Kashmir – The crown of India

From Kolkata to Sonmarg via Srinagar on 26th July 2014 :
This travelogue is about Shri Amarnath Yatra and visit to places around Sonmarg, Srinagar and Yushmarg, we undertaken in 2014. That was my second visit to Kashmir, the earlier one was a two weeklong one in October 2013, covering Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonmarg, Srinagar in Kashmir valley and Jammu town, Katra, Shri Vaishno Devi in Jammu region. I hope to narrate my journey diary related to that visit sometime later. This time, our main intention was to go to the holy Amarnath cave through Baltal Domel route.

On 26th July 2014, myself with my mother reached Srinagar from Kolkata by flight. I already booked a Xylo for our commutation and a room in hotel Snowland at Sonmarg. The vehicle picked us up from Srinagar airport. While going to Sonmarg, we told Izaj bhai, the chauffeur, to go through Tulmul for visiting Ksheer Bhawani temple. But we were unlucky. Just before say 2-3 km, we got the information that some trouble erupted yesterday in that area, hence curfew was imposed. So we took a diversion and directed towards Sonmarg. Before reaching Sonmarg, we made a small stopover beside river Sindhu. At this point, there is a small foot-bridge over Sindhu to go to a restaurant placed on the other side of the river. Normally, all the tourists stop over there for taking snaps. Sindhu was flowing in full roar. It was last week of July, so water level was high. Very often, tides were touching the hanging pool to make it completely wet. At the same time, we saw snow covered surface of the adjoining hill, by the side of which Sindhu was flowing. We took some snaps and after spending 10 minutes at that spot, we headed towards Sonmarg.

Mother standing in front of roaring Sindhu

Mother standing in front of roaring Sindhu

Sonmarg is remotely located. Hence, tranquility of the place is unique and ensured. We checked into the picturesque hotel and enjoyed the beauty of the nearby hill from the rear balcony. Sindhu was flowing just behind the hotel. So the sound of the full flowing river was continuously available. We saw the setting sun in its full glory. Entire surrounding was magnificent with absolute calmness, except chirping of birds and roar of the Sindhu. Our tired body and mind got filled up with the sound of the silence.

Hotel Snowland at Sonmarg

Hotel Snowland at Sonmarg

After sunset, we chalked our plan for tomorrow. According to Yatra pass, we were scheduled to go for the Amarnath yatra on 28th. July 2014 (Monday). So 27th was kept for acclimatisation, particularly for my 68 year old mother, and for making a visit to Zoji La (pass), Captain Point, Zero Point etc.

In the evening, I went out to have a walk in the locality and to get an idea about the town. Sonmarg is a very small town. By God’s grace, not many shops were there. Only 30-40 local shops cater to the need of the tourists and trekkers with woollen garments, gift items, trekking items, fruits, vegetable, photo studio, etc. I bought local apples at Rs.40/- a Kg, which was just unimaginable at Kolkata. We had dinner in the inhouse restaurant and went to sleep.

Trip to Baltal, Captain Point, Zero Point Glacier through Zoji La and vivit to Thajiwas glacier on 27th July 2014 :
After breakfast, there was an acidic surprise waiting for us. We came to know that vehicles coming from outside like Srinagar etc. are not permitted to undertake local sightseeing trip. This unofficial rule was made perhaps to rejuvenate local economy. So we had to hire a local Sumo for our journey to Baltal and other places, which I am going to describe now.

The famous Zoji La

The famous Zoji La

We moved along Zoji La. This high mountain pass, numbered as national highway 1D, connects Srinagar with Leh. We went to Baltal first. Diversion of road to Domel from the national highway takes place just before here. This part of Himalaya does not have any tree. Greenery ceases to exist, which is the reason for lack of oxygen in many a places around here. The highway continued to elevate. On the right side, we saw a helipad at Baltal, which is used by choppers for going to Amarnath cave (Panjtarni helipad).

Zoji La, another view

Zoji La, another view

Helipad at Baltal

Helipad at Baltal

Suddenly after some zigzags, we gained substantial altitude. The road became very dusty. The asphalted top no longer existed. It became slippery and dangerous. There were a truck and a sedan ahead, which were polluting the environment with dust and burnt diesel. The highway at that place was so narrow that neither any vehicle could overtake, nor other vehicles could come from opposite direction.

