Travelogue | Day 10: Leh (Magnetic Hill)

September 1, 2012

I woke up late this morning, at around 9:00 AM, for I was told that the Ladakh Festival would start at 11:00 AM. By the time I got out, the celebrations had already begun. Apparently, the official start of the festival was at 11:00, but the festivities, which included a procession of the tribes taking part in the fest, started at 8:00. I still managed to catch a glimpse of this procession while I headed out to the Polo Grounds, where the ceremony was to take place. The place was packed with people, and there was no place to sit. There was still time for the start, so I decided to get out and grab a bite for breakfast. I walked into a small Punjabi Dhaba on the main street, and ordered for Chole Poori. The Chole was yum, but the Poori was very oily. Heavy breakfast I must say!!

When I came back to the ground, it was got worse. More people had pooled in, and there was not enough place even to stand. Knowing that loads of people are going to be turn up, it was inexplicable of the authorities not to make enough arrangements. The sun was up and scorching, and people had no other option but to sit on the ground in the heat. The CM  of Jammu and Kashmir had come as the chief guest, and the ceremony started off with never-ending speeches. I was getting restless standing in the heat, sweating all over. Finally, post noon, the celebrations had begun with a couple of tribal dances. I didn’t enjoy them much for my patience had already waned by then. So, after seeing a couple more performances, I left. (Apparently there was some good stuff immediately after I left, especially a dance by school children).

On the way back to the room, I walked into Western Tibet Explorers (tourist agency) to see if I could find a shared taxi to Pangong Tso for the next day. He said he had a couple at the moment, and would confirm on the same by evening. I reached the room, took the bike and decided to head off towards Alchi Monastery on the way back to Kargil.

This ride was amazing. I already passed by this road a couple of days ago while coming from Kargil to Leh, but the experience of driving a bike was priceless. The ghat roads, the sangam of Zanskar and Indus, view points, etc. were all magnificent. Driving by the Magnetic Hill was awesome. Then I came onto a stretch of road where there was not a single soul in sight; just a road leading to nowhere, surrounded by mountains on either side. Trust me when I say this, driving on this road was one of the best experiences in my life (till now; things would soon change). I absolutely loved it!!

If there is a road leading to heaven, this must be it!!

It was a long drive to Alchi and I had to drive into the interiors of a small village before finally reaching the monastery. I already had enough of the monasteries the previous day, but I  was visiting Alchi just for the ride, to pass time. The monastery was really small, and pretty old. Again, the doors were being opened as I entered for there were no people. Once out, there was a small German Bakery nearby which sold various kinds of cookies. I got tempted and bought a couple of them. They turned out to be so hard that even if I tried cracking them with a rock, I wouldn’t succeed. Fun!!

I thoroughly enjoyed my ride back to Leh. I had all the time in the world, and nothing to do once back in Leh, so I drove really slow. I wanted to get lost, but it was a straight road :(. I reached the city at around 6:00 in the evening.

I returned the bike, went back to the room and watched some TV. At around 8:00 PM, I went to the tourist guy, and he confirmed on the trip. There were three other people to share the taxi, and so it would cost me Rs. 1600/- (The prices to all the tourist destinations nearby are fixed. So the more people you are, the cheaper the trip would get). Once done, I asked the guy  to suggest a good restaurant nearby, and he led me to World Garden Cafe on the Changspa road.

It was a short walk to this place from the market. It was a garden restaurant, and I sat in one of the corners. Their menu had quite a lot to offer. I asked the waiter to help me choose, and he suggested I go for the Vegetable Lasagna. I also ordered for some Lassi to beat the dry weather. The Lasagna was served in about 15 minutes, and it was one of the best I’ve had. Cheesy and creamy, it was scrumptious. The Lassi was thick and yum.

I headed back to the room after a delicious meal, watched some TV and finally called it a day. I had to get out by 6:00 the next morning for the taxi.

