27th October- This is the day it all started. It was the very next day after Diwali night and I was in a precarious situation of packing my stuff and leaving for the airport. My earlier plan of leaving for Delhi was by Rajdhani Express on 30th October, but Kakke had different ideas. After months of planning and brainstorming sessions we decided October 27th, 2011 will be the D-Day. The scheduled departure of flight was at 0705 hours and we braved the early morning showers and reached at the Kamraj Domestic Airport by 0530 hours. After boarding the flight we dozed off on our window and center seat and the aisle passenger was not visible.
We landed at IGI Airport, New Delhi by 1000 hours and at the arrival terminus Abhijeet was anxiously waiting for us. After exchanging pleasantries we drove in his Alto to Uttam Nagar. On arrival at Abhijeet’s flat we decided that we’ll head first to Haridwar and then cover Rishikesh and Mussorie (via Dehradoon). Driving on NH-58 was pleasant and we reached Haridwar by evening 1930 hours. I forgot to mention, Raj Shekhar also joined us for the trip to Uttarakhand.
October 28th- On arrival in Haridwar town, we located an economically feasible hotel and stayed there for overnight. We gave Harki Pauri amiss, as we planned to take the holy dip in river Ganges after our Mussorie trip. On October 28th we were in Rishikesh and thought of indulging ourselves in River Rafting! Though, the group was divided on the issue of river rafting in mighty current of river Ganga, I decided otherwise and pulled others to take the plunge. At the entry point of Rishikesh town itself we contacted a shopkeeper for River Rafting. We all changed our cloths and were in shorts and t-shirt with lifesaving jacket and helmet. The shopkeeper asked us to park our car at his shop itself and we drove in the Roplas Jeep 17 kms up the hill.
We carried the heavy and inflated raft on our shoulders to the main rafting point (journey starting point) and started our 17 kms down the flow journey. Sun rays were piercing the mountains and reaching to us and it amazing! The journey consisted of major and minor water falls. These major falls would have tested any person’s grit and endurance. Our guide told us, that the famous Salman Khan starrer shooting of a soft drink was done here. On seeing the major water falls, the guide advised us “Darr ke aage jeet hai”. We’re rafting along quite comfortably and there was a hurricane like major fall, wherein we lost balance. Abhijeet, Kakke and both the guides were thrown in the running current of Ganga Maiyya. I along with Shekhar, were still on the raft holding our feet and the raft. I was jittery; it was a sinking feeling on seeing our friends floating in water. I regained consciousness and shouted, “Shekhar! Shekhar! Tu apna chappu mujhe de aur jo paani mein hain unko apna haath dekar raft ke upar kheech”. Shekhar immediately swung into action and started pulling Abhijeet on to the raft. In the meantime the guides jumped onto the boat and lent their helping hand.
to Shekhar. Kakke was doing well on the raft, but my major concern was Abhijeet’s condition. Shekhar said, Abhijeet has gulped huge amount of water. With the help of trainer and guide we helped Abhijeet in regaining his confidence and we rafted along. After the horrendous but exciting first major fall, we were worried as few more such mighty waves were yet to come. We were fortunate enough to sail through and reached “Suicide Point”. Suicide point was nothing, but a place where people jumped from hilltop in the river. Don’t be afraid, with lifesaving vest and helmet the jump has to be taken. Abhijeet, Kakke jumped after thinking for a while. I’m having aversion and fear for height and water. It was my turn and everybody was cheering me to take the jump. I was anxious and worried about the height and the depth of water. After 5 to 10 minutes of nerve wrecking thoughts, I jumped with my legs straight and my fingers tightly holding the vest. Chhhhhaaappppppppaaaaaaaak!!! This was the sound after my jump and during the jump I felt, I’m dying in the next two or three seconds. I exulted after reaching the bank of the river and I said to Abhijeet, “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”!
It was almost 6 in the evening and we changed our clothes and crossed the bridge “Lakshman Jhula” to have our advance dinner at “Chotiwala” restaurant. After the dinner we left for Mussorie. We have to drive up the hill for 80 kms to reach Mussorie and none other than Abhijeet was our “Saarthi”.
En route we had tasty momos in Dehradoon. Though, I was not able to see the prestigious Indian Military Academy (IMA), but after seeing our bank’s branch in Dehradoon, I was happy.
By the time we reached Mussorie, it was 9:30 pm and the hill station was freezing cold. We got into a hotel and slept in our rooms.
