DAY 8 (Leh to Nubra Valley via Khardung La)
I got up early and went to the airport to receive the third musketeer- Mithun who was coming to Leh by the early morning flight from Delhi. There was some baggage mix up for his flight and he could come out only after an hour of landing. So this gave me the chance to see the take off and landing from outside while I waited. Leh is a small airport surrounded by hills on all sides, but is fairly busy. By the time I finally met Mithun, he was in jolly good spirit but became nervous after hearing our plan for the day. Initially we had planned that we will have one more day of acclimatization and rest for him before we proceeded to Nubra and beyond. He had been to Leh two years back to evacuate his brother-in-law who had fallen sick during a trekking expedition because of too much bravado. Another close friend of mine who is no more now had also fallen sick on a visit to Leh due to acclimatization issues 4 years back. So Mithun was horrified after listening to our plan which was to take him directly to Khardung La and go on towards Nubra valley. I gave him an irrefutable logic that Nubra valley is at an altitude of about 10000 ft which is much less than Leh at 11500 ft. I asked him are you feeling any sort of discomfort now, when he answered in the negative, I told him by the time he feels anything we will be at Nubra. He agreed.
Hotels at Leh usually advise travelers to Nubra to take oxygen cylinder with them as it may be required at very high altitudes on Khardung La. Oxygen cylinders are available for hire and tourists keep it with them for 3-4 days and get their security deposit refund on their way back. We had already ordered for 3 use & throw type oxygen canisters. But somebody told Mithun at the dining hall during breakfast that it is not advisable for a person to go to Khardung La two hours after landing at Leh. After much cajoling he agreed to go on the condition that a big oxygen cylinder be taken with us. His anxieties were of course not without basis.
This pass is about 40 km from Leh town and at its highest is at an altitude of 18380 ft. To have a perspective the height of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain peak in entire Europe is 18510 ft. Mountaineers take great pains to scale this peak, but here at Khardung La there is a motorable road at this height. This no ordinary road, but the highest motorable road on earth and has also been acknowledged in Guinness Book of World Records. Although some naysayers have put it as low as 10th in the list of highest motorable roads in the world, chucking about 1000ft from its height, but it is generally accepted as the highest motorable road. The road climbs up on the face of mountains guarding Leh valley for 40 kms. As you climb up on the road the beautiful Leh valley is never far from your eyes but becomes smaller and smaller. The valley is easily seen if the weather is clear, right from the top of Khardung La. The construction of the road was started in 1976 and completed in 1988, but the road has hundreds of years of history written on it as it was part of the old silk route connecting India to Kashgar in Xinxiang province now forming part of western China. Thousands of ponies travelled on this road every year forming the trade life line of the region right up till the Chinese aggression and occupation of Tibetan region in mid 1900s.
The road to Khardung La is fairly good but is prone to landslides at many places. There is a temple maintained by the Indian army right at the highest point. There are the boards announcing to the world Khardung La’s claim to fame. It’s advisable not to venture too long out at these heights or to exert yourself. The atmosphere is rarefied and you feel it immediately. Mithun was obstinate in not getting out of the vehicle even to click a photograph or two, holding on to his oxygen mask for dear life all the time. He told that he will click his photo in the return journey, but fate had other plans for him.
North & South Pullu
These are two military check posts on either side of Khardung La at approximately same distance from top or the highest point of the pass.
South Pullu comes about 15 km before Khardung La when you come from Leh and North Pullu after 15 kms on the downward journey towards Nubra. The resemblance of the names to the two cardinal points of earth is of course obvious. But I could never find out how they were named thus. One can stop at North Pullu for a tea & maggi break after the arduous climb upto Khardung La. Most of the travelers to Nubra valley and beyond would stop there and we were no aberrations. Mithun was slowly coming to his elements and ventured out of the vehicle for the first time since our climb from Leh.
The descent was as steep as the climb and in an hour we were down to almost 11000 ft level from the dizzying height of Khardung La. On our way down an interesting sight worth remembering was that of a frozen stream. There is a place called Khalsar which is about 50 km from Khardung La and at a height of 10700 ft above msl. One gets to see the mighty Shyok river which is one of the major tributaries of Indus at Khalsar.
