1. Bus Trip to Srinagar
I'm trying something new. Prompted by the time of year, these next four postings (see below*) will illustrate a trip my family and I made in late September 1980 to what is sometimes considered the back of beyond ... an extension of a much longer, wider-ranging trip that took us thither and yon, a trouper 8-year-old in tow. We'd been in India several weeks doing agricultural research, but before extending our work into Nepal (and on), we wanted to visit Kashmir, that storied Vale where the Mughals retreated during the hot summer months, cooling themselves in their shalimar-gardens that featured water channels and tall shade trees.
I must add that we were fortunate to go when we did because, though already disputed territory between India and Pakistan, Kashmir was then safe for tourists and Ladakh had only recently opened so had not been impacted by much tourism. I have no idea if one can make these two overland trips now, but I suspect military prohibitions require a different route, at least into Ladakh.
We began by taking a train from Delhi north to Jammu Tawi, the end of the line. For the equivalent of $3.65 each, we then proceeded by bus up to the Kashmiri city of Srinagar. A 12-hour, 300-kilometer trip that averaged 15 miles an hour. But we were hearty souls, even if, after being away from home now for four months with another four to go, we were wearing down. We were also land-travelers who stayed in indigenous accommodations, not air-travelers who booked into 5-star hotels. Seeing the country en route was as important as reaching our destination.
|At our first stop, we got onion pakoras fried in a big vat of hot oil and served on newspaper.|
|View of our road from Udampur.|
|Another view of the road just taken, near Pantitop Pass.|
|Lunch stop at Kud where we got rice and peas pilau for the equivalent of 55¢ each.|
Continuing to climb, we found apple orchards, golden corn in tassel, conical corn-straw stacks, resin tapped from bushy pines being deposited in old kerosene cans. A man in the seat behind us smoked and sang. Long-haired goats and nomads camped at the edge of the precipitous road. A truck had toppled over the side, spilling apples down the hill. I wondered how the Mughals had made the trip. By elephant?
|Example of erosion and deforestation.|
|At 5:00 the Chenab River lay in a shadowed canyon still 140 kilometers from Srinagar.|
By 6:00, the sun was gone so that when we stopped an hour later for tea, coercing a guest house proprietor into letting us use the toilets, we had to feel our way since everything was pitch black. But then, in moonlight, we made the final ascent to the top of Banihal Pass where, on the other side, feeling a bit as if we'd entered Oz, we looked onto luminous silence beside moonlit rice fields and dark silhouettes of sturdy, three-story wooden houses, the people inside long since asleep.
(Since we'd entered the Valley of Kashmir at night, the following photos were taken a week later on our way back.)
|A water mill.|
|A first village on the Kashmiri side of Banihal Pass.|
|Basket market at Gagizano not far from Srinagar|
* For the next four weeks:
Part 1. Bus Trip to Srinagar
Part 2. Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Part 3. Bus Trip to Leh
Part 4. Leh, Ladakh, India