I took the overnight Himachal Tourism’s Delhi-Shimla Volvo bus and reached Shimla early morning. My driver VK with his Toyota Innova met me at around 8 am and we managed to get out of the city just before the morning rush started. Few km after Theog, we stopped in a small roadside dhaba for a breakfast of aaloo paranthas and chai. This was my first time on this route but I kept dozing off for 5-10 minutes every now and then due to lack of sleep in the bus. The views were pretty nice, specially after the heat, humidity and dust of Delhi but I was somewhat impatient for the higher altitudes.

Saw many such

Saw many such “structures” on the way

There were a lot of fruit farms on the way and harvesting was going on. So there were a lot of trucks and people working there.  After crossing Jeori, VK informed me that the road to Srahan was damaged in a landslide sometime back and we had to take an alternate road. That “road” was just a mud track on a high hill through fruit orchards. It was full of deep mud pools, rocks and everything got a good shake while we were on it. If I knew about it earlier, I’d have given Sarahan a miss. It was a nice enough place, more so for someone coming from New Delhi but not completely worth that ride.

After putting away luggage at the hotel, I walked out to explore Sarahan. The only obvious landmark was the large and ancient Bhima Kali Temple which overpowers everything else in the village. I am not that interested in temples, monasteries kind of places, but decided to give it a try. According to some accounts, human sacrifices were performed in the premises till only a few hundred years before. It was almost empty at the time with only a few locals chatting and 2 Indian tourists. There are multiple sections built of stone and wood which include guesthouse, a small eatery, smaller stone temples for some other deities, a museum, store house and so on. When I tried to enter the main complex, a policeman armed with an ancient Lee Enflield 303 rifle informed that visitors can not take any leather accessories, phones and cameras inside. So i put all of that in a locker, put on a red cap provided there and went inside.

BhimaKali temple, Sarahan

BhimaKali temple, Sarahan

There was a board with a pretty interesting text about Goddess Bhima Kali, but photography was not allowed there and I don’t have a great memory. It read something like, ” When the mountains are overrun with demons and their misdeeds, I’ll take the avatar of Bhima Kali to destroy and consume them”. It is a very rough translation from a fading memory. It was much more poetic and impressive at that time.

The actual idols are now placed at an upper floor but the door was locked. A priest unlocked the door and went up after 3-4 other people came in while I was wandering around. I went up a few minutes later over a narrow flight of stairs. The sanctum had an old Bhima Kali idol in middle and smaller idols of various other gods and even Buddha in front of it. I walked around the temple complex a little bit more but there was nothing much to see. The museum was undergoing some renovations and rest of rooms were closed. There were a few large grey and black lizards lazing around in the sun. Saw a lot of them in the region over the next few days.

Carvings on temple doors

Carvings on temple doors

After I got out of temple, I walked around the town a little bit, but it was just a bunch of small shops selling usual stuff and guest-houses and hotels type of buildings. Near my hotel, I noticed a small stream coming down from the mountain. I briefly considered walking up the trail along it’s side but kept on walking back to hotel. It was too muddy and I was quite tired already. There was some kind of fair and festival going on nearby. I could hear a little bit of noise.Some people from the hotel and my driver went away to attend that. I had an early dinner and went to sleep soon after.

View from hotel in evening

View from hotel in evening

We started early next morning but the drive down that mud road was as bad as ever. Thankfully, it was much better once we reached the main road. There is a big hydel power project on Satluj river in this area with multiple dams, tunnels and huge distribution network infrastructure points every now and then. There were signs warning about dangers associated with being too close to river in case water is suddenly released from any of the reservoirs upstream. A few  tourists have been washed away recently in such a way.

The weather was quite nice with some mist, cool breeze and clouds everywhere.We made a stop at Sangla for some minor repair on the car, but I didn’t like the place enough to spend more time there. There is an ancient fort, temple and some hiking trails and forested areas behind the main town. But we gave that a miss. Raksham which we passed later was much more picturesque. The beautiful river valley has a number of majestic mountain peaks, some of which were still covered in snow. There were beautiful fruit farms almost everywhere and colourful wild flowers growing in every available space. There was an ITBP checkpost on the way, where they noted down our details.