October 29- Nobody felt like waking up and with our faces covered with blankets we were shouting at each other, “Uth jao, Utha Jao”. Kakke is basically a mountain freak guy, and he rushed to answer nature’s call. We got inspired by his bravo act and freshened up. Fortunately for us we didn’t take bath as our plan was to take bath in “Kempty Water Fall”.
We checked out of the hotel and headed to Kempty Falls. Shorts & Lockers were available on rent. The temperature was hovering around 10 degree celcius in the noon time and the water was falling from 100 ft above. Though, at the same location people bath frequently, but during summers only. We were among the crazy bunch of people who dared to jump into the fall (don’t worry; there was a reservoir sort of structure made by the authorities for people to take bath). Uffff, the water was freezing cold. Kakke went gaga over the water flow and he rushed to the main point where water was falling at a vehement speed and force. He got hit by a falling stone and I backed off and dumped the idea of going to the main flash point.
On the same day we reached Haridwar and decided to take the holy dip in river Ganga. Abhijeet was not in favour of the night bath, but I was adamant in doing the same as I knew very well nobody will be able to wake up for the early morning Ganga Aarti. The rituals were completed by 9:30 pm and we had sumptuous dinner and slept.
October 30- We hit the road and expecting to reach Delhi by 6 pm. We dropped Shekhar in Merrut as he was leaving for his hometown. Listening to some blockbuster songs and trying to tune in some FM channels, we were about to touch Modinagar. Near Modinagar there was total chaos on the highway. It took us one hour to travel one km. Finally we reached Uttam Nagar (Abhijeet’s residence) in Delhi and we were almost dead. Solid nap was the order of the day.
October 31- Delhi Metro has changed the face of Delhi. Journey from Nawada Station to Rajiv Chowk and then from Rajiv Chowk to Delhi Railway station was amazing and with ease in totally air conditioned environment. This is surely a feather in the cap of our National Capital. Jammu Mail wore a sombre look as the coaches of the train were of British era and in a poor shape. Lot of people were in waiting list and we were among the lucky people who had confirmed tickets. We reached Jammu by 10 in the morning on November 1.
November 1- The feeling of reaching J&K was amazing. Subhash Jee (caretaker) helped us in getting a cab for 5 day stay in J&K. The name of the cab driver was Jeetu. He was young and chirpy guy, but surely very clever (the clever aspect of his which we realized on the last day). We sat in his Indica and started our journey on NH-1C. The valley was full of breath-taking scenes. We were halting at lots of places and locations and had ghee sauted Rajma Chawal en route. Hats off to Border Roads Organization (BRO) for making wonderful highway and the tunnels. Initially we thought of halting at Srinagar, but the team decided otherwise and headed towards Pahalgam (95 kms from Srinagar).
It was 9:30 in the night and the road to Pahalgam wore a completely deserted look. Empty roads sent shock waves to our spine. Freezing air outside and worried faces inside the cab were hard to believe. We managed to get a cottage few kms away from Pahalgam town.
November 2- Kakke enquired with few Kashmiri locals about the places to be visited and we decided to take Horse ride up the hill. After 2 hours ride we reached to a vantage point. The site was full of brilliance and elegance. It was an image which one would have seen only in movies, we were fortunate enough to witness the same. Since morning we were empty stomach and Abhijeet was on medication. We asked few people around and we found a thatched restaurant. I was craving for “Kawah”. (Kawah is a traditional green tea which is very popular in Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is made by boiling green tea with saffron strands, cinnamon, dry fruits and cardamom.) We had maggi, aalo paratha with achaar and my favourite Kawah. After clicking lot of photographs and indulging in some keen observation of the beauty of the valley we sat on our horses and headed back to Pahalgam town. By noon time we reached Pahalgam and requested our cab driver Jeetu to take us from a less crowded route and effectively we were heading for Srinagar via pretty villages on the highway.
On the way we found apple farming, though by this time of the year all the apples are plucked from the trees. We were fortunate enough to find few apples on the trees and after taking permission from the owners, we plucked few apples and ate them. Let me tell you all it was the sweetest apple of my life. The feeling of having something at source was incredible. I wish I can explain the taste in words.