Day 9 : Leh (Monasteries)
Day 11: Leh (Pangong Tso)

Travelogue | Day 9: Leh (Monasteries)

August 31, 2012

I woke up around 8:00, washed up (the only disadvantage of my room was that it didn’t have running hot water; the guy would bring a bucket in the morning when asked for), and went to meet the German couple, hoping that they’ve decided to come along with me. But they had other plans (they wanted to go on a 10 day hiking trip, and see the town later if they had time). I was kinda disappointed, and started enquiring on how to reach monasteries by bus. That is when the Indus Guest House guy suggested I rent a bike instead, and roam around the place. This was definitely more enticing than the bus, and was way cheaper than the taxi. Now, I had a new plan in mind.

I decided to rent a bike for 2 days, go visit the monasteries on the first day, enjoy the Ladakh Festival in the morning of the second day, and then go visit more monasteries. So I went looking for a bike. I was told that an Enfield would cost 1000 bucks, while I could get other bikes starting at 600. I thought I’d rent a Yamaha FZ (for it’s my bike back home, and am comfortable with it). There’s a street full of motorcycle rent shops near J & K Bank in the main market, but there was only one guy with FZ’s. I tried the couple of bikes he had, and both were in terrible condition (no brakes on one, drag on the other, both with broken clutch and brake levers). So I went into another shop (Himalayan Adventures) and he offered me a Bullet. I took off on the test drive, but wasn’t so comfortable with it. Bullet is a heavy bike and I didn’t wanna test it on unknown roads without having ridden it in the past, so I asked for something else, and he offered me an Avenger. I got lost in Leh while on the test drive, but somehow managed to get back. I decided to take it for it seemed to be in good condition. He asked for 700 and I bargained to 600. While I was talking to the main guy, the helper was tuning the bike and managed to break the gear lever. They tried fixing it for a quite a while, but were unable to. While they were doing this, I walked into a restaurant nearby and had yummy Aloo Paratha for breakfast. It was already past 10:00 AM, and it looked like it was gonna take longer for them to fix the Avenger, so I asked for an alternative, Hero Impulse. He said 700 again, and I managed to get it for 600, again :D. It was a relatively new bike and didn’t need a test drive. I took the helmet, enquired a little about the routes to the monasteries, and finally hit the road. Oh no, actually, I first submitted my PAN card at a tourist center for the permit before I it the road.

Tip: Make sure you test the bike before you rent it. Do not take it even if you are wee bit uncomfortable. Also make sure that the bike has a yellow registration board (taxi). It is less likely that the cops will catch you if it’s yellow. Finally, ask the guy how much mileage the bike will give you, so you have an idea on how much gas you’ll require. And do bargain on the prices. 

My first stop was Shey Palace, located on the Manali highway, about 14 kms from Leh. I reached the place around 11:00 AM, parked my bike, bought a ticket for 20 bucks and started climbing the stairs up. And by the time I reached the top (about 50 steps), I was as good as dead. I didn’t have altitude sickness, thank you, but the altitude was definitely taking a toll on my body. I had to sit and recoup all my energy before I could walk in and enjoy (really??) Shey. As I already mentioned, there is nothing much to see in a monastery (which makes one wonder why I decided to spend a day on them!!). There are a couple of rooms with paintings and Buddhist artifacts, and then in the end, one room with a large statue of Buddha (pretty much the same in all monasteries). There is also a dark room full of diyas. I took some pictures, sat for a while on the top, and then got out after an hour.

Next stop, Thikse Monastery, 5 kms from Shey. The 3 Idiots school was on the way, but I somehow missed it. Thikse was bigger than Shey, and crowded. It had an entry fee of 30 bucks. The walk up the hill made me pant again, and once in, it was pretty much the same sight. It was a little more colorful, had more rooms, lots of space, and a better view of the surroundings though. There was also a museum, which had artifacts of the ancient Buddhist era.

