Thursday 7th August, ? – Kishtwar
Not a bad night, all things considered – hiding from mosquitoes inside the bivvy bag reading my Kindle until sleep took me. Kindles, or e-readers in general, are being supplanted by tablets for their higher resolution screens and app-running capabilities but, for travelling, you can’t beat the e-readers battery life. I was up and packing as soon as it was light enough to see. But not early enough to beat the ladies who were back for another day of toil.
I could have used a shower but the option of taking a cold one under a roadside waterfall seemed at bit extreme before the sun had warmed the valley.
By 7:00 am, I was in Gulab Garh. I could have made it the previous night, and there were plenty of rooms advertised. But there was something big going on (the Machail Yatri, a sparkpoint for communal riots and killings in Kishtwar last year) and the rooms may all have been taken. Or over-inflated. There is a stadium, used as parking for more vehicles than I’ve seen in few weeks. There is even a helicopter giving rides to yatris (pilgrims?) up a side valley. Others, less well-heeled (literally and figuratively) were walking, some who although well-dressed and middle-class went barefoot to gain more ‘merit’.
Breakfast was vegetable chowmein. There was a strong military-type presence, both Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) and Indian Army. This is typical in J&K, due to its separatist and terrorist leanings.
A couple of policemen joined me for breakfast. One recalled a group of six Russian cyclists (four male and two female) passing through towards Killar about thirty days before. I remember seeing a message from ‘Alexi in Moscow’ on an Indian travel site somewhere, planning the trip in May (which would be too early; the Rohtang Pass would be still closed) so maybe this was Alexi and crew.
I preferred my direction, for the downhill ride across the exciting previous day’s section. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much going uphill. But those cyclists are probably better at hills than I am. Most are.
Gulab Garh also has a Buddhist temple or monastery and I seem to recall a mosque, so all main religious bases seem to be covered.
On the way out of town, I was stopped by a couple of men (from the taxation department!) who wanted to take my picture. On impulse, I asked whether I could use their phone for a couple of minutes. I called Bev in Calgary, let her know where I was and what my immediate plans were; what an unexpected bonus! :) Calls are only about Rs10/minute so I didn’t feel bad when I wasn’t allowed to pay for it.
Clearly, I am back in a more developed part of India: cell-phone reception (if only on the government network, which was more difficult for foreigners to acquire sim cards for), more traffic, tarmac (for a while at least), and several groups of schoolkids walking into town. A road marker told me it was 63 km to Kishtwar. If it stays smooth and there isn’t too much uphill, I might make that!
There was much more traffic now (it would be hard to have had less than the previous day’s half-a-dozen or so vehicles), buses and minivans full of pilgrims. The scenery remained wonderful but my energy levels felt low; even the better surface didn’t help much, although I did manage without any pushing.
By my reckoning, this means it’s about 235 km to Srinagar. I could just head to Jammu instead, then down to the plain towards Delhi until I run out of time and have to hop on a bus to get to my flight. But Srinagar would be the logical place to start next time and ride to Leh. If I do decide to head down from Srinagar instead, there will be some back-tracking…
A sparsely populated valley to the north west:
I was called over for a free lunch (who says there’s no such thing?) provided for pilgrims. Hygiene looked a bit iffy but I’ve been fortunate so far. And it was a tasty veg-thali meal.
The hills became more irksome, the surface deteriorated, and it was a tired lad who rolled into Kishtwar just before dark.
74.9 km, 9.6 kph, 1167 km
I have a couple of stiff days coming up, climbing over Sinthan Top on my way to Srinagar, so I decided to have a rest day in Kishtwar. It wouldn’t have been my first choice as a place to spend time but it served its purpose.