The Dream Ride! Being a pillion through the mighty Ladakh on Duke 390.

SHEKHAR 257

Be a Good person but Don't try to Prove.
Hahaha nice question! I don't remember if we had thought of this and asked Mr. Bashir the reason, or perhaps we had but he didn't give a significant answer. :-D
I saw both desi & videshi names of the houseboats during my 2008 trip, some of them being very amusing. Some which I remember are Geneva, Alaska,Apollo Eleven,Egypt, Manila, Montana etc. Desi names were like Kismat, Laila Majnu, Zum Zum etc. :lol::lol:
 
Chapter 5: In the Land of Soldiers...

Shrinagar–Ganderbal–Gund–SonamargZojiLa (Part I)

Drass
War MemorialKargil (Part II)
Bidding adieu to Bashir uncle and Javed, and to the little cuties seen in the picture below, we left for our new endeavour ahead. I was a little sad because of not being able to meet Chacha (and also because we got to spend really less time at the houseboat than we ideally should have). Nevertheless, in some time, the anticipation of upcoming surprises and adventures took over my sadness.

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Whose heart won't melt seeing this tiny bundle of joy? They were jumping with joy on their tiny feet the day we arrived, and this morning when we left, they were all asleep.

We were told by Kumar Sir NOT to have breakfast at the houseboat, as there was a surprising breakfast awaiting us in Sonamarg, but we couldn't resist the lovely bread-butter-jam sandwiches and tea made by Javed for the four of us. Also, Rahul and Ginesh were doing their pending mandatory Kashmiri shopping, so we had some time in hand because we were gonna travel together that day onwards.
(P.S. The backside of their Thar was almost full of shopping bags from almost every city/state they had been to on their way from Kerala!!!)


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Breakfast no. 1 of the day!

So, we had this and were ready to enjoy the Sonamarg surprise breakfast as well.

Sonamarg—meadows of gold—was our first destination that day, and believe me, the name is just apt; no other name can suit the place better! It indeed gave the hints of beauty that would be awaiting us ahead, although the roads beyond Dal Lake are narrower and slightly congested till Ganderbal compared to the ones till Srinagar. We had downloaded the detailed RoutO maps uploaded by Kumar Sir for that day's ride till Kargil, so our fuel and breakfast breaks and other stops were marked on RoutO and to be followed. It was almost an 11-hour ride (Srinagar–Kargil), so we had sufficient time in hands to enjoy the landscape and take photo breaks as well.


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Coming closer to the dream, one step at a time.

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Somewhere on the route near Ganderbal

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Closer...

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Welcome to the meadows of gold

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River Sindh in full current

Here, a few things with regard to facilities on the route should be noted. First, even though there is a petrol pump between Ganderbal and Sonamarg, it is recommended to refuel before exiting Srinagar. Additionally, there are some good restaurants at Mammer and Gagangair in the Sind Valley, and even Sonamarg has some hotels and good facilities. So, halting or getting help in need shouldn't ideally be a problem till there. The landscape is also simply beautiful beyond Manigam, which definitely calls for a ride or a drive best done during the day time. The road gradually climbs upwards toward Sonamarg, and you can see the vegetation changing to coniferous as the altitude goes on increasing, with River Sind running alongside from Manigam. However, be noted that the road is open only in summer and is closed during winter because of snowfall beyond Gund. Second, due to the high-altitude terrain, the route after Sonamarg has relatively lesser or poorer facilities, and this applies to mobile connectivity as well. Thus, it is better to be prepared for any kind of disruptions or delays and have some food and water handy. Moreover, the road from Sonamarg is a steep climb and may not be motorable sometimes even in summer (mostly early summer) because of snowmelt, water crossings, slush, and the rocky terrain. We also suggest getting your vehicle checked in Srinagar itself, as you may not find any support en route afterwards.

Fortunately, we were in check with all of these aforementioned things; we had kept everything—from bike and fuel to food and water—well prepared, and the weather was quite pleasant. We reached Sonamarg by 9:50 AM, found out our CHD—Hotel Sonamarg Palace—for the surprise breakfast, and updated chief (Kumar Sir) about the same. This is when he told us about what to order for breakfast—POHE—every Maharashtrian's staple/favourite breakfast, and we were like "Pohe?! In Sonamarg?!" He told us about the owners—two Maharashtrian guys from Satara–Sangli and fellow HiVaykings—who had come and settled in Sonamarg a few years back. So, we went in and met with them, told them that we were also HVK members, and ordered pohe and chahaa. Rahul and Ginesh were slightly behind us; they were not planning to wait here for breakfast. I clicked a pic as soon as our pohe came and shared our joy with our friends and chief. Finding such delicious pohe outside Maharshtra, that too in Sonamarg, in J&K, was unbelievable. Nevertheless, kudos to the two Satara–Sangli guys!


