A seed was planted in the mind of a young lad in the summer of 1983 while galloping in the beautiful flowery meadows of Gulmarg. An intense desire to be free and be with the mountains germinated deep down into the innocent heart. The lad kept longing to be free and be with the mountains all the time, while fighting with the social and family norms which are systematically thrust into our tender minds.
Thirty two years later, standing at the same spot while driving solo on my red lalpari (Ford Figo), I feel very lucky to be living that dream. For I have been partly successful in escaping that motivated conditioning and am able to break free, snached early retirement at the age of 48 (banking), and having a wonderful happy family. It’s been more than four years now and I am living the kind of life I always desired to live. A life of freedom, a life of joy…traveling solo on my lalpari (Red Car) and on lal ghora (Red Motorcycle) to the mountains for most of the time and many a times sleeping in the car, for my car to me is like a home….a home on wheels.
For the kind of freedom and joy I desired, fitness and trustworthiness of my companion lalpari is even more important than myself. She has to be reliable and tough enough to carry me through all those tough roads and situations. Till about a year ago I was disappointed with the kind of service I got from Ford India, Ludhiana and one of my acquaintance, who runs a car garage in Amritsar, also disappointed me. I was thinking of replacing my lalpari with a more reliable vehicle when I ran into this man’s office at Ford India, Amritsar with very little hope.
The man, Nikhil Kumar, service manager at Ford India turned out to be exactly the kind of person you would like to meet in this kind of situation. He not only understood my heart’s desire but in many ways, surpassed it. He himself is a freedom lover and was immediately able to relate with me. So we connected in the very first meeting and became more of friends. More than the car, he was more interested in understanding what I do and how was able to live this kind of life. He took real good care of the car and restored my faith in her. Ever since then I have taken her to many unknown territories and most challenging roads, and she has performed extremely well on almost all situations.
The month of September is a great month to be traveling to the mountains. The hot air starts cooling down, the rain gods have subsided, the streams on the mountains are much cooler and calmer, the green leaves start burning into yellow and red, the air filled with million fragrances, starts becoming lighter and cooler, the Sun gets milder and mellower. So everything was perfect.
I was physically and mentally fit. Being retired young and having deep desire to explore new lands solo is a joy.There weren’t any important family requirements too. So in this perfect setting, a reliable companion in the shape of Lalpari and armed with a Nikon D5100 to capture the beauties of nature, a Sony VAIO (laptop) to store pictures and a source of entertainment in case I needed, I set out to explore some of the most scariest of roads and beautiful virgin valleys of Kashmir.
1st September 2015 (Tuesday)…Day (1) Amritsar to Koti.
Left home in the mild September afternoon with no exact route plan. There aren’t many routes for entering Kashmir, but I knew few of them which divert from Pathankot. I wanted to go to Kashmir via Sinthan Pass, which is on Kishtwar-Anantnag route. So my first destination was Kishtwar. To reach Kishtwar I knew following routes, but was not very sure which one to follow.
- Amritsar-Pathankot-Lakhanpur-Udhampur-Patnitop-Batote-Doda-Kishtwar…Around 450 kilometers normal route.
- Amritsar-Pathankot-Lakhanpur-Kathua-Basohli-Bani-Sarthal-Bhaderwah-Doda-Kishtwar…Around 460 kilometers, a very scenic but tough and isolated road..
- Amritsar-Pathankot-Salooni-Khundi Maral-Padri Gali-Bhaderwah-Doda-Kishtwar…..430 kilometers very scenic, but tough and isolated road.
- Amritsar-Pathankot-Bairagarh-Saach Pass-Killar-Gulabgarh (Paddar)-Kishtwar…..500 kilometers, very scenic but very very scary road.
I have already driven on the first three roads and driving on the familiar road was not kind of very exciting. The route number four which passes through Saach Pass and that scary road from Killar to Kishtwar, also called THE CLIFFHANGER, was the one I wanted to go but was feeling very nervous as it was the toughest route and I was driving solo.
I always love driving on this stretch from Pathankot till Dalhousie and I think, I have driven on it hundreds of times. It was no exception this time too. The difference was, I wanted to cross Saach Pass as early as possible tomorrow and was still at Pathankot at 6pm evening. I stopped for a while at Dunera for tea but did not feel like sleeping and continued on. I bought two bottles of whiskey from Himachal as it is cheaper and better in Himachal Pradesh. I took dinner at Nainikhad dhaba which was pretty good. Drove to Banikhet and then diverted towards Chamba.
Reached Bathri at around 9pm. Parked the car in the bazar and tried to sleep IN THE CAR, could not succeed though. At around 12pm midnight I decided to move on and diverted towards Chamera dam from Goli. At around 2am I reached at a small town and felt like sleeping. There were already few vehicles parked in the bazar. I parked the car on one side of the road put covers and slipped inside and went to sleep!!!