Let me continue the story from where I left off. At last, we got our car and returned the rental car. Settled down in our Swift had to readjust the luggage as we dint have enough space in the back. Even though we got the rental car refuelled, our car was not fuelled yet as we had to transport the car with minimum fuel. As we had done all the searching for a petrol bunk for the rental we knew where to get the fuel for our car. We got the car fuelled till the brim as it was not a small distance we were covering. Also, we had always gone with a full tank of diesel along with a 5-liter can for emergencies in this whole trip. After refuelling the car we set our maps to the North (Srinagar) and were relieved to at last start our journey. Even though we were more than 18 hours late per our planned timings.
With all the tension and roaming around, we dint get time to have our dinner even though we were hungry we decided to first get the hell out of Delhi. My friends had heard about a place called Murthal where we get a lot of good food options and were told we should not miss trying that. Hence we started searching for a good Vegetarian hotel as 3 out of 4 of us were Vegetarian or to be precise Eggetarian at that time. After some google searches, we decided to go to Haveli. Once the food destination was decided we were on our way. while on our way we were discussing the plans which are impacted due to the transport delays. We had booked a boathouse in Srinagar Dal Lake and check-in was on 29th June our planned arrival at Srinagar was at 9 PM. So it was confirmed that we cannot make it to Srinagar anyway so we discussed we can maybe directly go to Kargil where we had a Stay booked for 30th June.
We reached Haveli at 1 AM and it looked like it is named, a big mansion like structure with nice decorations with an antique car just next to the main door. All of us were very hungry but were short of time and wanted a full experience so we ordered Haveli Special Thali. The food was awesome and the amenities were awesome too. Price-wise we felt it was not overpriced for the experience. An old Hindi movie dialogue “Aao Kabhi Haveli pe” had a very different meaning after our dinner at Haveli.
It was time to get back on road, after that good food and a really long day me and another friend of mine were very sleepy so we took the back seat. Our most experienced driver took the wheel and our in house DJ accompanied him as he was working in the night shift for that week so it was easy for him to be awake.
As it was a night drive there was nothing much to see or observe. I was asleep almost the whole night and when I got up we were near to Pathankot. We searched for a hotel as we needed to fresh up so we stopped at a cafe at around 7:30 AM had some tea/coffee finished our morning business and back on the road. We switched to the second-best driver among us and I became the DJ, continued the journey to the north.
At this point, we were confident that we have covered more than half of the distance from Delhi. The total distance between Delhi to Srinagar is around 825 and till Pathankot, we had covered around 425. which is more than half of the journey. Even though we missed our stay in Srinagar we were thinking we should be able to make it to our Kargil Stay. With those thoughts in mind, we contacted the support for the online hotel booking site and requested if there is any way they can change the stay dates for both Srinagar and Kargil. For Kargil the hotel outright denied it. For Srinagar, the company told its done but that was not informed to the Hotel owner.
We continued our drive towards the north during which there were heavy rains in Kashmir from the past 2 days and it was raining even while we were driving but, we were not aware how serious the situation was. This was the same time when even Amarnath caves were also open for a visit. As these caves are open only for a month or so, every year hundreds of thousands of devotees go through this ordeal of Amarnath Yatra mostly by foot or by vehicles. We were seeing so many Lungers (free vegetarian food) on the way specifically for the devotees going for Amarnath yatra.
We had crossed Jammu and headed further towards Chenani-Nashri Tunnel. But, we were stopped by Police before Udhampur and told we have to turn back as the road is blocked till 5 AM tomorrow. We were made to pull over and we all requested the officer in charge who was stopping all the vehicle and sending everyone back. Even after too many requests, saying we are driving from Bengaluru and many more reasons, the officer was strict and told us to either go back or wait at the side of the road. As we were in the middle of the road discussing. we tried to convince multiple times and but received the same answers. We were very upset and waited in our car debating what to do next as we did not want to delay anymore. While waiting we observed that there were multiple cars still going through and as we were pulled over on a side road we observed that there is another exit to the same highway if we go a little further. I understand the Police are doing their job and it is for our safety we respect them for that. But at that instance, we could not go back we were desperate hence waited for a perfect opportunity and took the exit from the side road. We did not stop or looked back kept going and for a few kilometers, there were no road issues so we were not sure why were we stopped.
