Day 3, September 1, 2014
Sonamarg-Kargil (195km, 6 hours)
I woke up around 6 am to a quietness through which I could hear the Sindh river flowing not far away. The rain had stopped and so had that racket from the downpour onto a metal sheet below. I stepped out to check the view on the other side and found the tops of the mountains still hidden behind thick clouds. Little by little the clouds started to lift to reveal fresh snow on the mountain tops around.
The plan for today was to drive up to Kargil through our first real mountain pass (Banihal Pass was through the Jawahar Tunnel) and we were in no hurry. There was time to take in the surroundings. Anand decided to take Vikas’ bicycle for a spin. Bharat went out to find a replacement for the petrol tank-cap for his Gypsy which he seemed to have lost while refilling the previous night. The rest just ambled around doing nothing in particular.
Sonamarg is at an altitude of 2800 m (9,200 ft) and is primarily a tourist town with no permanent settlements. The hotels shut with the onset of winter. At the moment, the meadows looked mossy-green and soft.
Mid-August I was getting ready to accompany students on a study tour to Cuttak, Odisha. It is one of the few states of the country that I have never visited. Naturally, there was some excitement. A week or so before we were scheduled to leave TH casually asked if we shouldn’t go to Ladakh instead. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide you want to get behind the wheel and take a road trip to Ladakh. Or, maybe you just do! It had been on TH’s mind a long time. Even so, this seemed sudden. But being the good spouse that I obviously am, I didn’t bat an eyelid, and replied equally nonchalantly, “Yeah, sure.”
The following week the car underwent a thorough service at the garage and the mechanics there assured us that the Maruti SX4 was game for whatever the Himalayas might throw at her. There was a long list of supplies, food and other items, that had to be procured. Driving in the Himalayas is not be taken lightly, and you are advised to stock survival rations for at least a couple of days. The weather is unpredictable and takes a heavy toll on the roads. It is not unusual to find yourself stranded for the night or longer. Some of the places on our itinerary were remote and isolated, and we were traveling at a time when the tourist traffic would be past its peak. We stocked up on non-perishable food items that included some junk-food but also nuts and cheese. Our survival bags included sunscreen, tow-rope, flashlights, and oxygen canisters. Winter woolies were dug out and we were good to go.
Kashmiri Pandits, just like Bengali Brahmins, are known for their love of mutton and fish. Just the sight of a goat can make my Bengali professor salivate. Likewise, a Kashmiri is within her rights to discount a meal that did not include meat.
Food is perhaps amongst the most gossiped topics in the Kashmiri community. The usual greetings and hugging are always followed by queries regarding the last meal. How do you do? What did you have for lunch? The aunt will barely keep herself from clucking if you omit to mention some meat dish, real or imaginary, in your previous repast. And you had better include the leftover morsel from yesterday’s meal while you are recounting the feast which is obviously your norm. You can see the mental balancing underway as the relative from one side (paternal or maternal) weighs the meal in question (enjoyed at the other side) and determines who the winner would be after they are done serving you next. I have been accosted on the street – and after the pleasantries were done with – “Ah, on your way from your maasi’s eh? So, what did you eat?!” Now I look back at it with nostalgia; it did make our once-upon-a-time annual summer visits to Srinagar all the more colourful.
Yet, this blog speaks little of my nonvegetarian heritage.