to the unmanaged traffic. We mostly slept, talked or rocked uncomfortably in our seats- wishing the seven hours would get over soon. And once it was, we made a beeline for the rooms to rest for the evening.
When at home, drawing out constellations in the sky was rather easy as the bright big 'dots' were the only ones visible. But here, my there were infinite stars- ranging from normal sized glowing spots to miniscule dots tinier then pixels. And they were EVERYWHERE, not the slightest of of area void of illumination. I was encaptivated by the heavens so graciously showcasing their pure beauty to me. I sat there mesmerised until my cousin so kindly reminded me that such profound dark was dangerous and that we should preferably be asleep. And so we slept- making this night one of the beat ones I have ever had.

21 May 2015

After a round mandatory sightseeing around the bouts of Numbra Valley, we drove to our campsite then, hoping against odds for our tents to be luxurious. Much to our dismay, they turned out to be fairly plain, save the campsite. That was rather beautiful. With the Ladakh range visible beyond the tents placed on a higher level and the grass freshly laden with dew, we enjoyed our evening lounging in the sun and chatting. As night fell and we had dinner to our fill, we huddled inside our respective tents for the cold was too harsh. We were advised to get tucked into bed before 10pm as the electricity would be cut-off then. We would have agreed if not for the stars at shone bright and in millions at 16,000ft above sea level. Once it was past 11, me and my cousin sneaked out with torches, sat just outside our tents, craned our neck upwards and switched the light sources off. We were plunged in absolute darkness except for that of the magnificent moon and the scintillating stars.
When we finally reached Numbra Valley, we could see that it was an enormous stretch of flatland covered for the most part in white sand dunes, unevenly distributed grass patches, surrounded by a protective ring of mountains from all four sides and was surprisingly cut across by a narrow blue stream. The main attraction here were the camel rides allowed you to explore the barren expanse of Numbra Valley. We decided to ride the double-humped camels that were exclusive of this region. A half an hour ride cost us about ₹500 per person but let me tell you, it wasn't worth a penny. It was like any other camel ride you would take in any other desert with a highly boring view. To add to that, many camels were untrained and tried to lick the passengers or nudge their faces into the legs of passengers riding on camels in front of them. After a disappointing camel ride, we resorted to relaxing by dipping our feet in the cool water of the stream and clicking pictures.
Day 7: Numbra Valley Checking out from The Grand Himalayas at 7.30am, we settled into the car for yet another 7 hour journey to Numra Valley. The roads were quite exactly how they were on the journey to Leh and we continuously wobbled in our seats as we made our way snaking thought the cold desert. None of us were too excited about the journey as most of us struggled with the lack of oxygen, causing headaches and rise in blood pressure as we ascended. To reach Numbra Valley, we had to cross the Khardungla Pass, which was at a height of 18,380 ft above sea level and the HIGHEST MOTORABLE ROAD in the world! At the Khardungla Pass, we disembarked our vehicles and posed around to get pictures clicked and us children started climbing up adjacent glaciers, when we were reprimanded and reminded about how it was necessary to reach Numbra Valley on time. Getting a click with the Khardungla Pass sign post, we settled in the cars and started descending towards the valley.

20 May 2015

After having a light lunch, we drove to the Leh Palace...... Rather disappointed, we exited the Leh Palace to visit the Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist architectural structure comprising of a white spire-like structure ending in gold, mounted on a white dome which had intricate gold carving placed on top of a hexagonal base which was painted in various holy scenes from the religion of Buddhism. During the climb to Shanti Stupa, we encountered two monasteries, which we visited. We turned the revolving cylinders that symbolized paying respect, and quietly heard a monk's voice resonating as he sang softly and rhythmically beat his drum. Returning to the hotel after a day's worth of sightseeing at 6pm, we laid back and rested. Preferring an early dinner, we retired for the day.
My heart goes out to all those gallant men who fought in treacherous, hostile conditions, and laid down their lives for the protection of millions, for the sanctity of the nation, for a peaceful tomorrow. We proceeded to laying down flowers at the War Memorial in the memory of the late army men and went on to the adventure park. The four of us kids thoroughly enjoyed the mini versions of various army-training adventures such as Bermuda bridge, zip-lining, tunnel crawling, rope-swinging, flying fox, archery and sharp shooting.
Day 6: Leh Sightseeing Leh sightseeing was about as exciting as it sounds. This particular city is famous for its natural beauty and not the man-made architectures. Nevertheless, we started from the hotel at about 11pm with our first stop at The Hall of Fame. This place consisted of a museum up front, a war memorial behind and a considerably large adventure park for kids spread out on the west added on to by a decent cafe. The museum had on display, the topography of the entire Kashmir region, histories of all the wars India has fought, range of weapons through the ages, a wall of fame, the types of attires and living facilities the soldiers were granted and finally, a documentary about the Kargil War. The Hall of Fame radiated unmatched patriotic vibes that had us indulged in political discussions about what changed could have been made to avoid war; but of course, in vain.