A beautiful mountain near road

A beautiful mountain near road

Chitkul was a much smaller village with a few hotels. After having lunch in the hotel, I walked up to the river to take some pictures and kept walking alongside riverbank upstream till the trail ended at main “road”. There were only a few workers working on some new buildings and expansion of road which is little more than dirt track right now.

A view between Rakcham and Chitkul

A view between Rakcham and Chitkul

Proceeding further up the road is prohibited due to it’s proximity with Tibet border and there is a ITBP checkpost and base to enforce the rule. The soldier manning the road barrier was quite friendly though. When I was walking back to the village, I saw a lot of Pikas. Normally it is quite rare to have them sit still for more than one second unless it’s early morning or late evening. But I must have photographed atleast 5-6 of them in one hour which is extremely rare, Most of them stayed still even in my near proximity and kind of posed for the pictures. Perhaps they were the reincarnated spirits of people who died while taking selfies.

One of many Pikas I saw

One of many Pikas I saw

I walked through the village for a while and stumbled on to the famous Last Indian Dhaba by accident. A HRTC bus was about to start it’s 15-16 hours journey to Chandigarh via Reckong Peo and it’s passengers were just drinking tea or smoking. I had a cup of tea there before walking back to hotel as a drizzle started. I stayed there watching birds and grey skies, then grew restless as there was still plenty of daylight left. I put on my slippers and walked through the village streets. Locals paid little attention to me except a few idle glances every now and then.

In Chitkul. Perhaps used for storing supplies

In CHitkul village. Perhaps used for storing supplies

Interesting looking locks

Interesting looking locks

There was a path at end of the village which led up towards the mountains and to a stream flowing down it. This was primary source of water for most of the village. I walked in the stream to take some pictures as it was barely 10-12 cm high.. Within seconds my feet were almost frozen by the cold water. A few seconds later, one of the slippers slipped off my feet and I vainly tried to chase it. Thankfully, it stopped against a rock a few meters downstream and I was able to retrieve it. Walking half barefoot down the village streets was not a very pleasant idea for me.

Stream behind the Chitkul village

Stream behind the Chitkul village

While walking back, I asked some villagers about the trail going up the mountain. It was a walking route to some villages behind the mountains as well as the route for circumambulation around the majestic Kinner Kailash parvat.

A majestic looking jungle crow in the rain

A majestic looking jungle crow in the rain

I was considering staying in Chitkul for 2 nights, but changed my mind. It was a nice enough place, but I had seen most of it and wanted to leave the rest for some other time. Maybe my next trip will have more days specifically for this area. We left the place early next morning for Kalpa or some other place on the way.

Index post.

This series of posts is a travelogue of my recent vacation covering Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahaul and Manali in 16 days. It was a solo trip for most part and involved travel on road, camping, trekking and just lazing around on different days. My previous trip to this region was in 2015 in which I planned to visit Samudri Tapu glacier among other places but had to drop the Samudri Tapu part after people with me backed out and the water bodies swelled up overnight with unexpected precipitation.
Somewhere in Spiti

Somewhere in Spiti

There was some snowfall and rain this time too, but I was a bit lucky to finally complete the Chandra Taal to Suraj Taal trek which was the main purpose of this trip. I had to do the trek with a Gaddi shepherd instead of a proper guide, but it worked out quite well in the end. Rest of the stuff was not planned at all and just happened without any plan. It was quite an enjoyable vacation. I saw a lot of very interesting and beautiful places, met some great people and some stupid ones too.
 Following is the general itinerary. I will be writing all of this in detail in a series of posts later

 General Travel Itinerary

 
Day 1: Evening bus to Shimla from New Delhi. Meet up with driver and evening stop at Sarahan with rest stops for breakfast, tea. Visited ancient Bhima Kaali temple and walked around the town.
Day 2: Drive to Chitkul via Sangla and Rakcham. Walked around the village and beyond. Discovered a pretty mountain stream and that famous last Indian dhaba by accident. Hiked 3 km to ITBP check post. Civilians not allowed past that point.
Day 3: Next day stop at Kalpa with rest stop at forgettable Reckong Peo. Walked around fruit orchards, saw that “suicide point”. Spent some time a that “Last Village”
Day 4: Next night stay at a small guest house just before Nako. It overlooked Leo village which we visited earlier. We also made a stop at the last village in Ropa valley. Interesting yet quiet place.
Day 5: Night stay in Kibber. Spend 3-4 hours hiking and exploring places near Gete village.
Day 6: Visited Tashi Gong and “roads” nearby on car. Passed Chicham’s brand new bridge to reach Chandra Taal.
Day 7 to 9: Stayed at camp site, hiked and explored some new places and revisited some old ones.
Day 10 to 12: Trekked to Suraj Taal with a Gaddi shepherd as my guide. My first proper solo camping under the stars.
Day 13: Took a lift in truck from Sruaj Taal to Keylong and a bus from there to Manali.
Day 14 to 17: Lazing around in Manali.
A small village Gete