Risky and narrow Zojia La

Risky and narrow Zojia La

After some distance, we could overtake the truck. On gaining further altitude, we had bird’s eye view of yatri camps, army tents, yatri busses and cars etc. placed far below. Everything looked like miniaturized toys.

Yatri camps, tents and vehicles : A birds eye view

Yatri camps, tents and vehicles : A birds eye view

We continued further to have Captain Point glacier on our left. It was huge mass of ice, laying between two mountains. Our Sumo driver collected drinking water from the melting glacier. We proceeded further ahead.

Captain Point glacier

Captain Point glacier

Driver collecting drinking water from Captain Point glacier

Driver collecting drinking water from Captain Point glacier

Then we saw a small memorabilia constructed on the right side of the road. It was “Beacon Dwar”, inaugurated by Lt.General Prakash Suri on 15th. October 2001. Two jawans were on duty. I talked to them and they kindly agreed to pose for a snap for me.

The Beacon Dwar

The Beacon Dwar

Then we moved further. After covering, say 37 km from Sonmarg, we reached zero point glacier on the right side. This is the first place, where we found a flat surface on the right side of Zoji La. The area was enormously huge. Very large indeed, which can house many football grounds. It was fully covered by ice.

The Zero Point glacier

The Zero Point glacier

Our Sumo left Zoji La and entered the glacier. From far away, we saw a small group of persons was there. Some of them were tourists. Others were local people offering sledge service, selling shawls, dry fruits etc. There were high mountains surrounding the glacier. After getting down from vehicle, we inhaled cool and fresh air. I was looking like less than an ant in size, as compared to the entire surrounding. There was solid ice everywhere. We talked to the persons doing sledge service. They told us that rate of sledging was Rs.250 per point, but did not tell us total amount likely to be incurred per person. Not many points were there. So depending on common sense we agreed for sledge ride.

My mother on sledge

My mother on sledge

A sledge, what we saw, was basically a wooden rectangular frame, on which two persons can sit. When it moves upward, the tourist sits alone on the sledge. One person pulls it from the front, with the help of a rope fixed to it and another person pushes the sitting tourist from behind. On reaching an elevation, it starts downward journey. Then, one person sits on the sledge ahead of the tourist and automatic downward journey starts with the help of gravitational pull. The person who sits in the front, tries to use his feet as brake to control velocity and direction of the sledge. This type of journey was new to us, but appeared to be adventurous. My 68 year old mother was so excited that she also agreed to take the sledge ride with me. Before starting the journey, a person standing nearby offered to help me by safe-keeping my camera bag. I was hesitating. I knew nobody over there. How can I handover my costly camera to unknown persons. But there was no way out. Hence I gave my camera bag to him and started the sledge ride.

The upward journey was ok, though it was strenuous enough to the persons who operated it. But while coming down, it rolled upside down. Both me and the operator both fallen apart on the ice surface. Quickly we consolidated and decided to come back to the initial starting point by careful walking. I got back my camera intact.

Standing on Zero Point glacier

Standing on Zero Point glacier

After the journey, we were asked to pay Rs.6000/- in total for both of us. I was totally taken aback. I had no idea how much could be total cost and I asked again and again before taking the service. Anyway, we started negotiation but I had to give Rs.5500/- finally. Having felt looted, we sat for some dumb moments and then started return journey.

While coming back we crossed a couple of foreign tourists, who were cycling. Huge pack of provisions and others items were tied with their cycle and they were moving through the uncertain, risky and deserted Zoji La without any tension. As if they were cycling in a city road. This sight reminded me of Vivekananda and gave me confidence and strength with a lesson that anything is achievable if we have mental strength, courage and determination to do that. In case of emergency and danger, God come out of nowhere to help us and scrape us through.

Foreigners on cycle in Zoji La

Foreigners on cycle in Zoji La

Before reaching Sonmarg, we passed Nilagrad and a fish pond situated at a lower elevation by side of the highway. There was Gadibal tourist resort, which is a collection of nice hutments, lying beside Sindhu. Then we diverted towards Thajjiwas glacier. This is a marvelous place. Last time when I visited Sonmarg in October 2013, I walked more than 5 km along the glacier. The trekking was memorable. But this time, since mother was with me, I could walk only, say 2 km, from the point where we left the Sumo. And this time, the surrounding mountains were full of snow. Sledging was also being conducted at Thajjiwas, but I was not interested to have it again. So we returned to our hotel with nice memory of the journey just undertaken by us.

