Road Trip to Amarnath from Delhi – Reaching Kashmir (almost)

I was 17 years perhaps, when I have for the first time made a trip with my friends to Digha, a sea beach at East Midnapore, West Bengal. We have come across a gang of ghumakkars, who were discussing about a trip to Leh-Ladhak by road. They were though older but we befriended since we were sharing adjacent rooms in the same hotel. They had a route map and few pictures of some of their relatives and friends who had visit the place few days back. They were describing their daring tour boastingly in the horrific terrain. I was jealous and firmly decided to conduct the tour some day by road. Alas! No body met my way in almost twenty years who would join me for the tour. I bought a Yamaha Rx 100 bike, just for the road trip to Leh – Ladhak out of my hard saved pocket money in 1993 and offered free tour to my entire friends and colleagues but no one ever actually agreed accompanying me for the trip for one reasons or other.

Finally God was kind enough and I got an opportunity to go on Amarnath Yatra in July 2012 alongwith two of my colleagues. I managed convincing them to go in my car (Swift Vxi), after little hesitation they agreed. Gradually and immaculately I managed to extend the trip to Leh and return via Manali. I confess, I didn’t disclose them regarding the usual hardships and adversity of the terrain and presented only the lighter and enjoyable side of the road journey. One of them was a good driver but on plains hence, I was prepared to undertake the uphill journey.

It was planned to visit Amarnathji first via Baltal and then go to Leh. We were expecting to get a helicopter ticket at Baltal to avoid the hardships of the steep uphill trek. Loaded with woolens, inners, trekking shoes, shades, umbrella, rain coat, a rucksack, torch, some chocolates, dry fruits, sunscreen lotion and other necessary items of regular use and a fitness certificate from registered medical practitioner (mandatory for Amarnath yatra) we headed enthusiastically for the holy yatra for a glimpse of the magical view of the natural Shiv Ling, originates with natural phenomena at Amarnath cave. However, simultaneously I was overwhelmed with the mere though of finally heading for the dream destination LADHAK.

Day-1

After a quick check of my car in Maruti authorized service centre, we started our journey from Janakpuri, New Delhi with tank full and wheels with proper air done, at or around 5 PM on 13.07.2012. Two of us were on the front seat and one at the rear. We decided to maintain a steady and permissible speed with a minimum run of 300 kms before a break for dinner. The fuel tank with a capacity of 45 liters petrol was supposed to dry only after 650 kms run. I was steering upto Ludhiana via the GT Karnal Road i.e. NH-2, which is almost very well maintained and reached there at 10.30 PM with a total run of 330 kms effortlessly. We were pretty happy to maintain the speed as per our plan. After having dinner and resting on the charpai (cots) available at one of the motels in Ludhiana – Jallandhar road, we started for the onward journey at 11.30 PM, the driver changed and I shifted to the rear seat for a nap.

As per our plans we were supposed to reach Patni Top in J&K via Udhampur early next morning by driving another 350 kms. The road upto Udhampur is almost on plains so I decided the second driver to keep the pace upto Udhampur atleast, after which I was supposed to drive in the hills. The road from Ludhiana onwards was almost solitary with rarely any traffic except few tourist buses plying from Delhi to Jammu & Katra. The fuel indicator was showing low after crossing Jallandhar and fuel pumps were not readily available open on the highways, so we decided to fill the tank at Samba, J&K from where you take a right turn towards Udhampur, avoiding the hustles of Jammu. After refueling and sipping a cup of tea at a small tea stall adjacent to the service station at Samba, we were back in the car. My colleague after driving for another half an hour seemed fatigued and drowsy. Immediately therefore, I took the command of the wheel. By that time we were only 100 kms short of Patni Top and it was 4.30 am. Driving at dawn, I believe is very prone to accidents (especially after over night journeys) therefore, I cautiously steered the car at a normal speed of not more than 60 kms per hour. After an hour’s driving the sky gradually, beautifully lighten up and the hilly road started. I was excited to have a glance of the beautiful view of the hills, valleys and greenery after a long journey in the darkness. We were in J&K now and I could breathe the fragrance of freshness in the air of heaven on earth comprised with an unknown fear in mind of confronting any untoward incident being in J&K. The CRPF jawans loaded with sophisticated weapons, dressed in bullet proof jackets with a vigil eye on every passer, patrolling every 200 meters on both sides of the serene road was however, the guaranteed relief. (Salute to our defense personnel). At 7.30 AM we were at Patni Top covering a total journey of around 700 kms., completed comfortably in approximately 13 hours, non-stop.