A small village Gete

Rough Route on Google Maps:

This map is showing Chandra Taal to Suraj Taal road route, but I trekked the distance (approx 45 km).
Blue sheep I saw on the way

Blue sheep I saw on the way

GEAR:

 I had some of the camping and hiking gear already and bought some new stuff for this trip from physical stores and online both. Following is the list:
1.  Food which included dry fruits, chocolates, MREs,
2.  Some essential medicine including one for AMS, stomach upset, first aid and so on.
3.  Enough clothing for the trip which included wind-cheater, t-shirts, gloves, socks, caps, sun-glasses, bandannas and other stuff.
4.  A camping stove, 2 propane canisters. In hindsight, 1 would have sufficed.
5.  Rucksack Quechua 70 liters . Slightly heavy but very rugged and well designed.
6. Tent Quechua.  Proved itself in strong winds and easy to setup and pack.
7.  Hiking shoes.  Old but very rugged and comfortable.
8. A water bottle and a bottle with filter. But didn’t use the latter much. Mostly drank whatever water locals were drinking or from flowing streams and springs.
9. A multitool like this one   I haven’t had a lot of use for it till now, but a good thing to have.
10. A camp light, torch for light. Lighter and matches for fire.
11. My trusty Nikon D7100 with it’s default 18-140 mm lens and it’s essential accessories in a separate camera bag. Didn’t bring any other lens to keep weight low.
12. A foldable solar panel  and a DC camera battery charger for charging camera batteries. Worked quite well in it’s first field test.  Detailed post http://jjamwal.in/yayavar/charging-dslr-camera-batteries-by-solar-panel-while-traveling.
13. An aluminum pot with cover, steel mug, plastic spoon and plate.
14. A map, pen, compass, tape, scissors and a few other small stuff.
15. Wifey’s permission.
Total weight of luggage was 16 kg rucksack and 5 kg camera bag.
Chandra Taal Lake

Chandra Taal Lake

Rest of the posts will have details of the trip in some detail.
Suraj Taal

Suraj Taal

The general idea of this trip was to spend some time relaxing around in Rishikesh and then travel to some small town or village up in the mountains for some more time.Weather in Rishikesh was not that hot after the pre-monsoon rains started, So even if we had to stay in Rishikesh only, we were happy with it. We took the bus and reached Rishikesh at around 7 am, 6 hours before checkin time and there was no room empty then. So we put our luggage in reception and had breakfast in the rooftop restaurant.
Rishikesh at night

Rishikesh at night

That hotel had some view of river Ganga and the mountains.  Not that great, but good enough. After breakfast, we walked out to the Lakshman Jhula area to wander around. Most of the markets were closed but there were a lot of pilgrims due to the pilgrimage season in progress. A riverside cafe was opening up for business and we found the spot with best view and settled in. Ordered some more food, tea etc and just lay there till afternoon. After lunch, we checked in to the hotel, had bath, a nap and went out again in the evening to another riverside cafe. Had dinner there and came back to hotel for sleep late night. Late in Rishikesh is around 10:30 pm. Hardly any shop stays open after 10.
Laxman Jhula bridge on river Ganga

Laxman Jhula bridge on river Ganga

Our next day was quite similar and we spent most of our time in the cafes, on river bank and walking around on the Laksham Jhula road in both directions. We had seen most places of interest in the city already and the streets had too many pilgrims for us to bother with anything else.