A little distance away from Khalsar, there is the confluence of Shyok & Nubra. The tehsil headquarter is at Diskit, which is about 20 kms from Khalsar on the upstream of Shyok. But we had already booked to stay at a place called Nubra Ecolodge which is about 10 kms from Khalsar and on the banks of Nubra at a place called Sumur. The Nubra valley is quite wide and flat and is famous for its dunes as is Shyok valley.
The valley is picturesque with its poplars, willows & apricot trees. There are a few villages along the road and some agriculture is done by the villagers. At first glance Nubra Ecolodge is quite unimpressive and seems more like somebody has done it at his own backyard to supplement his income during the tourist season. But later on I realized how successful the lodge has been in seamlessly merging with the spectacular beauty of the Nubra valley. It seemed as if it was a part of the valley and human interventions were minimal. It also gave us the pleasure of one of our most memorable stays during our journey.
Panamik Hot Water Spring
Just after arriving at the ecolodge we enquired about anything of importance in the area and were told that a hot water spring and some ancient monastery was a few kms away at Panamik. Having nothing else to do we thought a hot water spring high up on the mountains should be worth a visit. The journey to Panamik was memorable with the breathtaking beauty of Nubra valley unfolding before us as we drove on. The trees become so dense at places that it almost seemed like a small forest. Once in a while Nubra river showed up and again disappeared at another bend as it meandered through the valley. There was the odd prayer wheel along the road and some person going and turning and moving along it as it rotated along its axis and at the same time his lips moving as if chanting some mantra. These wheels are called Mani wheels because of its association with the famous Tibetan mantra “ Om Mani Padme hum”. The Mani wheels are a ubiquitous sight in Ladakh and this part of the world and attests to the deep spirituality and preponderance of religion in the life of a Himalayan Buddhist. These Mani wheels contain the sacred mantra written on pieces of paper hundreds of time and placed inside it.
We stopped by at a particularly large Mani wheel and all three of us took turns to turn it. The sun was on an accelerated descent and we hurried through to reach our destination. But distractions were many and we could not resist the temptation to stop and click some snaps or take selfies at many places en-route. Then there was the straight portion of the road and devoid of trees and the bare mountains cropped up again on either side of us and it seemed as if we had entered into some flat grassland like the prairies or steppes on the roof of the world. The Panamik hot water springs are maintained by the villagers and the women of the village are managing it. They have made arrangements like bath rooms with running hot water from their springs. A user fee is charged from the tourists. One can take a refreshing hot water bath in those cold climes but we decided not to have any proper dalliance with water and just washed our hands & feet.
It was completely dark, by the time we finally called it a day and retired to Nubra Ecolodge.
It is the brain child of a young man named Stanzin who was 28 years old and had started it only a few months back. Ensconced snugly amongst the poplars & willows lay a few tents and few rooms not very lavish but cozy. It gave a very homely feel, the vegetable garden was also within the premises. Stanzin was a student of history & had done his post graduation in Buddhist studies from University of Jammu. After completion of his studies he thought of doing something on his own and hit upon the idea of an eco-lodge in his own village. His father had a little unused 3 acre plot of land and he had developed it and was working hard along with his employees to make his dream come true. The Nubra river flowed a few hundred metres away and the sound of the river was music to our ears especially at night. Every night we stayed over there, bonfires were arranged for us, as we sat under the night sky with a zillion stars watching over us and fire to keep us warm. To add to it there wasn’t a single discordant note to disturb the symphony of nature and the tall poplars cast their long shadow as a veil to banish the outside world. There was a certain eeriness about it, the world seemed almost primeval as there was hardly anything beyond our hotel rooms to announce civilization has dawned ever over there.
