Stranded. Landslide. Local police have told us that the debris will only be cleared by morning. Trucks backed up for miles. And we’re still a 130km from Srinagar!
The plan was to start from Jalandhar early in the morning and make it to Srinagar by late evening. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in store for us. But let’s start at the beginning, from Jalandhar.
It’s 6am and we’re packed and ready to hit the road. Jalandhar looks like a ghost town at the crack of dawn. Not a single shop open anywhere and there’s barely a soul on the streets. Once out of the city, we hop onto NH44. The smooth, straight roads for around 80km allow us to really open up the Q3 and Q5. Both cars are extremely stable at high speeds and we make good time.
We know we’re getting close to Jammu when we run into endless convoys of army trucks. We stop for breakfast and are served steaming hot parathas with enough butter to give an elephant cholesterol issues. The journey up to Pathankot is quite uneventful and pretty soon we pass the toll booth that ushers us into Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the contestants, Manish, has a brother-in-law who is a major in the Indian Army and is posted in Jammu. We stop on the Jammu bypass road to meet him for a brief chat before carrying on.
Soon, long, arrow-straight stretches give way to twisty mountain roads, and we are still around 300km from Srinagar. You can’t maintain very high speeds on these roads because of the sheer number of trucks that use the same route. There’s only one road to get to Srinagar – the AH1.
I happen to say to my co-driver that the drive has been uneventful so far. Of course, I’ve completely forgotten about my uncanny ability to jinx things. And soon enough, good old lady karma decides to open up the heavens and give us a real show. The rain is torrential and wind speeds high. We have to be extremely careful at each turn, as visibility is very poor. In fact, on one stretch, we see four major accidents around 100 metres from each other. “I’ve never driven in weather like this before, it’s insane!” exclaims one of the contest winners.
Naturally, our photographer wants a shot of the cars in these conditions. He steps out and nearly gets swept off his feet. The wind is too strong and he quickly hops back inside. A little distance down, at Patnitop, we hit our first major traffic jam because of construction on the road up ahead. We cover a grand total of 1km in one hour. Great.
Once we get past the first roadblock, it’s more of the same for quite some time – pouring rain, strong winds and traffic backed up for miles. From the looks of it, we expect to reach Srinagar not before 10pm. That’s until we come across another massive jam on the road overlooking the town of Ramban.
The rains have caused a massive landslide that has demolished a portion of the road. We ask a few truck drivers and local police authorities how long it will take to clear up and they tell us they will only be opening the road the next morning. What now? We can’t turn back because of the endless line of traffic behind us. It’s 9pm, and the last decent hotel we came across is all the way back in Jammu.
We are mulling sleeping in the car when contest winner Manish decides to give his brother-in-law, the Major, a call. He in turn calls the person in charge at the Ramban army base, and they say we can use two rooms at the transit camp, and that they’d send someone to escort us there. Luckily, a lot of cars behind us have already doubled back and so we just have to get a few more to move to go back the way we came. We soon find the army jeep that’s waiting to escort us back to the rooms they’ve arranged. Phew!
It’s been quite an eventful trip so far and we’re not even at Srinagar yet. But there’s only that much that can be done in the face of nature’s wrath.