For next 3-4 days, we wanted to do some hike but all hiking routes were closed in monsoon. So we decided to go up to Chakrata. Our plan was to start early morning but could start early afternoon due to traffic. Our driver had very little knowledge of routes in the area and we had to rely on Google Maps to find our way. It worked fairly well, much better than our Meghalaya trip in 2016. There is quite a bit of road upgradation work going on and we were slowed  down quite considerably due to it. On the way, we saw Yamuna river (and some of it’s tributaries) as it flows down from Yamunotri towards the plains. It is much different there than it is in rest of it’s journey elsewhere. Proper hilly area started once we passed Vikasnagar and there were only a few small villages on the way for rest of our journey. Due to rainy season, there were a few seasonal waterfalls on the hills visible every now and then.
Farmers working in their paddy fields

Farmers working in their paddy fields

We reached Chakrata town just as sun was setting. Upon reaching there, we came to know that the guesthouse we had booked was still some distance away. On the map, location was 1-2 km from the local landmark and tourist attraction Tiger waterfall, which was 27 km from the town. But in reality, it was around 9 km from the town. We had chosen that place because of it’s location outside the main town. There were some  moderately fancy hotels and some “camp sites” with permanent tents.
The hotel was  2 -2.5 km from the main road but we found it without much difficulty. It was a small 8-9 rooms property in a small village, maybe Sawara or something. I never asked. Hotel staff were some people from the houses downhill. The guesthouse had nothing in room except for a bed and a fake fireplace, but the place was clean. We had only a few snacks since morning and the staff bought us a bowl of noodles and tea. Meal options were limited to some simple local daal, roti, sabzi, chawal kind of stuff. It was not fancy but adequate. We walked around a little bit to stretch our legs and went to sleep after dinner.
On hiking trail

On hiking trail

Tiger waterfall was 45-50 minutes drive or 3 km hike. But the trail started from the main road 2.5 km from guesthouse. So we asked the driver to drop us at start of hiking trail and we started to walk from there. Sun was already up in the sky and there was little shade ever now and then. Most of the trail passed through farms and grazing area for animals, but there were very few people around. Everything was covered in beautiful greenery. Most of people there own cows and some goats. It was a bit surprising to see a big animal like a cow climbing on steep ledges. Not a quick and nimble as goats, but still different than what most people think of them.
There is a ticket counter, parking area and a rest stop about 1 km from the waterfall. We stopped there for some refreshment and resumed the walk. It is a wide paved path from there with easy stairs. But that somehow was more tiring for me than the rough trail we passed earlier.  There were a few houses on the way and the villagers were working in their paddy fields.  The waterfall itself was pretty nice and closed from all sides except one from where the water flowed out. I don’t know if there is a word for this thing.  It was named Tiger waterfall because some people think that it’s sound resembles roar of a tiger.  It was not anything like that but with more water in monsoons and echo from nearby stone walls, it probably lives up to the name.
 At that time, we really wanted to take a dip but hadn’t brought any spare clothing with us. It was hard enough to protect camera from the water spray as it was.
 
After spending some time there, we walked up to the parking area and had lunch of rajma chawal. Driver reached there to take us back to the hotel. On the way, some local village children were selling some pears and we bought a few. They were absolutely inedible though.
 We reached guest house at around 4 pm and were fairly tired after spending all day out in the sun. On this trip, we encountered rain everyday apart from our time out that day. Anyhow we started a small chat with 4 young men from Lucknow who had driven there and had been there before we arrived. They told us about another waterfall in opposite direction which they had visited in morning with a local and were pretty happy about it.  According to their directions, it was about 2 km walk/drive on road and then some difficult climb up the mountain through jungle. I was intrigued but too tired to consider going there. It was  too late anyway. Our original plan was to go back to New Delhi next day, but after hearing good words about the place from those Lakhnavis, we decided to stay one more day and visit the other waterfall .
New room mate, 10-12 cm across.

New room mate, 10-12 cm across.

I woke up a bit early and got ready with a rain jacket, water and camera. Wifey was not feeling good that morning and she stayed back reading a book.  I confirmed directions with hotel staff but they had a pretty different take on it. In short, there was a trail around 2 km from the guesthouse and waterfall was uphill from there. I asked the driver to drive me on whatever trail came up at 2 km. If lucky, I’d find waterfall by myself otherwise I’d enjoy a solo hike after a long time. I actually found a small trail going uphill at around 2 km mark and sent car back from there. It was OK for a few meters , then I realised that it was just a temporary trail passing through the wooded area. Someone was cutting trees, most probably illegally and their passage had probably made the marks. I was essentially climbing the hill without any path, whichever way I found easier.
View just after wooded area