Day-2

We were very excited to see the breathtaking view of Patni Top. We parked our car at Patni Top chowk and simultaneously searched hotels/resorts in and around. A J&K police official helped us by informing about a reasonably rated and ideally located resort which was located at the edge of the valley approachable by alighting few steep kuchha steps. We were lucky to find a room at a negotiable rate of Rs. 1,650/- per night for three. The weather all of a sudden was chilly and dry cold breeze blowing with aroma of freshness, taking away our entire exhaustion instantly. After shifting into the hotel we decided to sleep for a few hours after refreshing and having a light breakfast before exploring the nature’s gifted beauty of the place. The name of the hotel was “Hotel Greenland’. The other places to stay in Patni Top are Patni Top Resort, a JKTDC run Tourist Lodge and a few budget hotels too. (Better to book in advance)

Patnitop Chowk

Patnitop Chowk

Patnitop

Patnitop

At 2 PM, after a sound sleep we woke refreshed, full of enthusiasm. A sumptuous meal cooked in a homely fashion, ideally spicy and the dining table in the open lawn made out of crudely crafted tree logs rejuvenated and filled us with instant energy required in acclimatizing in the altitude and trekking the up hills throughout the onward destinations. After finishing our lunch, we decided to loiter around in the local; since there is not much to visit we just walked through the road, climbed some hills and had Bhutta (Corn) roasted in lighted twigs by the natives. I can’t forget the taste of the corns it was so delicious, sweet and juicy with fragrance of smoke that we had two each. Suddenly it started drizzling and the weather changed from affordable chilly to bitter cold. The strong cold breeze added in forcing us rush into our hotel. Early to bed early to rise, but before going to bed we reconciled the plan to onward journey and unanimously decided to start as early as possible next morning to reach Baltal via Sonamarg before dusk, as there was a risk of getting stuck at any point for giving way to the military convoys or due to any unprecedented incidents / reasons in J & K.

Bhutta

Bhutta

Uphill

Uphill

Day-3

Next morning at 6 AM we were ready to move, the morning was pleasantly cool and the valley was lush green due to rain on previous night, washing away the minimal dust on the leaves and flowers. The fragrance of pine and rhododendrons refreshed our mood, after cleaning the car through a local boy; we headed with utmost titillation toward our next destination. I was back on the steering, now the road was completely hilly with multiple curves, potholes, pebbled, muddy and narrow at some points however, it’s a national highway and mostly well maintained, broader and plain specially after crossing the Jawahar Tunnel, the gateway to Kashmir.

Lush Greenary

Lush Greenary

The distance from Patni Top to Baltal is around 325 KMS, hence we were confident to reach there in 7-8 hours. We planned to have breakfast at Anantnag after driving 135 KMS and supposed to reach there by 10 AM. The journey was full of excitement and we were overwhelmed to drive traversing rivers, dense pine forest, valleys, high rising and rolling down roads at times. The mesmerizing serenity was hindered only by some military trucks, gypsy, loaded TATA trucks and Jathas of pilgrims heading towards the Holy Amarnath Cave. My colleagues were busy clicking photographs and making videos all the way. I was however, just longing the glimpse of the most picturesque, barren, highest desert on earth. After a few more kilometers, we suddenly caught sight of a tunnel with number of military personnel checking all vehicles. Hey it was the Jawahar Tunnel, believe me, one CRPF jawan came closer to me and saluted. I was astonished, don’t misunderstand, I was in fact wearing a military cap and that was the confusion which he realised soon. After checking our vehicle with a very friendly and courteous but military attitude, we were allowed to enter into the tunnel. Cunningly we captured a few shots of the tunnel, from distance of course. It was dark inside the tunnel with growling noise of the other vehicles running inside but the thrill was sky high as we were now nearing towards the actual Kashmir Valley. The length of the tunnel is about 3 KMS. It is a piece of engineering marvel built by two German architects and christened after the first Prime Minister of India, operational since 1956 between 8 AM to 12 midnight. The tunnel is now maintained by the BRO and has been renovated several times, also known as Banihal Tunnel.