The hotel rooms were made of strange stuff. The ceiling was of something which won’t have been seen by many, I bet. Rows of yellowish logs almost uniform (6” to 8” in dia) were fixed side by side with equal spacing. They formed the bulwark of the roof and were visible from inside. On it lay woodwork which looked like twigs and lay very close to each other as if bound by some binding material. This is the special way people here make their roofs as steel & cement for concrete is hard to find and this centuries old technique insulated it from outside cold better than concrete.
We spent two nights in this eco cottage and each one of it we will remember for posterity.
DAY 9 (Sumur to Diskit & Hunder)
It was a bright day and we started off by visiting the banks of Nubra river with its glistening sand. A few enterprising people have also brought the two humped Bactrian camels for giving ride to tourists to the beaches of Nubra river which look like smaller sand dunes. Nubra river flows from near the famed glacial battlefields of Siachen and is also known sometimes as the Siachen river.
Diskit & Statue of Buddha
Thereafter we went towards Diskit which is the headquarter town of Nubra Tahsil. Diskit is on the Shyok river and is about 20 km from Khalsar which is the meeting point of Shyok & Nubra river. The majestic 32 mtr tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, sitting on his throne, is the defining monument of the Nubra valley. The statue at 10 storeys tall dwarfs everything else in its vicinity except of course the mountain peaks. Some of the pictures we clicked of the Sakyamuni with the snow capped mountains and blue skies in the background are surreal or we can say too picture perfect like Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings. We spent a lot of time near the statue gazing at the Shyok river valley below, the faraway mountains with their myriad shades beyond and the gentle breeze on our face.
Sand Dunes of Hunder
Then we went to Hunder which is famous for sand dunes. When you see a small cross section of the dunes, it seems just like a desert has been transplanted by somebody up here on the mountains. It seems so out of place with snow capped peaks all around and a mighty river flowing nearby. But the desert landscape is almost complete with some thorny trees and bushes and the Bactrian camels roaming around. Most of them are although domesticated and kept here to give ride to tourists but there are a few wild herds also. The Bactrian camels have two humps on their back as compared to one of the one humped camels or the dromedary. We had a very good camel ride on the sand dunes of Hunder and felt like the sheikhs of Arabia sitting atop the camel with its leisurely gait.
These two humped camels are called Bactrian camels probably because they were probably native to the Central Asian region called Bactria in ancient times and which now forms part of northern Afghanistan, Ujbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of the ancient trade routes from India & China went through Bactria and these animals being very hardy and their adaptability to colder climates of Central Asia were preferred means of transport and for caravans. These camels at Hunder are probably survivors from this ancient trade route or the abandoned animals. Moreover since Bactria was connected to Ladakh region through Xinxiang province of China & Aksai Chin of China occupied Ladakh, these animals found their way to Shyok valley.
Nubra & Shyok valley owing to its comparatively lower altitudes as compared to other regions of Ladakh was much greener. One can go further up the Shyok river upto Turtuk which is the last inhabited place on the Indian side. We had not planned for that and could not go there. The weather had turned cloudy and light drizzle had started by evening and we decided to call it a day and returned back to Sumur. By the time we reached our hotel heavy downpour had started and we were wondering what would have happened to all this rain up there at Khardung La. Anyways night time in the midst of the tranquil surroundings are not to be lost in worries for tomorrow and the three of us had a good time making gupshup over drinks and bonfire.