View just after wooded area

On the way, I saw a leech and made a mental note to be careful. The wooded area ended rather suddenly after a ridge and there was a trail going on from there, I could see 2-3 people further up with their cows and goats out for grazing. On the way, one hailed me from across the ridge and asked me about my destination. When I told  that I was going to Indrani waterfall, he said that I was too far from there. It was raining slightly at the time and the wind made understanding each other over distance difficult. He asked me to wait and crossed the ridge by almost running over it in less than 2 minutes. It’d have taken me atleast 20 minutes to cover that kind of terrain. He turned out to be brother of one of the workers in guesthouse. We had heard him playing flute in his house downhill previous evening.  Anyhow, coming back to story, I was on wrong trail and I offered him some money to take me there to which he agreed. He left his cows, umbrella and flute there and started walking in front.  He asked me a if I was afraid of leeches and  added that there will be lot of them on the way. I didn’t pay it much attention. I was wearing ankle high hiking boots and my feet , legs were covered by socks and hiking trousers. He was wearing simple shoes and he kept on checking  his feet every now and then. I found it odd but didn’t take it very seriously
 For a few minutes we kept walking on trail, but then he left it completely and started walking through dense tree cover and bushes up and down the hill.
Climbing to top of Indrani waterfall

Climbing to top of Indrani waterfall

Some of the bushes had wild berries and looked like kind of berries I remember growing wild in Jammu hills and countryside. But these were sour and a bit bigger.  My guide for the day (let’s call him N) kept snacking on them every now and then. We came down to the road after some time. It was not exactly in good condition but not many vehicles use it anyway. Only vehicles I saw were small 3 Mahindra load carriers locals use as shared taxis and a 2 motor bikes. Indrani waterfall was about 200 m uphill from the main road. It was much smaller with less amount of water, but still nice. The water here flows down the rock face on a gradient instead of plunging straight down.
I like waterfalls, but I like seeing them from their top even more. So I asked N if it was possible to go up. So we went up and found another smaller waterfall which was not visible from below.
While coming back, there was another mountain stream joining the one we were at earlier. I walked a few minutes upstream along the trail running beside it and joined back N a few minutes later. He told me that the road led back to the guesthouse but there was another waterfall on the way which he could show me. So we left the road again and walked through some really dense undergrowth to see another small waterfall. He asked me o walk in front to avoid getting leeches but there was absolutely no trail and I wanted him to stay in front to show me the way. This waterfall was only 12-15 feet high but quite nice. There I found a leech on my boots and it flicked it off.
These leeches are hard to spot unless they are moving

These leeches are hard to spot unless they are moving

After that place, he took my leave and scampered up the hill back to his animals. I walked on the road for a while to reach guesthouse in time for lunch. It was only then I realised why N kept asking me to be careful of leeches. When I took off my boots, I found a fat leech happily sucking my blood. There were 7-8 bite marks on both legs and all of them were bleeding. Looked like a scene from a gore movie. My socks and trousers were soaked in blood too. I took a shower, cleaned off as much as possible but it kept bleeding. It didn’t hurt at all though. I put some turmeric powder and cotton swabs but these leeches have some really good anti-coagulants. There was a bit of bleeding for about 24 hours even after that whenever cotton was removed.  As I write this post after 11 days, there are only a few marks left. So that taught me to be careful about leeches atleast. There was also some severe itching like sensation on my wrist after I accidentally brushed it against a nettle plant in the jungle, which locals call Bichhoo Booti (scorpion herb), That too went away by itself next morning.
Would've been a decent picture if it stayed still for one more second

Would’ve been a decent picture if it stayed still for one more second

There’s nothing much to write after this. We started back early next morning, drove through fog /clouds for a while and encountered a large landslide which delayed us by 5 hours as we watched it being cleared.

Even though I’m from Jammu and have a lot of family members and friends working in Kashmir, it hasn’t been a place I cared enough to visit. Last time I was there in 1999, I had to cut short my stay after Kargil war started. Since then, I never really gave any attention to the place except for the usual stuff it’s infamous for. But recently. me and wifey made a quick trip to Srinagar to meet some family members working there. This post is a travelogue of this trip. I am not sure if it can be called a travelogue or not, but I expect it to have a lot more rants than usual.  I didn’t take my camera with me on this trip, so all the pictures are from wife’s cellphone.