I then headed off towards Stakna Gompa, 8 kms from Thikse. If it wasn’t for the road sign, I wouldn’t have noticed this monastery. It was comparatively small, totally deserted, and had free entry. There was a long drive up hill, and I noticed that I was the only visitor at that moment of time. All the rooms were closed, and were being opened by an elderly monk as I walked in. It look less than 10 minutes to wrap up the place.

Hemis Monastery was the farthest of all, 20 kms from Stakna and about 50 kms from Leh, and the largest of them all. It is located quite deep in the mountains. The ride up to the monastery was quite an adventure in itself because of the zig zag narrow roads. The entry fee was 50 bucks this time. Again the same old stuff. The monks kept dancing in the main yard for a long time, which was fun to watch. This one had a huge museum with more artifacts than Thikse.

Once done, I decided to call it a day with the monasteries. I was tired of looking at the same stuff (which I didn’t understand a thing about). It was almost 4:00 PM, and I was hungry, so stopped at a small dhaba on the way back from Hemis. I had a Thali with unlimited roti, Rajma, Aloo Gobhi and Dal. The food was finger licking good. Met a couple of guys here who were suggesting I ride a bike even to Pangong Tso and Nubra Valley, but only if I could find more biking partners. That was something to be thought about.

Now, it was time for an adventure – time to get lost. The Himalayan Adventures guy had told me that there was a parallel road from Stakna to Leh, which had a better view than NH1, and also passed through Stok Monastery. So in search of this road, I went back to Stakna, and instead of taking a right, I took a left, onto the road leading back to Hemis. The road signs pointed Hemis, but having forgot that I just got back from Hemis, I kept riding. This road was pathetic for it was full of swamps and open drains. And I kept riding in all this like an idiot. I almost fell into one of the swamps, but kept going. It was not until I drove more than half way did I realize that I had already been to Hemis!! šŸ˜› I turned around, and drove back through the same swamps all over again to finally reach Leh at around 6:00 PM šŸ˜€

I was told that Santi Stupa in Leh provided a beautiful panoramic view of the city during sunset. Driving through the chill in the air, I reached the place right on time. And boy was it beautiful. I could see the entire place from up here, and the sun setting made the mountains shine gold in color. I took loads of pictures and then headed down to the small cafe to have some Butter Tea. While I was enjoying my tea, the Blue moon rose. It was just amazing to see the sun set on one side behind the mountains while the full moon rose from the other. Magical!!

It was time to call it a day, but not before I had some dinner. I also had to collect my permit. It was ready by the time I reached the tourist guy, and was for 5 days, to Pangong and Nubra. I then headed to Tenzin Dickey, this time to taste their Thukpa. The place which was packed at around the same time yesterday was empty today. It took quite a while for the Thukpa to be served, and I thought it was alright. It was the first time I was gonna order for it šŸ˜›

Once done, I headed back to the room, and crashed!!

Day 8 : Kargil – Leh
Day 10 : Leh (Magnetic Hill)

Travelogue | Day 8: Kargil – Leh

August 30, 2012

Woke up in the morning at around 7:00 AM, and rushed to the taxi stand. For some reason, I had a fear that the taxi fellow would leave us and go (cheat us), but I was totally wrong. Most of the locals here survive on tourism, and it’s their bread and butter. So for that reason, everyone (almost everyone) here is honest, friendly and usually don’t cheat tourists. My bad.

We started off a little late from Kargil, it was almost 9:00 by the time we got out.  I struggled in the back seat of the Scorpio as my legs wouldn’t fit, but I had no option. The ride was a little bumpy initially, but got better as we traveled. The scenery around was awesome. A little after we started off, we stopped at a small town, which was pretty much the start of Tibetan region.

And then two hours later, we reached Lamayuru monastery. The taxi guy had told us that we have 10 minutes to look at it, but I convinced him for 30 minutes. I was hoping to see a lot at the monastery, this being the first I’ve visited, but there really wasn’t anything much. People who are interested in Buddhism or Buddhist culture might find the place interesting. I roamed about, clicked some pictures and got out in 15 minutes. šŸ˜€

There was a landslide on the road from Lamayuru, so we had to take an alternate mud road, 30 kms longer than the regular road. Though this part of the journey was a little tiring, the view from here was breath-taking. The roads were like snakes on hills. Stunningly beautiful.