DAY 10 (Nubra to Pangong Tso)
When we woke up in the morning, the clouds had receded and the valley had turned more beautiful with the overnight rain. But our worst fear had turned true and news came in that Khardung La was buried in three feet deep snow. And it will take at least a couple of days to clear it. Our hopes of returning via Rohtang pass and Manali had also turned into smoke as Rohtang was not likely to open in another 7 days due to this rain. Initially everybody told us that we have to wait it out at Nubra till Khardung La is cleared, but then Stanzin our host went & found out that there is another less frequented road which meets the road from Leh to Pangong at Durbuk. The road is in very bad shape at many places and sometimes goes on the river bed just along the water stream of Shyok. Shyok is a dangerous river and the name literally means river of death in some Himalayan language and it is known for its flash floods. So we started out directly towards Pangong Tso from Nubra. The journey was quite different and I can say now that it also gave us the opportunity to view another less seen face of the Himalayas. At some places the roads were completely non existent and pebble laden path on the river bed of Shyok was all that was left of the road. This area is almost uninhabited and there were hardly any souls to be found. A few other vehicles were trying to reach Pangong or Leh by this route and asking one another for directions. The only village we saw on the entire route goes by the name of Shyok a few kilometers before Durbuk. We were lucky to locate a place which was selling diesel at Durbuk. Since we were apprehensive whether our fuel tank & our diesel stock would last till we reach Leh, we thought we should stock up on our diesel to be on the safer side. Diesel was available in 20 ltr metal jerry cans of probably world war II vintage. A little girl about 8 or 9 year old sold it to us from a shed behind her house as no elders of her family were around and her mother was busy doing household chores.
Our destination was a place called Spangmik on the banks of Pangong Tso. There is nothing else en-route other than the mountains and there are plenty of signboards announcing the impending unveiling of Pangong Tso before you. There is a point on the road where it is finally announced ‘ the first view of world famous Pangong Lake’.
Pangong Tso is a brackish water lake and one of the biggest lakes in the Himalayas and probably the second biggest lake in India after Chilika. The lake is more than 100 kms long but not very wide and is only 5 kms wide at its widest. About 1/3rd of the lake is in India and 2/3rd under Chinese occupation.
The lake is surrounded by majestic mountains on all sides which cast their shadow in the placid waters. There are ample photo opportunities around the lake due to shifting shadows and changing colors of the surrounding mountains at different times of the day. There are hardly any permanent structures near the lake as everything around it is buried in snow during the winter months i.e from October to May. The lake itself turns into solid ice and skating can be done on it. Tents have been set up near the banks of the lake by several enterprising people at a place called Spangmik. We had booked one through ibibo, but forgot to call up to tell them about our arrival plans. So the manager had given it to somebody else by the time we arrived and also refused to acknowledge that we had booking. We felt helpless up there as there was no way to communicate with the travel company.
After many arguments and seeing the booking approval from our mobile, she agreed to provide us at some other tent. There are hundreds of tents along the banks at Spangmik. We chose a tent in a complex which was the first complex from the shore of Pangong lake. We regretted it later in the night when the icy winds swept through and being the first ones on the shore there was nothing to protect us. The cold was unbearable and we woke up at middle of the night and then tried to light up a fire in front of our tent but could not do so with the wind blowing continuously. Then we had to take recourse of the old faithful rum to warm us from inside and give us some respite. A couple who had come on their bike from Delhi were also camping inside our complex having set up their small tent in the premises. They also requested the caretaker at midnight when the cold became unbearable, to give them one of the regular tents which is a bit more equipped than theirs to keep away the cold. Travelers like them are the real adventurers. We came across few such journeymen during our travels through J&K during that fortnight. They would set up their tent at small places mostly near army bases and do their own cooking and again pack up everything in the morning and move on with their journey to explore the Himalayas.
DAY 11 (Pangong Tso to Kargil)
All of us woke up with a headache because of previous night’s disturbed sleep and the intense cold. Nevertheless we packed up and readied ourselves for the journey back. We visited the place on the banks of Pangong Tso where Phungsuk Wangdu met his friends Farhan, Raju & Chatur in the last scene of 3 idiots. The cool morning breeze and the warm sunlight blew away all our blues. Many different species of birds were foraging for their breakfast and we shot quite a few photos including the one in which our trousers dropped to expose our underwear like in ‘3 idiots’. We had planned to cover lot of ground on day 11 as target was to reach Kargil by day end. The first target was to reach Leh as quickly as possible have our lunch & some shopping of mementos to take back home.