To begin with, the flight and our arrival in to Srinagar were uneventful. As we drove to the main city where we were staying, I noticed a lot of security personnel on the roads. It was a mix of CRPF, J&K Police and surprisingly BSF in some places.  There was construction of some flyover going on in middle of the city and the road was pretty much non-existent forcing us to take a detour. After a bit of rest, family took the wifey out for some sightseeing.  Their original plan was to take us to Kheer Bhawani temple. It is a pretty important temple for now displaced Kashmiri Pandits as well as other Hindus too. I had no wish to visit the temple, so I refused and preferred to read something or watch cricket match. But there was some stone pelting going on in Ganderbal area and some other localities on the way which forced a plan change and family took wifey to Chashme Shahi and a shikara ride on Dal lake.
Botanical garden

Botanical garden

Next day, we hired a local car and visited Shankaracharya Temple first. The road leading up to the temple on hill top is very picturesque and green. There were a lot of brown eagles with white spots in the tree canopy as well as road which raced the car for some distance. Theres a security check point at base of stairs leading up to the temple and you can’t take cameras and phones beside this point. There are roughly 200 steps made of stone. Even though my last trip was almost 18 years back, I was a little surprised to see the changes. The open ground in front of temple was gone and covered by some tin and wood huts built by CRPF unit deployed there. The Dal lake near base of hill was much smaller, dirtier and full of weeds, a lot worse than what I remembered. Later on, I could smell the stinking water of the lake when we got near it.  This once beautiful and huge lake is dying fast and the people as usual are too stupid to stop. Another annoying thing was that the muslim dominated J&K government was trying to rename the hill to Takht-e-Suleiman. The turds are already renaming many places in Kashmir to muslim names like Anantnaag to Islamabad and so on.
Nishat Baag

Nishat Baag

From Shankaracharya Temple, we drove to Botanical Garden near Chashme Shahi. There’s a small lake with some boats and a nice garden around it.We had some tea and snacks there before moving on to  Nishat Baag, which is one of the better places in Srinagar city. There were only a few tourists, mostly Bengalis and a few Gujaratis who usually travel in big groups. As we walked around , the gardeners working there kept offering us flower seeds. We bought some but I have little hope of them doing well in Delhi’s weather. The garden itself is big with running water and fountains which work more or less. There are some huge and centuries old Chinar trees in the garden and all around the valley.
Our next stop was Harban which has garden and a lake for sightseeing. Last time I visited it, the lake was completely dry and the garden looked half dead. This time there was some water in the lake but the area seemed to be much smaller. Garden was green with some water flowing through, massive chinar trees and nice flowers. We didn’t stay there for long and stopped at Shalimar. Our driver didn’t want to stay there for long as a lot of stone pelting incidents happen in the area.  While on road, I could see a lot of walls with pro-ISIS and anti-India slogans including a wall of Shalimar Baag. We had our lunch of Kashmiri Masala Dosa, Cheese Dosa, too salty Maggi noodles and some kehwa in a “Vegetarian” roadside restaurant in front of Shalimar Baag. The eatery even had Jain and “Half Jain” food for sale.  Since everyone in the group was vegetarian except me and all other nearby shops were closed, we had few other options.
Shalimar Baag is nice by itself, but it was noting really special after we had visited 3 other similar gardens. The water channels and fountains needed cleaning but was done in a half assed way. We stayed there for about 20 minutes and left to visit Hari Parbat. It is a old fort and has a temple, gurudwara and a mosque. The temple was looted and vandalised by muslims a few years back, like dozens of other temples in muslim majority Kashmir and idol damaged. It was repaired and family along with some Hindu co-workers arrange bhandara and puja there whenever possible. But we had to turn back as the road was blocked due to some more stone pelting going on in the area.
Walnut blossoms

