Buses for Srinagar leave Jammu between 6am to 7pm but taxis are available through out the day at Private Taxi points. They leave as soon as the seven passenger seats are taken. The 297km journey takes around 10 hours for a taxi on an average but takes between 12-13 hours for buses.
I boarded a taxi near the Public Bus Station around 3.30pm. As a traveller you can’t bargain enough. The taxi fare has to be bargained down to Rs.700 from Rs. 800. After travelling so much I now considered bargaininga n unwelcomed part of traveling.
The road meanders upward slowly towards the ever ascending mountains. The hills surrounding Jammu are odd and bizarre. There were few trees dispersed sparsely; exposing the barren land and rocks. The hills look more like an unfinished puzzle.
From Udhampur, the mountains began to look more solid and its feature more defined. The hills grow into mountains and you began to feel the cool mountain breeze. It was a sweet release from the heat waves that had tormented the plains.
Tawi River runs deep in the valley and on the gentle mountain slopes you could see villages sprinkled endlessly.
Just before reaching Kud, you began to see glimpse of the famed fruit small orchards around little houses. At Kud we stopped for tea and some passengers bought the famed Kud sweets. It is a small town, confined around a lane; inundated with sweet shops. Kud’s sweets are considered an ultimatum in Kashmir. From Kud to Patnitop, there were many nice hotels and guest houses surrounded by pine trees. These hotels with red roofs and white painted walls are borrowed from the West and I could as well have been in Switzerland and I wouldn’t know the difference!
Patnitop is covered with thick deodars forest. Driving through these woods, I felt winter in the air. The other night I was thinking of doing my travelling at night to save more time for daytime activities. But these beautiful sights are something you don’t want to miss out. At times, it is the film-like changing scene displayed through your car window that stay in your memories more than the destination itself. The sun was down as we crossed Patnitop and I missed out seeing all the beautiful sights I could have seen had I travelled at day.
We passed through a 2.5km long tunnel called Jawahar Tunnel. It is also known as Banihal Tunnel and was first opened in 1956. The tunnel was guarded heavily by armies on both sides. Vehicles are not allowed to stop inside the tunnel. The tunnels was unlit and swishing through the dark tunnel with walls on both side was soffocating but the emergency exits were a solace.
The highway was busy. It was peak season but the problem was made worse by irresponsible driving; trying to overtake each other in a rash frantic chase.
*There are no direct vehicles for Pahalgam, except during Amarnath Yatra. You’ve to change midway at Anantnag or hire a taxi. Though inconvenient the preferred route is from Srinagar.