We reached Srinagar at about 930 in the morning on 23 June 2022. We were sore from the overnight journey in the innova. With no comfortable ...

We reached Srinagar at about 930 in the morning on 23 June 2022. We were sore from the overnight journey in the innova. With no comfortable sleep and continuous travelling for more than 10 days, I was tired. We took a quick shikara ride and checked into Asif's Houseboat at Nigeen Lake.

Nigeen lake is another big lake in Srinagar city and yet is less explored destination thus is pretty much slow and peaceful. Asif's Houseboat had three bedrooms, one dining room and one drawing room with veranda or balcony. They served us breakfast, confirmed about lunch and I went to sleep immediately. Then with a brief break for lunch, I slept throughout the daytime. In the evening we spent some time in veranda, I clicked some pictures of birds like pied kingfisher and then the dinner and done.

Apparently, Gunjan hadn't slept like me and had already managed to hire a moped for next day.

Hari Parvat as seen from Nigeen Lake

 24 June 2022

 We had breakfast and took the moped and rode off. The helmet was stinky yet was necessary. The moped was a Honda Navi, vehicle with funny looks of a motorcycle and features of a moped. Well, at least it let us commute the city and performance was fabulous. The owner, wanted my Aadhaar card as security to which we negotiated considering the places we were planning to travel and handed over my PAN card.

Our first stop was Shrimad Shankaracharya Temple. I have been visiting here since 2009. Until 2022, the tourists were not allowed to click pictures. In fact, I remember the times when we were forced to leave our mobile phones in the lockers. This time, I went for pictures. One of those that I flaunt very proudly at home. This place has different vibes, something that cannot be described in words. Shrimad Shankaracharya, the first acharya who has unparallel status of being first guru of Hinduism. He's the one who restored the studies of Vedas and came out with philosophy of Advait Siddhanta. I have always revered him, for reasons strange to me too. The moment I see his picture, I have always found myself bowing my head with eyes closed and my hands performing a namaskar. 

Well, so here we were riding to the Shankaracharya hill. There were armed army personnel at every few meters. (Mind it, just meters!) The first was passing a check post at the foot of the hill, bang opposite to Dal Lake. The ghat has a scenic, thick forest with good roads. The other drivers seemed disciplined and we were at second check post in about 10 minutes. We were stopped asked for identifications and when they realised, we were just two ladies riding on our own, they let us pass quickly. One of them said, it's good to see that two women have made it this far by themselves, we hope to see more in future. Later, we were allowed to park the vehicle near last security post as well. 

Then, final hike of 240 steps and we were at the base of Temple. People sitting and chitchatting, many of them clicking pictures and making videos and reels and Facebook live and all. It was a welcome change. I have this memory from childhood when the terrorists had threatened to destroy the temple along with pilgrims of Amarnath, well, gone are those days. 

The temple has a Shivalinga known as Jyeshteshwara, and then the small cave where Shri Adi Shankaracharya performed asceticism - Tapascharya. I was fortunate to have the entire cave by myself for more than 10 minutes and I obviously utilised the solitude to meditate. After which, I realised Gunjan was missing. Then I went and sat on one of the benches in hope of finding her in the passers and she was right behind me.

We merrily climbed down the steps, clicked few pictures and started with our long ride towards Shree Kheer Bhawani Durga Temple. The temple is located in Ganderbal, we could have avoided riding along Dal Lake but unbeknownst to me Gunjan chose this route which was about 4 kms long. Anyway!

Shree Kheer Bhawani Durga Temple, is an important temple for Kashmiri Hindus. This temple was also out of bounds for civilians and as I have heard even the defence personnel had to take permission from ministry of Defence before visiting here. We reached here at about 1330 and again the formalities of entry and the curiosity of two women riding by themselves. The SSB was deputed here and it was like entering a fortress. Here I presented my Aadhar Card for entry. Also, at the time of entry, we were told very authoritatively that there will be lunch inside and we should have it and not depend on anything else outside.

The happenings inside the temple bring goosebumps even today after 6 months. There are few moments in life when you remain spellbound and your mind never understands what happened.

We went for darshan of legendary Khir Bhavani. At the time of entry, the security personnel of Seema Suraksha Bal told us authoritatively not to eat anything anywhere outside, there will be lunch - prasad available inside. We nodded and moved in. The temple was pretty peaceful and there weren't many people. We offered puja and I sheepishly asked where we would get lunch. We were directed to Yagnashala close to the temple.