Gateway to Kashmir

Gateway to Kashmir

Way to Kashmir

Way to Kashmir

Just after coming out of the tunnel we were in Anantnag district, a completely different landscape awaited to greet us in the heavenly adobe that accrue the thrill with lush greenery of the valley, even the air seems filled with exotic fragrance and one impromptu feel younger in heart and jubilant and ecstatically romantic. A view point with a board of TITANIC VIEW POINT is ideally located on the left side of the highway and no visitors I guess can pass without a short break at this point. The Kashmiri handicrafts are available at sale by mobile vendors, no idea of its authenticity however, nothing wrong in bargaining. A few snaps to banta hai boss and so we did. After a short break, a few clicks and filling our lungs with the refreshing oxygen, we were back on wheels with a better pace both because of the extra energy gained at the previous halt and also the road now was broader and straighter.

First view of Valley

First view of Valley

Titanic View Point

Titanic View Point

Posing at Titanic View Point

Posing at Titanic View Point


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Mobile Vendor

Mobile Vendor

Suddenly after driving a few minutes from the Jawahar Tunnel, we were stunned by the sight of agitating wild mob on the highway equipped with Lathis, Swords and knives, shouting aloud and stone pelting on something which was not visible. A few trucks and local cars were on halt and waiting helplessly. I kept my car away from the site of turbulence and positioned it in a way that it can easily be turned around in case of emergency to flee. Honestly, all our smiles vanished and vulnerable thoughts engulfed our mind. I pretended to be calm and showing some dare went off the car to ask about the incident to a couple in a local JK number Alto. They smiled and replied, everything will come under control after the CRPF arrive the venue. We found the J&K Police standing mute with no actions against the agitating mob.

18 Comments

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    and I am jealous once again, after Vishal, Prof and Naresh, there is one more to share his journey to this beautiful place.

    Very nice start of the long journey and thoroughly enjoyable…one can only guess what is coming next.
    Someday, I will surely drive to fulfill my long pending wishes.

    The disadvantage of early ’90 were a many. The only source of information was either magazines or common friends or personnal instincts. It might have its own pros and cons. Today, it is completely different. How I felt not coming across people like you or some other friends in this site during those time.

    The month just started with a beautiful post and we look forward to many more such posts.

    • AJAY SHARMA says:

      Dear Amitava,
      So nice to hear such praiseworthy words. You are very right, there was no sources of proper guidelines on travel during then. I remember of reading a bangla magazine “bhromon” though not so properly but this was the only good magazine I guess. I had a group of friends in Chinsura a place near Kolkata and happened to visit many places in the North East and Jharkhand those days. Also conducted few trekking trips with them. In fact the instinct of ghumakkari developed in their company. I still miss them a lot.

      Road journey to Leh was a dream to me and I am very satisfied on successfully conducting it and happier in re-living the entire journey while writing the post. Hope you all will enjoy the journey with me.

      My best wishes to your proposed journey.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Ajay Sharma ji,

    Let me grab an opportunity to comment first on this beautiful post.

    A perfect post with beautiful pictures and interesting narration. Pic. of Bhutta sikai tempted me to eat a garma garm Bhutta. Hotel Greenland is looking very beautiful in picture. Hope this will be one of the most interesting series on Amarnatha Yatra on ghumakkar.

    Thanks.

    • AJAY SHARMA says:

      Dear Mukesh,

      Thank you so much for your so nice comment. It is so inspiring and touchy that I am overwhelmed. Just tried to dictate the journey in words. My most exciting travel experience has been re-lived in this and the forth coming posts. Hope you all will enjoy the trip as much as I did.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • Ajay ji,

    Congratulations for this wonderful post!
    I liked the way you have narrated your experience. It is simple and full of information- about your decisions and the place.

    Great post. Looking forward for more!

