Wednesday, June 22, 2016

J&K Chapter - Jammu to Leh via Srinagar and Kargil

In the previous post I wrote about how to plan the trip to Leh. That post was written under the assumption that you have read or seen pictures about Leh and were interested to go there. This post and the next one focuses on the locations and routes, intended for those who want to know more about the places or the ones who would want a virtual tour on #GshnyTravels ;)

Indigo Airlines had an early departure and we landed in Delhi on time. Then we made our way to the nearest yellow line metro station in a taxi (was not aware of the airport link metro at that time). After brazing the weekday evening traffic at 40+ degrees weather and the overcrowded underground metro (which btw was amazing) and cramping 5 of us with our large bags on a tiny electric auto, we were at the pickup point on time. The bus however turned up 1.5hrs late (so much for our 2 weeks of tension about what if flight gets delayed). So long story short, we reached Jammu by 6am (Yay the trip officially started)

Our package started from Jammu and we had an innova to take us to our first location of the trip – Srinagar. The roads looked awesome so I asked our driver when we will reach Srinagar and he replied “das ghante” (I interpreted it as 10’oclock, of course it was just 6:30am and the distance was roughly 200 odd kilometres). We stopped at the Punjabi Rasoi for breakfast where we got clean restrooms to freshen up. Driver seemed pissed that we were taking a long time so when I asked him again he said – “saab, kam se kam das ghante lagenge, jam hota hai” (Sir, it will take at least 10hours, there will be jam). The roads were still good and there were quite a few tunnels too.
The roads exiting Jammu
The light at the end of the tunnel could be another tunnel ;)
And as he said it, we hit the narrow roads. The huge loaded trucks that were going in our direction and the huge empty trucks speeding in the opposite direction considerably slowed us down. The roads were decent but really bad at places. It was rocks on one side and river/cliff on the other side. However the view throughout was spectacular.
Dam on Chenab river

Chenab River in Jammu valley
We asked the driver to stop at some dhaba for lunch and the only choices we had there were – Omlette, Rice with Rajma or Roti with some grass curry (not actually a food blogger so can’t explain it better). Oh and hot malpuri for dessert. We tried all on a sharing basis and everything was yummy. The bill for full stomach was a total of INR 230 for 5 of us. The water here comes from the stream and we were assured it was clean and we can drink directly. Well, it was Himalayan water, so what the heck. It was cold and awesome :)

There is a long tunnel that separates Jammu from Kashmir. Jammu has bare mountains and rivers on its route and as you enter Kashmir you see greenery with the first look at the snow covered peaks. That is not the only difference. You spot the army trucks and fully armed army personnel almost every km the moment you enter the Kashmir Valley. I didn’t take pics of them, well firstly because National Security and second I was scared. (This was the road where army gets shot by unknown assailants). 

Titanic point - Not sure why its called so. We see the tip of the mountains in the background. That is why maybe?
Yeah, between all this we were stuck in jam for quite a while. So finally we reached Srinagar at around 6:30pm and our stay was booked at a boat house. A nice 2 BHK right in the middle of Dal Lake. The thing I didn’t like about it was that it was stationary and we had to rent a Shikara ride for INR 1500 but it was worth it. The sunset was around 8pm so we got a good 1hr ride during sunset and 1hr ride post sunset. The ride covers the floating market, Nehru Park and Mission Kashmir point (one with flower boats). There is a mandatory stop at the Pashmina store where you can buy Kashmiri woollen clothes.
Sunset, well almost

Self Explanatory pic - Duh!
Now the sun has set
 It was almost 36hrs since our last bath and the house boat didn’t have hot water but we were stinking and had no choice. Contrary to our assumption that it will be cold, the temperature in Jammu and Srinagar was over 30 degrees till around 6pm. Yeah, we googled for climate in Leh but apparently didn’t pay attention to the 4 days it will take for us to reach Leh.

The next morning we were ready to leave by 7am. The destination for this day was Kargil. The road was awesome till Sonamarg. The vehicles are stopped here and then sent in batches to avoid the traffic jam on the narrow roads and curves that continue till Drass.
Reminded me of the movie Thithi!

Base camp to go to Amarnath before entering the Zojila Pass
The Zojila Pass which is on the way to Drass from Sonamarg is where we first encountered snow in our trip. Since the summer had just set in, at one stretch we had almost 6 feet of snow on either side of vehicle giving us the sub-0 refrigerator feeling when we kept the windows open. There is option to do snowboarding and photo points where they dress you like an eskimo for you take pics. You can rent all the clothing to play comfortably in the snow.
Snow snow everywhere
Our hands are freezing.. If you don't take the pic fast, we will throw this at you :P

Winter is coming!
The stretch ends in Drass, which is the 2nd coldest inhabitant place in the world. We stopped at the Ali Dhaba where the lunch options were similar to the previous day. With nice lunch and cold climate we all just dozed off. I hardly get sleep when sitting next to the driver but looks like it was the altitude sickness, yawned a lot for oxygen and fell asleep. The roads are really awesome once we cross Drass.
You pass via Tiger hills to reach the Kargil War Memorial. There is a huge Indian flag that you look up with pride. Here you find that every little detail of the Kargil War through pictures. Brought a few tears to my eyes. And when I stepped out after reading all this, there was a quote – “When you go home tell them of us and say for their tomorrow we gave our today”
The feeling you get when walking through this place is beyond words!
Bharat Mata ki Jai!!!
We then visited the LOC. Well, not the actual line of control but the POK separation. There is a view point around 15kms from Kargil town from where you see 3 hills. The first 2 are apparently in India and beyond that belongs to Pakistan. This is good spot to take pics.
That green patch at a distance is apparently POK
The next day we left our hotel at 9am and head towards Leh. The route was through Namikala &Fatula Passes, the highest pass on Srinagar – Leh road. Its BLUE everywhere :D
You can stop by the Chamba Statue and Lamayuru Monastery on your way to Leh. Our first of the many Buddha’s that we would bow down to during our trip.
They call him the future Buddha!
Apparently monks live here!
The view from the place where monks live
Around 50kms before Leh, you will get a straight road which is a really good place for a few pics or poses :) 
And after 4days, 2200kms by air, 600kms by overnight bus and 750kms by car we reached the most hyped place of all – Leh. I know it was tiring to read till this point, so am I writing this so let us both take a break and in my next post I will talk about Leh.
Hotels we stayed in:
Srinagar – Omar Khayam house boat (New Life)
Kargil – Hotel Siachen
Bus from Delhi to Jammu - Golden Temple Volvo Bus Service

You might also be interested to read: Delhi, Chandigarh-Kasauli-Amritsar, Preparation for Leh
Mandatory Selfie! This one features Abdul, our driver till Leh

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