11th July - 2010: Sharp at 5.00 O’clock my Daddy told everybody "Hurry up, please get up". He was trying to wake up everyone without delay; otherwise we will get delayed to reach Pahalgam. All of us were very tired since last 2 sleepless nights. But no one moved a bit. He kept trying to ping us. By 5.45 am when I got up then gradually one by one everybody opened their eyes and we got fresh within 20 min Sharp by 6.20 we left that Dharmshala for our further journey. At that very moment it started to rain very heavily. After few min we got into a matador for bus stand. And we reached at Bus stand fly over where our vehicle (to Pahalgam) was waiting for us. We interchanged our vehicle there and boarded into 12 seater vehicle. It was a Force-traveller. Driver's name was Vijay. Vijay asked us to pay the entire fare in Jammu itself. But we gave him only Rs.3000/- telling him that we will pay the remaining Rs.1500/- on reaching Pahalgam. He got the fuel tank of his vehicle filled with diesel at the petrol pump. And thus our onward journey began.
In that vehicle we were 10 people so Vijay booked rest 2 seats to a family (Mr. & Mrs. Pyarelal Sharma) came from "Hariyana". In the beginning Haryana family was reserved- not speaking much to us. We were feeling a little hungry. Mangesh had brought dry fruits from home. He opened a bag and took out some dry fruits from it. We offered some dry fruits to Vijay and that family too. Perhaps this gesture from us touched their heart and slowly they began opening up with us. Soon we were all talking. Outside our jeep, the road and the scenery all around were very picturesque. Mountains were full of greenery. There were tall trees and dense grass seen spread all over the slopes of the mountains that we could see from inside our jeep. Soon Vijay switched-on the CD player installed in his jeep. There was a good collection of old hindi film songs in his CD. Old melodies sung by Kishor and Mohd. Rafi kept playing one after the other. Our jeep was now speedily moving on a very picturesque road. Our Jeep stopped briefly at a DHABA (a small road side restaurant) near Udhampur. We came out of the jeep to pee and had some breakfast and tea.
Soon we departed from that dhaba and after few hours our jeep reached a place called Patnitop. It provides a beautiful view of mountains. We asked Vijay to stop the jeep and took some photographs there.
We got ourselves photographed against a picturesque background of mountains there, and within 5 minutes we were again sitting inside the jeep. From here our jeep speedily headed forward. By the way, I forgot to tell very interesting information about the road we were moving on. It was NH -1A. To many, the number or name of the highway on which they are moving is something that they never think about. But for me, the fact that I was moving on National Highway Number One of India was making me excited in my heart. Many places went past: Banihal, Jawahar Tunnel, Quazigund, Annantnag...etc etc. We were very lucky with having a team member like my daddy who has almost 32 yrs. experience of mountaineering and expeditions, and he was very familiar with these areas we were crossing. So for each site and important places he explained us in detail. Most amazing was the experience of crossing the Jawahar Tunnel. Jawahar Tunnel or Banihal Tunnel, named after the first Prime Minister of India, was constructed for round-the-year surface transport. As daddy told us that it is the longest road tunnel in Asia. It is built near Banihal on Jammu - Srinagar highway (NH-1).
While passing through this tunnel, it feels that one is moving through a tube, because its cross-section is almost round. Its roof is not very high from inside. It is a very long tunnel (almost 2.5 km in length). It is strategically a very important tunnel for India, because it connects Kashmir with the rest of India. Therefore, security personnel guard it round the clock, throughout the year. CCTVs are installed in the tunnel for continuous monitoring. When our jeep went inside the tunnel, there was darkness all around. Since the tunnel is narrow, therefore vehicles can move inside the tunnel in one line only - no overtaking possible! When our jeep neared the other end of the tunnel, the light entering into the tunnel from that opening was creating a very beautiful view. When we came out to the other side of the tunnel it subtly appeared to me that weather this side was different from the weather of the other side we had come from.
After the Jawahar Tunnel, as our jeep moved ahead, slowly the mountains began to be left behind and our jeep was soon moving in Kashmir Valley where the terrain was almost like a plain. Yes, the sight of mountains never completely vanished. Mountains were still seen all around as distant boundary to the valley in which we were moving. There were agricultural fields on both sides of the road. Mostly rice plants were seen in these fields. Later, I came to know that rice cultivated in Kashmir is of very good quality.
When we reached Anantnag, time was around 4.00 pm. From here we took right turn towards Pahalgam. Since curfew and restrictions were imposed by security forces at many places across the Kashmir Valley including Anantnag, hence Vijay (our driver) was little tensed. He told us that the route from Anantnag to Pahalgam is not considered safe. There were few stone-pelting mobs had defied curfew at many places in Srinagar, Budgam, Baramulla in north Kashmir and Awantipora, Kulgam and Anantnag in south Kashmir and attacked police personnel. When we were crossing Anantnag City we found all shops, educational institutions, banks, post offices, businesses and government offices were shut in that city.
