The last day of driving to reach the starting block had arrived. It was a wet day. However, I started, as scheduled, at 6 am. I would not have minded a couple of cups of hot tea before starting the drive. But the ORH boys could be found nowhere. The 650 km to Jammu consisted of decent roads, but the drive was pockmarked by rain in many places.
Just as I was still counting my blessings of having escaped the Mukerian road block I spied a humongous traffic hold up just short of Kathua. The situation was so severe that many truck drivers told me that that they had been there for over two hours! The holdup seemed to have been caused by some accident ahead. I took the service lane and moved ahead some distance till I could no further. I parked the car and walked about talking to some more truck drivers to find if there is a way out of the morass. In a short while thereafter a driver came up to me and asked me to go back a couple of km and take a detour via a village road. He said that the small road would possibly accommodate my car! A Guardian Angel in disguise? I did as I was asked and took the village road that had become busy because of the highway block. Nevertheless, I made some progress and followed a few other vehicles to get back on to the Jammu highway after a detour of nearly 10 km. Nerve racking was the experience of driving on the canal bund road, but the clot had been breached. Just as I got on back to the highway I let out a huge sigh of relief and thanked the Almighty for the Guardian Angel, without who I would have been stuck in the traffic block for many hours.
I wondered what else awaited me before reaching Jammu. At the J&K border I was stopped by the police wanting to know why I am travelling alone! They explained that the route I was on was not safe even for a group, let alone for a solo driver. I did not know whether they were testing my resolve to go on or trying to scare me away! After I had convinced them about the purpose of my travel to the state I sped away as fast as I could to reach the Jammu ORH by about 2 pm. The journey had been eventful, to state the obvious, considering the day’s events. The ORH room in Jammu was large but damp. Most frustrating was that I could not connect to the internet due to poor connectivity. The rest house attendants were not very helpful either.
I took out most of the luggage to rearrange them for the expedition that would begin the next day. Warm clothes, food and water and medical kits were placed strategically. Once the repacking and rearrangement was done I went to the office of the Station Manager to get the requisite certification to signify the start of the expedition. He obliged my request over a cup of hot tea. Through a light drizzle I came back to the room and spend time on pending documentation. I also spent a few hours pouring over information of the route that I had with me. So this was to be it. The starting block was here. The car was cleaned and spruced up for the tough expedition ahead. I was ready to attempt what had never been done before, a solo Trans Himalayan Expedition. I was on schedule and did not feel tired either, having done 3627 km across 9 states in 8 days.