Day 4 : 12 August 2013 : Udhampur – Srinagar – Kargil
Finally, we crossed Udhampur around 0030 hrs and took left for Srinagar. Reached Jawahar Tunnel at 0238 and while we were trying to take some pic at the entry point, a security personnel came and advised against it. We paid heed to the instructions and drove forward in the tunnel, crossing it by 0315 hrs to be welcomed by the “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” board.
We reached Srinagar early in the morning around 0420 and as decided, pressed the pedal to cross at least Zojila and then break for the day in Ladakh valley. We crossed Dal lake and it was barely visible in the darkness, except for the lights in Shikaras hence couldn’t take any decent photo (the DSLRs were still in the bag as the stress to cross J&K valley was still on mind).
Finally were able to cross entire Srinagar by 0510 hrs.
The daybreak was about to happen at 0540 and the first ray of sun hit the mountain tops at 0612 hrs. It was then that we were able to soak in the green and white vistas of Kashmir valley.
We reached the landslide area before Sonmarg at 0634 and oh boy! What a major landslide it was! The road for around 300 mtrs has disappeared and it was mud, slush and water all across.
The BRO were still working and by the time we reached, they were somehow able to create one lane of clearing so that one vehicles can cross at a time.
Even with the high GC, out XUV took two underbelly scrapes while crossing the stretch. Thanks to BRO, we were able to cross it. Later I learnt from HVK that yesterday Rohit had to return from the landslide site back to Srinagar. I communicated the status to HVK and in turn he informed Rohit that the site was now open so that he can also start.
For the first time during the trip, we saw turquoise water flowing besides the road – it was River Sindh flowing in all it’s glory.
Just before entering Sonamarg, I also captured an interesting formation of ice deposit on the mountain. I call it “Eye in the Sky”!
At around 0700, we were welcomed by a board announcing that we have entered Sonamarg.
True to it’s name “Meadows of Gold” it had huge meadows and horses can be seen grazing.
We came across a group of Army cadets undergoing their training, true to the name of the “School” – HAWS or High Altitude Warfare School.
And then of course we saw the Thajiwas glacier. Pity that the snow this season seemed to be too less. Probably an effect of the heard mentality that tourists like us have – let’s go in hoards to any place which has become accessible.
Soon after, the ascend started and the road condition started detoriating. After crossing the Baltal base camp approach road, the road (or was it?) condition worsened and we learnt why Zoji La is also called the Godzilla of passes.
A recent landslide had taken the road with it and a water stream was gushing through the make-shift path. We thought that our vehicle with relatively large GC would be able to cross it without any issues. However, one mistake by our driver at the moment – Cheena, sent shiver waves down our spines. He decided to splash some water and took the car between the ditch. The car took an underbelly hit and as he slowed, the fornt right tyre spinned slightly skidding to right and Cheena had to reverse. With a path that was makeshift and the stones shifting, reversing on a curve on gradiant itself was dangerous. We all stepped down to ease the load and cheena somehow reversed the car. I receed the appropriate hard surface that the car can take and guided Cheena to drive through in a single go. We made it!!
Further ahead, the road appeared splitted with one fork appearing going a slight uphill and the another one, with stones all over, had a steep climb. Not sure which one to take, we sought the opinion of a truck driver whom we had crossed earlier and he advised of taking the left fork, the gradual ascent one stating that the right one was full of landslides. We abided and driving through the rocks/stones/water/slush we approached a board announcing that we were at Zojila. Damn! It seems that the stone marker for Zoji La was on the other route!! No problem, some other time. Oh yes! and by this time, the gravel route changed to a road made of cement blocks. The watch read 0850 hrs.
I looked in all directions and was disappointed – not a single peak had snow whereas I’ve seen pics of the place being full of them 🙁
We went to the small War memorial and paid our tributes. Had been reading stories of the tank invasion by General Thimaiyya, but it was altogether different experience being at the place. Overwhelmed. A lousy curse was transmitted telepathically to Pakistan!
Having driven through the entire night, a small refreshment stall just next to the memorial was all that we needed at that point. Some samosas and cold drinks to be stuffed in some leathery bags secured by the worlds toughest material – enamel 😀
We also took the opportunity to test our newly acquired Quechuas in the nearby rivulet – they stood up to their reputation!! And of course the crystal clear turquoise water – Uff!!