The road to Leh took us through the 2nd highest motorable road on earth- Chang La. The climb from Durbuk is very steep and culminates at 17580 ft at the top of the pass. Everywhere there was ice and at some places it was blindingly white due to the reflection of sunlight from the ice sheets. Small rivulets were flowing at many places, sometimes along the road and at times on it. Bihari labourers were working in that biting cold environment to maintain the road and make it ready for travelers like us. The descent was also as steep as the climb and we finally reached Hemis on Leh –Manali highway. Hemis is about 40 kms from Leh and is also the seat of a famous ancient monastery of the same name. Stopped over at Leh for a couple of hours, had our lunch, returned the oxygen cylinder & did some shopping at the Tibetan market.
One would be spoilt for choices at the Tibetan market with so much to chose from in exquisitely crafted handicrafts made out of brass, fiber, marble powder, papier-mâché, jade, different other semi precious stones, metal works etc. There is so much of exotic jewelry in semi precious stones, silver & even gold also, that I bet any lady would have a difficult time taking herself out of the market.
Then we embarked on our journey back by the same route towards Kargil. Of course the excitement was less for us and more for Mithun as he was coming to his elements having braved all the travels through the highest passes. We did not stop over at many places, but Fotu La top was an exception as Mithun had not got down from the vehicle at any of the other passes. By the time all pervasive darkness completely enveloped the moonland we were still at least a hundred kilometer away from our destination. A few kilometers before Kargil we saw two- three persons waving frantically in front of their SUV in that darkness. Bana was driving at that time and after slowing down and crossing them I reasoned that they cannot be anybody else than travelers like us and we must go back to help them. In fact they were four friends from Sonipat in Haryana and had a flat tyre and could not change it as their jack was not quite sitting down well on the uneven surfaces of the road. We had our entire kit and our driver Brahma changed their tyre and they were ready to go. They said that they were stuck up there for more than an hour and nobody stopped to help them. They were very grateful with that little act of kindness and insisted that they will stay at the same hotel as us at Kargil. It was almost 10:30 pm by the time we reached our hotel. We had our dinner together and had a good conversation about our journeys in Kashmir.
DAY 12 (Kargil to Pahalgam)
W e started off from Kargil early so that we would have more time to spend in the valley as we had seen the Kashmir valley only from the road during our onward journey. But this time we had another important place en-route to visit as well- the Kargil war memorial.
Kargil War Memorial
It is dedicated to the memory of 437 of our soldiers who braved the biting cold and the sky kissing heights to unfurl the ‘tiranga’ atop the peaks of Tololing, Tiger & many other. As you enter into the hallowed precincts of the memorial to the bold and the brave, you feel the goosebumps, not less because of the three tricolours fluttering in tandem with the mountain breeze, but more so because of the multitude of daredevils who have been laid to rest here. On a wall the names of all those who laid down their lives to secure our borders are etched literally in golden letters. In another section a tombstone has been fixed for each of these brave hearts. Some of the war equipments used by our soldiers and also those captured from the enemy soldiers are displayed here.
One retired MIG-21 is on display at this memorial and so are other interesting equipment like small bunkers etc used by the Pakistani infiltrators. The hair raising tales of valour of our soldiers in the various battles of Kargil war to recapture the lost ground are also written along with few displays of the equipment associated.
Zozilla pass did not seem as treacherous as the last time we had crossed it. It was the turn of Mithun this time to have the feeling of ecstasy as the beauty of the Kashmir valley slowly began to unfold before us. The road was very less crowded from Sonamarg towards Kullan and we could not resist the temptation to stop at a few places, sit on the middle of the road, raise a toast to Kashmir & our journey.
We again crossed Srinagar without so much as stopping to have a look at its famed beauty. We did not even go to Dal Lake to get a look of the beautiful houseboats or the shikaras. We went on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway till Anantnag from where we had to take diversion towards Pahalgam. Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Anantnag and Pahalgam was further 40 km away. The ride was uphill and there were very few souls on the road during nighttime. GPS was showing that the road was along a river named Lidder and the river gave us very good company for sure. The sound of the river sometimes gentle and sometimes roaring reassured us that we had not strayed. The road from Anantnag to Pahalgam has very few human habitations alongside and whatever may have been present was engulfed in the pitch darkness of the night. The road is infamous for its troublesome past of the ambush of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims many a times and we were quite scared. It was almost 9:00 pm when we reached Pahalgam and we had to search for a place to stay for the night. Pahalgam has no dearth of hotels but the hour was unearthly as the sleepy hill top town is not expected to stay up beyond 9:00 pm. So after a frantic search, we zeroed in on a place called Woodstock Hotel right there on the middle of the mall road near the main market which seemed a bit pricey. Finally with a round of spirit enhancers and dinner we called it a day.
