22th September 2015 (Tuesday)…Gulmarg..65km..Doodhpathri..75km..Yusmarg..60km..Shopian…200km
It kept raining throughout the night. My sleep was interrupted few times to the sounds of thundering, still was able to have enough sleep. When I alighted out of the car, it was overcast and drizzling. Went to a nearby shop and asked for a cup of tea. Tea was good and so was the price Rs.30-for a cup, the previous day I had paid Rs.10-only for even a better cup of tea from the adjoining shop. This time my mistake was I did not ask for the price beforehand.
I missed the clouds and rain the previous day, it was all cloudy, misty and rainy. The whole of Gulmarg was deserted and lonely, hardly anyone on the road, but the atmosphere all around was very fresh and romantic. After spending sometime in that beautiful weather it was time to say goodbye and leave for the next destination, Doodhpathri, Yusmarg and ?????.
Lalpari having last parting look at rainwashed Gulmarg meadows.
Lalpari posing on beautiful Gulmarg-Tangmarg road.
Tangmarg used to be a small pretty orchard village back then in 1983. This time it had wide beautiful road, big stores, restaurants and hotels.
Lalpari posing one more time on beautiful wet road in Tangmarg.
From Tangmarg I drove on Gulmarg-Srinagar road to Magam and then turned right to Beerwah-Khansahib-Arizal and joined main Srinagar-Doodhpathri road. Doodhpathri has no permanent settlement and is inaccessible during winters due to heavy snowfall. In summers shepherds from the plains bring cattle for grazing and remain at doodhpathri for about six months.
Doodhpathri (Distt Badgam) lies at an altitude of around 9000 ft, above sea level, in a bowl shaped valley in the same forest range running Southwards from Gulmarg at the foothills of Pir Panjal Range. Like Gulmarg, it is an alpine valley covered with snow clad mountains and the meadows of pine fir and deodar. The natural meadows, which are covered with snow in winter, allow the growth of wildflowers during spring and summer.
It continued drizzling throughout. When I reached Doodhpathri it was devoid of any tourists, the only things seen were a group of shepherds, sheep, few shepherd huts and mist engulfed meadows. I drove a little further and reached a place where there was a snack bar, few locals and a tourist couple from Assam.
Although the views of large meadows and mountains were missing, still the whole atmosphere around was very romantic. Large alpine meadows were wet with the rainwater which was flowing down from the slopes of nearby mountains. Clouds and mist was hovering around, some of it was caught in the pine forest and giving a great misty look. Herd of sheep was grazing. It was cool and heavenly.
I went walking in the meadow, sometimes running with excitement, played with the sheep, chatted with the shepherds trying to grasp as much of that heavenly atmosphere as was possible. It was moments like these that become memory of a lifetime. I was lost in that mesmerising environment for about two hours and when I reached back to the snackbar, the Assam couple, half of my age, showed their astonishment at meeting a man double of their age yet full with such a childlike excitement.
The shopkeeper told us that meadows of Yusmarg was another around 20 kilometers trek from Doodhpathri and on a clear day it is an amazing walk.
Some of the shepherds have opened small eateries for tourists. I went into one of them and had nice time with the family while enjoying tea and maggie.
In the meantime a bus carrying school children arrived. They started giggling and playing around. Suddenly the whole atmosphere of the place came alive with the arrival of innocent giggling girls and boys. I watched them playing and chatting with excitement. They looked so good. I thought how good it would be if we live like children the whole life and never grow wise and frown at everything, finding hard to laugh, cry and dance.
From Doodhpathri I drove on a lonely forested road to Yusmarg through Charar-e-Sharif. The raining became harder and the road even more lonelier. While media and politicians paint a dreadful picture of Kashmir, here I was driving solo on a deserted lonely road in the rural heartland of Kashmir on Lalpari having Punjab registration number, without fear and head held high. Nobody bothered me or never did I feel fearful or anything like that. Infact everyone whom I asked for directions or anything, responded with warmth and affection.
This historical town is famous for the tomb of Sheikh Noor-u-din-Noorani, popularly known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir (flag-bearer of Kashmir) who preached Islam through his poetry. Every year urs is celebrated at Charar-i-Sharief. Thousands of people from all faiths visit the shrine.
In 1995 the shrine was destroyed in exchange of fire fight between the armed rebels and the security forces. Despite this, the shrine continues to be revered and respected by both Hindus and Muslims.
Enjoying the drive in rain, play of clouds, water logged secluded lonely roads, I was the sole tourist to arrive at Yusmarg that afternoon. There was one else around.
Like Gulmarg and Doodhpathri, Yusmarg (Distt Badgam) lies at an altitude of around 7800 ft, above sea level, in a bowl shaped valley in the same forest range running Southwards from Gulmarg to Doodhpathri and then to Yusmarg at the foothills of Pir Panjal Range. Like Gulmarg and Doodhpathri, it is an alpine valley covered with snow clad mountains and the meadows of pine fir and deodar. The natural meadows, which are covered with snow in winter, allow the growth of wildflowers during spring and summer.
At the first, all these three alpine meadows lying in the same forest at the foothills of Pir Panjal Range look similar other than names (Gulmarg, meadow of flowers, Doodhpathri, meadow of milk and Yusmarg, meadow of Jesus), but all of them all distinctly different by the looks, shape and setting.
This can only be appreciated by physically visiting them. While Gulmarg is fully developed, has all the infrastructure, and is crowded….Doodhpathri and Yusmarg are relatively unexplored with very little infrastructure but more beautiful and serene.
A shepherd hut in the middle of Yusmarg meadow.
I don’t know the exact building but from the looks, it look like newly constructed tourist rest house at Yusmarg. A mosque in Yusmarg, in the picture below.
After spending some quiet time at Yusmarg I started my journey towards next destination for the day. The only problem was I never knew which one it was going to be. I wanted to drive back home via Mughal Road and the starting point of that was Shopian, since I was not sure whether I would be able to reach Shopian or not, I decided to drive to Pulwama, the nearest town.
It was 6pm when I began from Yusmarg. Drive to Pulwama was on a narrow road through apple orchards. There were no milestones or sign boards and the small narrow country road diverted at many places, I kept on driving on relying my gut feeling only. At times I would stop and wait to ask for directions, no one arrived for minutes together, I would feel uneasy and start driving again.
During this bhool bhulaiyaa I saw a young girl walking down the road from opposite side. I stopped the car and asked for directions to Pulwama.
She said, “oh, you are very late, go tomorrow, come to our home and stay for the night.”
It was such a wonderful and innocent gesture, will not forget till I am alive. I smiled back and said, “sorry, pretty girl, not this time, some other day, I am to go home.”
She smiled back and said, “Achha chai to pee ke jayo.”
And they say Kashmiris are not good people. In my opinion everyone is good, there are hardly any bad people only biased opinions, frankly I haven’t met many bad people during my travels. This made my mood sparkle which otherwise was becoming dull due to dampening weather, darkness and uncertainty.
I drove to Pulwama, didn’t like it much, so drove little further to shopian, liked it instantly, spent some time walking in the market area and driving through the city, trying to see and know as much as I could.
Later in the evening, parked the car inside a filling station amongst already parked trucks with Punjab drivers and slept………end of yet another memorable day of my trip!!!