The ride to Sonmarg (or Sonamarg, I’ve seen both) – is ridiculously beautiful. I’ll stop talking about Kashmiri scenery since no words are sufficient. I switched sumos in Kangan, waited less than 5 minutes, and arrived at around 12.30pm at the strip settlement that is Sonmarg.
Thomas had recommended the Sikh Punjabi hotel, and what do you know, it was bang smack in front of me. Checked in and after scarfing down some delicious rajma I was on my way. Papa-ji instructed me to return well before dark. Thajjwas Glacier is only 5km walk from the town. Many Indians ride ponies there, and there is also an alternative paved road which cars can take, but somehow (I think Tashi and Krishnan are rubbing off on me) I ended up on a teensy bit perilous mountainside ‘shortcut’. Breathtaking views, though, and not a single other tourist, just occasionally passing shepherds and a few women chopping wood. The beauty of Kashmir exists here as well, the explosive neon green grass, the endless shades of browns and greens, with the fast-moving clouds hovering over the snow-capped peaks. Approaching the glacier, you see the frozen river that seems so solid and permanent, yet we know that it is moving, ever so slowly, every day, continuously. I decided to head up the glacier a bit, and then my overwhelming fear of heights, combined with ice, and rocks, overtook me for awhile. But the Kashmiri men chuckled and cheered me on and soon I was standing on the ever-frozen river.
I wandered back slowly to town, and the rest of the afternoon was spent inquiring and receiving dozens of different answers about bus times to Kargil, Baltal, whether or not sumos existed to the destinations, if I would be allowed to climb Amarnath etc etc. Information seems to be endlessly inconsistent and my strategy is just to ask as many people as possible and figure out what the majority says…and it seems to have worked decently so far. I was told by everybody that I would not be allowed to climb Amarnath since the military wasn’t fully arming (protecting – this is all debatable terminology as we have to wonder why they are there in the first place and why there is the possibility of danger/attack in the first place…) the yatra – pilgrimage – until July 1st. But for some reason this Shiva linga which gets encrusted with ice had been calling to me since I first read about it in May. So…I wanted to try anyway.