19 May 2015

Day 5: Road to Leh Kargil had served as a stop on our greater journey to Leh. Visiting the Kargil War Memorial that fell in the way and clicking pictures from outside due to restrictions of time, we set off for another long drive to Leh. From Zojila pass to Kargil was a descent whereas the path to Leh was a climb. Surprisingly as we drove higher, the snowy peaks began to fade away being replaced by mountains a darker shade of desert sand. In the initial phase of transition, we witnessed a combination of white, mud brown and sandy brown. But as we proceeded further up, it began to become clearer why Leh, the roof of the world, was known as a cold desert. Not because it's geography was composed of a huge white flat sheet of ice that extended till the horizon, but because it was a desert in its true sense. Sand dunes, yellowish-brown peaks, skin-burning sun, but freezing cold air.
We continued to observe such surrounding for hours until we stopped at a viewpoint, copulation (sangam) of two rivers, river Zanskar and river Indus. It was beyond astounding, as the turquoise blue waters of Zanskar mingled with the muddy brown waters of Indus forming a completely new shade of blueish-grey and moving east. After snapping an appropriate amount of pictures, we halted at a monastery at Lamayuru, paid our respects, satisfied our hunger, and an hour later, reached the hotel. We checked into the Grand Himalayas (how ironic) by 4pm, which had a plush interior that bordered on a royalty effect. The rooms had a similar interior, where we kids kicked back and relaxed for the rest of the evening, while the adults went for a walk around the city.

18 May 2015

The biggest highlight of this route to Kargil is the Zojila Pass which happens to be at 12,000ft above sea level, one of the trickiest roads in the Himalayan Range, and if I might add, one of the narrowest. Our biggest quest on this entire road trip was having to overcome the one-way restrictions at this pass. And as we waited for about an hour for the various drivers to mutually settle things, a few cars finally decided to reverse so that we could pass, allowing them a clear road hitherto. The post-Zojila pass journey was quiet and beautiful and we reached Kargil at about 10pm.
Moving on from Sonmarg, we were halted for about 3 hours as they gate keepers were expecting a military convoy. After it finally passed, we embarked upon our 6 hour journey to Kargil. As we gained altitude, the view outside our car transformed. Jagged peaks stretching out across the horizon and glacial expanses covering our line of sight as far as it went, and we drove on the thin strips of grey that were barely visible on the huge mountains.The roads were narrow and allowed barely one vehicle to move over it safely. But on our way, we encountered many such moments where we were stuck with two vehicles on one path, both trying to cross the other as soon as it was possible. With the correct mixture of the driver's skill, muttering prayers and cursing the opposite vehicle, we managed to get across.
Day 4: Sonmarg and Kargil Checking out of Grand Mumtaz we drove to Sonmarg which fell on our way to Kargil. Having the knowledge that the roads to Kargil are not electrically illuminated, we decided to spend only about two hours in Sonmarg. We trekked up to a Glacier from the parking lot and blissfully ignored all those who tried to sell us Coffee, tea, and snow clothes and proceeded to slugging across the glacier. We were told that Salman Khan was shooting for his latest movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan which could be viewed from the top. As we made our way up on hard and slippery glacial ice, and had our legs sink into hidden gaps at certain places, we reached that point from where we could view the shooting. They had set up an apparent Indo-Pak border with the Indian flag waving in the wind and some fight scene was going on. After clicking pictures from our heightened position, we sledged down, made a cute little snowman and drank some extremely appeasing milky coffee in the rain.

