22nd June 2017: I woke up at around 7 am after a good night’s sleep. Packing and unpacking our gear on the bike was a tough assignment and I was gradually getting accustomed to it. After refreshing ourselves with a cup of tea, we started off for the day at around 8am. Our plan for the day was to reach Patnitop in Jammu and Kashmir, a distance of 280 km from Amritsar. The good news was that our travel trajectory for the day was a well maintained national highway. As we moved ahead we took the highway towards Pathankot. The road was newly restored and was picture perfect in total. We raced in an average speed of 70- 80 km/hr and reached Gurdaspur in an hour and halted for breakfast. It turned out to be a brunch as we ended up having roti, mixed vegetable curry, lassi and topped it up with a cup of hot tea. Following a sumptuous brunch, we moved back on to track and in the next few hours crossed Pathankot and Lakhanpur. The big board showing “Jammu and Kashmir“ welcomed us to the paradise. We crossed Kathua, Dhanoli Samba and entered Jammu. The situation out there seemed tense as we had crossed millitary/police vans in every 10 minutes. It was around 2 pm when we bypassed Jammu and took the road towards Srinagar.
Soon after the bypass, we entered hills for the first time in our journey. Driving in the hills was exciting and dangerous at the same time. The basic rules- ‘don’t overtake on blind ends and stay on your own lane’ was the mantra in my head. The road condition was mostly good favouring our continuous journey. We crossed a tunnel and thought it to be Jawahar tunnel (my mistake out of excitement!! it was way ahead on our next day ride). In a hour and a half, we crossed Udhampur and diverted on our way from highway towards Patnitop. We meandered across the thin roads as we gained altitude and reached the hill station at around 5 pm in the evening. Planning to take a halt for the day, we landed up enquiring hotels. Most of the hotels were full and the remaining were charging a bizzare fare. Patnitop was one of the “go to destination” from Punjab (very similar to what Mussorie and Nainital is to people from Delhi and Haryana). Upon enquiry an old man said “Beta (son) there is nothing out here, just enjoy the chilly winds and greenery’. After riding almost 800 km from Delhi in the scorching heat, the chilly winds were really refreshing. He suggested us to move ahead to Batote, a quaint village 12 km ahead for night stay. We roamed around the hills through the resorts and parked cars, clicked few photographs and moved ahead to Batote. It was nightfall and we managed to find a basic lodge and rested for the day. On a night stroll, I found few shops selling kebabs. So dinner was delicious kebabs and tandoori after a hard day’s drive.
Early next morning, I headed out for a stroll. Traditional Kashmiri houses were made of wood and had intricate designs on them Most of them are now being replaced with new constructions. I was able to click a few. The weather was bright and sunny.
It was a challenging day as we had to reach Srinagar. We packed all our stuff and moved ahead. The lodge owner warned me about the unstable situation of Srinagar and suggested not to do a night stay and move ahead till Sonmarg if possible. After crossing Ramban we faced a long jam on the National highway. I had to maneuver through the gaps in between the vehicles and move ahead. After getting stranded in traffic for two hours, we could finally make it for a late breakfast at Banihal. A small road side dhaba with Chenab river flowing across it was a perfect setting for Maggie and a cup of tea.
In half an hour, we crossed the 3 km long Jawahar tunnel and officially entered Kashmir region of J and K. The landscape showed a drastic change and the valleys gradually opened up in front of us. We started spotting other riders who were also riding along with us. We stopped at Titanic view point and had berries for a change. It was getting late and the security on the Kashmir side seemed to drastically increase than on Jammu side of Tunnel. Army men fully geared up for combat were present in every 100 meter and in all vantage points. We traversed across the valley where there were many shops selling cricket bat. Kashmir willow is one of the premium quality woods for making Cricket bat. The landscape lush green paddy fields with mountains at the backdrop. We didn’t stop anywhere and headed straight towards Srinagar after crossing Anantnag and Pampore.
The situation in the Srinagar seemed to be tense and very few people were out on the road in the late afternoon. We crossed over to Boulevard road along the Dal lake and headed forward. Few locals came rushing towards us to give a deal about their House Boat for the night stay. At Gate no: 12 of lake we stopped and got a reasonable deal on a House boat for one night. We had to park our bike in the parking lot and head back with our luggage on a Shikara (long tail boat) to the house boat.
This concluded the riding part of Day 3. Evening Shikara ride on the Dal lake is coming next.