Thursday, August 19, 2010


Visit to Vaishno Devi was tiring. I was alright but Shailesh had difficulty in walking on 5th. His excuse was that we came down very fast. He was calculating our speed, 6 km per hour. This was too fast for him while it looked a normal pace for me. He often asked me to slow down even on street.
We were getting very different news from our friends and family about Amarnath. Local papers were not talking about the disturbance on way to Shrinagar. Anantnag was the city we need to cross for Pahalgam. My family told me about stone pelting in Anantnag and curfew in that area. I checked the weather and that also doesn't look promising. I don't want to spend a night in any army camp was my major worry. Shailesh was still very keen to go forward with the plan while I was trying to go safe and use time wisely. We completed our registration formalities on 4th itself and got the permit on 5th. I went to see the pilgrim starting point at 5 in the morning. More than thousand people were waiting for Yatra to start. Some other pilgrims from Maharashtra staying at the same hotel already left at 0430 in the morning. After seeing all these people I, myself alone, decided to go forward and booked a taxi for us. When I came to room and told Shailesh that we are going his first remark was, you take decision very fast. I said when everyone is going then why left behind. Everyone will have the same fate so let us go.
We started from Jammu at about 0900 AM, asked the driver to stop for breakfast and ATM. Tandoori Stuffed Paratha with curd were best I ever had. Shailesh added some more butter and Dal to his breakfast. I was shocked and surprised by the amount of butter he eats per day. I warn him but he says he likes it.
We were sharing one mobile phone with local sim for outgoing calls only. So it needed its battery recharged more often than normal. By mid day battery was low and we needed to stay in touch with friends and family on hourly basis. BSNL is not the favorite phone service provider in the area. We realised this while looking for recharge voucher for our sim.
There were many Langars offering free food to pilgrims. In fact many people were en cashing the opportunity. We were stopped by Army at Mirpur. Pahalgam is another 70 km from here. Our plan was to reach Pahalgam before dark but now we are directed towards CRPF camp in Mirpur.
we were not the only people in the camp. Some pilgrims went to Amarnath via Pahalgam and came back via Baltal, thinking that they will go to Pahalgam to collect their baggage later by road but got struck here since 0800 AM. Army personal were friendly and so friendly that they opened their canteen for pilgrims. I saw many disappointed people here including Shailesh who couldn't get Alcohol from the shop.
One J&K police officer told us that Jattha will depart from here after 11 PM. Langar was on, tea earn was filled regularly, women started helping in making Roti. There were more than 200 vehicles by the time Jattha started from here at 11 PM. Shailesh commented on our taxi drivers driving that he drives very slow, everyone overtake him in daytime.
Within an hour or 70 minutes we reached Pahalgam. Baggage was checked again through metal detector and so the pilgrims. We asked him to take us to some Hotel. It must have been fixed. Hotel in which we landed did not had clean bedsheets, first he brought a blanket cover later the sheet he brought was too short on bed. After lots of argument we left the Hotel peacefully but finding the other at this time of the night was a problem. I asked Shailesh to choose the room this time. We checked many Kabootarkhanas and at last surrendered to one boy who offered a room in new hotel but little far away from the town. Without any more argument on condition of sheets and bathroom we just asked for another blanket and went to sleep.
Morning was good, crystal clear at 0530 but within minutes clouds started covering the hills. I took few photos and ordered tea.
After seeing their makeshift kitchen I asked Shailesh to have breakfast in town. Here we found a DAANAA PAANI restaurant run by a Sikh family. Food was good and again we filled our belly with stuffed Parathas and Dahi.
Yatra was stopped due to bad weather. Helicopter service was out of operation since last 4 days.
What to do?? How to keep our self busy? Decided to see local places. Taxi man suggested to visit Aru and Betaab valley.
Aru is a small village 12 km away from Pahalgam. Betaab valley, think of this name. What it can be. It is nothing but a nice site near a river where they shot Betaab, a bolywood film. Aru is much more scenic spot than Betaab. Horse ride could be fun in Aru but not in rain. Rain makes trails very slippery and dangerous to walk. Many pilgrims died this year. Omhari saw two horse with riders slip down in the gorge on Baltal route. Horseman simply said Ghoda gaya. He was not at all worried about the rider. 6 dead bodies of Amarnath Pilgrims were brought down by CRPF on 7th August and cremated in Pahalgam. Because all these things can affect their business so local people don't talk about it.
Betabb valley is a big park type ground. We saw local women cutting grass there so it is not a protected area. Lidder river flows through this park. Shailes noticed the smell around river area but we couldn't find the source. Later when we were walking along the river we found that smell was coming from the water. Thousands of pilgrims has polluted the river. No sanitation facility compel them to use the field.
Shailes did some shopping and we decided to leave Pahalgam in the evening. Again they were releasing all the pilgrim vehicles together from Pahalgam. So to join the Jattha we have to be in queue by 0730- 0800 PM. we left Pahalgam dot 1100 PM. I decided to sit in front to keep an eye on the driver. Driver somehow managed some booz for Shailes so he happily slept on rear seat. We reached Jammu by 0700 AM. Street in Anantnag was littered with wind screen Glass.
Weather was still cloudy and we drove through the rain. Driver Manjur in Pahalgam confirmed the rain on 8th morning. No helicopter flew and neither the Yatra was allowed on 8th. We felt happy with our decision of leaving Pahalgam early. We still have a day so we decided to visit Amritsar.

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