There is always a risk of stone pelting and terrorists attacking a vehicle moving on this route, especially if it is driven by a non Kashmiri - he explained to us. We found both side of highway from Kazigund to Pahlgam had been covered by CRPF jawans.
We all got scared while crossing Anantnag but again we remembered Lord Shiva and by chanting "Har Har Mahadev" we asked Vijay to go ahead because we wanted to reach Pahalgam as soon as possible. We had faith that Shiv ji would definitely save us from any harm. Nothing happened to us on this route and we finally reached Pahalgam at around 6.30pm. At Pahalgam, our jeep was stopped by security personnel on the outskirts of the town. We saw big security check-up camp was setup and securities personal were working round the clock. It was in the form of a gabble-roofed but open area of around 200 sq yards with no walls around. We were told by one police man to get down from the jeep with our luggage to undergo security check-up. Vijay told us that now he will not be permitted to taking his jeep ahead of this point so we should pay him the remaining fare of Rs.1500/- so that he may go back. And we paid him his remaining fare. Later we came to know that after security check-up we could have taken the jeep into the Pahalgam town. We had no choice other than walking on foot. So from here we walked nearly 1 km to reach the Pilgrim camp which was created in an open area of the size of a foot ball ground. By the time we reached the pilgrim camp. This pilgrim camp had heavy security all around. We had to again undergo a security check-up along with our luggage before stepping inside the camp.
The time was around 7.00 pm when we stepped inside the pilgrim camp at Pahalgam. Pilgrims were staying in tents here. (Later we came to know that there were two kinds of accommodations available in these tents with folding bed and without folding bed. For folding bed, charges were Rs.100/- per person per night. Without folding bed accommodation was available at Rs.60/- per person per night.) Some agents of these tents approached us asking to hire their tents. They were quoting different rates (Rs.800, 700... and so on) for one night. We did some usual bargaining with them & finally a tent owner agreed to charge Rs.500/-. We were total 12 heads including that Haryana family. That tent owner provided us kambals (blankets) and a bulb to put into a prefixed holder into that tent. Quickly we stepped into the tent and kept our luggage on these beds. After this we came out to explore the pilgrim camp. I also had to make telephone call to my sweet mom in Bokaro and to my daughter in Mumbai. My mobile (Reliance Postpaid) was not working at Pahalgam. There were signals up to Jawahar tunnel, but on reaching Kashmir Valley I saw my mobile had no signal. In Pahalgam camp there were many make-shift PCOs working with BSNL wireless phones in them. I went to one such PCO and made call to my mom and wife to inform them about our well being.
After making the phone call we started strolling in the pilgrim camp. There were tents-tents and tents, all lined in a very organized manner, all around. Rain had stopped but the sky was overcast. There were mountains all around, full of green vegetation. Actually, we were standing in a valley- known as Lidder Valley. Lidder is beautiful river that flows through the middle of the Pahalgam town. Large numbers of people (all pilgrims) were walking around. We came out of the camp from the entry gate. And Lidder River was before us. Actually the camp was on the bank of the Lidder River. Lidder River looked very beautiful.
Water was flowing in it with great speed, thus making noise by colliding with the stones lying in its course. We went towards the river to enjoy its beauty. The sight was very beautiful. Mountains all over and we stood on the bank of a beautiful mountain river in a picturesque valley. We took few photographs there. Then we walked towards JIM (Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering) Office. My Daddy was much familiar with that institute as he had sent 4 men team from his club AAROHI, 2 yrs back to this institute for adventure course of mountaineering. All main officials were very well known to him but that day (11th July) was Sunday, So the office was closed but we met to a senior instructor of that institute at the office gate. He talked with my daddy for 1 hour and shared few current updates of that institute. Slowly Sun drifted towards the west and finally went behind the mountains. Gradually darkness engulfed the mountains while the elaborate electrical lightening arrangements kept the darkness away from our pilgrim camp. Suddenly again rain started and soon we came back to our pilgrim camp. We were now feeling hungry so we immediately went towards the food area. It was situated on the way to exit gate of the camp. (We later came to know that our pilgrim camp was heavily guarded from all sides by security -mostly CRPF- personnel.
There was only one entry gate and only one exit gate in this camp. On every entry into the camp we were frisked by the security guards.) Food area was a large rectangular plot of land. On the three sides of it food stalls of different sizes were present one after the other. Inside these entire food stall an idol or a large photo of God Shiva was installed very prominently. Actually, these food stalls were running like a LUNGAR- offering best quality of food to the devotees of God for free. Staffs working in them were showing great devotion in their works. They were very carefully cleaning plates and wiping them dry with clean cloths. Some of them were loudly calling out BHOLE... BHOLE... Aao BHOLE Idhar BHOLE ( O! shiv devotees, come here, have some food) to attract pilgrims to their stall. Best quality and great variety of food items were available in these food stalls - all for free. These LUNGARS were being run mostly by religious societies and rich people of Punjab and Delhi. There were one or two Gujarati Lungars as well. We were totally overwhelmed by looking at the arrangements in all these food stalls and the devotion with which people were running them.