By 0930, we started again, the target being some place to rest for the day and the logical place was Kargil. However, just after starting, we noticed the change in colours of the mountains and from green, it was now changing to various colours, primarily brown – the dominant colour of Ladakh. The vistas enroute also meant frequent photo-ops which ultimately meant slow driving.
Some more shots and vista enroute…
We came across a huge army convoy.. we started counting and then lost the count after 50+ trucks. Later, Rohit (meeting shortly) confirmed that it comprised of a whopping 78 trucks!
While we stopped at a place for photo-op, not too far from Zoji La, HVK informed that Rohit is approaching Zoji La in an MH numbered Safari.
Couple of minutes later, we saw a safari and waved it to stop. Indeed it was Rohit accompanied with a friend. I introduced myself to Rohit and he immediately recognized as he also had been getting updates from HVK about me! A little chit-chat later, Rohit invited us for a cup of tea at Drass. We stopped at Drass for the cuppa (in fact two) and some “fane” bang opposite the tourist reception centre. Rohit informed that this time they are only doing the Zanskar valley. They enquired about a route that goes from Drass directly to Rangdum. Unfortunately they were told that there had been lots of landslides and the road is blocked at multiple places, thus they’ll have to go via Kargil only. We said bye to each other and then started towards Kargil, Drass river giving us company alongside the road.
We stopped at the Kargil War Memorial to pay our respect and tribute to the brave soldiers who laid their lives, aptly written somewhere “We gave our present for your better future”. A second lousy curse was again transmitted telepatically to Pakistan!! We also had some maggi at the small canteen run by the army.
After spending about an hour at the memorial, we started again around 1230 hrs and on way, we saw the board marking way to BhimBhat – a place where the supposedly stonified body of Bhim (from Mahabharata) could be seen. The legend says that all the Pandavas, except Yudhisthir fell down on their ascend to heaven and this was the place where Bhim fell. Being too tired by now, we decided to move ahead. We also missed Draupadi Kund as we didn’t find any signages pointing the directions. This we realised only after we reached Kargil!
The road condition further deteriorated and it was pure gravel that we were driving on. Just before entering Kargil, we came across Harka Bahadur Memorial. A third lousy curse was transmitted towards Pakistan!!! For those who do not know, Subedar Harka Bahadur was the platoon commander of the gallant 1/5 Royal Gorkha Rifles who swam across the icy cold Shingo (Suru?) river and forced Pakistanis to withdraw from Kargil to go beyond the LAC during 1948.
Paying our homage, we moved forward to Kargil and reached D’Zojila Hotel – our destination for the day by 1415 hrs. The Suru river was now giving us company.
After occupying the rooms and getting freshened up, the body started demanding refuelling. It was about 1500 hrs and when we asked the hotel guys and they said that the food was finished and it would take some time to prepare food for us. Never mind, we can have something to eat in the Market and so we started towards the market. The hotel is situated good 2-3 kms from the market and after a long walk, we started enquiring about the food. To our surprise, about the 15 plus restaurants and dhabas that we checked, only one had food available and the person running the restaurant was like “ummm.. I don’t care whether you eat here or not. It won’t cause me any damage”. Even after waiting for about half an hour, we couldn’t get a seat (and I thought I would try the wazwaan that I missed at Srinagar!). We tried asking him to provide seats but his apathy towards us led us out of the restaurant. Ultimately, we didn’t find anything in any restaurants and most were like “khaana khatam ho gaya hai”.
I remembered people referencing to an old guy in the main market selling Kebabs at Rs 20 a stick. Let’s search for the guy. After lots of wandering here and there, we finally found him in the car parking and guess what – a dustbin was his stand for the bar-be-queue! We decided to ignore the dustbin for two reasons – one, we were really hungry and two, you discover real delicacies in such a places. We enquired the rates and indeed it was Rs 20 a stick. We decided to give it a try. Strangly enough, he took one stick of kebabs, put it on a “roti” kind of thing and powered some chutney. Then he asked us to go on the other side of road, sit on the steps of shops there and then eat. He kind of insisted!
And then we discovered – there is nothing great about the kebabs, in fact they are pathetic! Urghh!!
