A drive is Kashmir is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself. Get going on Kunzum Route K11 for what will certainly be a drive you will remember all your life.
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Click here to read the detailed distance / time chart for driving along Route K11. And continue reading for some of the attractions along the way.
Jammu: A royal welcome, after a day long drive from Delhi
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Jammu is the recommended night halt before you move further. Stay at the Hari Niwas Palace, owned and run by the descendents of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruler of Kashmir.
Jammu is the winter capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. As the cold sets in, politicians, bureaucrats and other Government employees all move with their papers and files from Srinagar down to the lower Himalayas, only to repeat the exercise in the opposite direction come summer. What a waste of time and effort!
Do take out time to visit the Amar Mahal Museum within the hotel complex; it has been set up and run by Hari Singh’s politician – diplomat son, Dr. Karan Singh. Named after Hari Singh’s father, it offered me a good insight into the life and history of the state’s last ruling dynasty founded by Maharaja Gulab Singh (1792-1858). A well stocked library can keep one busy for months. The best place to read the books would have been in the last Queen’s bedroom, maintained in a state of readiness lest Her Highness walk in. The finest of crockery from England has been set on the table by the window, as if waiting for hot tea to be served. A relishing thought after a full day’s drive.
Travel Tip: Jammu is best visited in winters. Summers can be hot followed by wet monsoons. Many people also take a halt here before heading out to the nearby Vaishno Devi, a popular pilgrimage spot for devout Hindus.
Read about the ancient temples at Kiramchi at http://kunzum.com/2010/04/20/great-himalayan-drive-day-51-the-hidden-temples-of-kiramchi-near-udhampur-in-kashmir.
Kud, for the sweet tooth
My sweet tooth (make it teeth) had heard good things about Kud, and could not wait to sink into its famed Patisa, an Indian sweet. It seems the town’s GDP depends on sale of sweets and savouries – rows of shops located on either side of the highway cause perennial traffic jams. The goodies were being prepared in open kitchens, prompting purchases as they came out fresh. Leaving customers licking their fingers long after finishing their portions.
Not sure who is the best? Follow the crowds and check out Prem Di Hatti, the busiest shop out there. Most other shopkeepers just watch in envy, and will persuade and heckle you into trying their kitchen. Your call who you patronize.
The famous Jammu red beans, cooked fresh
After the desserts (in advance) at Kud, lunch at Peerah, famous for its countless dhabas or roadside eateries serving Rajmash (Rajma or red beans) and rice – optionally topped with desi ghee (clarified butter) with anardana (pomegranate) chutney on the side. I was impressed with the quality of ingredients used – without which Peerah would not have built a reputation.
Interestingly, I noticed a price list rubber stamped by the union of all these dhabas – a way to ensure they don’t undercut to compete or even overcharge. Very sensible. Not that it was too expensive – a generous portion costs about Rs. 50. Not bad for something that is fresh, tasty, hot and clean (by many standards). Thousands of travelers who stop here daily would say ‘Aye’ in agreement.
Welcome to Kashmir Valley
The light at the end of this dimly lit tunnel is the heavenly Kashmir Valley – and its first sighting tells you why India and Pakistan want it all for themselves.
I drove through the 2.8 km (1.8 miles) Jawahar Tunnel (heavily guarded, no photos allowed – blow up this tunnel and all road links are gone; it is named after independent India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru) to be greeted by a sign, ‘The first view of the Kashmir Valley’ at Titanic Point. A shack sells tea and snacks here – a strategically sensible move to cater to tourists who almost always stop here.
As I looked around, the famous words of Mughal Emperor Jahangir kept playing in my mind. “If there is heaven on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” was his exclamation when he first came here in the 17th century A.D. The words still ring true.
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