Day 3 : 11 August 2013 : Jammu to Udhampur on way to Srinagar
Woke up early in the morning around 0330 to get an early start to beat the band. Switched on the TV and learnt that a curfew has been imposed at Jammu, Udhampur, Old Srinagar, Rajauri and some other places. Senior BJP leaders were arrested at airport as they were planned to visit Kishtwar. All these meant that the day will be dramatic and violent. This took out Mughal Road out of equation. The only route that we could have some hope on was NH1D. For now, Mughal Road has to wait, we are getting delayed and so if we still want to be on our original plan, we have to rush through today and cross Srinagar and if possible, Zozilla too. Settled the bill at the Hotel which was 3505 for two rooms, two rounds of tea, veggie sandwitches and simple veggie dinner.
Started at 0400 hrs from the Hotel, which was just next to the bus stand. While coming out of Jammu, we encountered police check posts at various places and at every point, we were asked to turn back and go back to the hotel. We pleaded that we are going for the yatra and our group has already left about an hour earlier. Luckily, a huge group for yatra had left about the same time and they were allowed as they were already in a convoy. Upon much pleading, the police personnel stated that we may be allowed to go, but on our own risk as there is curfew and barbed wires may have been deployed at the outskirts of the city, and that in that case, we would not be allowed to enter Jammu either! We agreed to take the risk as it was highly unlikely that anyone would create a rukus so early in the morning. There was no barbed wired fencing at any place. Quickly, we were on NH and started towards Srinagar. All seemd well, but was it?
Another blow to the plan was made when we reached Tikri border (Udhampur district) at around 0555 hrs. There was a huge line of trucks and ahead to it were cars and taxis, stopped there by police personnel. The police were advising everyone to go back. Go back? Where?? Jammu is now out of questions!! We talked to the police personnel and they informed that a car has been burnt at Udhampur last night and the road was blocked. Further, there were chances of agitators creating further disturbance today and hence no traffic was being allowed.
When we talked to the police personnel, we were flatly told “Saari Yatra band ho chuki hai, Jammu waapas chale jaao” (The yatra has been closed, go back to Jammu). We told the situation at Jammu and that we can’t go back there too, to which he replied “Katra jaao, Maata ke darshan karo aur teen din baad aana” (Go to Katra, Visit Vaishno Devi and come back after three days)! What?? This would mean that our entire plan goes for a toss! We pleaded further with the personnel and told him that this would mean cancellation of the entire trip. On this he asked us to come again late evening around 2100-2200 hrs and “maybe” that we’ll be allowed to go.
Having no other option, we decided it to be better to spend the day at Katra as it was just about 18 kms from Tikri, and then come back in the evening after resting during the day. So we went to Katra. Just before entering Katra town, there is a checkpost. A young policeman aged around 25 waved our car to stop. He asked the general questions, where are we coming from and where are we headed and whether we are carrying any contraband. We explained everything to him. He was satisfied and said “Jai Mata Di” while shaking hands with Cheena who was driving and then he kind of itched on his palms asking for “kuchh sewa”. Though I am dead against this practice and we weren’t doing anything wrong, I’d not have given to his demands. But then everyone thought of the hassle of unloading all the lugguage and getting it checked and then decided to give a 100 rupee note to him. Unfortunately, the car dvr went full and overwrote the recordings for the day and hence I’d not be able to post the pic unlike thought earlier.
In the meanwhile, HVK updated that Rohit had reached Srinagar yesterday and he has started for Zozila. He also informed that there had been a major landslide between Srinagar and Sonmarg and probably the roads were closed. At the same time, talked to Vishwas, who would be coming from Pune and would have reached Srinagar last night. Vishwas intimated that everything is absolutely fine in Srinagar and they are roaming the market!
Reached Katra and straightaway went to Trikuta Bhawan to see if we could get some dormatory for the day. Luckily, they were available and booked four beds. Had something to stuff in our empty stomach in the market – tea and buttered buns. Came back, and had breakfast in the no profit no loss based run canteen – Poori-Chhole, and slept for a couple of hours. At around 1400 during lunch in the canteen(customery kadhi-chawal), Cheena suggested that we leave early by 1500 to reach Tikri just in case they allow to leave early. I opposed the idea, knowing fully how the system works and advised to leave around 1800. Voting done and we decided to leave at 1600 hrs.
We started as decided at 1600 hrs and just as we were about to get out of the Katra town limits, a Policeman at the checkpost waved his hand to stop. Again the same questions, where, why and all that. And then he said that we can’t got to Srinagar as it’s all blocked. We tried to reason with him that Police personnel at Tikri had assured us to release the traffic. On further discussion, he grew angry and said “main samjha raha hoon aapko, aaplog samajhna hi nahin chahte. Yatra cancel ho gayee hai aur route band hai. Aap Jammu waapas jaao. Idhar se nahin jaane denge”!
