After finishing a trek outside of Leh in northern India my friend Carl and I had a choice.
1) Take a 24 hour bus ride back over the same terrible, icy Himalayan road or
2) Take a 15 hour car to Srinagar.
Carl and I didn’t feel any strong urge to take that same road back to Manali from Leh so when a shop keeper told us we could go through Kashmir and Jammu to Dharamsala we were sold!
We were informed that the road was better and there were a couple bigger cities we could stop at to break up the journey: double sold!
Let me make it clear that it’s impossible to confirm how long a car journey will take in India. Indians are vague, the roads are terrible and it’s impossible to tell how many times the driver will stop for chai! This combination leads to unknown hours in a vehicle.
When we left Leh for Srinagar we were told it would be about 11 or 12 hours. So we figured it would be more like 14 or 15 and we would get there at a reasonable time like 7 or 8 in the morning. Turns out we weren’t lied to for once and we actually arrived on time at 4am. Why the hell would you organize shared taxis to arrive in a creepy parking lot when it’s dark, foggy and nothing is open? I will never understand…
The internet hadn’t been working in Leh so we weren’t able to arrange accommodation before we arrived. Luckily our taxi driver had a friend who owned a hotel. He called him and he was nice enough to come pick us up.
Carl and I quickly realized the hotel owner was a pretty big weirdo when he showed us our room and then wouldn’t leave. It was 4:30am and he just stood in our room for 10 minutes asking questions… all of our responses were along the lines of “we don’t know, we’re just really tired and need to sleep.” He just didn’t get it.
The next morning we had breakfast in our room: eggs, toast and chai. Then the hotel owner came in (in his pajamas) sat down while we ate. When you get breakfast in bed and the waiter doesn’t leave you know something is wrong! He interrogated us about our travels plans while in Srinagar and since we hardly knew anything about the place it was a pretty awkward conversation. Basically all we knew about it was Dal Lake and there were house-boats there and we thought we might want to stay on one. Our guy told us he owned a house-boat and he would take us to see it and we could decide if we wanted to stay if we liked it, no obligation of course.
We took a rickshaw to the lake then took a small taxi-boat over to the house-boat. It was surprisingly dry and nice inside. All of the boats looked very similar, old and leaky. We decided not to stay on the boat because it was so isolated.
The boats people use to get around Dal Lake are shaped similar to the gondolas in Venice but the bow and stern of the boat are lower to the water. The paddle is shaped like an upside down spade and the person rowing sits at the back of the boat. When we were getting on the boat we realized to our horror that our guy was going to come with us. Carl had to ask him to please not join us. Without him there we were able to relax while a nice young man showed us around the lake for an hour. I think it was the only hour we were in Srinagar that he wasn’t within 20 feet of us!
After the lake we went to an internet place as we were starting to get the itch for that good old wi-fi. At the internet place they were routing internet from a mobile phone and needless to say it was painfully slow. I sent one email in 15 minutes in order to inform my mom I wasn’t dead. We gave up and retreated to out hotel room. We told our guy we would like dinner at around 6 because he asked us (more like forced us) into having dinner at the hotel. The dinner in the hotel was actually nice to our surprise… What wasn’t so nice was when our guy came in and sat on the bed and watched us eat, hardly speaking.
Carl and I made up a story about having to meet a friend in Dharamsala and asked him if we could get a shared taxi to Jammu so we could take a bus to Dharamsala. He told us yes and called a rickshaw to pick us up at 4:30am the next day, but he wasn’t happy about it. He again stayed in our room way to long, and when he was leaving asked if we wanted to buy some stones from his friend.”Nice stones, good price.” We declined.
He left, but don’t worry, he came back to give is his business cards and make us swear ten times that we would recommend his hotel. When he was finally leaving he asked Carl if he had warm socks. Thinking he was going to try to sell him socks Carl told him that yes he had warm socks. Then he asked if he could have Carl’s socks!!! Carl told him that he needed his warm socks and only had one pair. Then he asked Carl to send him some socks from the US. (By the way, Carl brought his warm socks in India).
Carl tried to reason with him saying most of the warm socks in the US are made in India or China any way. He wouldn’t hear of it and told Carl he would email him about the socks. Before he finally left he told us that he would call us sometime and asked if Sunday was a good day to call. I am so thankful that I didn’t put down a phone number… partly because I don’t have a phone number but mostly I hoped Carl would get a call…. Hopefully related to socks!
In the morning we took a shared mini-van taxi to Jammu. Before we got in the taxi our guy gave Carl the most awkward hug I have ever seen in my life. It took 8 hours to get to Jammu. Our seats in the mini-van were in the back with a young man who kept throwing up into a bag. It was an uncomfortable and gross ride but at that point anything was worth it to get the hell out of Srinagar and away from our hotel guy. Carl and I literally high-fived when the mini van started driving away!
To sum things up, Carl and I traveled 12 hours to Srinagar to feel uneasy the whole time besides the one hour we spent in a boat on Dal Lake. The next day we traveled another 8 hours in the back seat of a taxi with a boy throwing up next to us. Needless to say we won’t be back to Kashmir and Jammu any time soon.
But hey, on the upside we got a bunch of amazing photos.
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