The Journey Begins
One fine day, on May 24, 2016, I just decided to buy that one way ticket and get Leh Ladakh off my charts.
I always thought this region of Himalayas was over exploited. So, I tried my best with the research to reach far and travel the roads which are less explored. This was my plan for this trip –
This particular trip I wanted to make sure was squeezed within the budget and not spend a penny extra. I DID THE WHOLE 28 DAYS TRIP IN RS. 24,000 ALL INCLUSIVE. So, it was a train ticket this time from Mumbai to Jammu. My adventure begins right form the point where I missed the tatkal ticket and had to go with the hand print reservation ticket.
TIP: This is one amazing info which has saved me many a times. For Indian Railways, you can always buy a hand print ticket (not online) and get on to the train. You will never have a confirmed seat but the TT cannot ask you to get off the train. You can always reach from point A to point B. I recommend to do this only for short distances.
Here I was, standing ill at ease in Mumbai Railways, with a backpack and a reserved train ticket of a 1.5 day journey. I had a thousand thoughts running in my mind. What if I don’t get a seat to sleep? Forget sleeping, what if no one allows me to even sit on some seat whole night? What if TT is not supportive? What if I have to spend whole night in toilet? What if!!! And guess what I, I actually did not get any place to sleep. Like many others, I spread a sheet down on whatever space was there in between the seats and literally slept trembling. To top it all, I booked 3 tier AC to bear the heat, BUT, AC wasn’t working! However, that gave me lots of anecdotes to share. I will tell you what, we all go through that resistance of not taking the risk but going forward is what gives you a lifetime of experience.
I never doubted going alone. It never crossed my mind that it was a bad idea and things might go wrong. For all I knew that they will go wrong and it will be worth it. But somehow, the most difficult part was to accept that I am traveling solo, not for me, but for all the people around me. I had to make numerous amount of excuses to tell people that why I am going alone. There came a point where I actually started believing that I have my team waiting ahead of me to the next stop.
After two days of struggle, I finally reached Jammu. Unexpectedly it was burning 45 degrees hot here. I booked a night bus to Srinagar and thought to explore Jammu for a while. I faced tremendous ATM issues which gave me chills in my bones leaving me with the feeling that I will have to return.
At a stretch it was third day when nothing was going right. Then finally I reached bus stand to go to Srinagar. To twist things a little more, I got this incredible bus service which was about to start at 10 pm but started at 4 a.m.!
BAD DECISIONS MAKE GREAT STORIES. This is where I got to meet Aurore and William, who later went on to be really good friends and hosted us in Paris. We, along with another uncle, spent all those long hours waiting for the bus to start until 4 a.m.
It was a long 16 hour journey and the driver drove it as slow as he could. I took to the front seat to at least soothe my eyes with the first view of mountains of J&K. People around were quite shocked to see a girl sitting in front seat and chit chatting with the driver. I looked back and passed it off with a quirky smile.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and Dal which is the second largest lake in the country. Dal, where the whole of a city resides on a lake, is famously known as “Jewel in the crown of Kashmir”. It is also the main source of tourism for the city.
We reached Srinagar finally at 4 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. It was already an evening passed by without any food. So the first target was to just find a place and get food sorted. I tied up with William and Aurore for a good deal of house boat. We were looking at these beautiful houses floating on the Dal lake, tempted to just check into any.
I wanted to go for the Shikara ride before the sunset and not stay in Srinagar for another day. I knew that Srinagar was too touristy to even exist on planet earth. While Aurore and William went out for some food and beer, I resisted and left for Shikara alone.
TIP: You can get a Shikara ride for Rs. 1000 for three hours or less.
My luck continues to support me even here. As soon as we left, it started raining heavily. Although it was beautiful like this, it became difficult for the sailor to ride. I must say this – Dal Lake, you are beautiful when you rain.
This is where the good part of journey finally started. From this moment till the time I reach back in Manali, every view is so picturesque that I will have to let my photos talk for itself.
TIP: Do ask the person riding the Shikara to take you from internal routes and do not settle for only seven spots they preach to show.
I couldn’t take my eyes off from any tiny bit of Dal Lake. The sunset, the mountains, the lake, the market lights, all of this along with my best companion – Camera. What more could I have asked for. No return ticket, little bit savings in pocket and a whole lot of adventure waiting for me this month. What more could anybody have asked for?
That’s when your stomach shouts and you know what to ask for – food!. It was 7 pm without a grain since last night. And there was no better way to eat than on lake street food!
Curling through the streams of Dal Lake, we cross a whole new city of sorts. In these three hours of ride I saw monuments, markets, broken bridges, local colonies and the lesser explored pavements. In these three hours of ride I saw a whole set of civilisation floating on just a lake. I saw almost a new way of life.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust.
From here on, one picture wont suffice to speak for the mesmerising beauty of the Himalayas. So, I try to capture 1000 frames in the form of video to capture every experience for lifetime.
After a soulful ride on Dal Lake, I sit with my new friends over a few bottles of beer and exchange our experiences & plans so far. I can’t be thankful enough to William and Aurore to be the amazing hosts as they were in Paris a few months later 🙂
As we binge on to our travel stories, the moon rises up and I am left with no other option than adding – Dal lake, you are beautiful at night too!
Next morning at 7:00 am I wake up to a dreadful cold, cough and fever…