We were received and welcomed by a family of Kashmiri Pandits. They offered us lunch which consisted of bottle gourd subji - Al Yakhni, Dam Aloo, rice, moong dal, some green vegetable and khir of Rice somewhat like Payasam. It was absolute Authentic Kashmiri Cuisine. The taste was heavenly and we probably overate. We thanked them for food and left. Later on, our way out, we met one of the men who had served food to us we had a little chat. He told us he was a teacher who had repatriated to Kashmir recently and also that he is a relative of the family. The family head is a high-ranking officer of Jammu Kashmir police.

Later I realized that he was right in front of us all the time when we were having lunch and had made sure that we were served properly. There was not a single moment when his high rank had peeped in his behaviour and we were almost looked upon as "Devi". A true sense of Hindu culture: Atithi Devo Bhav| 

I am not going to put any efforts in making my mind understand any part of this entire incidence and rather just hold it close to my heart and pray Ma Kheer Bhavani to bless me memory strong enough to cherish this incidence for entire life. (This was written on that day in a Facebook post)

Upon arriving at the gate, I noticed that the lever of left side brake, the one for rear wheel was broken and it was going to be a difficult task to reach Srinagar. Also, it was Friday, so I was thinking that the shops would be closed, but the soldiers assured that we would find someone on the way to repair it. So instead wasting our time, we chose to ride slowly back to Srinagar in the hope of finding some garage on our way. About 8 kms from the temple, we found a garage. We had big tikka on heads so they guessed it right that we were returning from the temple. To avoid overindulgence from these guys, we ended up telling them about the puja we had attended and that were acquaintances of the aforesaid gentleman from Jammu Kashmir police. They quickly replaced the lever and charged mere 75. We left immediately.

From here we intended to go to Lal Chowk where Modiji had flared the Tiranga few years ago and until recently which had flaunted Pakistan's flag. Also, after the abrogation of article 370 in Aug 2019, this was my first visit to the valley. I was eager to see the changes that were brought in due to this historic decision. We reached Lal Chowk and then of course the photography. 

Now we headed back to the houseboat for yet another strange experience. We tried calling the owner of the moped but he wouldn't pick up the call. The attendant at the houseboat said not to worry and leave the moped at the spot from where we had picked up, unlocked and with the key. I didn't find it to be a good idea and brought the moped where the houseboat was anchored. In the evening we called Asif as I wanted my PAN Card back. He said there was some feud in the owner's family probably over the hired moped. He also mentioned that the guy whom we were thinking to be the owner was in fact the grandson of the actual owner of the moped and he had hired out the moped with knowledge of his grandpa and obviously grandpa was upset over the matter. It was about 10 in night when I handed over the keys and got my PAN Card which was severed. I just wanted it back and didn't want to live it in the valley.


Finally, the day in Srinagar ended and we were back in seclusion of our room. I packed hastily and carelessly and had plans of checking in 2 of my bags and travel with just one small carry on. 

  25 June 2022

 The cab came right on time and we left. Srinagar airport although now is an international airport has always been the one with highest security amongst all the airports that I have ever seen. The security screening happens almost a kilo meter before the airport and not the just luggage but even the vehicles going in are screened.

 For Ladakh trip, before Srinagar I had carried a big duffle bag and due to experience, I knew it was weighing in permissible limits. Upon screening, it was sealed. One yellow coloured backpack would have been additional luggage and I was willing to pay for it. I had saved time by not washing clothes including inners which I had packed somewhere and didn't recollect which bag it was. And I didn't realise that this yellow backpack was not sealed at security check. The smaller blue backpack was packed in accordance with standard carry-on norms like no sharp objects etc.

When we arrived for baggage drop off, the officer told me to take both backpacks as carry on and absent minded I agreed, Afterall it saved me a couple of thousand bucks.

From here, we bid bye to each other and went on to our terminals. At the terminal, the security officer screened and held back the yellow backpack! He said sharp objects, my worry was soiled stinky inners which could have been in this backpack. I was already filled with embarrassment when he opened the yellow backpack. He was taking out things one by one, first was my yellow top the one in pictures above, then were the olive-green pants and Thennnn... There it was... an orange-coloured pouch which had all the cutlery. I almost on top of my voice said, this is it. He gave me a funny stern look and said, that’s my job to determine. He then opened the pouch, took out a knife, a peeler and a pair of scissors and threw it in the bin behind him. scanned the backpack again and let me off. What a relief!!!

Flight was on time and I reached Delhi, spent some good 3 hours at the boarding gate and to arrive in Pune by evening.