Gar Firdaus, Ruhe Zamin Ast, Hamin Asto, Hamin Asto, Hamin Asto………..
And I could not refrain myself from repeating these exclamations by the Emperor Jahangir!
At the ‘Ramban Regency’ we slept tight on a cozy bed only to wake up to a wonderful morning the next day. The far reaching mountain ranges which seemed terrifying at night were oozing plethora of natural splendor in the early morning. It was cloudy and misty and beautiful everywhere. The lush green foliage enveloping the surrounding uplands and the juvenile rays of the rising sun left us absolutely spell bounded! And not to forget the river we saw the previous night. It was the Chenab! As me and Anirudha went to the terrace to click pics, we saw Tejalee having fun on the banks of the Chenab. Following their lead and finding our way through people’s backyards we reached the riverbed of Chenab. Mesmerizing! And huge! The turbulent water frantically making its way through lofty forested cliffs and massive boulders reminded me of a river in the movie ‘Lord of the Rings’ where Galadriel; the lady elf turns the water into furious horses to save dying Frodo from the evil spirits.
The riverside was full of marbles and glossy flint stones which we volleyed into the Chenab. We also carried some of them with us, which were eventually misplaced. <span>L After a short photo session we unwillingly returned to the hotel. We had to reach Srinagar today at least! And now comes the kerosene smelling tea. It was 7 in the morning and the restaurant of the Ramban Regency was not yet opened. But on our explicit request, the fat bellied owner (if you remember him from the previous entry) woke the butler up and asked him to make us tea. He must be cursing us I am sure. And after a considerable amount of waiting we were served tea in fashionable crockery. Utterly contradictory to its appearance, the tea was baaaaad! It smelt of kerosene. All others drunk it though, but I couldn’t. And I swore never to drink tea again in Jammu & Kashmir. (But I did….)
We went back to the room, dressed ourselves up in the riding suits, loaded the bikes, covered the luggage with plastic bags, tied the bungees, checked petrol, (this procedure we followed throughout and I will refer to it just as loading the bikes henceforth) and we were ready to leave Ramban. The owner (whom we called uncle) and his assistant waved hands at us and we were out of Ramban in no time! (It’s a small hamlet). The second day of our ride and we were treading the Kashmiri roads zigzagging through the evergreen coniferous woods with alpine ridges on one side and deep verdurous valleys on the other. The ambience was cool and pleasant and it was not raining. As we rode, we passed by several local vehicles, military vans, on foot natives, school going children, roadside workers and gorgeous pink cheeked Kashmiri maidens! All of them staring at us with amazement and waving at us with full excitement. We too waved back and continued.
All of us were hungry and there were no shops in sight. The tiny villages we crossed were just beginning their day and we saw no hope of getting breakfast in near future. But on one of the curves there was a tiny well placed outlet with a hand pump close by. The owner himself was the cook. A white car was parked nearby and a kid about one year old was playing ‘driver driver’. His grand ma standing beside and keeping an eye on her grandson was a very kindhearted lady. She immediately drew us into conversation saying ‘dekho mera pota gadi chala raha he’. She meant, see my grandson is driving the car! And she was so proud and joyous while saying this. In the course of our chitchat she told me that the guy who was preparing breakfast for us was her son and the old man sitting at the café was her husband. She referred to him as ‘Mera Buddha’ meaning my old man. She also told me about her daughters who were happily married and working in big cities! She concluded saying we have everything necessary and we are contented. She also wished a fruitful life for us (when she came to know we were couples) and asked us to be contented too.
The breakfast (3 bread omelets and 1 maggi) was super delicious and the coffee that followed was equally gratifying. As we were about to finish, other two riders who were also going to Leh (the same route as ours) stopped by. We greeted one another. They were from Bangalore. Lee talked to them very eagerly (she did this with most of the people and riders we met) and shared information about our ride so far. With the hope of meeting again we bid goodbye to them and to the old aunty who wished us safe journey. We rode the roads those were climbing up and climbing down and sitting on the back seat I was indulging the photographer in me! We were almost approaching the end of the Jammu region and soon we were going to enter Kashmir. Jawahar Tunnel built atop the BanihalPass separates Jammu from the KashmirValley. Though the tunnel was just 2.5 kilometers long, we felt as if we were riding forever! The very very dimly lit narrow tunnel with no outside connection whatsoever (however there were emergency exits and phone booths) both spooked and thrilled us!
We took the whole video coverage of the Jawahar Tunnel. I and Anirudha went in first and before Tejas and Lee could come, a huge truck rushed in. Nothing was visible in front except for the intermittent signposts reading the distance. The truck was casting its lights upon us every now and then and like the John McClane movies or any other action movies we felt that we were being chased by the enemy with no way to go back or hide. We kept going until there was a streak of light, and more light and we were out of the tunnel! The whole ride through the dark scary tunnel was exceptionally mind-boggling! But wait, there was more to come. All this while we were passing through the cold, cloudy and humid environs but on this side of the tunnel, a whole new world was unwrapped before us. There were no clouds (as they could not climb the sky scrapping mountains and come on this side), sun was clearly visible and it was hot! Hot like in Mumbai! We saw the road sign indicating a ‘Titanic View Point’ and decide to stop there.
The first thing that we did before we could capture the first view of the KashmirValley was to remove our jackets and rain pants. Posing the Titanic pose we took some snaps (and not in obvious pairs as you would expect, but Tejas & Anirudha and Leenali & Me :p) While we were enjoying our tea at the Titanic Point, we came across a guy nicknamed Banti. Sometimes unknown people open our eyes to the truth of life. He was just relating the story of his love life and telling us how people come to Kashmir for honeymoon but Kashmiri women don’t like it there and want to go out. And soon after he started expressing his views on how love marriage is better than arrange marriage. The way he described it was purely male dominant and patriarchal so I won’t quote it here, but the gist of it was a lot of time is wasted in understanding each other in arrange marriage. Banti had to reach Jammu fast so he left wishing us happy journey and we wished him success in his love life. But even after we proceeded from the Titanic View Point, the thought of what Banti said didn’t leave our minds.
I and Anirudha had a discussion which was winded up with the conclusion that we had just learnt living with each other so far!
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