Hotel Kang La, Leh 9:00 am: "Okay Salim bhai.., thanks. Do visit our house when you come to Pune" We were giving our bye-bye remarks to Salim Bhai and his family. We have truly enjoyed this place. And this was our last hour in Leh. All packed, we sat in the SUV and headed to the National Highway (NH) 1. As usual we were hungry and took a stop at a roadside restaurant to relish some thukpa and maggi. I hoped this was the last time we were having maggi during this trip. We also found clean toilets (for the first time) behind the complex where the restaurant was situated.
With full stomach, we headed towards the magnetic hill region. These hills are alleged to have magnetic properties in it and hence your vehicle gets pulled automatically uphill.
Some reports say that it is an optical illusion however the experience is fun. We then crossed the Zanskaar and Indus river confluence. This huge confluence shows distinct difference in the color of water from both the rivers and makes us realize the the magnitude of nature's miracles. Same place, same soil, same air, same mountains and two different waters!! We were looking forward for many such miracles today. Why not?? We had begun our journey on one of the most beautiful roadways of the world.
Passing through half open cave-like structures, where Indus, ran with twice our speed, to our left and mountains engulfed our vehicle from right and top, we were thrilled. The roads were dusty and no signs of vegetation were seen. The more dangerous the roads became the more it seemed beautiful. You need a strong heart to enjoy this beauty. We saw stones with different shapes and we interpreted their shapes. One nearly 50 ft long stone looked like a conch shell standing still just above the river bank on our left.. while another one looked like a flower. As we moved ahead the river became milky because of the foam arising from the force of water passing through the stones and rocks. We were enjoying the ride with goosebumps.
Midway we stopped by the Aryan valley, beautiful trees loaded with orange coloured fruits were attracting us. These were ripe apricots.
Getting down the vehicle we plucked few apricots from the tree. It was fun. Sonam was all enthusiastic telling about his apricot farming during slack tourist season. He was a resident of Aryan Valley. We took the Batalik sector route instead of National highway 1 and were now approaching the Kargil region where 1999 India-Pakistan war took place. Sonam- our driver kept on narrating things which he had heard about the Indo Pak war. He being a resident of Aryan Valley which is adjacent to Kargil, he had witnessed some of the impacts of the war.
This region comprises a blend of, people- mangolians and aryans, and of the climatic conditions. The huge mountains welcomed tiny grass to grow on it. The raw nature had just begun to turn ripe. Flowers were blooming forming short and wide spread flower beds and seemed like they were greeting us as we entered the region. The transition was beautiful so was the route. We reached Drass in the afternoon, all excited to see the Kargil war memorial.
All my love for country, honour, trust for the soldiers and patriotism came together to choke up my throat with emotions. I was overwhelmed with the stories, pictures and explanations about war. But sad with the question on how can a human kill human? Why war? What is gained? No words could explain my feelings during the visit to the memorial. And no answers could overcome my sadness. Feeling proud about our soldiers we sat in our vehicle and traveled few minutes to enter the town- Drass.
We had planned our stay in Drass. Looking at the condition of hotel, we were booked in, we thought of travelling ahead till Srinagar, but Sonam refused as the road was risky. We just entered the hotel room which had broken window panes, shabby beds, dirty toilets and shady environment. But we had to stay as the only better hotel in the town was booked and we had no other option. We stayed and had only fruits for the dinner and bone chilling cold accompanied us for the sleep. The blankets were dirty but the cold overcame our hatred for the dirt. We left the place as soon as the Sun peeped out of the horizon. It was 4:00 am in the morning. This was the only morning, we started our journey an hour before decided time.
The adventurous road trip continued, the roads very really difficult to travel. Valleys and mountains, water and rocks, grass and sheep flocks, military and nature were all accompanying us through out the route. We had crossed many mountains and suddenly after a turn the scenery changed as if the child had just become adolescent and we start realizing the difference. The small grass, sparse trees and muddy mountains just transformed into dense pine trees all around.
Till the time we were getting acquainted with the sudden change in the viscinity, air and atmosphere, we crossed the valleys where we saw thousands of blue, yellow, orange structures in organized patterns. What are these structures? As we reached closer we found these structures to be the temporary tents. They were so many with half number of vehicle and frequent helicopter trips in the mountains. Confused, we asked Sonam, What??and he promptly said "tents for Amarnath Yatra pilgrims". As we crossed these valleys, we reached Sonmarg.
Sonmarg- the golden route. It is a beautiful town and it was flourishing with many tourists. We were looking at a busy street nearly after 7 days. This change in the number of people around us was quite unexpected. But slowly we realized that we are in one of the busiest tourist place in Kashmir valley. We stopped by a restaurants of many on the street- we had options (wink). We had a a filling punjabi breakfast of fried parathas here. Eating when you are hungry by stomach and by tongue is... a bliss..
We had crossed the most difficult motorable road in this stretch of journey. The journey ahead was soothing- soothing for eyes, for mind and for the car. River flowing on our left as if rushing to meet someone in such a speed and enthusiasm. hills on our right with lots and lots of trees. It was pleasingly difficult adjusting our eyes to the greenery. Notinh is enough to capture the images on the road. Flowers, trees, river, people all beautiful. Even a broken tree trunk fallen in the river looked beautiful. How can some place be so beautiful?
Looking, absorbing, experiencing the beauty we reached near Srinagar. We stopped by a roadside shop to check if we could buy some Kashmiri clothing. We purchased few pieces for our loved ones as sovereigns. We enjoyed the Kahwa tea in the nearby place and left the place to reach Srinagar...