20 July, 2008

The Drive to Srinagar...

Kashmir in her late monsoon garb casts her spell with her bewitching beauty right from the journey’s onset. With its regular dose of temples and markets, Jammu gives out no hint about what lies in store ahead. The uphill climb from the foot-hills of Jammu, through the serpentine roads, are a heaven with lush greenery with monkeys prancing and hanging about from trees. It comes as no surprise that this is only the beginning!

Each turn gives way to a whole new scenery and the picturesque surroundings accompany a traveller till he has his fill of pictures. There were beautiful birds, live landslides, quaint little hamlets sitting precariously on a hillside with there thatched mud roves lending an earthy contrast to the leafy green slopes. Slowly and gradually, the forests became sparse and naked rocky cliffs loomed up dangerously as if to challenge anyone who wished to conquer them. On reaching a bridge called “Khooni Nala”, one is filled with awe to find huge metal meshes hanging from the mountainsides to prevent land slides from reaching the bridge. Yet, nature chooses her moments to remind humanity of its haplessness and there had been a huge mishap on the bridge only a couple of hours ago. Relieved that nobody was injured, it was a treat to cool off on coconut slices and a cola from local vendors. The traffic soon cleared off and fresh mountain air embraced us once again. The drive through the Banihal Tunnel is an experience in itself. 2.5 kilometers of pitch darkness and cold winds cutting through the magnificent Pir Panjal range, reminds one of those “Horror Bungalow” experiences from childhood. The light at the end of the tunnel had new surprises to offer- gone were the mountains, the trees and the monkeys. Faced with a landscape as flat as a Greek God’s tummy, you can’t help but wonder if you had left Kashmir behind! There were villages and vast endless paddy fields on either side of the road that ran as straight as a ruler.
A deviation from the highway is marked with a milestone marked “Gulmarg”, “the land of Flowers”. Soon enough, true to its name, the soft slopes of Gulmarg emerged, clothed in tender grass, wild flowers and towering pine trees. The pine-scented air and the mist worked like aromatherapy and rejuvenating to the mind, body and soul.
After three days in Gulmarg, we decided to head for Srinagar- the summer capital of Kashmir. After the serene surroundings of Gulmarg, this bustling city with crowded marketplaces and traffic was a bit of a mood-spoiler. However, the lake, the markets and food more than made up for that. But that’s another story…

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