We stopped for lunch in a small town about 60 kms from Leh. I was hungry, but skeptical about eating. After contemplating about it for a while, I had Aloo Mattar, Roti and rice at a Punjabi Dhaba. The food was decent, nothing great.

The ride got better once we left this town. The roads were newly laid, and the surroundings just got better. We passed through the point where the Zanskar and Indus merged, then passed through a straight road surrounded by mountains on either side, and the magnetic hill, before we finally reached Leh at around 4:00 PM. I thought the place was quite hot. It was very dry, and there was this uneasy feeling once we stopped. It took a while to get adjusted.

The German couple wanted to stay at this place called Indus Guest House at Malpak, near the main market. Lonely Planet said that they have rooms starting from Rs. 300//-, so I decided to give it a try. I did try to look for a couch here as well, but it didn’t work out. We walked quite a distance before we finally found it. They had rooms starting from 400, but this room was already occupied. The best he could offer was at 700. The guest house was very good, rooms neat and spacious, they had free wi-fi too, but 700 was a lot for me. I was planning to stay in Leh for a week, so it really didn’t work out. They suggested I try in the guest house adjacent to theirs (I don’t remember the name), and I did. They showed me a room for 400, and I checked in. The room was alright, but was very dusty, and seemed unused for a long time. Hoping to find something better, I walked out and tried looking a little more. (The German couple took a room at Indus for Rs. 1200/-)

I walked into a couple of nearby guest houses and none had a room for less than 600. I then walked into this place called Lung-Se-Jung a little off Fort Road, right next to Rafica Guest House. These guys offered me a better room with a TV for 400 bucks. So I went to the other place, took my bag, told them I had found something else and moved out. I had already checked in here, but since I didn’t use the room, they let me go without any issues.

I settled down in my room at Lung-Se-Jung, and after a while set off on a stroll in the town. It was time for sunset and there was nice chill in the air. Probably because I took the route from Kargil, I really didn’t feel sick or anything, but I was breathing a little heavy, atleast for the first hour or so. I was also tired from the ride.

Before I started on the trip, I planned which cities to go to, but I didn’t do any homework on what all to see at these places. So I walked into one of the tourist operators, and informed them of my ignorance about Leh. The guy explained to me on what all there is to be done in and around the town. He first asked me how long I was gonna be thee, and I said a week. So the trekking trips were out, for they usually last for atleast 10 days. He suggested that I visit the monasteries on one day, visit Pangong Tso on another, head to Nubra Valley for a two days-one night trip, and go rafting another day. This sounded awesome. I was told that I would need to obtain an Inner Line Permit to visit Pangong or Nubra Valley. I assumed this permit was only foreigners, but it turned out that even Indians need it, and it costs Rs. 500/-. You will need an ID proof, and it takes a day.

PS: A single foreign tourist cannot obtain a permit by himself. He/she will have to group with someone in order to get one. So, make friends, not enemies. šŸ˜›

So I decided to start with the monasteries the next day. I dropped into another tourist center and found out how to go about it. They suggested I take a taxi to visit the four monasteries nearby – Shey, Thiksey, Hemis and Spituk. I was informed that a taxi would cost me Rs. 2400/- irrespective of the number of people travelling. I was hoping to convince the German couple to join me on the same, so that it would bring my expense down to 800. They weren’t sure on what they wanted to do yet, and said that they would inform me in the morning. The other alternative I had in mind, in case these guys wouldn’t join me, was to take the bus (there’s no direct bus to the monasteries though).