Disappointed and with still empty stomachs, we came back to the Hotel and asked the hotel guy to prepare food. And guess what the answer was “sir ab to dinner ban raha hai, khaana nahin milega ab”. We asked him if we can have some tea and pakodas, to which he agreed and then we noticed the lone apricot tree in the hotel campus, laden with ripe apricots. We asked the guy if we can have some fresh apricots. Now this was amazing! He climbed up the tree and picked up a lot of ripe apricots in a bag. Finally, we had some apricots, pakodas, some biscuits from our own stock and tea for luch at 1740hrs!
Dinner was early and boy! what a sumptuous dinner it was!! We gorged on the chicken like we haven’t had them in years!
Just as we finished our dinner and were having another cup of tea. Vishwas called. They had also reached Kargil and were at the JKTDC guest house. They were also not able to find any place to have dinner and he asked if he and gang can come up to our Hotel for the dinner. I enquired with the Hotel Guy “Sharma ji” and he told us the rates “600 per person”. I conveyed the rate to Vishwas and also told him that the items on the menu were worth it. By the time it started raining and Vishwas told that since his driver was a local, he had gone to his home with the car and coming to the hotel meant being completely drenched. Plan cancelled!
Finally, we took stock of the situation of our plan vis-a-vis actuals. We had already spent the 3rd day and still at Kargil! 15th would be a national holiday and Leh DC office would be closed. This meant we have to take the permits on 14th morning, which evidently meant that we start tomorrow itself to Leh. Drang Drung and Suru valley will have to wait.. probably some other time. 🙁
Called up Vishwas and intimated of our plan to go to Leh the next day. Since our plans were coinciding, decided to meet in the morning at the Petrol bunk and then start together to Leh.
Having reviewed everything, plan re-adjusted and with stomachs full, we called it a day off and retired for the night.
Total Distance covered: Approx 456 Kms
Driving Directions from Tikri to Kargil: Keep on driving on NH1A and take the right fork at Bye-Pass chowk just before Udhampur to circumvent the city traffic hustle-bustle. Keep on driving the bypass road without taking any left or right cut and it automatically joins NH1A back after passing the city. Continue driving and pass by Kud, famous for Patisa, and then Patni Top. Keep straight on NH1A and pass by Batote, Ghanauta and Peerah. Drive along Chenab river on NH1A and pass by Chanderkote and Tanger. Just after Tanger turn right on Krole bridge to cross Chenab and drive ahead with Chenab river on your left. Pass by Ramban. Further ahead (near Marog), the road turns automatically to right and leaves Chenab river now to accompany one of it’s tributaries. Pass by SBI, Ramsoo and keep on NH1A along side the tributary to pass by Banihal. Drive ahead and enter Jawahar Tunnel, exit the tunnel to reach Qazigund. Driving further ahead, reach Anantnag and turn left at the junction of NH1A and NH1B to remain on NH1A. Drive along Jhelum river on NH1A and pass by Bijbehara and Awantipura reaching Pantha Chowk.
At this point (just opposite DPS), take the right fork of the road to be on NH1D, also called Srinagar-Ladakh highway (NH1A is the left fork, crosses Jhelum and goes towards Baramulla). You may continue on NH1D to pass by Anchar lake or take Hazratbal road to pass through Nagin Lake on your left and Dal on your right. Drive ahead and rejoin NH1D to cross River Sind after Wayul. From here on, there is only one major road, NH1D and River Sind gives you company throughout to reach Sonamarg. Cross the river twice again through the course of Sonamarg and start ascend to Zoji La. After crossing Zozi La, continue on the road and now Drass River will be giving company from Gumri. Since NH1D is the only major road, there shouldn’t be any confusion of any deviation and you can easily pass by Drass. Just after Drass settlement is the Kargil War Memorial to your left and then the road to Bhimbhat again on left. Pass by Kharbu post which you come across the confluence of Drass and Shingo river and further ahead the confluence of Shingo and Suru river giving you company. Henceforth, the river is know as Suru only and gives you company till Kargil.
To reach Hotel D’Zoji La, you do not cross the bridge on Suru River (NH1D goes to the other side by crossing the river) and rather take the right fork towards Kargil Market. Just after the Indane Gas Agency in the market, One-way road starts, and hence you take left at the crossing and drive towards the river and then naturally turn right driving along the river to come back again at the main road. Couple of hundreds of meters ahead, you arrive at the Hotel.