Ladakh in May 2015 - A dream fulfilled

Chetan Kulkarni

Super User
The Longest Day

As the old saying goes "Good things come to those who wait". Hardly had we known that this saying will be tested on day 2.

We bade farewell to Rafeeq and Jawed at Hotel Centerpoint at 7 am as planned and left for Kargil. Our friends had advised that should be a good starting time. The weather looked pretty ominous though as we drove towards Kargil.

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On the road I struck a conversation with Ajaz to get to know him better. He seemed to have some angst about the recent floods in Kashmir and the way they had been portrayed. The coverage of the news had impacted tourism in Kashmir adversely. He was very unhappy with the earlier government and had some hope that the new government in J&K would fix some issues.

We drove along the Sonamarg route and unfortunately my friend had some motion sickness and we had to take a couple of unscheduled stops. Once I reached Sonamarg, the view shocked me. As it is when I had visited the place 4 years back I thought the location was over commercialized. But the new constructions and number of people left me bemused. It is a shame that a place so beautiful has been eternally damaged.

Anyhow we proceeded from there and reached the Checkpoint at Sonamarg at 9:10 am. After letting the vehicle before us go we were asked to stop because a convoy of army vehicles had left from Ghumri. We tried to use some friendly influence and the army guys at the TCP were willing to let us go but the cops would not.

So we waited, and waited, and waited...

I do not regret the wait though. It was a very interesting place to be in. It was a veritable microcosm of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. One could observe the dynamics between different people and state bodies at play.

The first was army v/s local police. The army felt it was their responsibility to ensure that the convoys passed properly. However they ended up running the whole show. The police were in absentia. Their tent was setup but they were resting. Four hours into the wait a local senior police officer landed up and was questioned by the senior state bureaucrat. He was told that the vehicles were allowed to go till 11 am which was far from the truth. There was a clear lack of communication between the two teams and in the end it leaves a bad experience behind.

The second was the JK01 v/s JK07-JK10 fight. i.e drivers belonging to Srinagar v/s the Kargil-Leh drivers. For some reason all drivers from Kashmir seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. In the queue next to us was a friend of Ajaz who was the master of boasting :) He was probably of 30 years and boasted that he had been driving for 18 years. And he was advising some Dutch tourists that they can directly go to Pangong Tso from Srinagar. Distance aside Holland is a country built on the dykes which means very low altitude. Adjusting in Leh itself would have been difficult to start with. I did tell our Dutch friends that it would be advisable to take a step by step approach to acclimatize. Obviously our friend denied there was any AMS issue :)

Amidst all this was the jostling of vehicles who felt they did not belong to any queue. Group dynamics meant they were sent back again.

The rest of my group waited on the green grass. They tried to enjoy the weather and the views. Some modeling and photography included :) Rains also made their presence felt in between.
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Eventually the 40 truck convoy made its presence at the TCP and we were on our way at 3:30 pm :x\\:D/

The road through Zozila was expected to be slow because the trucks on the other side were also let through :( and the pass itself was full of slush. But moving out of Sonamarg was in itself progress.

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The views from the valley were lovely. Some sunlight and blue skies would have been lovely.

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The lower Zozila pass was still closed and we had to take the upper pass which was opened by the army. There were spots on the route where only one vehicle could pass and reverse driving skills of the drivers was tested.

Beautiful peaks were seen all around.

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They were accompanied by the roads cut into the side of the mountain.

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Passing through the walls of ice was especially interesting for the kids ;)

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There were points where we had to go back and let other vehicles pass. Some tourists took the enthusiastic work of routing traffic. I preferred the comfort of my car seat :D

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The combinations of beautiful mountains, road through them (albeit uncomfortable) and some blue skies made a great viewing.

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Finally we got to see some cobbled roads which I associated with Zozila and the kids got down to touch the snow on the sides.

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A little ahead, the wait got longer because we had a long queue of trucks which we had expected to encounter.

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This took a good 20-25 minutes to clear and a combination of rains/fog accompanied our progress.

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And at long last we saw the sign we were looking for "Welcome to Ladakh"

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Further ahead was the post of Ghumri. Looking at the environment I could not help wonder how the army survives in such environment. Snow all around and cold hostile environment. And not just to live here but to go out on patrols every day is challenging to say the least. My salute to the Indian army!

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The views are welcoming though if that is any solace :)

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The sky had lit up a bit and the views were very beautiful with mountain tops getting lovely light.

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One place gave me some dream shots I never expected in this environment. A beautiful water body formed due to the melting snow gave a reflection of the white peaks around.

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Ek panorama toh banta hai :)
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The lovely light continued..

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And till we reached the Khaltse post.


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Eventually we reached our guest house in Kargil at 9:30 pm. A quick dinner and we retired to bed preparing for another early start the next day.
 
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