Walnut blossoms

So we decided to go back home through Old Srinagar. Driver drove much faster than usual because he feared more stone pelting following end of muslim prayers. Next day he claimed that his relatives had caught one stone pelter who attacked their vehicle just outside Srinagar. According to the driver, the stone pelter turned out to be a Kashmiri policeman who was organising stone pelting in the locality. According to him Abdullah owned National Conference party was behind most such stone pelting incidents and were using policemen loyal to them in Kashmiri police to organise stone pelting and to incite the mobs. Considering what junior Abdullah has been saying on this issue, the conspiracy theory seems quite credible.
Old Srinagar seemed to be a depressing ugly place unlike most other such older parts of a city. There were some old abandoned houses which belonged to Kashmiri Hindus forced to leave Kashmir due to violence by Kashmiri muslims. Some such houses were encroached upon by probably neighbours and random shops. Nearing our place, we saw some shops in the market which had sustained damage from stone pelters.
Panaroma shot of a farm

Panaroma shot of a farm

We were planning an early start next morning but found it impossible to sleep till late night. It was mostly due to 3 nearby mosques near our place competing with each other to see which one could make more noise. Each started it’s loudspeakers near 8:30 pm and kept playing the noise they call prayer well past midnight. I forgot to mention it earlier, but this was a very consistent experience throughout our stay. There was no single locality during our stay in Kashmir where one couldn’t hear some noise from more than one mosque. Most of it was in Kashmiri which we didn’t understand, but atleast one near Harwan was in Urdu. The preacher seemed to be non-Kashmiri and was rambling on about injustice done to muslims since beginning of time and the usual “islam khatrey mein hai” crap. Another thing was even school going girls wearing hijab and some other dress almost like burqa, but not covering face. Don’t  know what they call them. It was never like this.
Stuff like this gives an outsider an idea how mosques were used to scare and intimidate Kashmiri Hindus to leave their homes when exodus happened. It is probably even worse now.
We started for Pahalgam next morning around 75 km from Srinagar. We also considered Gulmarg, but decided that Pahalgam would be a better choice. On the way, we stopped at a kehwa shop in Pampore. Women managed to spend a more than decent sum of money on saffron, honey and quite a few other things.
Our next stop was Martand temple which everyone called Mattan temple to my consternation. It is constructed over a fresh water spring and has a specie of medium sized fish in large numbers.  There was a sign board prohibiting feeding fish anything apart from a special feed being sold by a shop there. Hindu priests from this village used to travel all over the state and did some religious work and horoscope creation kind of work in far off places. Now Hindus are almost gone and there are only a few Sikh families living there. There was a Sikh religious ceremony going on in temple garden when we were there.
Just after rain stopped

Just after rain stopped

We then drove alongside Lidder river towards Pahalgam on a road with beautiful scenery. Some river rafting is arranged on this river but the starting point had only 3-4 tourists sitting in the rafts. There was an area with a number of big tourist resorts lined up but all were empty as tourists were keeping away. On the way driver told us about some movies which were shot in the area and seemed quite proud of it for some reason. Just before reaching main Pahalgam town he informed us that the car will not go any further because the local unions don’t allow it. There is hardly anything to see or do in Pahalgam town itself and the few points nearby which are worth seeing are a few km away. We like to hike and wanted to see those places as they seemed to be bit better than just walking around the shabby town but were not sure about the idea.
Near end of

Near end of “hiking” route in Pahalgam

As soon as we got off the car, the mule owners swarmed around us. I had no intention of riding any mule but the mule owners were very persistent, annoying and pain in the ass. I was more interested in walking to a few places of interest. But wifey was wearing some girly shoes not suitable for walking long distances, so in the end we got one mule and it’s handler to show us the way with understanding that wifey may ride it if it was difficult for her to walk. Rest of the family stayed in the town. I wish I had remembered names of the places we saw on this hike, but it was more or less a waste of time. The trail was wide as a road, full of mud due to too many mules walking on it and stank due to their crap everywhere. Another mule handler kept following us for 20-25 minutes trying to convince us to hire him to and turned back only after some getting abuse.  Wifey got on the mule we had hired a few minutes of hiking because of all the mud. I had my hiking shoes on so it was not much of a problem for me.
There was an old shikargaah of Dogra Kings on the way, a rough road led right up to it. Our first stop was a small but beautiful meadow. It had entry fee of Rs 20 and some tea shops.When we arrived, there were atleast 50 mules on the gate already. There were also a few locals with goats, rabbits, kashmiri dresses which tourists pose with for pictures. While we were there, it started raining and we had some kehwa, tea and pakoda in one of the tea shops. It was a beautiful place but experience was somewhat spoiled by the above mentioned locals and lots of children begging.  Our next stop was a point on  a ridge with couple of smaller snack shops where we had to stay a bit longer amount of time due to another heavy rain shower.  We had forgotten to bring our jackets and the rain made it very cold. Nearby mountain peaks also got a bit of snow. After rain stopped, we went downhill and made a stop at a stream going downstream which everybody was trying to pass of as a waterfall. The downhill trail was very slippery and muddy due to rains and mules destroying whatever grip the soil on hill offered.  More kashmiri locals came up to rent their goats, take pictures and similar useless services, so we left rather quickly.  Very few tourists progressed further from that 1st stop at the meadow, so the trail was mostly empty.
Panaroma shot, meadow in Pahalgam