DAY 13 (Pahalgam to New Delhi)
What a view to behold when we woke up in the morning and removed the curtains? We were sitting in the middle of the valley in our room and there were big glass windows on 2 & half sides of the room. Lidder river flowed nearby and the snow capped mountains and the beautiful forests up their slopes slowly rose from the valley. Most of the Lidder valley was visible from our room and the sight was just picture perfect. It just took our breath away and it seemed as if it was the most beautiful sight we had seen in our entire journey till then. The hotel has a beautiful, fairly large garden which slowly merges into the valley and you will feel like sitting on the benches and soak the gentle sun till the end of time. Sipping from a steaming cup of your favourite brew while listening to the sound of the river and the forests will definitely transport you into the realm of ecstasy.
We had the entire day and thought of first visiting ‘Mini Switzerland’ also sometimes called as the real Kashmir valley. One can only reach there by trekking or riding on a pony. We opted for the latter and still it took us around one & half hours one way. But the path is treacherous and even pony ride will keep you on your edges. We went through beautiful forests, but the path was sometimes very narrow and on the very edge of the mountain where one wrong foot of the pony can plunge you into the abyss lying along side. There are very memorable sights on the way but what lay end of the trip was simply the most breathtaking of our entire trip. A vast expanse of meadow painted a lush, parroty green surrounded by mountains and alpine forests of dark green. The undulating meadow of flawless light green was dotted with the tourists wandering on it wearing various hues. Since there was intermittent light drizzle from the start of the pony trail, we had hired and worn a raincoat each.
While ourselves wandering on the meadows, a drizzle started and most of the tourists had to run for cover but we had to pull only our cap on our heads. The photographs taken during the time looks as if three ETs (Extra Terrestrials) are standing on a grassy meadow. The rains made the path muddy and slippery for the pony hooves but it further enhanced the green glow of the meadow.
Although there are many other beautiful places near Pahalgam, but most of them take a few hours trek or pony ride. So we decided to give places like Sheshnag Lake, Tulian Lake or the Betaab valley a miss. Interestingly ‘Betaab valley’ is named after the movie of the same name in which Sunny Deol & Amrita Singh made their debut and shot here. Pahalgam is the starting point for Amarnath Yatra and the first base camp is at a place called Chandanwari which is about 20 km away. There are roads upto Chandanwari, but from thereon journey to Amarnath must be necessarily by trek or on pony. A lot of trekking routes start from Pahalgam, like the journey to the lakes which takes 2-3 days, but there are also the ambitious ones for the real adventurers which go upto Leh and takes 10-15 days. You need to spend at least 3 days to have a feel of Pahalgam and its wondrous scenes and places. So, we settled for the Kashmiri wazwan at a nice restaurant rather than visit to any other places.
At about 4:00 pm we started on our return journey from Pahalgam with plans to halt for the night at Jammu. We stopped at many places with breathtaking views as Mithun was not there with us during the onward journey and was finding it too hard to resist to click a few snaps. We stopped at a place called Titanic point with broad sweeping view of the plains that were visible at the end of the valley. It was almost 8:00 pm when we crossed Uddhampur and the heavy lorries and army convoys had started their journeys, the road was coming alive with traffic. At a road junction near Uddhampur, we asked a policeman for direction towards Jammu and we took a wrong turn as per his advice. We were almost 30 kms on this road and 9:30 pm by the time we realized our mistake, when a policeman stopped us en-route and asked us where we were going. He told us that although we will again touch the national highway near Samba, but the road is dangerous and roads were really bad. As the road from Uddhampur was fairly good till then, we thought that he might not beknowing and decided to have a little adventure in this unknown terrain.
