Srinagar, April 21: Shrouded in secrecy, the second caravan of peace rolled out from the highest security zone in the Valley this morning, but not before authorities played a little trick to throw militants off the scent.
Around 8.15, two decoy buses, accompanied by pilot vehicles and an ambulance, left the Nehru Guest House area, 15 minutes before the two real peace buses set out for Muzaffarabad, the capital of the other Kashmir.
'This is routine when you want to throw somebody off the scent,' said a senior police officer here.
'There was a last-minute change of route as well,' added a paramilitary official.
The Kaarwan-e-Aman ' or caravan of peace as the buses are called ' quietly left the departure venue, which had been kept a closely guarded secret, and took the Badamibagh Cantonment road on Srinagar's outskirts, not the route through the heart of the city. Both roads join the Srinagar-Uri Highway.
The national highway was virtually taken over by security forces to ensure that the buses reached Kaman Bridge, its destination at the line that divides the two Kashmirs, unscathed like the April 7 inaugural bus.
Army, paramilitary and police contingents were stationed every 10 metres along the highway while mine detection squads, sniffer dogs and road-opening parties had been moved out since dawn to prevent any attack by militants who had threatened to turn the buses into moving coffins. Even the media were kept away from today's event.
Kashmir director-general of police Gopal Sharma flew in from Jammu to the departure venue, near Raj Bhavan, to supervise security arrangements.
In all, 38 passengers set off for the 119-km journey to Kaman Bridge. Of them, 26 were new passengers, up from the 19 that took the first bus. The rest were those who had come to Srinagar by the first bus and were returning.
In Muzaffarabad, 25 passengers boarded the bus to Srinagar. Fourteen were Indians who had taken the first bus to the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and were coming back home. Only 11 were new passengers. Thirty passengers had taken the first bus to Srinagar.
'I'm extremely happy. I'm thankful to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf,' said Mirza Zahid Baig, from PoK, moments before he crossed into the Indian side.
'If allowed, I would never go back,' said Fareeda Begum, 65, who was on her way back to Muzaffarabad.
'I will be back soon,' she told her relatives before leaving the Valley.