Friday, May 29, 2009

Kashmir Part-I : Jammu to Srinagar

Lot of aplogoies to those who had wrote to me to update the blog. Finally I have taken time off to write the first part of the Kashmir trip.

With lot of excitement and some apprehensions, we boarded the Rajdhani Express to Jammu. Though a Rajdhani, the premium train service in India, condition of the coaches of this train were not very pleasing. In fact, all these short distance and overnight Rajdhanis are constructed out of re-cycled coaches of Rajdhanis on popular long distance routes. Anyway, the train had reached Jammu Tawi station before dawn broke. Someone had to wake us up telling that the train is standing on platform.

We had arranged for a vehicle for the entire trip before leaving Delhi. The cab is from Katra and hence the driver could not pick us from station. The taxi union at station will not allow picking passenger for outside cab. So we had to go to a landmark, in this case a particular hotel for the waiting cab. The hotel was less than half kilometer from the station, but autos charged 50 bucks. We had no other options. Cheating of tourists is a big business at popular tourist places. Jammu receives a fair amount of tourist everyday. At least 95% people arriving Jammu daily leaves for Katra en route to the Hindu holy place of Vaishno Devi Temple. Less than 1% probably proceeds for Srinagar.

We got freshen up in a hotel at Jammu by paying Rs.250/- for 2 hours. We set off for the 298 km daylong journey to Srinagar around 8 am. En route we had stopped for breakfast, Lunch at Bannihal and afternoon tea at Gazigund. Do not expect any posh eatery on the road. From Jammu, it was a constant upward journey till the famous Jawahar Tunnel. It is the longest road tunnel in India. The road condition is good. But traffic was heavy and long defence convoys prolonged the journey with unavoidable holdups. The descend to the valley starts from the Jawahar Tunnel onwards. One could feel the heightened security on the highway from few kilometers ahead of the Jawahar Tunnel. Every few hundred meters you could see paramilitary personnel standing on guard along the road. Standing on the road braving the weather without anyone to talk is a real tough job for these defence personnel. But securing the highway that links the region to mainland is of vital importance to the valley. Militants have targeted it several times in the past.

Here I would like to narrate an incident. There is a small police check post barely a km before the Jawahar Tunnel. They stop tourist vehicles selectively. One of us was asked to come and sign the register kept in a room. I went and made the entries. If they are doing this to keep a track of tourist entering the valley, then it is OK. But then the policeman brazenly asked me for money. ‘Pehli bar Kashmir aaye ho, khusi khusi kuch deke jao chai paani ke liye’. I made light of his request by saying let us come back safely and then we will talk. I have travelled to almost every state in India. But this is the first instance where I have found police trying to extort money from tourist. How many people go to Kashmir these days? And then the local police instead of welcoming tourist are indulging in such deplorable act. Anyone from Kashmir is listening?

The journey had been un-eventful and safe, but tiring. We reached Srinagar by around 5 pm. We had booked accommodation for JKTDC facility at the Tourist Reception Center (TRC). Finding the TRC was not difficult as there road signs for TRC were in right places. The rooms we got for 700 were well above our expectations for a Govt run facility. We were told that these are discounted rates for shoulder season. Further, the entire TRC gets converted into temporary offices of J&K Govt during summer. These plush rooms are then given to high ranking Govt. officers. During winter these officers operate from Jammu and during summer from Srinagar. The TRC had been targeted by militants once. Because of that there is good arrangement of security there. In fact a group of CRPF personnel is stationed in the complex and they guards the entry to the center. The complex also houses the Office of JKTDC (J&K Tourism Development Corporation). You can book JKTDC accommodation at this center.

Jammu to Srinagar Travel

I found that following are the ways one can travel from Jammu to Srinagar :

1) Hire a car from Jammu for the entire trip
2) Travel by JKSRTC (Govt) bus which leaves from a designated bus stand and probably leaves very early in the morning. The best bus is what they call as Hi-tech buses. Super Deluxe buses are the most common ones. But these small size buses that run on the hills are slightly above ordinary ones.
3) Travel by a share Taxi / Sumo. These also starts early in the morning from a designated spot. But there is no taxi stand for them; they just wait by the roadside. Though I did not ask, our driver told that they charge about 600 per seat. That may be exaggerated. But the real risk is that these drivers are very rash. They drive fast and often take blind overtake. We saw 2 such vehicle meeting with accident during our trip.

To me the best option is the first one. You can hire a car from Jammu with a good bargain price. We did it for Rs.1800/- per day. Hiring a car at Srinagar is costlier as the operators are highly unionized. You will find the stands full of taxis but they will sit idle, rather than offering you bargains. For going to Gulmarg or Sonamarg, you will have to hire a car. Even for local travelling, you would like to avoid few autos seen on the road. Thus hiring a car for the entire trip will make it available at your disposal all the time. The 3rd option is use by most localites for faster travelling to Srinagar. But you may not want to travel among people who may not be that friendly and comments being passed in an alien language. This is OK for young people in groups, but not advisable for family.


Pierre said...

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dimpy roy said...

Nice trip. Keep sharing. Srinagar, lying on the banks of beautiful Jhelum River, is a place which truly symbolizes beauty and romance and is rightly known as the Venice of the East. Check out other best hotels in Jammu also.

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