Ladakh Diaries: Travelling Up North From Srinagar to Leh

On my first and only visit to Ladakh in 2011, I had travelled from Manali by road, crossing two passes for an enchanting journey to Leh. While in Ladakh, I had visited most of the known tourist spots, but one place on my wish list which remained unfulfilled due to bad weather conditions was Tsomoriri Lake. Over the years, some trusted traveler friends had done the other route from Srinagar to Leh and their opinion was that the experience is very different, as you find a different kind of topography here. So, we decided to do a repeat tour of Leh, as part of a 12-day trip with 43 people (organized by Travel with Neel), this time approaching it from the Kashmir side.

Also Read: Aati Kya Khardungla

                   The Tso-s of Ladakh

Our first stop was Srinagar where we flew from Hyderabad. If you go to Srinagar, how can you miss the houseboats? We stayed at a nice and simple houseboat called Karnai Palace right across Jetty 13 of the Dal Lake. The caretaker Abdul was a simple man, and he made sure that the rooms of this three-bedroomed place were clean, and the food served at a common location with two other houseboats were adequate. Many people talk ill about the facilities at Kashmir houseboats, but my experience both times have been quite good. We had visited most of the tourist locations during an earlier trip, so we had a relaxed time enjoying a long shikara ride at dusk through the backwaters of the lake. We only ventured out for a visit to the local Ramakrishna Mission (where the local doctor tended to my wife’s injured leg) and of course to the iconic Ahdoos for a meal.

The lunch at Ahdoos however was quite disappointing. The Tabak Maaz was very stiff and the Gushtaba did not have taste. I guess it was an off day for the chef. My friends that same evening enjoyed the Kashmiri dinner at Mughal Darbar, another place well-known for its food.

Early next morning we started towards Ladakh from Srinagar on the strategic NH1D. The distance from Srinagar to Leh is approximately 450 kms. This highway is very crucial as it is the lifeline of the two northmost states (sorry UTs) of India. During the Kargil war, the strategy of our enemy was to try to cut off and capture part of this highway near Drass. As we proceeded from Srinagar, the drive through the green valley was captivating.Soon we were near Sonemarg, seeking the mother’s blessings at the Kheer Bhawani Temple

We stopped for lunch at a dhaba in Sonemarg (85 km from Leh), and an hour or so later we were at the Zojila pass, possibly one of the most strategic points near the border.  The pass is at a height of around 11500 feet, and it was raining when we reached making it almost freezing cold. We jumped off our cars to drink some hot Kahwa and take some photographs at the top of the hill. The topography started changing after the pass as the terrain became more rugged. 

By dusk we reached the town of Drass which at 10,800 ft is the highest town in this section of the road. we were at the Kargil War Memorial (actually at Drass), such a humbling experience about the brave soldiers who successfully thwarted the enemy in the last war. A stone with the names of all the soldiers who laid down their lives during Kargil war is the chief attraction of this place, along with the Amar Jawan Jyoti. Tiger Hill, the epicenter of the war is visible from the memorial. Our stay was at a hotel in Kargil, a nice clean place that offered a grand view from the rooftop, almost of the entire Kargil town, mountains all around, and the Suru river passing through it. 

The next morning we started from Kargil towards Leh. From Kargil, it was a smooth ride to Leh, as the roads are very well maintained. As you gain height we first crossed Fotula pass at 13,480ft. En route, we visited the Lamayuru monastery and the Sangam (where the Indus and Zanskar rivers merge). The journey from Kargil to Leh is about 220 km and this is definitely the best section of the long road trip. The mountains slowly get devoid of the green shrubs and soon we have a magnificent collage of colours on different hills. 

We did Srinagar to Leh in two days with a break at Kargil for the night. One has to mention that the NH1D is very well-maintained by the Border Roads Organization. Only around the Zojila does the road conditions become a bit rough. We had a strange experience once during our trip, where a huge herd of sheep took over the highway, walking down the road in a gingerly fashion and stopping all vehicles. 

For those who are interested in knowing, the road from Manali to Leh is much more rugged with fewer villages on the way. For me, it seemed more among nature. The NH1D is much more urban, with many more vehicles driving through it, possibly because of its strategic importance. If I have to choose, I will definitely like to travel the Manali Leh route once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment