A personal travel tale by Reetwika Banerjee
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We continued to Chandanwari from Hagoon along the same road. It’s a spectacular high-altitude countryside in Kashmir which serves as the gateway to Greater Himalayan Range. Situated at an altitude of around 10,000 feet above sea level, Chandanwari presents snow laden peaks against a caerulean canvas. Distance would be barely 14 kilometres but since the road comprises of very steep rise and falls, it took us almost three hours with an unprecedented road blockage enroute.
Bird’s eye view of Hagoon
Spectacular views on way to Chandanwari
After a fifteen-minute uphill drive through the conifers, we took a quick halt at a point from where one can have a bird’s eye view of Hagoon. Oh! What a breath-taking landscape it was. Taking a few top shots of the valley we continued with the drive keeping Lidder River on our right. It’s the same road that Amarnath Yatra visitors traverse and after a day long trek, they camp overnight at Chandanwadi. Thus, it becomes a very significant stopover from Hindu pilgrimage perspective. Though we were in no mood to test our hiking capability but were definitely up to take a glimpse of its spectacular views.
Uphill drive to Chandanwari from Hagoon
According to Hindu mythology also, Chandanwari is a very significant juncture. It is said that before entering naked inside the Amarnath Cave with His consort Parvati, Lord Shiva had shredded all his possessions one by one on his way to the holy cavern. And as the religious beliefs go, Lord Shiva had removed the Moon from His hair bun (Jata) right here. Another school of theologists preach that little higher from Chandanwari, near Pissu Top, a fierce clash had happened between demi gods and ferocious daemons where divinity was falling short to evil. With the help of Lord Shiva’s super power, the demi gods could slaughter the highly outnumbered daemons and the heap of their corpses gave rise to the high mountains of this area which also closely resemble a seven headed mythical snake (often referred as ‘Seshnag’). Even today the standstill snow peaks, pine forests, chilly breezes and the gaudy Lidder waves stand as testimony to these mythological legends of erotic desire and blood battle, making Chandanwari a complete tourist destination.
The travel from Hagoon to Chandanwari is comparatively planar and can be accessed by road transport. It is full of cold streams, waterfalls and springs. But the cliffside trajectory beyond Chandanwari is extremely narrow and equally steep which makes it accessible only on foot or by horse ride. The confluence of Amravati and Panjatarni Rivers entices with breath-taking views to visitors whoever complete the holy Yatra. Coupled with the sub-zero temperatures at night and lack of oxygen, it is however highly advised that only medically fit hikers should risk the further trek.
Entering into snow world
Game of Throne’s ‘The Wall’
As we soared higher, the cold breeze was slowly becoming frosty and after a sharp turn – we discovered ourselves in a snow world. Glaciers, immensely tall snow walls like Game of Throne’s ‘The Wall’, snowlines, snow mounds – everything around was only sparkling white snow, snow and snow! The snow carpet kept getting thicker as we ascended further. The window glass became insufficient to defend the ice-cold airstreams in no time.
During the upward drive, we came across numerous Indian Army officials, BSF and CRPF Jawans invigilating by the side of the road. After almost a fifty-minute drive, the pitch road slowly vanished and eventually became a thin high hill broken trail – truly taking the shape of a trekking route. We continued to scale the broken roads. After a hairpin bend a few meters below Chandanwari base camp our driver suddenly braked the car; stopping at a buzzy point, with so much noise and crowd around. We could also notice some of the cars which had overtaken us on way – they too had hoarded at the same point forming a long queue ahead.
Road blockage on way to Chandanwari
Bull dozers cutting the ice to make way
I pulled down the window glass and peeped out to gauge the reason of chaos. Due to an untimely hail storm last night, the remaining road till the base camp got fully covered with snow. Two bulldozers were struggling hard to cut way through the chunks of frozen ice sheet along the highway. Though it took me quite some time to comprehend the utter confusion, but I must appreciate the efforts undertaken by the Army and public works men who were continuously at work to make way for the civilians.
Playing with Ice
Secret water stream beneath the Glaciers
Photo shoots on way
It took more than two hours for the road clearance. But the adjoining beauty did not bore us even for a while. The remaining drive was hardly fifteen minutes. No one can walk on snow with normal shoes. The tempting snow beckoned us to hire a pair of gumboots, bringing back the child in us. We had lots of fun playing with the dry snow, throwing snow balls at each other, having snow fights and posing with the snow man at the end. Sledging is very famous in Chandanwari, but since we were running short of time, it was not wise for us to prolong the stay at such a high altitude beyond 3pm. Relishing a cup of steaming tea and freshly fried munchies, we started our descent.
At the summit of Chandanwari
On the way down near the site where it had clogged, we passed through at least ten to fifteen Indian military cargo vans, pilot cars and ambulances rushing uphill. The piercing sound of hooters echoed through the uncanny stillness prevailing around. By Lord Shiva’s blessings, wish everything was fine above.