Sometime in the last week of March 2014, when the Delhi winter wanes to make way for a belligerent summer, I got a call from TK on my mobile phone. I was reading an office email when the phone rang. TK, as we usually call him, was his upbeat self. Came straight to the point. Planning Leh. MS and GK are in. Are you In? I said Yes. Leh doesn’t require too much deliberation.
From that day, the countdown began for 19-June-2014, when we were to fly out from Delhi to Srinagar. The itinerary was impressive, touching almost all the popular spots. We weren’t complaining coz we wanted to get a taste of the place, even if it meant going to the ‘tourist’ spots on our first trip.
But surprisingly, the first discussion we had about what to pack was just a few days before we were to fly.
Travel tip: If Pangong is on your itinerary, and you wish to catch the sunrise there, pack a good jacket and a pair of gloves.
So, we discussed what to pack. We agreed we could get through with Ts or a sweatshirt for anything below Khardung La. A torch, moisturizer, Vaseline petroleum jelly (…and its not the same as moisturizer..you’ll need it), lip gel, sunscreen, Identity proof, enough undies and bundies, cloth bags for used clothes, sanitizer, ga-gool ;-).
The D-day arrived without any remarkable incidents, and even on that day, all went well till the time we reached the check-in desk. And then it got better! We were bounced up to Biz-class..Yippee!! The flight to Srinagar was uneventful, except for the fact that we asked for lassi, and we got one too….in instalments though.
Ahh…and there’s one more thing. Do not plan to catch a nap on the flight. The flight attendants will howl you to a fully awakened state. You don’t need tea or coffee to do that. At least that’s what happened to me. TK, MS and GK were grinning ear to ear when I got jolted out of my reverie. To their delight. This was maybe the first of the many occasions when we had a good laugh at each other’s expense. 😉
Travel tip: If you really want to stay connected in Kashmir, get a post paid BSNL number. Other operators are fine, but there are areas where only BSNL works, and your phone is just dead weight except if its doubling up as your camera.
The Delhi-Srinagar flight took approx. 75 mins to get us to Srinagar. We landed at 1335 hrs local time. An hour’s drive through the city got us to ‘Monarch’ – the boat house hosting us for the night. The boat house was very good, not that I’ve been to many, but it was comfortable. Nicely done. And the balcony overlooking the Nagin lake. ‘The’ lake.
Since we reached at a time when lunch was not being served, we were offered ‘vegetarian sandwiches’. At least that is what they called them. It was bread-butter, to put it as a matter of fact. That made us reminisce about the pakodas and bakeries we had passed on our way here! But soon we were able to negotiate into getting omelletes. I pulled out the dabba of besan ke laddoos too, especially packed for such glittering occasions. We did not know, yet, that the egg was going to turn up on our table again, and again.and again…and yet again…..for the days to come.
We took a quick breather, and then decided to head out to the Shalimar and Nishat gardens. Not too far on car. 400 year old Chinar trees make you wonder if we’re planting and saving enough like our ancestors. The gardens are beautiful. Nishat also has a small chai shop inside where they serve tea and pakodas. Hazratbal is also on the way if someone is interested to go looky. Also on the same route is Shankaracharya temple. But be aware that it closes at around 1730 hrs in the evening. I am told it offers a beautiful aerial view of the Dal. We missed it.
By the time we were back it was almost 2000 hrs. We were told we could do a ‘shikara’ ride, since there was still time for dinner. We said yes, and lazed out in the balcony. Unfortunately, the shikara did turn up, but it was 2100 hrs by that time, and we had lost all interest by that time. We had already had our share of fun talking to the trinket vendor who came on his shikara, and believe it or not, a masseuse who came around on his shikara asking us if we wanted a massage!
Dinner was served at 2200 hrs, after much ado. If we were expecting too much, it was our fault. We had chicken, paneer, daal, gobhi, salad, rice, chapati and achar. The daal somehow bore the brunt of our hungry pack, being called names, to not being treated as daal altogether! TK almost made us believe it was shorba!
Post dinner, we boys lazed around some more on the balcony, reflecting on the water…then when the mind grew numb, on life. The caretaker checked on us twice, but we were adamant not to leave our post despite knowing we had an early morning the next day. By a stroke of luck, when we both were missing from the spot for a few minutes, the chust caretaker wrapped things up! Which made us finally give in and call it a day.