I had quit decathlon in late November to focus on my Russian classes. So now, I am pretty much perpetually broke and if I tell my parents I am going to Kashmir in the middle of the semester, they will probably ask me to refund the semester fee and never come back. 

So I thought out this ingenious plan were I would be making almost 500 rupees per day exercising. Yes you heard it right.


Read this article and you will realise how an insane idea can get you fit and also get you money. ( COMING SOON)

But that plan didn’t work out as my knees developed this acute pain every time I cycled over a long distance. This came as a result of the run against time trip to Sreehari kotta. I didn’t want to put my long term health at risk so I dropped the idea. Now I was broke and counter productively, came back fat after the December break. Not how I expected things to go.

But in early January, Akash gives me the number of a person he met in Kashmir. Akash told me that he was the guy I should talk to with regards to anything concerning Kashmir. His name is Hilal. I started calling him Hilal Ikka (brother in Malayalam). Cause, (trust me, you wont believe it, unless you see it for yourself) he speaks fluent Malayalam. No, not the “Ennik Malayalam korechu korechu ariyam” (the most rudimentary phrase in Malayalam that means ‘I know a little Malayalam’). But he talks like he’s lived there for a while, and with the infamous Thrissur accent. He is an enigma, and a person who will be a recurring character in this story. He might be the only Kashmiri who speaks fluent Malayalam. But you never know. 

I call him up and we get acquainted and we develop this relationship where he would send me the weather, road and other relevant news for me from Kashmir. But most of it was about a landslide which killed 3 people and how incessant snow fall had cut off the highway. But he never hid anything from me, I respect him for that. He made me aware of the fact that getting there would be a bit of challenge and he didn’t sugar coat anything. This went on for a few weeks.

Then Dassapan comes into the picture. If you don’t know who that is. Check this out. 

As I mentioned there, his insatiable appetite for adventure put some renewed energy in me. He was all in for the trip and even put out this story on Instagram claiming that we would do the trip in less than Rs 4000. Too good to be true? Let’s see. 

But there comes a time in a man’s life where he has to prioritise himself and his family above all else and Das had to do that. I was really looking forward to going with him, but as fate would have it, I would be flying solo. But I can’t underplay the influence Das had on the trip. We were literally minutes away from booking a ticket for ourselves before I told him to not to come and to prioritise himself over the trip. 


So Hilal Ikka suggested I get in contact with someone who was part of Real Kashmir’s fan club. At that point of time, there weren’t any pages on Instagram which identified itself as a fan club of RKFC. So I just went to Real Kashmir’s official page and I messaged up the first person who made a comment. It was a certain muzi_khan958. I just said Hi and a few days later I got a reply. We developed this habit of wishing each other well before every Kashmir game. And soon enough, Muzi offered to host me at his house when I made the trip. I was ecstatic at that point, I was dancing in the library bathroom when he said that. Now, I could get the authentic experience of staying in a Kashmiri household and could really immerse myself in the culture of the place and build relationships with real people. I was on cloud 9 at that point.

One last favour from Decathlon

Even at that point, I was still broke and had no clue what to do about the money. I was caught in this quandary as to how to make this happen. But like a divine omen, I get this message that almost 11k is credited in my account. Oh my God, this is the money I got once I sold the shares I had bought when I was in Decathlon. It took almost 2 months to process it, but the money couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. I was over the moon, it was like the universe telling me – “Yadu, you have to make this trip.” And I decided it was time to listen to the universe. Since I didn’t have enough money for a flight, I booked a train which treads 2800 Kms through 9 states, taking 60 hours for the journey. The longest train journey of my life. Train number 16032, Andaman Express. I think I was be the only passenger from the starting station to the end. Chennai central to Jammu Tawi. (Technically the last station is Vaishno Devi Katra, Tawi is two stations before that.) 

And I booked my ticket.

When you book a ticket, it’s like making a statement to yourself, that you are committed 100% to this. 

I booked my tickets in such a way that I would be able to watch UNITED vs PSG in the station and then get on the train and sleep it off. (Ironically, I didn’t wanna wake up after Di Maria walked out of Old Trafford with that grin on his face.)

So a few days before the game, I go meet my Periya Annan (Big brother) figure, Raja. He hates when I say this, but he was my boss at Decathlon. Luckily for me, he had gone to Kashmir just a week before. Decathlon was conducting this skiing workshop in Gulmargh, Kashmir and I was so lucky to get some much needed insights from Raja. The most relevant insight was that our SIMS (prepaid) wouldn’t work within the borders of Jammu and Kashmir. I didn’t know this till the very last minute or otherwise I would have converted my SIM to postpaid early on. That was a pointer which would help me save so much time. Decathlon and Raja were generous enough to lend me a down jacket and a fleece so that I wont die of hyperthermia. Decathlon is one family I can always go back to. 


Rajappan and Sharanya in Gulmarg.



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