View of Thajjiwas glacier

View of Thajjiwas glacier

The Sumo trip cost us Rs.5500/-, which I thought was reasonable. We took rest in the afternoon and started mental preparation for next day’s Shri Amarnath Yatra, about which we were very much excited. For many years, we read many articles and novels about this holy journey (though the writers went through the Chandanwari route). We were just making ourselves believe that we also were going to have the yatra at last. I went to the bed to have a peaceful sleep.

28 Comments

  • Akash says:

    Santanu good job, keep it up

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Akash,
    Happy to serve you. Thanks dear.
    Santanu

  • Dear Santanu

    So we were almost at the same time in the same place. I was there on 10-11 July 2014 on my return journey from Amarnath Yatra and you were on the way to Holy Cave. I stayed at Hotel Sonamarg which locates near the Hotel Snowland. Yes, they know well the master work of loot!

    Very well written, Santanu! But you did the same mistake as I did. Its not Sindhu (Indus) river. It is Sindh Nalah. I will be waiting to read about your yatra. Please bring that soon.

    By the way, if you wish to read my log on Sonamarg and Zojila you may read them here :-

    http://www.ghumakkar.com/sonamarg-golden-meadow-of-kashmir/
    http://www.ghumakkar.com/majestic-ladakh-zojila-the-most-treacherous-mountain-pass-in-the-world/

    Thanks for sharing

    Regards
    Anupam

  • Nice to read, felt like a virtual journey travelled

  • Santanu says:

    Abhijit,
    Thanks for your feedback. Keep reading at Ghumakkar.com. You will make a lot of virtual travel here. Next part of this series is coming up shortly. keep a watch.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Abhijit,
    Watch out next parts of my travelogue coming up at Ghumakkar shortly. You will love to do a lot of virtual travel here. Wish you happy reading always.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Santanu

    Very good post with good pictures.

    The sledge event must be an eye-opener to many of us. What if someone is not carrying sufficient ready money in cash? Anyway, nice to read about the zero point and the captain glaciers.

    In 2010, I was lucky to go to Amarnathji. It was a good experience.

    So, waiting to read how your travelogue unfolds in subsequent posts.

    Regards

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Uday,
    After the sledge ride, standing upon the glacier, I was perspiring. Because I was thinking exactly what you have written. Had there not been adequate cash with us, what would have happened !!! If anyone wants to go to such remote places, I think it is better to go in groups (8-10 persons at least).
    Thanks for your appreciative comments and support.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • P.D.KULKARNI says:

    very nice and informative article.
    we also had been to sonmarg way back in 2005.sonmarg was real good and quiet as said and very beautiful.
    The backdrop of greenery with ice slopes was breathtaking.
    we also had been to usmarg which was in tourist circuit in old days but was not frequented after charare-sharif burndown.
    we found usmarg very beautiful and tourists were quite less and though the JKTDC RESORT rroms were very good it was little scary in the night.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Mr.Kulkarni,
    Thanks for your kind comments. One, who prefers solitude and tranquility, will be fascinated by Sonmarg. Thanks for non-urbanisation of the place, even in 2015. Its a boon in disguise. Its a place where one can visit time and again.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Dominic Colin says:

    What a nice scenery ! Kashmir is always a charming place for travelers. Your article is very informative.Thanks.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Dominic,

    Thanks for your comment. Kashmir has been described as the heaven on earth. The beauty of Himalayan range of mountains changes from place to place. Kashmir, HP and Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, North-East – beauty of those places are different. I have not gone to Pakistan or Afganisthan or China, so I cant comment. But amongst all, I think beauty of Kashmir is the best.

    Please keep reading posts published at Ghumakkar.com for many more interesting travelogues.

    Regards
    Santanu

  • Harish Verma says:

    Yes, you are right Kashmir is the crown of India and that enhance the beauty of North India which includes himachal, kullu, manali and dalhousie etc… Thanks for sharing the wonderful post!!!

