Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pahalgam - "The Valley" of valleys: Odyssey to Paradise on Earth (Part 5)


The late start yesterday cost us dearly. (Click here to Read Part 3). So no risks today. Time is 8 am now. We are having the last breakfast from Hotel Pamposh. We will be checking out of this hotel before we embark on todays journey.


The trip scheduled for today is to Pahalgam. A beautiful valley. Home to many film shoots. But we are not too excited. Kids too learned from yesterdays episode. We were calm. Today evening we will be checking into a Houseboat, another most anticipated event.

The stay at Hotel Pamposh was "OK". Food was good. Rooms: big, neat, basic facilities only. Located in the heart of the city, this is one the best options in a budget, if staying in Srinagar.

Signature green tunnels, vehicles covered in dirt, cloudy skies on view now.



We are in the "Chevrolet Tavera". Munching miles to Pahalgam. Our driver's constant chattering has now become music to our ears. Kids learnt to sleep listening to it. My wife or me occasionally produces a small sound to keep his interest levels up. Truly speaking, his gyan box gave us lot of information too.

The vehicle slowed to show us an army tank, reportedly captured from Pakistan during war.



Naturally lots of questions propped up from our two little question banks.
 
Why we waged war with Pakistan?
 
Is Pakistan full of bad people? Is India full of good people? Is it war against evil? How did we win? How did we bring this tank here? Did any of our filmi heroes lead us during the war? After war, are Indians ruling Pakistan? and a lot more..

Try to answer truthfully to these innocent questions and we will find the real truth. In war both parties lose. But to kids we cannot be philosophical. Still somehow we convinced that wars are not good.

We are slowly getting out of the confines of city. It is still cloudy. Some of the clouds managed to kiss the ground.


Its not a simple kiss. Its a warm (or cold) hug.

A major intersection ahead. This is the point from which we turned westward to Gulmarg yesterday. The straight one, down south leads to Jammu. After some distance in Jammu highway we will turn east, towards Pahalgam



The Jammu - Srinagar highway is the one which we saw from our flight (See it in Part 2). It is one of "the roads" to travel, if one is a roadie. It is not open always though. Don't target any time when travelling in Jammu - Srinagar highway. Expect the occasional shut down. A gyan which we got from our driver ji.

Dense array of buildings are now becoming smaller


Slowly but steadily village ambience is making its presence.



Plain lands, wide open roads, not a single building in sight.
The terrains are changing faces pretty fast.

Sheeps, goats aplenty. Naturally adapted for cold climate. Fur adds to their beauty. We have found other uses of this fur for our convenience. But what about these poor creatures once it is gone.


"All these are Kesar farms sir" Our driver's gyan box opened. "This is not season though, else you could see those plants aplenty"



"I will show you a shop where you can buy good quality Kesar products". The moment he announced this, we knew it will be another of those shops which are hell bent on looting money from tourists. We didn't resist though. A shopping stop happened soon, but we were experienced enough to politely reject what were on offer.

As expected our driver ji was not that much happy when we didn't buy anything. "We will buy when we are returning". I raised this statement just to keep his spirits high.
 
This kind of shops is now appearing everywhere. Can you guess what they sells?


Couldn't recognize it at first instant. But they are something really precious. Precious to me. Since I love cricket. These are cricket bats. Made out of the famous Kashmiri willows. It is a big business here. I'm tempted to buy one. My head killed this thought. Rightly so. It will be difficult to carry it back in flight.
It's looking very familiar when looking from here, on top of a bridge



Very much like our homeland - Kerala.

Journey to one of the major pilgrimage centres start here. The Amarnath yathra. People throng from various parts of India to this site. The trek towards holy cave at Amarnath starts from Pahalagam. It is not yathra season now. A deserted look now.


It is a real cloudy day today. We have already made our turn westward towards Pahalgam. The amount of environment noise decreased. Only the sound of our vehicle.
 
Now, there is some more sound. Seems like water is gushing through the rocks. But no river in sight. The dense flora and fauna on the left. The sound is slowly increasing. The source is visible now.


Lidder river is marching past. With full fury. Overnight rains + melting of ice = flood condition. A pit stop to enjoy the river.
 
Driverji's gyan "Luckily the rain was less. Otherwise it would have been very dangerous". His observation was right. Usually rafting is permitted here. But this kind of flow means. No rafting.


The temperatures are really low. A Small drizzle too. Time to move on. Pahalgam is nearing. Cloud cover can be seen in the direction we are progressing.
 
What if it rains?
 
The vehicle comes to life and we started moving again.  Lidder river giving us company. Switched off the music to enjoy the sound of nature. Another sound fast approaching. Within no time they are in front of us.

Horses



Native people mostly depend on tourists for their income. Horses are the mode of transport to the Pahalgam valley. What we see now is horses returning to their homes.
 
Driverji's observation "This signals heavy rain at Pahalgam".
 
Is our Gulmarg episode (read it here) going to repeat?

Pahalgam makes its first appearance. Making love with clouds !!


All of sudden their is a big change in ambience.
 
Mud clad vehicles around. Roads became dirty. Chaos everywhere. The town of Pahalgam is in front of us. Its now 1 hour past noon.
 
As is the usual pattern of this trip, the first thing to do when we reach a place is to have FOOD. We don't want to break that rule here. Another 30 minutes zoomed past searching for a hotel. Another half an hour for our orders to materialize. But the great thing is that climate is cool. Pretty chilled. Combined with the hill station ambience.
 