By 5:30 pm we reached near Dal Gate (prominent area in Srinagar, near Dal lake). Jeetu was having few known associates over here. We finally settled in a hotel and rested for an hour. The hotel where we were staying was provided by Jeetu’s friend and she invited Kakke and all of us for her brother’s engagement function at her house. The function was slated to start at 10:30 pm in the night. We were sceptical about going to an unknown person’s house and on top of it was in the wee hours of a chilly winter night (as per Kashmir’s standard). Kakke was over jubilant and wore his Pathani Kurta (the kurta was purchased in December 2010, on our last trip to Delhi. Since then, Kakke didn’t get a chance to wear the Kurta, Chennai mein Kurta kaun pehenta hai!) We reached at the venue and were pleased to see their hospitality. They were amazing in their reception and all our fear and discomfort vanished. We stayed till 12 midnight and the hosts arranged a car for dropping us at our hotel. I watched the repeat telecast of my favourite tv series “Kuch to log kahenge” and slept, as Kakke and Abhijeet kept on yelling at me for watching TV.
November 3- The nest day morning we started for Gulmarg, which was 46 kms away from Srinagar town on National Highway No. 1A. En route we bought biscuits, mixture, aalo bhujiya for our small trip. We were zipping across the road, and then I saw three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans patrolling in the open field. I shouted, “Jeetu bhai, gaadi rook”. The moment our Indica stopped I jumped out of the car and rushed in the field. The three jawans swung into attention on noticing me running towards them. One of them was from Sikkim, the other one from Gujarat and the third jawan was from West Bengal. I asked those jawans, whether we can click photographs with them, they immediately obliged with their AK-47 and Insas Rifle.
By noon time we reached Gulmarg town, from where we hired a guide and rode on horse to reach the Gulmarg hilltop. Let me tell you folks we got to touch snow for the first time and were amazed at the sight. The guide and horse owners fleeced us, as they charged hefty amount for a 4 hour horse ride. The experience at Gulmarg was not so heart-warming and the behaviour of the horse ride operators left a bad taste in our mouth. After 2 hours of horse ride we came back to Gulmarg town and headed towards Srinagar town. As sun settled down, Kakke and Abhijeet slept on the rear seat and I was listening to some old hindi numbers with Jeetu.
November 4- After the bad experience in Gulmarg, I was not pinning much hope on Sonamarg trip. But, Kakke was looking forward to the trip to Sonamarg. We changed our hotel and shifted to Hotel Young Mamta. Sonamarg is located 80 kms from Srinagar. Though, NH1-D is not the highway which is best in terms of the bitumen used. But, my heart salutes to the jawans of Border Roads Organization (BRO) who scale these rocky terrains and build roads for the people of Kashmir, for the citizen of India and for our Army. This is the same highway which connects Srinagar to Kargil. It was a mild drizzle when we started our journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg and as we were driving up the hill mild drizzle converted into SNOW FALL!!!! We were awestruck with the gradually increasing snowfall and everybody was having their eyes lit up. We decided not to take the horse ride and got out of our car and played with snow and sipped hot tea.
While returning from Sonamarg, we went to Kheer Bhwani Temple and prayed for a while and drove to Srinagar. It was 8 pm and Abhijeet was too tired to venture out of the hotel for dinner. Kakke and me went to a so called Gujarati Hotel and had some tandoori stuff and got food packed for Abhijeet.
November 5- This was our final day in Srinagar and we visited Sankaracharya Temple, Hazrat Bal Mosque and beautiful gardens. Visit to Sankaracharya Temple was refreshing. CRPF was entrusted with the task of safeguarding the temple and on the walls of the temple these lines were inscribed, “Kashmir se lekar Kanyakumari tak Bharat ek hai”. One of the CRPF jawan had a typical look of a South Indian and I wasn’t able to control my quest and asked him, whether he belonged to Tamilnadu? He promptly replied in Tamil that he hails from Kanyakumari District of Tamilnadu and has been serving in the valley since 2008. Now, that’s what India needed and the slogan is apt. A man from Kanyakumari guarding Sankaracharya Temple in Srinagar. Enchanting India!!!
November 6- Our Indigo Flight No. 6E-436 was scheduled to depart at 2:25 pm and we knew that security checking at the airport will be intense and decided to reach early. 5 times we were frisked by J&K Police and by CRPF jawans. To my surprise CISF which usually mans airports across India were replaced CRPF and J&K police jawans.