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Harish,
    Thanks for your appreciation. I would like to go to the Himalaya time and again. Starting from furthest North-East upto the Northern area, its beauty all the way. One who fell in love with Himalaya, cant resist but would like to travel repeatedly.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Naresh Sehgal says:

    Very nice and informative post with good supporting photographs.
    So you were looted by the local goons. They are masters in it. It is always better to ask for lump sump rate.
    Comparatively these things are not in Himachals and UK.
    One correction- the river you mentioned as Sindhu is Sind or Sindh -a tributary of Jehlum.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Naresh ji,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I agree that the beautiful river is Sindh nallah.
    I can only hope that Govt of J&K is needed to intervene for standardisation of various rates. This will surely help the tourists, otherwise rampant looting will continue. I also agree with you that picture is totally different in other states.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Nandan Jha says:

    I am late to the party. I guess we should have changed the title to better reflect the contents. A lot of readers come via Google and a more direct/apt title mentioning sonmarg, zero point etc would have been better. I guess we can still do it.

    Now on to Kashmir, I think it is difficult to express in words, the beauty of this place. Salute to your mother for braving this tour.

    And the sledge, that is so so un-fortunate. It is a day time robbery and I am sure they would be hunting for another pair of gullible folks who could be bullied. I would suggest that you write to info@jktdc.co.in , that is the least which should be done. Here is a log which could give you a little more inspiration,
    http://www.ghumakkar.com/ghumakkar-insight-lets-wander-but-be-vigilant-too/

    I have shared your link at J&K Tourism Facebook page as well – https://www.facebook.com/kashmirtourism.

    If people are still engaging in these fleecing tactis then we must do our bit of educating and alerting people (as you have beautifully done in this log) as well as initiate some correcting actions. Hopefully it all gets better.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nandan,

    Thank you very much for your comments, suggestion and action. These are definitely of immense help.

    My mother is happy enough in getting aware that, at her age, she is now talked about and her pictures are shown in Ghumakkar, which site has millions and millions of viewership/readership. She has travelled throughout India : from Meghalaya to Gujarat, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Nepal. But mostly during the pre-digital era. She conveyed her sincere thanks to all of you.

    Nandan, some additional thanks for sharing useful links.

    The next part of this travelogue is all about Shri Amarnath yatra, which is coming up here shortly.

    Regards
    Santanu

  • mahesh verma says:

    Nice snaps and good information about Kashmir

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Mahesh ji,
    Thank you for your comments.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Ritwika Dey says:

    Sir please tidy up one thing, I got my yatra permission on 26th July 2015. Can I able to start my yatra after 2-3 days from 26th? Actually I have got some sudden works so I have to postpone my yatra for 2-3 days. Is it possible or I have to do all the procedure of getting yatra permission once again? Please help me with your valuable reply

  • Aashika says:

    Kashmir “Heaven on earth” a place where everyone want to go.

    Very interesting experience. Pictures are lovely, they shows the real beauty of Kashmir.

    Nice Job!!

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Aashika,
    Thank you for your appreciative comments.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • raj taparia says:

    you saod that u had read many blog and books abt yatra,
    can u share the details of the same to Raj.taparia@gmail.com

  • Col NN Bhatia (Retd) says:

    Mr Santanu I enjoyed your travelogue immensely…My first posting immediately after 1962 War in Ladakh where my Battalion 13 Kumaon fought heroic Battle of Rezang La was in mid 1963 in Darbuk where our unit after the war was located…Roads and infrastructure over the years has improved a lot. My children traveled a few years back in Duster car from Noida to Ladakh and back missing visiting Chushul and Rezang La by few kilometers due to heavy snow. You may like to read my travelogue ‘A JOURNEY AS MAGICAL AS ITS DESTINATIONS’ along with my other write ups on Ghumakkar link below-

    Col NN Bhatia, Author at Ghumakkar – Inspiring travel experiences.
    https://www.ghumakkar.com/author/col-nini-bhatia/
    Col NN Bhatia ,popularly known as Nini Bhatia in the army was commissioned in the Kumaon Regiment in 1963 and retired in Sept 1995 after 32 years of ..

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