This place is totally different from Srinagar.

We are now in the dead end of a road. Our journey after the lunch lasted just 1 or 2 kms and we reached here.
 
No, the road doesn't end here. But taxis are not permitted from this point onwards. To reach what is known as Betaab valley we have to hire a local taxi. A distance of 5 km from here. We have to shelve out Rs 2000 for this journey.
 
Isn't it daylight robbery? At the outset I felt bad. But then we heard the local taxi wallahs telling that they could earn only during 8 months and the rest of the 4 months they have to live with this earning.
 
Our decision is not to take this journey. So "Betaab Valley" Plan dropped. Now where should we go. I am pretty sure that even if we spend any where else in this paradise it will be equally good.

"Driverji lets roam around this place. Let us find another Betaab Valley"

Driver was little bit sad. Reason: He also will get part of the amount we pay to the local taxis. So here we are in some hilly roads in Pahalgam were vehicle travel is permitted. No worries. The scenary is just awesome. Signalled the driver to stop. Put on my raincoat. Jumped out.

People camping here. In tents. What a place to camp. This place is good. We can walk whereever we want.
This is not the place which is labelled "Tourist Spot".

Kids and wifey jump out. It is still drizzling. We started to enjoy the drizzle. How couldn't we, when this is the scene right in front of us.


A little ahead we could see smallish waterfalls making its way to the Lidder river from hill top.


This valley is majestic. Walking ahead in the rain, we are part of this amazing creation. The cloud cover gently caressing the valley. The beautiful trees naturally lined up in perfection. The green meadows. Everything seems so perfect.


No wonder almost all films of yester years had atleast one song sequence in Kashmir. That too in Pahalgam. No wonder people pay whatever is demanded for a horse ride through these valleys. For a local taxi drive to the "Betaab valley". Here, four souls are walking through the meadows enjoying nature's creation. My little daughter couldn't stop saying "wow" at this particular juncture.


"Is this India?" wifey probed

"We are in Switzerland" My reply was instantaneous.

There is a steep climb ahead. If we can climb that we could get a panoramic view. Kids won't be able to make it. Me and wifey is climbing up as driverji is giving company of kids. It was not a difficult as we thought. Little slippery though. Rain effect. We are top. Our jaws dropped. See what is right in front of us


Hands outstretched, mouth wide open, a screaming sound emanated from my mouth.

Ecstasy can create vivid expressions !!


Watch the roads through which we were travelling. The lidder river is ready to eat up the roads. The drizzling is fast converting to a full fledged rain. The roads can give up any time.


We did not want to go back from this place. But we can see our driverji signaling us to come back. Through the beautiful meadows Hand in hand, we are slowly stepping down to join our precious little ones. They are already drenched in rain. Once inside our vehicle we kept the windows open. We are already chilled and wet to the core. No bad weather can dampen our spirits when in paradise.

"There is a garden nearby, sir" Driver informed. "Shall we stop there or return"

"We will stop" Two synchronous voices sounded.

Thanks to the heavy drizzle. There are no souls around. A vast garden. Not the type which we visited in Srinagar. Very few flowers. Still it is beautiful. The small pathway. The greenery, The small stream.


This valley is sandwiched between the majestic mountains all sides. The clouds, now omnipresent.


Vast expanse of lands. Exclusively for four of us.


Can four people kick off a party. I will say yes. The mobile doubled up as the music system. Fast numbers flowed. 4 pair of legs started shaking. Time just flew past. My phone is ringing. Itz the driver. He was wondering what we are doing there. He simply couldn't understand how we could spend so much time there.

We have to travel 80 km to reach Srinagar. Today we have to check in to a house boat too. So a sad decision has to be made. We have to go back. It was a bad decision not to decide on a day's stay at Pahalgam.
As we are slowly moving out of Pahalgam, some more beautiful and scenic places are on display. Once such place made us stop again.

We are in the highways again. Zooming past at triple digit speeds. The fields nearby are disappearing fast. But the mountains far away wouldn't fade soon. Just like they would be in our minds. Thick white clouds still in deep embrace. Waving good bye to us.



Rains still lashing hard. Visibility was poor through the windshield.


Everything became hazy pretty soon. When normalcy restored 2 hours passed. We all were sleeping for the last 2 hours and the journey seemed to complete within the blink of an eye.

Another round of expectation galore as we move through the banks of dal lake to check in to the house boat. We were to be picked up by a shikara to the house boat. But since it is already dark, our shikara ride is cancelled. We are going through an alternate route. While making the booking the house boat stay was the costliest. So it ought to be good.

The vehicle is now being manuvered through some real narrow roads. Dirty. Slush all around. Came to a stop soon.
 
The place look deserted. No lake in sight. Driverji asked us to go through a narrow lane.
 
One look at the route. We grew suspicious

Neverthless, our driver was with us for last 2 days. He could not be wrong.

We are treading cautiously avoiding the mud puddles. Another turn and the route is still on.
My younger daughter is finding it difficult to walk.



Where are we heading to? Where is the house boat? Continued in Part 6

Odyssey to Paradise on Earth - The full story
Part 1 - Delhi
Part 2 - Kashmir Initial impression and Gardens
Part 3 - Gulmarg - A failed attempt
Part 4 - Parimahal and Royal Botanical Garden
Part 5 - Pahalgam : "The Valley" of Valleys
Part 6 - The House boat experience
Part 7 - Gulmarg - Experiencing Asia's Highest Cable Car ride


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