On the way back to the room, I found this Tibetan vegetarian kitchen called Tenzin Dickey. The fact that it was all vegetarian pulled me in. The joint was packed, with just one empty table in the corner, where I sat. There was only one waitress, and she was running all around the place. It took close to 15 minutes before she came upto me and told me that Momos were all that were available. I’ve had Momos a couple of times in Hyderabad, but never really liked them. Since there was no other alternate, decided to try them, fried. The same girl who told me that only Momos were available, took orders for Noodle Soups from other tables, which pissed me off a bit. Anyways, while I was waiting, an elderly foreign gentleman walked in and asked if he could share the table with me. We made small talk, and he told me he was from Ireland and has been visiting Leh for the last 22 years, every year, for atleast a month (with the exception of 1 year in between). I thought that was just awesome!! He was a very nice guy, and helped me understand the place a little better. The Momos arrived in the mean time., and were alright. I wasn’t too happy with them for they were bland, so I added a lot of chilli sauce to make them taste better. After a so so meal, it was time to head back to the room.

Once again, there was no fan in the room. I watched some TV, and slowly drifted off into sleep.

PS: I’ve listed a few places to stay at on the Experience page šŸ™‚

Day 7 : Srinagar – Kargil
Day 9 : Leh (Monasteries)

Viva Italia | Restaurant Review

Place: Viva Italia 
Location: Ground floor, White House, Next to Lifestyle Building, Begumpet 
Cuisine: Italian & Desserts 
Meal: Dinner (with amma)

Went to Viva Italia after a long time with amma on a Saturday night to have some yummy food. I decided to have a pizza and amma opted for a sandwich. It was nice to see that these guys have worked on their menu and expanded it quite a bit.

They had a new Pasta on Pizza, and from the description, seemed like it was just made for me. Penne, mushrooms, onions and cheese with white sauce on a crunchy pizza base, awesome. I thought it was a little bland initially, but with some oregano, it tasted better. Amma had the  Tomato Cheese Chilli toast, and it was delicious. She loved it.

I decided to hog a little more and ordered for a Veggie Hot-dog. I was told that the vegetarian options are gonna be a little different from the regular hot-dogs, yet I decided to give it a try anyways. The bread was really crunchy, but I thought the stuffing inside lacked a little flavor. I would have preferred more stuffing in there. It was good nevertheless.

These guys also started on desserts, serving cupcakes and brownies.

Iā€™m not a big fan of cupcakes in general, but the Raspberry cupcake was very good. Cupcakes in India are generally very sweet, but this one was just perfect. The brownie turned out to be even better. It was Chocolicious!! I so loved it that I gulped down one more. Reasonably priced at 50 and 35 bucks a piece, these are a must try.

Food: 9/10
Desserts: 9.5/10
Service: 9.5/10
Ambience: 9/10
Meal for 2: Rs. 350/-

Verdict: 9.5/10

English Vinglish | Movie Review

Is it worth your time and money??: Oh yes, English Vinglish is an absolute must watch for everyone. The script connects with almost every household in India, and that’s what makes the film work. The script is very well executed by first time director Gauri Shinde. There a smile on your face pretty much throughout the film. Do I even need to get started on Sridevi?? She is exceptionally brilliant, and carries the film on her shoulders all the way.

And with Sridevi in the film, does it really matter if its worth your time and money?? šŸ˜›

Ab toh Laddu khilana hi padega!! šŸ˜€

Acting: 9/10
Story-Screenplay-Direction: 9/10
Technical Aspects: 8.5/10

Verdict: 9/10

Travelogue | Day 7: Srinagar ā€“ Kargil

August 29, 2012 

I had to wake up early and get ready by 6:30 AM, for I was supposed to report at the taxi stand before 7:00. Sanjay was kind enough to drop me off at the stand and it took a while before the taxi hit the road. Only three of us had made prior reservation in the taxi, and were charged Rs. 800/- for it. The rest came in the morning and got seats for Rs. 700/-.

Tip: Though there is a difference of 100 bucks, I’d suggest reserving a seat before itself, for you get your preferred seat. There are also times when you might not be able to find any taxis in the morning.

