Patnitop for rest, on way to heavenly Kashmir
In 1980, I had my first visit to Kashmir valley for a pilgrimage to the holy shrine Amarnath. Myself and my mother joined the group of Swami Bimalananda Ji from Allahabad. At that time I did not have an opportunity to visit the tourist places in and around Srinagar. Since that time I had been repenting my inability to visit Kheerbhabani temple that was visited by Swami Vivekananda.
Three years back, pictures presenting the view of the beautiful landscape taken from the train en-route the newly constructed Jammu-Katra rail line refueled my fresh temptation for visiting the valley.
Last year, Dipalidi, my travel companion other than my mother, expressed her desire to visit Kashmir. In the summer of 2017, I started exploring the internet for various options for a package tour and finally settled with Kashmir Bazaar Travels offering a 7 day 6 night Udhampur-Srinagar-Udhampur package for Rs. 16000/- per head with Rs. 500/- discount for senior citizen. Advance of Rs. 3000/- was made in June, 2017. Night halts at Patnitop, Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Srinagar and in the Houseboats added to the finalization of this particular travel agency.
In September 2017, two of us, two retired ladies, took the visit to Kashmir gathering enough courage to overcome the fear of militant attacks in the valley.
On way to Udhampur, waterfalls with pools of water
We were keen to cover the Jammu-Udhampur section during day time. Delhi-Sarai Rohilla-Udhampur A.C. express was the perfect choice as we were expected to see the sunrise from the train and reach Udhampur around 9 am in the morning enjoying the landscape of the new train route connecting Jammu to Udhampur.
We boarded the train on 6th September that left Sarai Rohilla station at 10.15 pm in the night.
On 7th September we reached Udhampur station at 11.00 a.m passing through about twenty tunnels and enjoying the green mountains, waterfalls, corn fields and the bending railway track whenever the train remained outside the tunnels.
Green hillsides from train to Udhampur
Two bridges crossed the river Tawi. From the train it feels nice to take a look at another bridge on the river. Tawi river ran along the railway track for a long time giving us company.
Tawi river along the railway track
Soon dots of houses started appearing among the tree cover in the plains. Signs of civilization and approaching Udhampur.
Contrary to my expected image of Udhampur station similar to that of Pathankot or Kathgodam with all facilities of retiring room etc, we found Udhampur to be a quiet station. There was a non-functional “Water ATM” on the platform and only one vendor was selling Puri and Bhatura. Across the road outside the station, there is a small Railway Refreshment room. Auto stands and minibus stands are located about 50 meters away from the entrance the station.
Just before leaving Delhi, Kashmir Travel Bazaar had advised us to take an auto for Rs 150/- to reach the petrol pump about one kilometer away from the station as the private tour agencies are not allowed to pick up the tourists from the station. They informed us that the agency vehicle shall pick us up from the bus stop of the petrol pump.
We took a matador type mini for Rs10/- per person. There was more than one petrol pump on our way. The bus driver dropped us at the larger petrol pump without any vehicle waiting for us. Contacting the tour operator’s driver was not possible with our phones as the prepaid networks are not available after Jammu. The Tour operator never informed us of this problem.
We decided to request the petrol pump owner to allow us using his phone for contacting the driver. The security guard was reluctant to let us enter the owner’s room. After my forced entry to the room, I realized the reason of the security guard's reluctance to my entry. The owner was busy counting heaps of high value currency notes!
The owner of the petrol pump was very kind to lend his phone for contacting the driver who told us that he was waiting at another bend of the hill for us. It was irritating as by no means we were supposed to identify that particular “bend”. The owner of the petrol pump gave necessary directions to the tour operator driver about the location of the petrol pump we were waiting.
There was another thirty minutes wait for us to see the vehicle of the tour operator. An unimpressive old man, Md. Mustafa presented himself as the driver of the tour operator of Kashmir Travel Bazaar that was actually a franchise of the travel agency “Distant holidays” as was seen on the monogram on the driver's uniform.
The driver took us to Patnitop from Udhampur via Kud. Till Kud, the road was extremely dusty because of the construction work being carried out for widening of the road and also for extension of the railway line from Udhampur to Banihal.
Kud was a busy market place when we visited Amarnath in 1980. With the commissioning of the new 9 km long tunnel, Kud-Batote highway has lost its past glory. We took lunch at Kud.
The stretch of road from Kud to Patnitop was all green.
We immediately liked the place of our first night halt, Hotel Patnitop, with its beautiful garden. However, the manager took time to assign us the room as he was not aware of the booking by the Tour operator.
Hotel Patnitop with garden
We went up to our rooms and after settling down looked out of the window. It was a beautiful sight.
The room was cosy with a balcony open towards a small hill covered with a grass land having long shadows of pine trees due to setting sun. In the evening we took a stroll on the road with natural decoration of pine trees. It was not very cold.
Hillside view from hotel room at Patnitop in the evening
Tall conifers adorned the softly curved hillside.
Tall conifers, Patnitop
Green valleys and tall tree-covered hillside looked soothing to the eye. Far side hills beckoned to us through the thinning wall of trees near us. At some points trees were dense. I wanted to walk among the trees.
Wish to walk among the trees, Patnitop
We stood in the balcony for a long while enjoying the late afternoon and play of light and shadow on the velvety soft carpet of grassy slopes.
Play of light and shadow on soft green carpet of grassy slopes
When we came down to have a short walk, the pink flowers in the hotel garden greeted us.
Flowers, Patnitop hotel garden
Remaining part of the day we spent taking rest and walking around. Patnitop was a special place and we wished we could stay longer. The night was cool. Early morning we woke up. We have to start towards Pahalgam, the next part of the journey.
Early morning at Patnitop
We woke up early for the morning walk. Could not identify the particular site to view sun rise. Had breakfast after coming back to our room and were all set for our next phase of journey.
Bright Patnitop morning, before leaving for Pahalgam
It was dazzling bright morning when we started for Pahalgam. Bright morning Patnitop, we'll come back again.
Goodbye beautiful Patnitop, now towards Batote
On towards Pahalgam. Patnitop lay behind.