Our flight was delayed by half an hour and we landed Delhi at 4:30 pm. Kakke was leaving for Manali with his other friends and Abhijeet and myself headed for Uttam Nagar in a creepy CNG Auto. After a smart round of negotiation we managed to convince the auto driver for Rs 150/-. On November 8th Abhijeet left for Bangalore as he had meeting with his colleagues and I was left alone in Delhi. I was desperate to visit Amritsar and decided to take Raj Ranjan along with me. I have known Raj from my school days in 2002 at Bokaro Steel City. Fortunately Raj agreed to join me for the Amritsar trip.
November 9- We boarded Golden Temple mail from Hazrat Nizamuddin Station. Now railway has introduced one new rule, passengers can carry the snapshot of the tickets booked in their respective i-pads, laptops and mobile phones along with an original ID proof and need not carry the print out of the ticket. But, Raj was having his own apprehensions of trying this new rule and decided against it. We showed pur printed e-ticket and slept.
November 10- The Golden Temple Mail pulled at Amritsar Junction by 6 am in the morning. We had a cup of tea outside the station and took a tricycle for identifying an economical hotel. We were moving along the court road and I saw our bank branch. I proudly told te rickshaw wallah, “I work for this Bank”. He was all smiles on my statement. We freshened up at a hotel and hired an TATA INDIGO car for Rs 1000/-. One Sardar Jee was our driver and he promised us to take to Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Vaishno Mandir and Wagah Border.
It was 8:45 in the morning and we reached at the parking of Golden Temple. Friends, I realized that today was Guru Nanak Jayanti. I was ecstatic, at the time of planning this trip I never realized that I will get to meet Guru Saheb on his birthday. We covered our head with an orange color cloth sold at Rs 10/- outside the temple and headed inside.
I spoke to one of the Punjabi Aunty whom I knew since my days of stay in Patna (2003). She advised me to take holy dip at “Dukh Bhanjani Beri”.We were not supposed to immerse our head in the water. Without using any type of soap or oil devotees have to take dip 5 times in the water and then after changing clothes have to head for the Darshan of Guru Saheb. We were standing in the que for over two hours and finally got to get inside the sanctum. People from all walks of life were there and no discrimination between rich or poor. Everybody was waiting patiently for their turn and the management of the temple was amazing. Neat and tidy steps and everybody indulged in cleaning and maintaining the temple. After the darshan we headed for the huge “Langar” for the devotees. We had tandoori roti, daal and kheer as our prasad. By 1:30 pm we left the Golden Temple. We visited Jallianwala Bagh too and witnessed General Dier’s cruelty.
At 2:30 pm Sardar jee was driving Indigo on NH-1 and we were heading towards Wagah Border. On the highway we stopped at one of the hotel and had the world famous Makke ki roti, Sarso ka saag, Baingan ka bharta, Tandoori Roti and Lassi.
We reached Wagah Border custom check post by 3:30 pm and stood in the que for 1.5 hours. With every passing minute the crowd swelled further and finally we got to get inside the border post at 4:30 pm. We rushed towards the seating area and occupied our respective seats.
The Flag Lowering Ceremony was slated to start at 5:30 pm and prior to that the atmosphere was filled with slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jay”, ‘Vande Matram”, “Hindustan Zindabaad”. We were all charged up to witness the high voltage ceremony. Border Securtiy Force (BSF) is the force which mans Wagah Border and they have their best officers and staff for the flag lowering ceremony. At the roof top of the BSF post 6 to 12 powerful speakers were kept. Those speakers kept on playing songs with valour and patriotic flavor. Songs like, “Dil diya hai, jaan bhi denge aie vatan tere liye”, Chak de India, Suno gaur se duniya walo sabse aage honge Hindustani and many more.
We witnessed an incredible show of patriotism and valor. The BSF jawans were practicing vehemently for the closing in ceremony and they put up a splendid performance. I wish you all could have seen it for yourself, that if it was not for our BSF, Army, Navy, Airforce we will not be sleeping happily and safely in our homes. They sacrifice their today for our today and tomorrow.
The flag ceremony got over by 6 pm and we headed back to Amritsar City. We reached our hotel room by 7 pm and Raj immediately dozed off on the bed and I was watching “Kuch to log kahenge” on Sony. By the time, the serial got over it was 8:30 pm and we checked out of the hotel room and reached Amritsar Station by 9 pm. The Golden Temple Mail chugged from platform No. 1 and I closed my eyes on my side upper berth and told to myself, “Well done Mrinal”, but again my conscience said Miles to explore before I sleep”.