DAY 14 (New Delhi, Rest day)
Shortly after that, we could sense that the policeman was correct as the worst roads of our journey lay before us. There was no mobile connectivity and the odd milestone was our only source for seeking direction. By the time it was the start of a new date at midnight we found to our horror that flow of vehicles on this desolate route had stopped altogether. There was not a single soul to seek direction from and we had to completely rely on our kismet to reach our destination. We continued throughout the night, by changing drivers a few times and finally reached Pathankot by daybreak. After GPS connectivity was restored, we realized that we had travelled through the Samba sector, which is very near to LOC, at the dead of night. It was providence only that saved us from untoward incident during the past few hours. We reached New Delhi by about 12 noon and more adventure was in store for us. We took the wrong direction on a one way road for about 100 metres, but a traffic policeman noticed it and immediately followed us. We did not realize it, till he caught on us after a kilometer. We had to cough up 7000 bucks to save our skin as we were too emotionally drained to get into any further hassle.
We decided to have some rest, before we proceeded on our final return leg to Bhubaneswar. In the evening, Mithun announced that he will not be going with us as he had some urgent work on Sunday. But we sensed it correctly that he had had enough of our reckless wandering spirit and preferred a cozy 2 hour flight to Bhubaneswar. In the evening a couple of our friends dropped by at Kena’s house and we had some interesting stories to narrate of our adventure of last couple of weeks over a round of drinks.
DAY 15 (New Delhi to Raigarh)
Refreshed by the overnight sleep, we embarked on the final leg of our journey to Bhubaneswar. We started off at around 9:00 am in the morning and were soon travelling on the best road in India, the Yamuna Expressway. We had decided to proceed via Ranchi, have an overnight stay at Ranchi and then proceed towards Bhubaneswar in the morning. I called up a colleague of mine to book an accommodation at Ranchi. But he advised us not to travel through the forests of Jharkhand at night and asked us to stay put at Varanasi for the night. But Bana wanted to take his family back to Raigarh from Bhubaneswar on Sunday itself. So we decided to go to Bhubaneswar via Raigarh as it is more or less safe to travel throughout the night on that route. So, we left GT road a few kilometers after Allahabad near Gopiganj and proceeded towards Raigarh. It was quite dark during peak summer time when we left Gopiganj and travelled towards Mirzapur- Robertsganj- Renukoot- Pratappur- Ambikapur- Pathalgaon throughout the night.
DAY 16 (Raigarh to Bhubaneswar)
It was almost 8 o’clock in the morning when we finally reached Raigarh. Our pilot Brahma who was with us for a fortnight and was part of all our adventures, finally bid us adieu. We freshened up at Bana’s flat, had a bath and restarted our journey towards Bhubaneswar after breakfast. After about an hour, we entered into Odisha at Kanaktura. A few kilometers ahead the outer reaches of Hirakud reservoir lay by the wayside and we did not let go of the opportunity to click a few snaps. Our holiday mood was not yet over and we called up an old college friend of ours who was staying at Sambalpur and caught up with him.
When we started on the penultimate leg towards Angul from Sambalpur, little did we know that more adventure was in store for us. As we were travelling through the Rairakhol forests, a strange thing happened which gives me the goosebumps, whenever I think about it. The two of us were conversing, when suddenly our steering wheel swerved towards the left, I screamed at Bana and immediately tried to straighten it, by turning the wheel on the opposite direction. By the time, Bana applied the brakes, and our Safari came to a stop, it had grazed a huge tree on the road side. I consoled Bana, that it most be the sleeplessness of the last few days. But he insisted that he was completely awake, as he was talking to me, but something happened. The swerving to the left was involuntary. He said, he felt like somebody else moved it and he was just witness to it. Was it paranormal? We stopped at Badakera before Angul, where a dealer of mine has an automobile service station, to fix an unhinged rail. He also corroborated Bana’s feeling and said that he had heard about these kind of stories a few times in the past also.