The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 9- Srinagar & beyond
Day 16: 30th June, 2011
There is nothing in this world like waking to the sound of water hitting the floor, ducks quacking outside the window and all kinds of birds and aquatic creatures making chattering noises. I woke up to the most beautiful morning of my life and kissed the most beautiful woman in the whole world. We climbed the roof of the boat and were mesmerised by the beauty, smell and sound of the lake. For the first time I saw a duck swimming with her cute little ducklings, I saw a kingfisher from so close, I saw numerous birds that had started hunting for their day’s food, I saw and entire lake wake up to another day.
The thing about Kashmiris is that they are amazing salesmen and these lakes are famous for their markets on the lake. Early in the morning we had vendors coming on their little boats and trying to sell all their wares. There were people who were selling leather items, handicrafts, flowers, chocolates and biscuits, jewellery, photographs, everything. They always had a unique selling proposition. Mohan had bought a bouquet of flowers from one such vendor who had come and gifted it to his wife. It couldn’t get any more romantic. We all freshened up and had a typical Kashmiri breakfast at the boat owner’s house. It was a Kashmiri roti, which is a large tough piece of bread with some potato curries. We also had Kawa, which is a very popular local variety of tea. We decided to spend the entire day on a Shikara. Me, Nam, Pops and Moms went on one and Mohan, Vatsala, Somanna and Manju went on another. All the other guys went on another shikara and they left a little before us. Our two shikaras more or less rowed together.
As soon as we started, salesmen started approaching us with all their wares. Nam did a good bit of shopping on the shikara. The most pleasant surprise was that Pops bought a silver ring for himself, which he wanted as a memento for this ride. The ride on the Shikara was the most peaceful experience and the most amazing time we spent as a family. We really missed Shubra on this day. We were on the Shikara the whole day. Our houseboat was on a lake called the Nigel Lake. The shikara took us through various channels that were connecting to the other lakes and eventually to Dal Lake. On the way, we were able to see the different facets of life in and around lakes. Both human as well as natural. This was probably my closest encounter with such a vast variety of bird life. The vast stretches of water lilies and lotuses was amazing. In the middle of these lakes, the villagers build something called a floating garden and do their plantations there. We went to a small island called Charcheel and took a lot of pictures there. We had now reached Srinagar and our boatsman, Altaf took us to a restaurant. The restaurant was actually closed due to the festival, but the manager was kind enough to arrange some lunch for us. After lunch, we went to the floating markets in Dal Lake, which is one of the oldest and the most amazing parts of the lake. There is an entire town living on lakes. We bought a beautiful turquoise jewellery set that we decided to gift to Vatsala for their wedding anniversary. We went through more beautiful and serene villages that were living by the lakes and returned to our house boats in the evening.
A part of the group went to an apple garden close by and another group went to the Mughal gardens. Both the places did not have anything really worth mentioning. While we were enjoying our shikara rides, Ovas had arranged a back up taxi for us. Later in the evening Ovas took Me, Nam, Mohan, Vatsala, Manju and Somanna to a very old restaurant in Lal Chowk, Srinagar called Standard Hotel. We reached the hotel quite late, by when most of Srinagar had already closed. It seemed like Ovas knew these guys and had kept them open for us. He was conversing with the manager/waiter for almost five minutes in Kashmiri. We were waiting for him to finish so that we could order our food. Only when he finished, did we realise that he was placing an order. A few minutes later they got our order on the table that would normally suffice 15-20 people. This was another local speciality, which is served in 7 or 8 courses. We ate like crazy. We were so full, we couldn’t move. We returned to our rooms at midnight and again we were the last to wish Mohan and Vatsala on their wedding anniversary.
Day 17: 1st July, 2011
Our vacation was coming to an end. We wanted to reach Pathankot by night, for which we had to cover 380kms. But, all the tough roads had come to an end. We would only be riding on highways from here on. We cleared our dues, loaded our luggage onto the taxi and hit the road again. The transition we were facing today was from Kashmiri to Punjabi. Slowly the white muslim caps were diminishing and colourful turbans were starting to appear everywhere. The language, accent and tone was changing from Kashmiri to Punjabi. We could see more and more Gurudwaras.
The ride was alright till we reached Udhampur. From there we had to take a deviation to avoid Jammu and head straight to Pathankot. Manju and Ponni sped away and were about 50kms ahead of us when we reached Udhampur. Me and Nam reached Udhampur after them and ensured we wait for everyone else to avoid any confusion. Things started going askew from Udhampur. Pops went in the wrong direction and I had to go after him for almost 5 kms to get him back. The others were all exhausted by the time they reached Udhampur. After so many days of cold temperatures, we were not able to handle the heat. It was starting to get really hot. The next day was going to be worse as we would get closer to Delhi. We all freshened ourselves with watermelon and started riding towards Pathankot. Here we made another mistake. We took a deviation that seemed to be a shorter way, but was going through villages and forests. The roads were good but were sparsely crowded. Somewhere in between we lost Harsha and were afraid he was left behind. Shubra and Satvik waited behind for him and all the others headed off in different groups. This became a major problem. Phones were not working, it was getting dark and our bikes were running short of petrol. After almost an hour of trying to reach each other, we were able to confirm that Harsha had taken the other route and was already with Manju and Ponni. We then asked Shubra and Satvik to start riding. By now, it was getting pitch dark and we were in the middle of a never ending forest. It started to get really scary. The ride was like a ride in a horror movie. The driver was not helping, by sharing his scary experiences and other horrifying stories about the locality. We were 5 bikes, who decided to wait for Shubra and Satvik. Almost after 30-40 minutes of nail biting suspense, they joined us and the 7 bikes, some of which did not have lights, some of which were almost out of fuel started to ride together through roads, which had more buffaloes, camels, foxes and donkeys on the road than people. We were suddenly in a town that seemed to have only bars and liquor stores. Then, we had to pass through a military restricted area, where they would allow civilians only during the day. We bribed and cajoled our way in and out of the area and finally reached Pathankot at around 11pm.
At Pathankot, Mohan had a friend who was insistent that we stay with them. This was a huge Punjabi family, who welcomed us to their home like we were their own. For ages I had heard the adage “Athithi Devobhava”. This was the first time I had experienced it at such a level. They were a joint family of about 20-25 people. None of them had had their dinner. They were waiting for a group of 16 people they did not know and would have their dinner only after they ensured we were all served food and were all comfortable. The food was the best Punjabi food we ever had and the hospitality was the most amazing we had ever experienced. From the look of it, Nam enjoyed the stay more than everyone else. She first served all of us along with the Punjabi family and then she had dinner with them. The eldest member of the family was a jolly old gentleman who chatted up with all of us and ensured we all had a good meal and a comfortable bed for the night. That, we did.
If you missed out on the previous part of the story, you can read it here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 8- Pangong Tso to Srinagar
Continue reading the story here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 10- Home Bound
Few more pictures of the two days around Srinagar: