As a child, I often wondered if destinations described in mythical stories were real. And if they weren't I would spend hours thinking about what the places would be like if they did exist.
One such destination en route Drass from Zoji La, stands proof of the fact that sometimes stories transform into reality. This is Draupadi Kund, a magical little lake, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and the misty blue sky. There are many stories attached to this lake. A belief exists that here, in Pandaras, a village on the outskirts of Drass is where Draupadi, the daughter of King Panchala in Mahabharata, bathed before finally ascending to the heavens in reach of the higher Himalayas. Locals also believe that drinking the water of this lake can help couples conceive. There is even a small temple near the lake that has been built in the honour of Draupadi.
Draupadi Kund often goes ignored by travellers who are in a hurry to reach Drass, the world's second coldest inhabited place. With nothing but a flimsy government board giving directions to the water body, nobody seems to have a clue about this paradise hidden in plain sight.
Draupadi Kund is situated in a hamlet called Pandaras, on the Srinagar-Leh Highway, 75km away from Kargil, at an altitude of 3,300m. It is the only high altitude lake in the region of Drass, and has fascinated everyone who has made an effort to visit and appreciate its beauty. The water reflects every hue of the sky in summers, and as the season changes, so does the colour of this lake; from blue then green and to white in winter. Scientists who have explored the lake believe that the water at the bottom of this lake does not freeze even on the coldest day.
Draupadi Kund, an astounding discovery carefully tucked away from the occasional passer-by, is meant to be thoroughly explored on your next road trip to Ladakh. This gives you another reason to look beyond the usual places to see in Drass. Explore this adventurous town and other places of interest such as the Brigade War Memorial and the Mushkoh Valley, that are not frequented by tourists.
How to reach:
Pandaras is situated on National Highway 1 that connects Kashmir to Ladakh. Regular buses ply on this route, from Leh in Ladakh to Srinagar in Kashmir. Draupadi Kund is 17km away from Drass. You can either hire a car, or take a local bus to the lake.
Where to stay:
If you are planning to make Drass a stopover on your way to either Leh or Srinagar, there are many good places for you to spend the night in this town, or in Kargil, which is just an hour away. You can pick the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department Guesthouses (call +91-9560-788884 to check for availability), which are the most credible. Take a look at this itinerary for a detailed plan for your trip to Drass and around.
What to do:
– The Drass War Memorial stands as an ode to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in this valley.
– Brigade War Museum displays stories of courage and valour shown by martyrs from the Indian Defence Forces in the 1999 war.
– Manman Top: A view point from where you can see a panorama of the Drass Valley.
– The Bheem Bat rock is a cemented horizontal piece of rock considered to be a body part of 'Bheem', a Pandava from the stories in Mahabharata. This rock structure is surrounded by a circle of stones to protect it. The locals believe that this rock has healing powers and leave their cattle to graze in the fields nearby.
- Chorkiat Forest has a wide variety of wildlife indigenous to this region.
Just like Draupadi Kund, many such breathtaking places go unnoticed. Travel the usual routes, but take some time to really explore the local villages, and places of interest. Every destination has an interesting story to tell. Places such as these are waiting for a friendly traveller to come and say hello!
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