    • AJAY SHARMA says:

      Dear Archana,

      Many thanks for your kind words of praise. I tried to connect the readers with my post as if they are travelling with me. Keep motivating me to write more.

      Regards
      Ajay

  • Nandan Jha says:

    So after Bhratpur, you are all set for a very long drive.

    I think you touched upon a good point around driving during dusk/dawn. It is indeed a bad time to be on the road because of poor light. We try to time our break keeping this in mind and take a stop for a tea/bio break. If not then we drive with lot more caution.

    13 hours for about 700 Km, so I would guess that one starts early morning then possibly one would be there before it gets too dark. How far is Jawahar tunnel (in terms of hours) from Patni Top, and is there a place just after the tunnel to halt for the night ? Srinagar is a little far for a single day Delhi-Srinagar run, right ?

    I am going to do this on road some day. :-) Thank you for instigating.

    • AJAY SHARMA says:

      Dear Nandan,

      Thanks a lot! This is the most proud and satisfying moment to see mt post on the most awaited journey of my life.

      The GT Karnal road is very crowded during day hence, plying on this route at night is no problem. It reduces the journey upto Samba by at least 2-3 hours, without stress. A cautious driving avoiding the dawn (halt for an hour as suggested by you) can reduce the risk to some extent.

      Delhi to Srinagar will be a too long journey and stressful and risky due to mountainous terrain after Udhampur. A break at Patni Top is a better idea. There is no hotel or staying place just after the Jawahar Tunnel. The nearest place to stay is at Anantnag, but that will again be a longer stretch.

      Patni Top to Jawahar Tunnel is roughly a 3 hours comfortable drive if not stuck due to road blocks for various reasons.

      We all look forward and wish the best for your proposed road journey and the subsequent write up.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • Ajay ji,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post..
    Pictures are too good.

    @ Nandan : Distance between Jawahar tunnel and Patni Top is around 114 km and it will take around 4 hours in own vehicle with no stops. You will pass through towns of Batote, Ramban,Ramsu and Banihal. All terrain is complete hilly.
    You can get many stay option at Kazigund and Khannabal (Anantnag ) after Jawahar tunnel but they are not luxury. Road after Jawahar tunnel to Srinagar is mainly plain barring first 10-12 KMs and it will take only two hours to reach there.

    • AJAY SHARMA says:

      Dear Naresh,

      Thanks for appreciating the post. I agree with your suggestion to Nandan. I just feel, a break at Patni Top is both comfortable and worth in view of the scenic beauty there. Another 5-6 hours journey in the mountainous terrain upto Anantnag, after a long drive from Delhi will be very strenuous.

      Keep travelling
      Ajay

  • SilentSoul says:

    Very good and detailed travelogue Sharmaji. The fotos of Titanic valley are awesome. waiting for next part

  • davinder singh randhawa says:

    beautiful article, what a description, keep writing……………………

  • Dear Sharma ji,
    I would like to ask your advice ,I want to travel Gurgaon, Srinagar Leh , local around, Manali, Gurgaon circuit. Please suggest the vehicle ( Honda Brio , my favorite ) or Dezire Diesel or Alto will be the best in terms of ground clearance should be taken.
    Regards
    Davinder.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dear Davinder Ji,
    The road from Gurgaon-Srinagar-Sonamarg is smooth. Sonamarg-Leh is also very well maintained except a few kms stretch at Zozila. Hence, any car will do. BUT Leh to Manali is a tough terrain and any of the three cars mentioned by you may get stuck in terms of ground clearance. However, if you are used to high altitude rugged driving and steer with caution, any car may do the job. Good luck & don’t forget to share your experience here.

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

  • Davinder Chaudhary says:

    Dear Sharma ji,
    Thanks for the encouragement . I had done Badri, Kedar, Yamunotri & Gangotri route many a times in a Maruti 800 ’86 model car. And Shimla, Kalpa,Kaza , Kibber & Sangla trip last year . But its a lifetime desire to complete this Leh route from both sides & then stop the adventure driving for my age ( 67 +, & bypass surgery done in 2010 )
    Do you suggest 3 person in two cars each. Can Dezire VDI can replace either of these cars.
    will keep you posted for our trip & adventure .
    Regards,
    Davinder.

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