I decided to go by road from Srinagar to Jammu (no train at Srinagar) because the road through the mountains is beautiful. There are buses but the guidebooks advised share jeeps which leave early in the morning from outside the Tourist Centre.
I had had dinner with Hamid and Zahid (who had taken me to see all the weavers) and their family on Friday night which was such a lovely evening – they are the most hospitable and gorgeous people. They had told me I should not go for a Somu (Tata), but try try to get a Tavera (Chevrolet ) – I went in a Toyota. It was fine. There was much discussion (in Kashmiri) and the upshot of it was that I should not eat anything except black tea and perhaps a biscuit. "Oh, it's that winding..?" "It's 300km, half very winding, half not quite so winding." Ok.
I got in to my Toyota Qualis just before 6am and eventually we had a carful (8 passengers) and the luggage strapped on the roof and left at 6.35 in torrential rain. I had been advised to sit in the front – certainly not in the side-facing seats in the back – but it felt very snug while we were waiting, with nice Sikh telecoms engineer who was in front too, so I decided to move behind. That turned out to be a good decision as the 2nd passenger seat in the front was the hardest to sell and the telecoms engineer was very tired and noddy and fell asleep on the man who took the place. I had two slim men in the middle row and there were three more in the sideways seats in the back, one of whom had a terrible cold, or nasal troubles, and made a hideous noise all the time he was awake but was quiet when he slept. Out of 8 passengers, three were Sikh, one was foreign and one was a woman...
I am glad I wasn't in the front. The driver was brilliant (he got us to Jammu unscathed) but there is SO much traffic on the route – convoys of army trucks, jeeps, lorries – you just have to pass where you can. We stopped for breakfast after an hour (none for me thanks) and I looked at the shops – selling mainly nuts, dried fruit, shawls (mainly acrylic as far as I could see) and cricket bats. Kashmir is famous for its willow, and cricket bats.
The army convoy we had passed on the way up from Srinagar didn't stop for breakfast and, as we were getting back into the car they drove by... So we had to pick them off again, one or two at a time. It's disconcerting when your driver rocks backwards and forwards as he passes a lorry going up hill, blind corner approaching - plainly wishing he had another gear. After 4 hours we stopped for lunch (no, still not hungry) and the loo and eventually got to Jammu after 8.5 hours.
I thought Jammu was a hellhole – but that is probably because I decided first to go and get my train ticket for Haridwar (I was told it left at 10pm so I had 8 hours to spare) and then go and find an internet cafe and something to eat... Why did I not book the ticket in Srinagar? I don't know, but suffice to say I spent two hours going from one ticket counter to another – Haridwar train completely full – and pleading with the Station Master and nearly coming over funny in his office (still nothing to eat). I ended up getting a ticket on the Delhi train to go to Saharampur (arr 6.30am) and from there I could get a bus to Haridwar and a taxi to Rishikesh. Lesson learned..
I had spring rolls – so oily I have probably blocked half my arteries, but rather delicious - and 2 lime sodas in a beastly hotel near the station. I got a rickshaw from the hotel and found a porter. The head porter said 300rps – I said WHAT? I have never paid more than 120rps before and though it isn't a lot of money, sometimes you just get fed up with always having to pay 3x what everyone else pays because you are foreign. .. (You can tell I wasn't in the best mood..) He said the chap would take my case for 100rps but wouldn't wait and put it on the train. OK, deal.
I was early anyway and the train wasn't due for 25 minutes.. so this adorable boy coiled his cloth on his head and put my case on top and I followed him up three flights of stairs, a ramp, and down stairs to platform 3 to where my carriage would stop. I thanked him and gave him 20rps extra... Quite a miserable wait... dark, tired, rats everywhere, stink of pee, such poor people waiting. They seemed happy enough..
Eventually the train drew in and we made for the doors (those with reservations in sleeper class), but the doors didn't open. Suddenly from nowhere my porter reappeared - to help me get my case on the train. How lovely of him. He couldn't open the door either, so he removed part of the window and climbed in and unlocked the door from the inside. It was pitch dark, no lights. So he got his mobile out and shone the torch bit until we found my berth. I could've kissed him.