Waking up at 4am to a call by our driver, we were told to packup and leave as fast as possible. As the road could be cleared at any time, we didn't want to be the last to cross. Shivering in the morning chills we arrived at the check post, where we were stopped again. By now the area was packed by people. Buses and cars stood in long queues. We got down and walked through the alley for a quick enquiry. Once again we were left with an awful grim, as we had to wait for four more hours for the road to open. Some people even came over saying to change our plan and go somewhere else. Tired and low on optimism we went over to our car. It had been a nightmare of events, looking out into the deep darkness hoping for a bit of light to cut in, I slowly fell asleep.
It wasn’t a while for all of us to get back on our feet. Cars and buses still came swarming in. Time was significant. Each second that passed by was like a drop of sand in an hourglass, clinching on to a ray of hope we survived the inevitable. And then out of the blue, there came an announcement. The Road was reopened. People started running for their vehicles, buses started honking, it was all a rush. I still don’t understand why people up there use their horns so much. It's like almost a never ending line of wheels infront and they would still do it. Anyway the tension and disbelief around had made way for relief and joy. We were moving at last. 5 km ahead we reached the area of caution. Covered in rock pelts and debris, the roads were hardly visible. On top of that, dusty winds swooped in to make its mark. One by one all the cars rushed through the cloudy winds up ahead of us. Buried in the dusty air it was getting harder to drive. Inside the yellow tinted aura of the breeze, I felt as if we were on the sets of Mad Max. Where would these fury roads lead us to..?
After three hours of continuous drive across the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, we stopped for a quick brunch, from where we had a plate of Roti and Dhal that felt more refreshing than ever. It was starting to get cold outside. Hoodies and jackets took their place. Back on the road, Chenab was now flowing smoothly on our right. Even though yesterday's light drizzle had given away her turquoise blues, Chenab was charming as ever. Passing numerous tunnels and pitstops we finally reached Banihal. Located almost at the centre of this route, this place was really a hidden gem. Banihal pass is a small township of local workers centred around the valley, with numerous side streams of Chenab running alongside. The Kashmir railway line also starts from Banihal, which happens to have the 4th longest railway tunnel in Asia. To our amusement the town was covered with military trucks. We were stopped frequently for the army convoys carrying troops to pass by. It didn’t take us long to get accustomed with the army interfering as it was quite common there. It was evident that we were not entering a normal tourist place. Kashmir is a large valley enclosed in between the Himalayas enriched with the finest cash crops like walnut, saffron, and blessed with jaw dropping scenery. The ongoing controversies with the neighbouring countries has clearly made Kashmir one of the most protected areas in the world.
The vegetation changed rapidly after Banihal, with tall willow trees now on to our left and steep coniferous cliffs on the other side. We slowly started to descent. We were approaching the valley. Enclosed by the Himalayas on every side, this capsule of a land had everything. Bright yellow saffron fields with a handful of small wooden settlements were visible now in the distance. The fields got brighter with every gaze. On to our right the Kashmiri railway line had come out of her tunnel. The occasional DEMU express whistled past us with pride resembling the iconic glacier express of the Swiss Alps. Passing numerous villages we finally reached the outskirts of Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K. The fact that it took us almost five days to reach there was amusing. We had pre-booked a houseboat from one of the contacts obtained en-route.
It was a cloudy rainy day and Ameen chacha was eagerly waiting for us at the town centre. Holding a rainbow umbrella and wearing an old fashioned sweater a man in his sixties came up to us. With a pleasant grin he asked us to follow him. The town was quiet and neat, with a few of the local people around. The streets were on the verge of closing. Walking down the canals of the Dal lake, I wondered how we could make up for the one day that has been lost. From the chaotic alleys of Delhi to the soothing boulevards of Srinagar, it is always incredible how certain cities heal you.