Kashmir: Patnitop, Udhampur, Tunnels and Foreign Registration

Good morning everyone,

Finally on our way into Kashmir (or J&K which means Jammu and Kashmir).  The landscape, once near Udhampur reminds me a lot of western Canada… except for the roads and the roadside shacks everywhere.

We passed through quite a number of tunnels, one of which was just over 2.5 kilometres long, with pull out areas every couple of hundred metres, which is good because just about the time we entered this tunnel, the car began making a strange ticking sound.  A portent of things to come.

We were not aware that you have to stop before Udhampur (right before the tunnel there) and register as a foreigner visiting Kashmir.  There are no signs saying so either except the small one outside of the registration shack.  So small you tend to ignore it.  So we were flagged down rather abruptly.   Flashbacks of the corrupt cop in Agra were spinning through my head …

They ask for a lot of information … a lot, including a permanent address and telephone number in India.  This is just about the time we realized that our Vodaphone India cell phones work in all of India with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir.  More omens of how this trip would turn out?

The registration officer was quite nice about everything and explained the hows and whys of the registration process.  He also gave me an exit form to complete to make the registration on leaving Kashmir go faster.  He neither became aggressive nor demanded a bribe of any type.  So my Agra flashbacks ended.  He had a little wood heater inside the registration shack which made the temperature outside (22C) actually feel quite cold.  He warned us that the weather on the other side of the tunnel (and throughout the mountain regions) could drop drastically in only a few minutes and to drive carefully.  More portents of things to come.  He also cautioned me to be sure to drop off my exit form on the way out… and for reasons that will come, I didn’t.

We had great weather and decent for Indian mountains roads the whole way to Patnitop, when we first encountered snow.  The snow was melting rapidly due to the unseasonal heat that day, making the road a wet mess.

Patnitop is a hill station whose main industry is tea growing.  Most of the terraced fields here grow tea, though there was also wheat, some rice, crocus plants (for saffron), and apple trees.  Apparently Kashmir is famous for it saffron and for its apples.

We should have stopped in Patnitop for dinner but we were trying our best to push through to Srinagar by 11 p.m. or so, so we planned very few stops.  Yeah, given what would happen later that evening, we should have stopped here and figured out why the car was making the still faint, though clear, knocking sound.

I wondered, as we drove through these beautiful mountainsides, with their terraced fields, how often the people who live in the houses on the highest terraces come down to market.  I imagined they had either good donkeys or very, very strong legs and cardiovascular systems to make this trip any more than once a week.  I was impressed to say the least.  That is until I discovered that Patnitop is actually quite shallow compared to the steep mountainside terraces that were to come.

See the much steeper mountains behind Patnitop in the pictures?  Yeah, there are people living all over the sides of those too.  Many of them raising the famous Kashmir goats.

There really wasn’t much to Kashmir up to this point.  Jammu is an enormous city, with a lot of mandirs, mosques and a few gurdwaras dotting the horizon.  Huge, polluted, too busy… Udhampur was not all that different either, in the grand scheme of things.  It is only after Udhampur that the Himalayas come into view and Kashmir becomes the Kashmir of legend.  Beautiful, rugged, dangerous and breathtaking.  Driving through these mountains, awed by the vistas before me, I almost forgot about the knocking noise… but more on that later.

Jagdeep seemed to be enjoying the drive, for the most part, so I didn’t worry either.  Like in Himachal Pradesh in December and January, the locals drove way too fast over the bad roads and passed on blind turns, nearly giving me a fresh coronary every 3 or 4 minutes or so.  But Jagdeep took it in stride.

I’ve learned to trust him.  When he’s relaxed, so am I.  If he’s concerned, only then do I start to worry.  The only thing he was worried about, and was sure to caution me on was that the army and police in J&K could be very, very dangerous.  And also, that I would not be safe going anywhere alone.  As he put it “It is not safe for ladies here.  No wandering off.”

Sorry about the short post today but I’m tired, I’m expected to make an appearance at a wedding in about an hour, and there will be a lot more to say later on.

Until then,
Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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