! was up around 7:30, before anyone else, but with a short day to Anantnag planned, there didn’t seem to be much reason to rush off. I changed tyres, from my Smart Sams to the almost slick Supremes now that it looked like I was back on fresh tarmac for the rest of my ride. I also replaced the pads on my rear brakes. By then, a late breakfast was on offer.
Away by noon, the road continued gently downhill. It was still quiet and peaceful but I was definitely in a less remote area.
I stopped in for a shave in the first small place I came to, then continued on to Anantnag. What a shock to my rusticized system! Clogged traffic and, of course, incessant horns again. This is where I joined the main road from Jammu and the plains below to Srinagar. My peaceful odyssey of the previous weeks was suddenly, and rudely, ended.
I kept my eyes open for hotels but didn’t see anything on my route. I stopped for a late lunch and carried on further but, before finding anywhere to stay for the night, seemed to be leaving Anantnag behind.
This area had a very different feel, one that intruded in Anantnag and increased with my progress in the direction of Srinagar. Grim-faced soldiers standing guard at fifty metre intervals along one side of the road or the the other confirmed the heavy military presence deemed necessary in Jammu and Kashmir where separatist-related terrorism has long been an issue. In addition to the now heavy private and commercial traffic, convoys of army and police trucks passed me in both directions. And the air was thick with exhaust.
The road was very flat, varying only a few metres in elevation, for the next few hours. Much of the roadside was built up showing the ‘benefits’ of India’s modernization: luxury car showrooms and motorbike showrooms, which seemed incongruous considering the wild marijuana lining the tarmac.
Cricket bats. Millions of them. Literally. Kilometres of stores and factories for manufacturing bats. Stacks of lumber, roughly the length and cross-section of a bat, were ageing on rooftops and beside the buildings. A sign proclaimed ‘… the cricket bat capital of the world.’ No contest, in my opinion.
But still nowhere obvious to spend the night. But Srinagar was getting closer, although the sun was dropping quickly. Strangely, I felt saddle sore – steady pedaling on a smooth level surface was, apparently, harder on my butt than the rough up and down of the unpaved surfaces I was fairly accustomed to.
For the first time, I was riding in the dark. I had carried a light in my panniers for the whole trip but had never got around to connecting it up to the dynamo and now hardly seemed the time to be fussing about with parts, an object of curiosity at the side of the road. Never mind, most of the accompanying traffic had not bothered to turn their lights on, either.
A few touts drove by, shouting out of their windows about having accommodation but I kept my head down, expecting to see a hotel at any time now that I was in the suburbs of Srinagar. I saw a couple that looked a little upmarket so I decided to carry on and be more centrally located. A passing car offered a hotel near the Zero Bridge (that I remembered from the year before) so I picked up the pace a little and followed him, twisting and turning through the traffic.
The hotel turned out to be an old but pleasant house boat. The price was reasonable (although I didn’t feel inclined to pursue other options) and I settled in.
97.6 km, 15.6 kph 1378 km
The Zero Bridge, undergoing reconstruction:
So, that’s it. The end of the trip. I didn’t have time to head on to Leh, and the day in the traffic had convinced me that riding as far as time allowed towards my flight from Delhi would be noisy, dirty and an anti-climax after the glorious previous weeks. The next day, I arranged a flight to Delhi without too much difficulty. I packed my bike for the plane. All over. Till next time.
Ready for bagging…