Train reached Jammu early in the morning. Mobile phones lost signal. No calls. No data. With puzzling faces we came out of the Railway Station. Only local prepaid and other state post paid sim cards function in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
To immediate left of the exit there was a taxi stand where cars leave for Srinagar on shared basis. We opted middle row in a Qualis for comfort and it took about an hour for the driver to fill with two persons each row front and back. And the car started off around 8 AM to cover 300 km and It was expected to reach Srinagar at least by 8 PM.
The driver was a stout Sikh who lethargically drove, stopping car at a food joint each and every hour. Omelet style Kalari goat Cheese toast and Kashmiri Noon chai became our breakfast from a roadside food joint near Katra.
The Jammu region was more similar with Himachal Pradesh in culture. As the Amarnath Pilgrimage has just ended there were remnants of posters, saffron flags, Vaishno food stalls, conveniences all along the road side. I was just like other hill stations around Delhi.
I set out this trip with motive to see Kashmir for the first time. When boys of my age yearn for a vacation in Thailand and London, I yearn to visit Kashmir and Gaza. Many nights have passed thinking why human beings fight. Though I dislike this aggressive tendency of Human Beings I do understand it’s the law how the universe works. But still the mind always believes that there is always a place of peace and tries not to lose its altruistic beliefs with cruel realities.
The car stopped at Udhampur for lunch within two hours of breakfast which made us to try Rajma Chawal mixed with Pure Ghee which stands apart from buttery Rajma Chawal of Delhi. As car started again and 20 kilometers had passed there was a loud burst led us to stop for a puncture repair. Frictional heat made left tire tube to be easily punctured by a sharp stone. There was again a halt for an hour.
I noticed a change in the landscape and weather. There was mixture of Kashmiri and Jammu culture in that region which made me to advance into the lands in front. After repair, the car reached Jawahar Tunnel located at Banihal which connects Kashmir Valley with Jammu.
After three-kilometer darkness stretch we were at illustrious Kashmir. It had completely different weather and geography from the land we just crossed. Pristine streams, silver mountains and cold breeze occupied alongside heavily armed camouflaged soldiers guarding highways. And it’s not unusual for a person who is not from Kashmir to feel something strange over there. Weather one accepts it or not, Government of India holds the conflicted Kashmir territory only by arms. As we had a foreigner in our group we were asked to register before continuing further by the Kashmir Police on a toll who were checking immigration and emigration.
There was an Army Personnel and a Government employee in car as our co-passengers who were constantly relating their story of Kashmir to me while the driver was busy on playing and singing along with the Punjabi songs than driving. Car went through Kashmir Valley with mind blowing yellow, green and blue scenery after crossing Anantnag.
Suddenly, the driver stopped along a roadside restaurant while we were ten kilometers short to Srinagar and delivered a parcel. When I enquired, he replied it was hashish that he was asked to deliver. And he started explaining me how drugs are taken in and out of Kashmir.
The roads became jammed as we were nearing Srinagar and around eight at night the car dusted us out at Dal Lake and Our hotel picked us from there to the boat house.
(To be continued)