Again the entire plan seemed to be going down the drain. And then my mind clicked. I kind of consulted everyone in a loud voice so that he can also hear and said that now that we’ve lost 2-3 days and the yatra is not happening, our leaves are also finishing, lets go back to Delhi. Let’s go as the gentleman is suggesting – afterall he is doing his duty! Everyone agreed to me understanding that I had some plan. I then pleaded the policeman to let us go now as we were going back via Jammu. Now another volley came from him – “Jamme jaana hai to idhar se mat jao. Peechhe ek raasta hai, wo pakdo aur seedha NH pe nikal jaaoge Jammu ke taraf”. What the hell? We didn’t noticed any road? Where would that road lead? Afterall I didn’t planned to go back all the way to Jammu! Further enquiry yielded that the road is internal village one and would lead eight kms ahead towards Jammu on NH. What the heck! Let’s take the road, at least we will pass this checkpost! What if there would be another checkpost and this one would wireless them? Will see what happens, but at least lets go from here. We also decided that we would not be taking the pretext of Yatra anymore and straightaway tell that we’re going to Ladakh.
Went down the road, which was kind of single road, broken at multiple sections. Reached NH1D and took left again towards Tikri. No checkpost and we passed the area without any issues. Hurray!! Or not yet!
Reached Tikri at 1800 hrs to find a long queue of vehicles and trucks. Seems that reasonable sense prevailed and cars and smaller vehicle were allowed to reach to an open area before the checkpost and trucks were asked to form a queue alongside the road. The police arrangement was more stronger than the morning and we met people who were there from early morning waiting for the traffic to be opened. Talked to the policemen and they said that they wouldn’t open the traffic unless they have orders from the top.
What a situation it was! There were children and ladies, waiting from the morning, at a place which didn’t had even one dhaba to provide food or even tea. People started agitating and complaining about the same. And then the authorities arranged for free food for everyone who was willing to take it – roti, chawal, daal and pickles.. tea too! I observed that most of the people, taxi drivers were not even going for the food – strange! I thought to try the food myself and then I realised the reason. The people distributing food themselves were religious fanatics and shouting “Bam Bhole” at everyone who came for food. I talked to some taxi drivers and they appeared to be too frightened. Reason being they belonged to Srinagar and were Muslims and had to pass through Udhampur. What they stated was frightening as well as shameful in a free and secular country. They said “Saab. aap log to nikal jaaoge, bahar ki gaadi hai. Ye raat mein jhuk ke number plate pe torch maar ke gaadi select karte hain maar-peet karne ke liye”. I assured some of them that we will be ahead of them and they can follow us to quickly pass through disturbed area.
In the meanwhile, Cheena called up his office at NDTV to provide the update live from the spot and see if a voice over can be done.
Time passed by and there was no sign of traffic being released. What we saw that the police were allowing local numbered cars to pass through. Then came the DSP and ordered deployment of barbed wires on the road so that no vehicle would cross. The barbed wires were deployed and it was announced that the traffic will not be allowed at all for next couple of days. On talking with him separately and informing that one of our guys was working for NDTV, he updated that the traffic is likely to be open later in the night, but they are not announcing it right now. So all in all it’s a wait and watch game.
Finally at 22:25 hrs, the borders were opened and vehicles allowed to go with strict instructions to be in a convoy and not to break it. And then everyone seemed to be in a tearing hurry to cross Udhampur as soon as possible.
Quite at couple of places, we observed that the fear with the Srinagar taxi drivers were not unjust. What we noticed was some hooligans at isolated places, with sticks, rods, hockey sticks and even torches in hand. They appeared to be fully drunk and trying to leverage the tensed situation to vent out their own frustration over some unknown. At one place, one of them tried to smash the windscreen, but fortunately he was drunk and we were in speed, so by the time he swayed his hand, we crossed him. Phew!!!
Total Distance covered: Approx 88 Kms
Driving Directions from Jammu to Tikri (Udhampur) border: Drive ahead on Shalamar road towards Indira chowk and take third exit from the roundabout. Pass by SMGS Hospital and take the second exit from the roundabout on Secretariat road. Drive ahead, pass by Kachi Chawni road and take the second exit at the roundabout near All India Radio. Drive alongside the Tawi river for a couple of minutes and join the NH1A on Nagrota bypass road. Ahead of the Indian Oil petrol bunk, take the left fork to remain on Nagrota bypass road. Keep on NH1A and take right fork at Domel to remain on NH1A itself. Pass by Jhajjar Kotli and reach Tikri checkpost.
Since we were turned back, we came back again till Domel and took the right fork (it was left fork while going to Tikri from Jammu) to be on the Katra road. Pass by Country Inn and go past the checkpost. Drive on straight towards the bus stand and take the right fork at Hotel The Vaishnodevi to reach the bus stand. Trikoota Bhawan is situated just besides the bus stand.
On return journey from Katra to Tikri, we took the Kashmere road to pass by Helipad and Purana Droorh towards Udhampur-Katra road. Near Sumdrani, we were again denied taking the Udhampur-Katra road and hence had to turn back and take a nondescript route towards Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, also known as SMVDU road or Domel-Katra road. Pass by University, Jib talab and join NH1A just before Jhajjar Kotli by turning left and drive ahead to Tikri