As the plane dived under dense clouds and touched the runway of the Srinagar Airport, I felt a surge of excitement. It was my maiden visit to the Himalayas, and it has started with Kashmir. We were on our way to Ladakh and the fact that it was 30 degrees outside did not bother us a bit. The next 10 days were going to be good.
We were supposed to meet the rest of the group at the Dal Lake and hailed a cab to reach there. It is then that we heard the first bad news – there had been a cloudburst near Sonmarg and the road to Leh was closed due to landslides. After brooding over it for sometime, we decided to take it in our stride and make a pickle of the lemon that providence was offering us.
Srinagar is a dusty town with narrow roads and honking motorists. However on the day that we reached, there was a strike called by some political groups to protest against an incident that had happened in Rajouri; the town wore a deserted look and it somehow helped us to escape the traffic chaos. We were at Dal Lake in a little more than half an hour.
Dal Lake is beautiful but seems to be loosing its sheen very fast. There were a number of houseboats lined up and the other members of our groups were waiting for us in one of those beauties. It is here that we met Shankar, Usha, Vasundhara (Vasu) and Vikram who were going to be our wonderful companions for next 10 days. After spending a few minutes at the Dal Lake, our pick-up arrived and we headed towards Wusan, where Taurus was parked. On the way, we saw Hazratbal Shrine and Nageen lake and got the first small glimpse of the beauty, that is Kashmir.
Taurus was camped at a perfect location, flanked by densely wooded mountains and the mighty Indus was flowing just a few feet away from us. We were to hang around here till the Zojila Pass opened again. At Taurus, we met Capt. Suresh Sharma (our Team leader), Rohit (the 8th traveller) and Negi (Capt’s assistant).
Days are longer in Kashmir and the light stays till 8:00 PM. Throughout our trip, we made best use of the extended days and especially dawn and dusk when the light is most favourable for photography.
Dinner was an elaborate affair, with a large dining table laid out next to the river and the evening went fine except for a minor scare – just after the dinner was over, the weather suddenly changed and strong winds started blowing, accompanied by rain showers. To keep everyone safe, Capt took Taurus to a comfortable J&K Tourism Hotel nearby where we retired for the night. Heavy rains at this time of the year are an unusual phenomenon in Kashmir, and the locals were wondering what’s going on in the heavens…
Taurus (link here) is a magnificent overland truck conceptualized and built by Capt. Suresh Sharma and his wife Dr. Rajbir Kaur Sharma. With their extensive outdoor experience, they have been able to perfect this metallic marvel for launching expeditions to anywhere in the country. The attention to details is striking and the craft leaves one amazed at times to realize the amount of thinking and hard work that has gone into creating Taurus. Since Capt. Is an accomplished photographer himself, he makes sure that photographers are at their most content when onboard.
Taurus was our home for 10 days and is one thing we miss most after coming back, next to the wonderful travel buddies that we had in this trip.
Clouds had parted by the morning, and the misty morning with golden sunshine presented a promising prospect for our day. After some light breakfast, we checked out from the hotel and went back to the previous day’s camping site and settled down. The road to Leh was still closed so Captain suggested that we make best use of the day and explore the area. There is a village at a small distance from the highway with a mountain stream passing by and it became the place for our morning photo-shoot.
The raw natural beauty of Kashmir can be an overwhelming experience. We were looking at the beautiful stream flanked by mighty mountains and the sight was a very pleasing and calm one. To add to the natural beauty, we were soon surrounded by local villagers, children and elders combined, each one of whom was more photogenic than all of us combined. They were naturally interested in our long lenses and equipments and happily posed for the photographs. We spent close to 2 hours taking photographs and then moved a little downstream where we had morning breakfast on a small islet in the middle of the stream.
Check the High Resolution Photographs on Flickr
Mann Ki Baat
In the afternoon, when everyone had gone on another photo-shoot trip, I decided to skip it and sat under a tree working on this story. Some villagers were quarrying the riverside for sand and filling that in a truck. Attracted by Taurus, the truck driver and his helper came to me and we talked for a long time on topics varying from life in the Kashmir valley, their daily life , challenges and peace. This polite and friendly gentleman was a Postgraduate with B.Ed. but had to take up the job of a truck driver to make ends meet. The high level of unemployment in Kashmir is an issue which will ultimately decide when does peace return to the valley.
After this meet, we became very friendly with each other, he would wave at us when he came with his trip and we would talk when we got a chance. He had applied for a job in a private bank which has recently entered the state, hope he gets this one soon ..