Thursday 2nd July – onwards and upwards

We left the houseboats for the final time this morning – I’m very glad John and I will be back next year!

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Houseboat life!

We’re now 1000 m higher up in Sonamarg, in a hotel which definitely won’t be getting star reviews on Tripadvisor, and starting to feel the effects of altitude. They messed us around by putting two people in a building well away from the other ten for starters.

Our visit to Dachigam National Park and the SOS Wildlife bear sanctuary this morning was good – Alia gave us an interesting talk on how the rescue service operates and the male bear, ‘Sahib’ ate his lunchtime fruit and chappatis without paying us any attention.

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We then had a short walk in the park itself looking at both the plant life and animal spoor – people were excited to see Himalayan black bear, leopard and pine marten prints and we saw many familiar-looking garden plants growing wild.

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Lychnis coronaria

The paddy fields around the park were at a much earlier stage in their growth this year – the shallow terraces are still flooded and the rice plants are a beautiful, fresh spring green.

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Rice paddy, Srinagar

Some crossed wires over lunch meant that, instead of having a picnic with us, we were expected at the Snowland hotel in Sonamarg for lunch.  However, as Sonamarg is over two hours drive from Srinagar, some of us ended up buying delicious fried pakora at a cafe next to the river Sindh where the drivers stopped for their lunch.  It was 4 pm by the time we arrived at Sonamarg and nearly 5 pm before we sat down for ‘lunch’ but the food was wirth waiting for. Sonamarg is absolutely full of tourists and pilgrims en route to Amarnath and a very different place to last year. As we came in to town there were horses and their owners everywhere and a rather pervasive smell of horse dung! The views are every bit as spectacular as last year though – we’ll have to see how tomorrow’s walk goes.

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Glacier opposite the Snowland Hotel, Sonamarg

None of the rooms in the Snowland Hotel are that great, it has to be said, but my room seems to have more idiosyncrasies than most. For some reason all the single rooms have a double bed, which has to be pushed up against the wall to make room to get in and means it feels very cramped. My room has three sockets – one doesn’t work and one is half way up the wall so, to boil the kettle, I have to perch it on the bed! The hot water is sporadic, to say the least, and the shower is not connected to a hot tap. The pigeons clattering around on the tin roof remind me of the vultures in Jos. The lovely view is its one redeeming feature!

I relaxed before dinner, served at 8.30pm after the Maghrib prayers.  This was a vegetarian buffet, because of the number of Hindu pilgrims staying in the hotel but was much better and more varied than the houseboat meals. The restaurant manager was also very helpful about adding some chicken tikka for those that wanted it. People generally seem philosophical about the state of the rooms, which is good – hope tomorrow will prove worth it.

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