We covered a pretty good distance and at around 12 PM we were at the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel we paid the toll and entered the Tunnel. As far as I know, this is the longest tunnel road in India or at least the longest tunnel road that I have ever been in. It was a really long fun ride for all of us. The tunnel is pretty well lit, well separated and almost had an emergency exit every few hundred meters as a safety measure. While we were in the Tunnel I received a callback from the stay owner from Srinagar, whom I had called but dint gotten hold of after talking to the Online hotel booking support. He updated that he was not informed about any check-in date changes but he did mention it had been raining in Srinagar from 2 days and most of the roads are closed due to that. He was a really nice guy and told me that we can check in on that day instead of the previous day. I updated him that we will contact him when we reach Srinagar. They say “There is always light at the end of the Tunnel” yes we saw the light at the end of our tunnel but we saw the police too and were stopped again.
The exit from the Chenani-Nashri tunnel was barricaded and all the Vehicles were turned around from there. we requested to let us go but the police were not ready to listen and made us turn around. We were very angry with the security guards and again the same question came into our mind what to do next. Also, point to note when they are not allowing the vehicle to go any further than the Tunnel exit why they were even collecting toll and letting us in maybe a money-making strategy. Anyways let’s get back to our story we were as usual very unhappy with our situation but still checked if there is an alternate way just like the previous instance to our luck we did see there was another route which started just before the tunnel entrance and we thought to try it out.
We took the alternate road and realized that this may be the actual road and the Tunnel was built as a bypass. The distance was around 21 Kms which included a hill climb. This road uphill was beautiful and the top of the hill was Patnitop which looked awesome with beautiful views from the top. But there were a lot of trucks and petroleum tankers stopped on the road for like many kilometers. That worried us more but we went ahead. The alternate road came to an end and we found out that we have reached just a little ahead of the Chenani-Nashri tunnel exit. As we were thinking that we are going to make it out of there the road ahead was blocked again and police were not letting anyone ahead at all. We had to pull over again and any amount of convincing or requesting the officer in charge did not help. We were told there is a landslide ahead and no vehicles are allowed and we were told they will allow us to leave only at 4 AM.
As mentioned before this was an Amarnath Yatra season and the roads were mostly blocked due to the heavy influx of people. Of course, this was done for our safety but our experiences of the past 2 days just frustrated us more. The officer-in-charge told us to have food at the Lungers and just wait there till morning if you want to leave early in the morning. There were two big tents with a lot of space to rest as they even had placed chairs, wooden beds (Khatiya) for people to rest. They were serving food for free, as we dint had any food from the morning we had lunch at one of the lungers at around 4 PM. We did donate some money for them to continue these lungers. We roamed around a bit, Were even thought to scrap the whole plan and go back as nothing was going as per plan also, were not sure how many more problems we will be facing ahead. With all these discussions and debates we ended up sitting and waiting in the car.
It was almost evening we roamed around almost everywhere this time there were no vehicles allowed to cross the barricades and everyone was made to stay back. When we were stopped ours was the 2nd or 3rd car parked on the side of the road but by evening we had more than 50 vehicles stopped waiting for the roads to open. After seeing that we thought there is no chance for us to leave any early. Hence we had dinner in the other Lunger filled our drinking water bottles and rested back in our car. We did not update home about anything that has happened since we reached Delhi otherwise we would have gotten more pressure to leave everything and go back home.
It was around 10:30 PM there was a change of shift for the guards who were stopping the vehicles. We saw that the new guard had left a vehicle or two to cross the Barricades. We immediately went there and started requesting, begging to let us go too. after some convincing he let us go. Even though we were tired and were very sleepy after this stressful day we had to start our Journey as we wasted another day just waiting. But was it a good idea to leave at 10:30 PM? that is the story for next time…