17 May 2015

The road to Arru valley was a feast to the eyes. A right amount of green in the fields, foamy blue in the steams and ranging shades of blue and white that made up the mountains painted the perfect kind of landscape. The view built up such expectations, it would be right to say we were rather disappointed. The roads were muddy and lined with horse excretions. As we had had enough of horseback riding for one trip, we resorted to having 'lunch' at 4pm and driving back to where our own cars were stationed. We then proceeded back to our hotel at Srinagar.
Chandan Waadi up next, was a soft ice glacier that rather resembled snow but wasn't. It could be conquered with determination, a stick and the right sort of boots. After we hiked up to a certain height which wasn't quiet high enough, the heavens started to pour which made the ice very slippery. Climbing down became a painstakingly slippery task, where some of us ended up having hurt backsides and drenched attires. Quickly climbing into our Tavera, we proceeded to Arru Valley.
Day 3: Pahalgam A three hour drive and we were down to Pagalgam, which in my accordance is one of the most contributing reasons for Kashmir being titled as the 'Heaven on Earth'. On hiring a local taxi and cramming up inside, we drove to Betab Valley which is situated amidst a ring of snow-capped mountains. When we entered the gates, a huge garden sprawled before us, where a narrow bubbly stream split the landscape at various places and sported beautiful avenues with the earth covered in splendid white flowers. We walked around the entire place, taking in the beauty, observing, and clicking pictures for remembrance. After a while we found a spot where we could cross into the cold water if the river and rest on a small island of rocks in the middle of the stream. We then proceeded to our cars to drive to Chandan Waadi.

16 May 2015

As the tourists started to file out the peak became more peaceful. There was a serene white expanse and and snow-laden undulating plains expanding in front of us ending in the horizon lines with tall snow capped mountains and fluffy clouds. Such a scene demanded clicking of pictures after which we proceeded back to ground level and toured Gulmarg on horse back. It was an experience of a lifetime, as we dug our ankles into the horses' sides and raced through the beautiful city, enjoying the view and absorbing the gorgeousness that surrounded us. We were told of many films and music videos that had been shot there and at the end if our ride, we visited a Shiv Temple, to end the day on a religious note.
Day 2: After tediously trying on various snow suits and snow boots in a dingy store we started off for Gulmarg! Upon reaching there we were taken to the Cable Car station (locally called Gondola) on horseback. At the end of a painfully long queue we were rewarded with a breathtaking ride up to the Kongdoori mountain, a shoulder of nearby Afarwat Peak(13,800ft) and during our ascent we could see the greenery below us beautifully transit into glistening white snow. We were offered a number if activities that could be done there, one of which was skiing up to the LOC (line of control) standing behind the ski guy. But I can say we were feeling rather adventures at that particular moment and decided to trek up to the LOC, in the lack if proper oxygen. We started of as 5 people but only 3 of us made it to the top. But oh God if it wasn't rewarding, it felt as if we were standing on the top of the world. As a downward journey I preferred skiing while the others walked down.

15 May 2015

We called it a day after a Shikara ride through the Dal Lake. Unfailingly hardworking solo retailers could be seen rowing around the lake offering us drinks and food! As we proceeded to roaming around the floating market in our Shikaras, we observed an uncanny similarity to the canals of Venice. Here in the floating market, it would seem as if an entire colony had been established in the lake with floating shops, factories, vendors, houses, hotels, playgrounds and what not. The 2 hour ride was peaceful, nerve calming and totally worth it!🚣 We then checked into Hotel Grand Mumtaz, our abode for the forthcoming 3 nights.
Parimahal, built originally by the Mughals in the seventeenth century is an array of green fields dotted with colourful flowers and beautiful tunnels and arches that accentuate its beauty. It is an excellent work of architecture that overlooks the Dal Lake. Perfect if visited in the evening where a slight chill hangs in the atmosphere. Also, works well of you have some pretty selfies or display pictures to click! 😁 The Mughal Gardens up next, which are composed of a green expanse adorned with exotic flowers and resting tourists. Made up of three levels, where the spring water emanates from a tiny mosque like structure at the top, the garden observes a narrow canal that flows across all the levels of the garden. The fresh spring water at it's source is cool and refreshing where tourists flock to take a sip!💧
Day 1: Srinagar Journey begins, flew from Vadodara to Delhi with the flight on time and treated ourselves to Indian snacks outside the Delhi Arrival gate. Our eyes feasted on the gorgeous ariel view of Srinagar, God's heaven on earth! Heading off to the Mughal Gardens to begin the sightseeing for the day!