Apni Desi ‘Cars’

11.35 AM
It’s a cold, foggy day when I start this journey – 250 kms long from Jallandhar to Jammu. It is the first time that I only have only 1 person sitting on my head – commanding me, ordering me and making me dance on his finger.. err… is that a correct translation for ungliyon pe nachana? Well it’s a phrase but has been literally true since I went to gym and gained more power in my steering. The thing I fear today is not the fog but the fact that my passenger is alone (just like me!!) and all the focus will be on me today. Other times, when they get chatting up, I get a chance to run smoothly at a constant speed for good stretches. Chalo, enough of talking. I am invigorated with that sweet smelling petrol. Time to hit the road!!
12.00 PM
The city of Jallandhar is behind me now. After spending some time on the bypass road and the outskirts of the city, I am now freely moving on a 4 lane road. Though I must say that it was more enjoyable 2 days ago, when I was coming to Jallandhar. Less traffic meant that I had nice, fresh wind in my face. Now it’s all polluted. Shucks. I hope this broad 4 lane road doesn’t end. But I know it will. And then it will be time for the constant pull and push on my levers. That gives me lot of pain. Not to forget I will be constantly moved from one side to another. Well. Why fret about the future. We will take it when it comes. Filhaal.. enjoy the present.
12.30 PM
Exactly as I expected – the cat and mouse game has started. I don’t know why I named it but that was the first thing that came to mind. But it’s an exciting game that I hardly get to play in the cities. It happens as follows. There is a sputtering thing like a truck or a tractor or a bus moving ahead. I move slightly to the right, peeking, with one eye on the road ahead. It is easy decision if either there is nothing ahead or someone is so close that we can look deep into each other’s eyes. But the fun comes when there is a decision to be made. If it’s a go, then I have to open up my mouth, drink in more fuel and just march ahead. No time to think, no excuses, it’s a one way road then. Though there are few cases when I may have to stop in between. My other friends have told me but this guy sitting on my head has not let it happen to me till now. But that stuff is real hair raising one. The other one – just narrowly missing kissing the on-coming friend. That kiss by the way is called kiss of death!!!

1.00 PM
Wooooh.. I hate this part… Was cruising through wonderfully. Beautiful, Lush green fields on both sides and suddenly I am pulled up for no fault of mine. Some bloody tractors seemed to have gotten tired in the middle of the highway. Poor chaps are like the donkeys. They move slowly, bray like the always loaded animal. You should see how happy they are when they don’t have the baggage behind them. Anyways, there is a minor jam on the road right now. Have to slow down in any case as the town is coming up.

I don’t remember this stretch of road. It is awesome. Proceedings from the town were slow but have hit a nice patch of the journey. There is no one around – and being all alone is giving me some doubts if I am on the correct path. There has been no milestone too from quite some time. But what the heck. I don’t really mind even if I have to turn back. I am gliding on the curves nicely and have reached a nice speed of 120. Last time I had experienced some pains while on 100 only. Coughing and Tiredness was there. But today nothing of the sort. May be it’s the nice sunny weather.

Reached the half way point. And the road gets bad from here to Lakhanpur. And to make matters worse, the big enemies – the gundas, called trucks have entered the scene big time. These guys are huge, walk thinking they are Sanjay Dutt and the bhai of the road. Most responsible for beating up small people like me. Inse bach bach ke aage jaana padega.

2.30 PM
Have crossed into J&K now. Vast difference in the scenery – a sudden change in the colors on the sidelines. Green to Brown. I am also feeling tired now. Plenty of border towns here so it’s been slow and steady for some time.

It’s like total dizzy phase now. My mind is totally numb. I am just moving along, tiredly going past my slow friends and staying behind the faster ones. It’s really hot. This bloody guy has not given me any break. It’s been like three and a half hours now. And I am just following the motions. The road has been strange. The highway is partially constructed and one side of the road is open. So have to alternate between them. And it is the only time I wake up from my slumber- just to be sure that I am going the right way.

Closer home now. I can already see the beautiful shade under the tree. I am dreaming about it. It’s not far. Meanwhile, got some adrenaline rushing when a speeding Alto gave me some challenge. The damn thing was quite fast, even on straights. I thought of not taking too many risk overtaking the bhais. So let it go after some time.

Finally home, under the shade of the tree.

Christmas Getaway

Lot of firsts were reserved for this Christmas. It was the first getaway from Jammu – generally holidays are reserved for going home. First time driving more than 300 kms – on a hilly terrain. And it was the first time to extreme north of India – just 180 kms shy of Srinagar.

The destination was Patnitop. It was an early morning start. The car flew on the empty roads. The bypass road to NH1A is excellent. In fact the whole highway was totally unexpected. Considering that we were going towards Srinagar, the image in the mind was that of a torturous, narrow, steep, bending and curving road. But it was quite the opposite – a comfortable, Shimla kind of highway. In fact the conditions of roads in Jammu City have been a revelation too. They are as good as any.

Coming back to the journey, milestones indicating the reducing distance from Srinagar created excitement enough to stop and pose for some clicks with one of them, which had an Urdu translation as well. While in south India, we constantly complain of a language problem, the boards and names written in the language which make no meaning. Like Sanchit, I also never expected a similar problem in North India as well.

Patnitop was nothing but just another stopover on way to Srinagar – just marketed well, may be because of its appropriate ‘getaway’ distance from Jammu.

There is a resort for night stopovers which we were not really interested. After having breakfast, in which Kava was ordered. It’s a Kashmir specialty – green tea with almonds etc. Didn’t really like it. The weather was awesomely chilly. On getting news of some snow on Natha Top a place around 14km from there we decided to head that way. Rs 50 was charged at the start of the road and someone tried to sell us the idea of renting out gum boots and heavy clothing for the snow. Having experienced enough snow, we could see clearly that there was negligible snow on the hill. In any case, Sanchit and I had trekked several kilometers of more than ankle high snow on the hills at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in mere sports shoes so we were sure we could definitely make it through here. The way up was disappointing if anyone had expected the white cover. It was a barren brown land. We found a spot, parked the car and climbed up a small hill. The chill was felt immediately as the first step was taken out of the car – the cold wind making the bright sun useless. Within minutes, ears were literally paining with cold, nose incapacitated to do its primary job, the mouth, slightly open frozen in its place and the wind making funny sounds as it passed the teeny tiny gaps in the teeth. All kind of biological sensors under the skin had gone awry.

The loss of 4 senses was compensated by the last one – eyes. It was a visual treat. In front of us were the splendid Himalayas. It was the first time I saw snow clad mountains with the sharp, pointed peaks. Generally the hill tops get curved at the top and are exactly the same as we used to show in the drawing books in our bachpan. But here was something that had come out just out of those books and our imagination.

After some minutes, the 4 senses whose call for some relief had slipped under the beauty of the nature, stood up and it was time to return to the car where the sun and the glasses had colluded  to trap the heat inside the car. It was an instant relief.

My co-passengers slept off on the return journey where the highlight was the Udhampur by-pass road. We had missed it in the morning and had crossed the city. The bypass, though a bit longer was amazing. The car literally flew over the lonely and deserted stretch.

The after effects of around 300 kms of driving were witnessed when, on reaching Jammu, I came out of the car. The knee and the foot refused to move from their places. They had to be moved a lot to get them back into use.

Overall it was a satisfying experience which gave me the confidence that driving down(rather than taking a flight) to Srinagar is a nice option. In any case, the last 100 kms of the 300 km distance is through plains only as you leave the hills behind and enter the valley area.

Hopefully it will happen soon…