11th July 2011
We had a long distance to cover to reach our destination. Hence we got ready at 6 in the morning. Our hosts of the Rainbow guest house had also woken up early to wish us a nice journey. An emotional moment for us considering the hospitality they extended throughout our stay. We could not have asked for anything more. It is rare to get such treatment during travel.
Our destination of the day was Drass on Leh-Srinagar highway. As the Scorpio we travelled earlier did not have permits to enter into Kashmir valley, we were provided with a new vehicle and the driver. Very soon we were out of Leh and were cruising on smooth roads of Leh-Srinagar highway. The drive would be along Indus River for most of the journey.
The first point we stopped was at magnetic hill. Lot of people says it as just hype and it was so. It is said that cars get pulled due to magnetic interference but we did not experience any such thing. Our next stop was at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib. Situated next to the highway, it built in memory of Guru Nanak. Legend says that when Guru Nanak was meditating, a demon pushed a large boulder towards Guru Nanak. But when the boulder touched Guru’s body, it softened like warm wax. The demon on realizing Guru’s spiritual power gave up its evil deeds. The same boulder is now worshipped in Gurudwara.
We crossed Nimmo, the confluence of Zanskar and Indus River. We had our breakfast at a hotel nearby and continued our journey. We had three monasteries to visit in our itinerary. The first was Likir which was five km from the main road. Situated on a high hill it was built in 9th century. The major attraction here is a 25ft Buddha statue.
Alchi Monastery was next in the way. Unlike other monasteries, Alchi is situated on a plain land. What I liked was the Indus River flowing behind the monastery. Like many monasteries in Ladakh Alchi has an entrance fee. While we were just looking around the place, a monk questioned why we haven’t yet paid the money!! We had not even entered the monastery!! Those monks seemed to be infected by commercialization.
At one place, we were moving along a narrow road along Indus River with gigantic mountains on our left. The landscape (or moonscape!!) at this location was amazing. So far in our journey, we had not encountered such a scene. And it was for the same reason we were trying out various locations in Ladakh!! Every place and location offered something new!!
We passed though the town of Lamayuru famous for its monastery. We spent very little time there as we had a long distance to cover. The monastery is just next to the road.
The road after Lamayuru turned bad. The journey was rough and dusty. Adding to our woes, the sun was blazingly hot. We crossed two small passes of Fotu La and Namikha La. After covering the mighty passes, these looked extremely simple!!
At about two in the afternoon, we reached the dusty village of Mulbek. A giant rock statue of Buddha is this village. But strangely the statue did not look anywhere close to Buddha. It was more resembling Vishnu or Shiva!! But not surprising considering our history full of such stuff.
We had our lunch at a bad hotel in Mulbek. There was no other option. Kargil was still 35km away.
The landscape changed a bit as we neared Kargil. More greenery was visible!! The driver found that one of the tyre was punctured and lot of time wasted in a filthy repair shop. The driver seemed to be a difficult person to handle. He wanted to stay in Kargil and start at 1AM in the night. That was an outrageous demand. Couple of calls with our travel agent made the driver to obey us!! Finally, we started from Kargil at 5PM.
The road after Kargil passes very near to Pakistan border. The boards like “You are under enemy observation” started to appear. All this brought the Kargil war memories back. At one point walls were erected next to the road so that the Pakistanis do not see the light of moving vehicle in the night. During war, lot of army people died due to shelling on this highway. But I could not see all these things in details as there an altercation with the driver.
Kargil to Drass is about 60km. We had a major place to cover on this route and that was the main reason was pushing the driver to reach Drass. It was Kargil war memorial. The memorial opened in 2009 is next to the highway in Tololing ranges. It houses the memorial for 527 brave soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. The memorial has all the names of the martyrs written on the wall.
The memorial touches the heart in many ways. Just a decade back we have seen our army men sacrificing their lives for the nation and their names are still fresh in our minds. Captial Vikram Bhatra, Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, Captian Anuj Nayyar, Major Padmapani Acharya…. The list is long. The photos of men who have won gallantry awards are in display and many of them are not with us. As I silently looked at these real heroes, my eyes were wet. A similar feeling has engulfed me in Rezang La memorial.
Behind the memorial are the hill ranges that were in invaded by Pakistan. Tiger Hill where the most horrific and decisive battle was fought was seen. Looking at the sheer size and shape of the hill, the difficulty of the battle can be imagined.
It was already dark by the time we came out of the memorial. It took about 15 minutes to reach the Drass town. We were warned about the accommodation in the town but luckily we got room in J&K tourist guest house. At Rs 100/- per head it was the cheapest accommodation of our trip. Drass is said to the second coldest inhabited place on the earth. In winter temperatures drop as low as -40°C!!