"The Best Journey is the one that gives us life experience."
All of us keep looking for getaways, away from our routine and monotonous life. Irrespective of it being a short unplanned getaway or an elaborately chalked out well funded escape to a dream destination, for me such journeys have always been the avenue to expand my horizons both literally & figuratively. New experiences that we have, the places we visit, the people we meet, their culture everything affects our personality. All of this influences our thinking, our beliefs and a lot more.
India is a diverse country by all means, be it nature, geography, culture, language, people or food. A lot of backpackers from around the world pick India as their destination majorly because of its diversity & colorful culture. Among many such places in India, the latest trend is to visit Leh-Ladakh. I, like everyone else was mesmerized by the beautiful mountains, roads of Ladakh that I had seen in movies, but what I always wondered was, what is it that drives people so crazy about the place, that every year at least a few of my friends want to plan for Ladakh trip. The answer is not in the words, it takes a real experience to know it.
Me and one of my friends decided to plan our Leh-Ladakh trip for Jul-Aug 2018. Everything was super exciting right from the planning, shopping till the actual journey. Our journey commenced from Srinagar. I was excited just by a thought of visiting the heaven on earth, Kashmir. We took the local shared cab from Srinagar for our first destination, Kargil. When our friends got to know that we, two girls, are planning to travel by local transport from Srinagar to Kargil and later from Kargil to Leh, many of our friends grew concerned for us travelling by public transport at an unknown place. But since the arrangements were already made, we had no other option. The moment we reached Srinagar; the situation on the streets was indeed tensed. We could see the army men almost at every corner, on top of the 1& 2 storey buildings, shops and all at an early hour of the day. A scene we have never really witnessed before. I wondered how difficult daily life there would be especially for kids.
In our cab no one was talking for good half an hour. The driver would talk to the people at the self-proclaimed toll gates (without any "toll gate" though) we were halting at and other passersby, all in Kashmiri. I was alert all the time to keep an eye (and ear) on whatever was happening around since we were new there and although I understood nothing of what they were conversing, I was just anxious. Other than two of us all other passengers in our cab were locals and since no one was speaking, we thought they don't understand Hindi. So even we chose to be silent. After a while, one of the co-passengers initiated the conversation with us. He was returning home to Kargil along with his sister. We learnt that he went to Srinagar along with his sister for shopping for her wedding. Our conversation began with discussing our plan for next few days in Kargil & Ladakh and slowly we started to discuss about the life in the region there. When you speak to the Locals there you will come to know how sweet they are despite the tough and trying terrain and daily life.
Throughout our journey we could literally feel we were travelling through the heaven on Earth. From Dal Lake, Chinar donned mountains, Zhelam river running along the road... and some Kashmiri Music playing in our cab...!! Everything that I had always heard of about Kashmir; I was experiencing it live. Every view from the cab was mesmerizing. It was a perfect beginning of our trip...!! 🙂
Enrout Srinagar to Kargil we took a tea break at a small village called Kangan. It was a marketplace. People were selling fresh Kashmiri Apples and Dry fruits. The Co-passenger who was doing the story telling suggested us to try Namkin tea and some local food like Kashmiri roti and Kababs for the breakfast. The foodie in me couldn't resist. We were pleasantly welcomed by the hotel owner as well as other customers with smiles on their faces. They greeted us like they knew us... Everyone was friendly and welcoming.... And this was our experience everyplace we went in Kashmir & Ladakh.
Few kilometers ahead of Sonmarg we started traversing the High mountain pass, Zozi-la (pass), which connects Kashmir and Dras and is also known as gateway to Ladakh. Zozi-la is the most beautiful yet scary route. I felt it's not the road for the weak hearted people at al. The narrow roads, no barricades on the edges, steep valley and both way heavy vehicle traffic was scary. When we started the drive through Zozila it had already begun to pour heavily making the roads a lot trickier for the drivers, but the scenery was mesmerizing. We chose to focus on the beauty of the nature...!!!! 😉
We gotto know that the construction of a tunnel was the work in progress on this road to make the drive through this region convenient and safe. But a thought crossed my mind, will the charm & thrill of the drive still be the same if we must take the route through the tunnel. And then I really felt blessed to have arrived here before that happens. 😊
When we enter Ladakh region; the terrain changes dramatically. Till Sonamarg we could see the lush green mountains. Even from Zozila's we could see those mountains far at a distance. As you travel further on Zozila the greenery starts disappearing and on the other side of zozila you see meadows replacing the trees. You can see the vast land and roads far at a distance in just one glance. I was thrilled when we were crossing the chain of more than 15-20 Army Trucks. That was the kind of scene I had seen in Bollywood movies.
The reason I decided to take Srinagar- Kargil - Leh route was to visit Kargil and the Kargil War Memorial. On the way, few miles away from zojila, in Dras region there is Kargil War Memorial. It was established in the memory of Martyrs of Kargil war 1999. You can literally feel the patriotism in the Air. You feel it and breath it as soon as you step inside the memorial.
We reached Kargil around 3- 4 hrs. past noon. Tired from the journey since the previous evening till this evening. However, we were not ready to give up. That was the only evening we had in Kargil and we wanted to make most of it and visit some well-known place there. After a suggestion from the hotel staff we decided to visit Hunderman village up the mountain. It is the last village on Indo-Pak border in Kargil. This was the loneliest village I had ever visited. As our vehicle was taking the scenic route uphill, we started noticing the Indo-Pak border and the Military posts on both sides of the border far at a distance. That was the 'goosebumps' moment. We got an opportunity to talk to the Army men on one of the posts. The dedication and love for the motherland with which they do their duties in extreme situations is inexplicable. One can only respect these heroes!!
Hunderman, which once was home to many villagers, is now converted into a museum. As the result of numerous wars in the past the border kept shifting and as a result of that Hunderman kept shifting between becoming a part of India and then Pakistan. Villagers who once stayed there are now migrated either to the other side of the border or in the new village next to Hunderman, called Hunderman Brok.
One of the houses in the 'village turned into Museum' was ancestral home of our guide. We got to know a lot of stories as we went through the collection in the museum. Those were the memories of the villagers reflecting their culture. We witnessed the stuff they used for the daily chores to the very old letters they received from their loved ones, those had to migrate across the border. Later these houses were converted into Pakistani army bunkers. There still are many memories of the wars around this village.
There are a lot of challenges staying near the National borders. The risk of life, extreme weathers makes life in such places really challenging, no modern education system for the kids, no leisure food or lifestyle, not even basic facilities... Despite all of this the people are warm with a smile on their faces grin in their eyes.. That left me wondering..... !!
"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." ― Pat Conroy