Tip: For people heading towards Leh, there are two travel options. One is to take a taxi to Kargil, spend a night, and then take a taxi to Leh the next morning. The other option is to cover the 400 odd kms on the same day. This would be a really long ride, and isn’t suggested for people wanting to enjoy the scenery through the way. These taxis start at around 5:00 in the morning and reach around 9:00 in the night. Both the options cost pretty much about the same, close to 1500 bucks. The stopover at Kargil gives you more time to acclimatized to the high altitudes and prevents altitude sickness.

I reserved a window seat in the middle row of the Tata Sumo, and it was very comfortable. I had the company of a German couple, a school teacher from Srinagar who works in Kargil, and a couple of other guys. The driver also happened to be a friendly guy.

Once we got out of Srinagar, the landscapes started getting better and better. The whole journey was an absolute delight. The landscapes were full of greenery just outside the city, but as we headed towards Ladakh region, everything turned brown, and there was the dryness we could feel in the air. We first passed through Sonmarg, another scenic tourist spot near Srinagar. People were telling us that we might find snow here, but we found nothing. Mid way through, we cam across the road, or rather a pass (for there was no real road) which leads to Amarnath. It was an amazing view. Then we headed off towards Drass, the second highest inhabitable region in the world. I was expecting this place to be freaking cold, but it wasn’t.  We stopped here for lunch, but I skipped a meal. The ride was a little more than 200 kms long, and we passed through valleys and plains for about 8 hours before we finally reached Kargil at around 3:00 PM. Once we were near Kargil, I don’t know why, but for some reason I could see an Indian flag waving on every mountain peak I looked at. It just felt great :).

Kargil was a very small town. Sanjay had informed me that there is really nothing to do in Kargil, so suggested I try to head of to Lamayuru monestry directly and spend the night there. So I enquired at the taxi stand if anyone would be willing to take me to Lamayuru. Even the German couple was interested, and there were also an Israeli couple who wanted to spend the night at Lamayuru. The distance from Kargil to Leh is about 200 kms, and Lamayuru is mid way through, at 100 kms. No taxi was willing to cover this distance unless we paid them the fare upto Leh. So we dropped the idea and decided to spend the night at Kargil instead.

The German couple found a guest house through Lonely Planet and dropped in there. This place was too expensive for me, so I instead looked a little more and found this guy on the streets who offered me a room for 300. I bargained and got it for 250. It was a pretty decent room. Just no hot water, and though the weather wasn’t cold, the water was freezing.

Once I dropped the luggage in the room, I headed back to the taxi stand to book a taxi for the next day, to Leh. We (me and the German guy) spoke to a couple of guys, and finally made a deal where I got a seat on the back on a Scorpio for 600 bucks, while the Germans got seats on middle row for 700 each. It was a bad decision to go for the back seat, but there were no more middle seats left :(.

I headed back to the room, crashed on the bed, and didn’t get up until it was almost 8:00 PM. It was initially difficult for me to sleep for there was no fan in the room (and I can’t sleep without a fan, or something else making some kinda sound), but I was yearning for some good sleep, so it didn’t matter after a while.

I got out and decided to go find some food. I hadn’t had anything substantial throughout the day (I just had a packet of chips and some tea), so was hungry. I’ve read quite a lot about it being very difficult to find vegetarian food in Kargil. Some sites even went to the extent of saying there is no vegetarian food in Kargil. So all I was hoping for was some maggi. But wait, I roamed around a little, and towards the end of the street, I found this Punjabi Vaishno Dhaba which serves pure vegetarian food (So for all you fold out there who said it’s not possible, in your face :P). The place was decent enough, and there was an elderly Sardarji serving hot food. There was chawal (rice) with either Rajma, Aloo Soya or Dal. I asked for some Rajma Chawal. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but food nevertheless. It filled me good enough.

On my way back to the room, I headed into a cybercafe, which charged Rs. 60/- for an hour of internet. I sat for 30 minutes, checked my mail, facebooked a little, and then went back to the room. I watched couple of episodes of The Newsroom before calling it a day.

