I feared that the second day of the Trans Himalayan Expedition from Srinagar to Kargil would be beset with problems caused by heavy downpours the previous evening and even in the night. When I got ready and went out to survey the external environment I was completely taken in by the low hanging mist and the scenic backdrop of the Camp. It looked so surreal and captivating. Despite many calls to breakfast I stood there admiring Mother Nature. Breakfast consisted of toast and omelettes and a couple of cups of excellent coffee. The Mess charge was very reasonable and the comfort, food and attention were of the highest level.
Eventually the 225 km to Kargil was done in 7 hours. The road conditions up to Dras, nearly 140 km, was quite indifferent; the road is unrecognisable as NH 1D. For most of its route the NH 1D moves through difficult and, often, treacherous terrain. Those who travel through the route can catch glimpses of the historic trade route with Indus River in the background most of the time. Heavy snow during winter forces closure of the road between November and April. Road maintenance is affected due to avalanches. Highlight of the drive to Dras was the rough ride over the Zoji La at 11649
feet. The underdone roads that wind through jagged rocky sentinels on both sides of the road and amazing scenery take your mind away from the treacherous route and the rarefied air. I enjoyed the drive all through; it was most enjoyable all the way. Light drizzle added to the romance of the drive. I had travelled through the Zoji La in 2008 by a J&K transport bus. I had enjoyed the drive then, but I got to see more of the road and the sheer drops while travelling this time. Just as I was almost done with the Zoji La I saw a lot of army personnel walking about talking busily on their mobile phones. Two of them waved my car down and sought a lift to their camp in Ghumri. Apparently, they do not get phone signals in their camp and hence come down to the base of the Pass to make calls to their near and dear!
Dras is considered as the second coldest place on the earth, the first being Siberia. Winter temperature goes down to as low as minus 45 degrees Celsius. Dras is the first major village after Zoji La and is known as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’. The Kargil War Memorial, with the Tololing ranges in the background, is on NH 1D in Dras. The Memorial serves as a poignant reminder of those patriots who laid down their lives in service of our country during the 1999 conflict with Pakistan. The 60 km stretch of road from Dras to Kargil is superb.
I was booked to stay in the Tourist Facilitation Centre in Kargil. With hills surrounding the property and the River Indus flowing effortlessly beside it the TFC is a serene place to stay. It was not a fancy place to stay in terms of decor. The TFC also has a restaurant which serves very basic fare. Once I had put the luggage into the room and tried without success to hook on to the internet I decided on a long walk by the River. It was the right way to unwind and prepare for the drive next day to Leh. The gurgling sounds of the smoothly flowing river, lively chatter of school children and vendors trying hard to impress potential buyers were all part of the sweep of the small town.
While returning to the TFC I dropped into a Hotel and asked if I could use their WiFi to update on Facebook. The owner readily agreed. However, despite all the assistance, the network would not permit uploads. Was very disappointed, to say the least. At the TFC restaurant I had a dal roti dinner and hit the sack for an early morning get away.