In July 2014, I went to climb my first high altitude peak in India. A year ago I had done my basic mountaineering course and folks there were raving about Stok Kangri. So, that's where I decided to go. Ladakh, baby!
I found a guy who was going to be on the same flight to Srinagar from Mumbai and we decided to meet up at the airport. Sam.
The plan was to fly to Srinagar, spend the night and take a taxi next morning to Leh and get acclimatised.
When we came out of the airport, we grabbed a taxi to take us to the city and find a hotel.
'Kaha se aaye hai aap log?' he asked (Where are you from?)
'Mein Nagpur se hoon aur yeh bhai Mumbai' I replied (I'm from Nagpur and this guy is from Mumbai)
'Accha, Hindustan se aaye ho?' he smirked and replied. All this time staring at me from his rearview mirror.
Sam and I looked at each other and no one said a word for the next half hour till we got dropped at city center.
Things are different now. Oh, how I wish to find that man again.
Below is a journal entry I had written the day we arrived in Srinagar.
Been waiting for this day for three months. Finally have reached Srinagar and met up with Sam at the airport. The good thing about traveling with trekkers is that they don't complain about walking from place to place.
Other fun thing while traveling is to figure out the cheapest way of doing something. While looking for a place to stay today I asked a gentleman on the street who suggested we check out the Government Circuit House. Apparently he had come from Islamabad and worked in the insurance industry.
Anyway, when we reached the circuit house we realised it was right next to the Chief Minister's private office and other government officials offices also. There were a dozen guards outside, carrying guns. We made our way to the front desk as if we owned the place.
When I asked the receptionist how much were the rooms for, he looked me from head to toe and said 'no rooms'. OK! He must have judged me by the shorts and t-shirt I was wearing. After pleading for a few minutes, he asked to see my identification card.
At the airport I must have taken out my driver's license and couldn't find where I kept it. I took out my PAN card and handed that instead. Who carries a PAN card with them?
The second the receptionist saw the card, he flung out of his chair.
'Are you from the Income Tax Department, sir?' he asked.
'Sir, your card mentions Income Tax Department' he inquired again.
Apparently, every PAN card has those three words written on top of it. This guy was probably seeing it for the first time and I didn't give up the opportunity to have some fun.
'What else have I been saying to you for the past ten minutes. Do you think we will come all the way from Maharashtra to Srinagar without a booking?' I said in a high pitched voice.
The poor fellow picked up his rotary phone and rang someone in the back office. 'Two gentlemen from the IT Department are asking for a room, sir. They say their department made a booking but I don't see anything here'.
The receptionist put the phone down, looked at me in an apologetic way and said 'Extremely sorry for the inconvenience sir. Can you please write an application for a room and I will get it approved. In the meantime, please make your way to the dining hall and have lunch'.
What! It worked? Yes, I guess it had because the guy came to the dining hall while we were devouring our mutton to collect our bags and take them to our room.
The room was for 780/- and two mutton thaalis costed us 170/-. Unreal.