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Maharashtrian Pohe in Sonamarg, J&K; Bomb was also quite excited it seems because it was indeed a bomb suggestion!

Do visit Hotel Sonamarg Palace (Hotel Sonamarg) when you're taking this route. The location is absolutely mesmerizing, right in the middle of the mountains and near the Himalayan glaciers Kolhoi and Machoi, on the bank on Nallah Sindh (River Sindh).


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Waadiyaan meraa daaman, raastein meri baahein...

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Ready for our first La (pass) after eating the delicious pohe!

We were thus all set for our day's journey ahead, and we had all the excitement in the world about the places that we were to cover and experience that day. The first and one of the most exciting among them, especially for me, was my first ever La (pass)—Zoji La—that is required to be crossed to enter Drass Valley. Rohan hadn't taken this route in his previous Ladakh ride in 2016, so witnessing all the of beauty on this route was almost as new for him as it was for me. And our endeavour began! It should be noted that there may be certain traffic restrictions until crossing Zoji La owing to road improvement work and/or construction. The roads before and after Zoji La were quite smooth; you can immediately see the landscape's transformation into a high-altitude terrain. Again, from here onwards, no facilities and mobile connectivity should be expected until you reach Drass. In a way, this can be considered as Mother Nature's rule because the entire route is extraordinarily scenic, and you should not miss it by any other distraction; just watch and absorb the nature, click pictures, and take videos. But this is something the pillion or fellow passengers should do, of course. As is known, Zoji La is the gateway to Ladakh, an important link between Ladakh and Kashmir that connects Ladakhis to the rest of the world.

As is known, Zoji La is one of the riskiest passes in this area. If by chance, you happen to look at the sharp mountain edges from the base, you will see a thin light greyish line—that’s the "road"—nothing thicker than a single-lane fragmented dirt road that curls amidst some of the world's tallest mountains. Thus, impending death waits for the unprepared ones, which makes conquering this beast and reaching atop quite a Herculean task, and it requires relentless attention on the rider's/driver's part and a super reliable set of wheels (for all number of wheelers). Although four-wheel drives are recommended because of the uneven surface, I honestly think it does not matter even if you are driving a four-wheeler if you lose attention even for the fraction of a second. Overall, the zone experiences high winds and heavy snowfall during winters, which make it impassable for much of the season. Even in summer, the roads are narrow and thus the drops steep; there's no obstacle between you and the valley.

So, off we were to this pass, our first one on the way, with all our will power. Most of our minds were filled with josh, and undoubtedly, Rohan is indeed a relentless rider, so we weren't really nervous; our climb began. There was some ongoing work being conducted by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), so we did find some traffic jam after climbing a considerable part of the pass. Here, I must admit that seeing the height and the traffic congestion, I did get shit scared and worried about us and our luggage for a short while. I always used to wonder what adrenaline rush would be feeling like; I got to experience it at that moment. But my hero rider rode us through it swiftly (and the gel seat saved me from a bumsore on that super uneven road.) The following pictures are proof of whatever I have mentioned till now.


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The rough and tough Zoji La

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It is indeed disorienting to look over the edge to such a beautiful valley; this one gave me the adrenaline rush with us being on that broken road.

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This was my first up-close view of a melted glacier, so didn't matter that it was dirty

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And we were all finally atop Zoji La!!!

Then the relieving downhill began.

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This scene was also absolutely adorable.:-D

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The rider is behind the lens. :p

After reaching the other end of Zoji La, some formalities and registrations were to be done at the army check-post before entering Drass, Kargil. So there we were!

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The mindblowing landscape needs no separate caption, right?

Regardless of the quality of the road, the experience of climbing an 11k+ ft high pass was memorable. Also, as we began climbing down, moving ahead toward Drass, a huge army helicopter, probably patrolling the area, suddenly swished past us, startling me in awe. As we rode ahead, there were two more, roaring in the sky, hovering above the Sindh River. Watching the Indian army's camps, convoys, and soldiers, in addition to the mesmerizing beauty of the mighty Himalayas, snow-clad peaks, melted glaciers, all of it was like a dream. And we were soon approaching the world's second coldest inhabited place—Drass Valley—where winter temperatures go as low as -60° C!

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Green Drass, Clean Drass!

(To be continued...Part II)
 

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