Day 6: Srinagar (Gulmarg)
Day 8: Kargil ā€“ Leh

Travelogue | Day 6: Srinagar (Gulmarg)

August 29, 2012

Woke up at around 7:00 AM, washed up, had breakfast and got out at around 8:30. My leg was better by now, so decided to take a trip to Gulmarg. I took a bus to the main bus stop at Batmaloo and got into a bus going to Tangmarg. There are no direct buses or sharing taxis to Gulmarg, so you need to take one to Tangmarg, which is about 15 kms away from Gulmarg (If you are renting a full taxi, then it’s a different story). The bus I got into was empty, so I had to wait for almost an hour for it to get full. And even when it did, it was moving at snail’s pace, stopping every 5 minutes to get more passengers. It took close to 3 hours to cover a 56 kms stretch. I immediately got a sharing taxi to finally Gulmarg at around 1:00 PM.

Tip: Never get into a bus from Srinagar to Tangmarg. Instead, take a sharing taxi which costs you only 20 bucks more than the bus, Rs. 55/-, and covers the journey in an hour. I realized this on my way back!!

Gulmarg was very different from Srinagar. It was cold, foggy, and there was a slight mist in the air. Since Srinagar was so hot, I didn’t carry a sweater on this day and it was freaking cold (How dumb was I not to carry wool while travelling to a hill station!!).

While I was walking around enjoying the beauty of the place, a guy approached me with an offer to take me around the place on a pony. There were fixed prices listed on a board, which said an hour of ride would cost me 300 bucks, and 200 more for every hour thereafter. This guy gave me a deal of taking me around the place, the Gondolas, wait while I go up the hill and come back, and the return journey for 500. I bargained and got it for 400. I should have done better!!

Tip: Bargain as much as possible. Start from about 40% of quoted price and settle around 60%. I met a family of 4 who got a similar deal for 250 bucks each!! šŸ™

The pony ride was super fun. I got a young guy, a little stout, brown in color. There was an elderly guide with me all through out, showing me places, and controlling the pony. He showed me the place where all the movies were shot, took me to a children’s park, and finally to the point where the Gondolas take off.

There are two stages for the Gondolas at Gulmarg, and the second stage was closed on this particular day because of the foggy weather. The first stage costs 300 and the second one costs 200, and I took one for the first stage. The ride up took about 15 minutes, and was fun.

The view from the top of the mountain was even better. The fog gave way to clear skies and I started feeling better as well. I took a lot of pictures, and then walked up to a restaurant to have late lunch. He said their special dish was Kashmiri Pulao, which cost a whopping 180 bucks. After a 15 minute wait, he served me some crappy rice, flavored with maggi masala. Disgusting it was!! What was I thinking!!

I took the Gondola back to reach down, and then pony ride back to the taxi stand. Paid the elderly gentleman a tip, and headed off towards Tangmarg. This time, took a taxi, and I was in Srinagar in an hour, by 6:00 PM. I had planned to leave to Kargil the next day, so went to the taxi stand to book my seat for the next morning. I paid Rs. 800 /- for the middle seat in a Tata Sumo.

I then walked to Dal Lake for the Shikara ride. The sun was already setting, and it was a wrong time for it, but since I was travelling the next day, I had no other option. They have fixed prices for the ride, but I bargained with a guy to show me around as much as possible in 30 minutes for Rs. 150/-. The Shikara I got into was very comforting. We went around different paths, but it got dark for me to really see stuff. I just enjoyed the ride.

Once done, I walked around the lake for a long time. Sanjay was supposed to pick me up and head for dinner. A friend of his, a gentleman from the armed forces joined us, and we went to a Chinese place called Lhasa near Dal Lake. I ordered an American Chopsuey, while Sanjay and his friend opted for some non-veg stuff. The meal was very good, and this gentleman gave me an insight into how the army survives in cold regions such as Siachen Glacier. The description was just amazing and too good to believe. After a night well spent, we headed back to the house and I crashed in the bed.

Day 5: Srinagar
Day 7: Srinagar ā€“ Kargil