Another panaroma shot, meadow in Pahalgam

From there, we walked back to the parking through the village. On the way we were again accosted by very annoying children from village who asked us for money and even watches. If they behave like this with Indians, I can only imagine their behaviour with foreigners. The walk back was on a level road and the mule just trotted on a steady pace, so I was left far behind.  The views and weather were quite nice through a wooded area. Perhaps the word in such places travels fast. On the way, I must have come across atleast a dozen mule owners who must have asked the same thing in different words “Paidal hi aa gaya sahaib” ! A few also asked me to hire their mules for  the rest of a km long hike.  Preparations for Amarnath yatra had started already and I noticed some para-military units assigned for the security of pilgrimage setting up camps. Sad to see that Indian Hindus have to be guarded so heavily inside India from muslim terrorists and mobs.
After reaching the parking area, came to know that the other women had spent all the cash which was not a small amount shopping. After we paid mule handler some extra money as tip, the owner started bothering us for a tip too. Utterly shameless bunch of people. Total duration of the hike was  4 hours, give or take a few minutes and cost of hiring a mule for whole circuit was Rs 3000.
We started our drive back to Srinagar immediately but made a stop at house of a colleague of family near Pampore.  They were very nice and hospitable people and made us feel quite welcome in their home. Elder of the family served in Jammu region during his working years and was a little nostalgic telling us of his experiences there. Ride back to the Srinagar was uneventful and we reached there around 8:30 pm without any incident.
There’s not much to write about after this apart from usual noise from nearby mosques and the long security checks at Srinagar airport.
TL;DR for people who are planning a Kashmir trip:
Q: Is the place beautiful ?
A: A lot of beautiful places, but man made places are badly maintained and natural places poorly preserved.
Q: Is it safe ?
A: Few days before we confirmed tickets, some tourist vehicles were attacked and tourists received injuries. Another tourist vehicle owned by our driver’s family was attacked similarly while we were there. A terrorist attack happened in Anantnag almost the same time we were driving through it.  We could’t visit a few places because of stone pelting and curfews. All these incidents happened in different parts of the valley. There is very little danger from terrorist attacks though.
Q: How are people ?
A: If you know them personally, very hospitable and welcoming. But if you are a prospective customer, then majority of kashmiri tourism businesses are extremely conniving and annoying. Before you say, “it’s like this everywhere”, NO it’s not as bad as in kashmir.
Q: Is Kashmir worth visiting ?
A: Maybe, if you are willing to take risks like those mentioned above. If you really want to visit Kashmir, don’t do it during Amarnath yatra season. Everything will be very over-priced and in short supply.

Name: Chandhar Airbase

Type: Pakistan Air Force operated airfield, no civilian use.

Location: Punjab, Pakistan.

Coordinates: 32° 4’38.20″N   73°47’23.65″E

Occupants: PAF

Airstrip Length: 2.4 km

Comments: There is very little information about Chandhar airbase available in open sources. It’s about 77 km away from international border and seems to be military installation for use only during war time as a way of dispersing aircraft. There are some aircraft shelters, basic underground storage bunkers but  limited support infrastructure. It’s surrounded by farms on all sides and shows very little signs of activity, construction and changes.

 

Chandhar airbase, Distance from border 77 km

Chandhar airbase, Distance from border 77 km

 

Aircraft shelter 1

Aircraft shelters 1

Aircraft shelters 2

Aircraft shelters 2

 

Aircraft shelters 3

Aircraft shelters 3

 

Hardened bunker

Hardened bunker

 

Possible underground bunker and air defence site

Possible underground bunker and air defence site

 

Unidentified (possible AD site)

Unidentified (possible AD site)

 

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