Amarnath and Vaishno Devi

I always wanted to visit Amarnath since my teenage years. When I got the opportunity in July 2014 then I crossed 50. I was hesitant to plan this trip alone. So I took help of a reputed travel agency of Kolkata. Vaishno Devi was also included in that package. I liked their plan because they had been starting from Chandanbari and ending at Baltal. I was happy that I could be able to travel both the routes.

That was the first year when medical checkup from fixed nominated government hospital and issuing of fit certificate was introduced and the yatra permit had to be taken from the assigned bank paying a nominal sum as fees for yatra. We reached Pehelgham. The manager of the tour arranged doli and pony for us. But they took Rs 7500 from us though they only paid 5000 to the pony owner, they made profit of Rs 2500 for each horse. Everything went fine otherwise. Reaching the cave at the height of 12,756 ft was a unique as well as spiritual experience. I was fortunate to witness not only the huge ice Shiva but also natural ice made Sri Ganapati and mother Parvati beside Him.

On the way back to Baltal I fell from the horse 4 times due to the negligence of my syce who did not tie the saddle on the horse back properly, it was really a terrible experience. I became very much scared and panic stricken. The last time I started shouting as soon as my saddle tilted from the horse back. Indian army, everywhere on the way to Amarnath, was very active and helpful. They rescued me in the forth time and threatened the syce to take care of me. Then he checked and tightened the saddle properly.

We rested two nights in Srinagar and enjoyed local sightseeing, boating on Shikara in the Dal Lake, and shopping as well. Then we went to Katra . Vaishno Devi trip was nice, though the day was quite rainy. After that we all came back to Jammu and caught our train.

Traveling through an agency gave me some good and bad experiences. I got few good friends from that package though they are not in contact now. It is beneficial for them who can not make a trip on their own, specially aged people. One doesn’t need to bother about hotel booking or arranging food when one is dead tired. There are few members who are always discontented and complaining even on trivial issues which is disturbing. There are always few people who are very curious and keep on asking personal questions which is annoying. These travel agencies normally provide trips to conventional places. For off beat places one has to take initiative on one’s own.

Mt itinerary (Ladakh)

Kolkata- Delhi- Leh- Delhi – Kolkata.

Nubra ( Diskit Monastery – Hundar – Turtuk)- Leh – Thiksey monestary – Pangong Tso – Hemis monestary – Leh – Shyam Valley ( Shanti stupa – Hall of Fame – Magnetic hill- Gurdwara Pathar saheb – confluence of Indus and Zanskar river-Alchi monestary – Likir Monastary – Lamayuru – Leh – Chumathang – Tso Moriri – Leh .

I planned Ladakh trip in the second half of April. Going by road, that is starting from Srinagar and end at Manali or vice versa, and at the same time spending 10 days within Ladakh to go the main points takes at list 18 to 20 days. Taking so long a vacation was not possible for either my son or for me. Secondly fare of Delhi -Leh flights remain quite affordable from November to April . Renting car is also cheaper during this period. They give 15% discount. Hotels do not open till the end of May but there are few home-stays that remain open all over the year. Within Ladakh roads are kept open all over the year. There are several military camps in different strategic places and being a border region army trucks ply allover the year from those places. One can see plenty of snow and a different kind of beauty this time. Temperature is also bearable during this period.

We stayed in Sia-La guest house. In 2013 it was affordable for us. The home-stay owner and his wife were very congenial. Being off season there were only two foreigners there in the home-stay. So they gave us a lot of attention. They arranged our SUV. The driver was very good and helpful. My son had primary altitude sickness, he had to take Diamox tablet and kept on drinking a lot of fruit juice. We managed the trip comfortably with the help of our driver and the local people wherever we went.

Tranquil Tso Moriri

The month of April is not the proper season to go to Ladakh specially to Tso Moriri. Initially I planned to stay at Korzok village but our home stay owner at Leh dissuaded me to do so. We reached Chumathang at 4 PM after visiting Hemis Monastery. Chumathang is known for its hot springs. It was quite a bright afternoon. There was a government guest house but the caretaker probably could not expect guests in the month of April, so he was not available.

There was a motel but it was still closed for guests. I requested the owner to arrange a night shelter for us while having tea and snacks from his shop. He cleaned a room for us. There was a well equipped attached bathroom but the water pipe was blocked due to ice. Rooms were built on a land between the river Indus and the hot spring. The owner comforted us saying that they would supply water as much as we needed from the hot spring in buckets. They did so, but water was always too hot to use immediately. The room was cozy and the food, they served, was good.

In the early morning we started for Tso Moriri as our driver told us that there would be more slush and mud on the way back if we delayed. The road was empty and mostly covered with snow. No one was there. Neither tourists nor local people. We were spell bound to see the white snow all over and the clear blue sky.

Reaching Korzok we saw frozen Tso Moriri. I was feeling blessed. It seemed to me that all those beauty was only for me that nature had unfurled there. I felt mesmerized in such unexpected serenity and tranquility. There was no sound, it seemed that life has stopped in the midst of the frozen valley. My son, our driver and I were only there, no one else. Far away from the place there were few nomadic people on their horse back. could be seen.