I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would experience this kind of natural and historical enigma in this lifetime. I never thought I could wholly connect with the universe at large without any adulteration and obstacle. A pristine and transcendental connection with the rainbow nature has drenched my soul and filled up my senses.
Even after coming back to Kolkata, I’m constantly hallucinating the road trip on the Srinagar Leh highway (NH-1D). Before leaving Srinagar, I was a bit skeptical about the 420 kms that we had to cover to reach the most awaited experience of our trip, Leh. During my packing days before the trip, one of my friends had casually said to me that Ladakh is more about the journeys and the experiences and less about the destinations and the view points. Now I realize nothing can be more true. My friend’s advice sparked an uncanny inquisitiveness and excitement in me which slowly and steadily overpowered the skepticism and the apprehensions as we moved out of Srinagar.
Keeping the mammoth and beautiful Dal Lake on our left, we drove past the Mughal Gardens, Hajrat Bal and reached the outskirts of Srinagar. After crossing number of villages and pasture lands we landed on the most vulnerable highway of the country, the Srinagar Leh highway, also called the NH-1.
Our first stop for breakfast was at Sonmarg. As we were closing in on the vicinity of Sonmarg, it was a jaw dropping moment. Lush green meadow lands on both sides of the highway and the valley surrounded by snow capped mountains. The structure of the mountains were quite different from the ones we’ve seen in North Bengal or Sikkim.
After having light breakfast at Sonmarg, we started our journey for Drass. We were travelling in the Kashmir valley, and we had to move to the Drass Valley. So to move from one valley surrounded by mountains to another valley we had to cross a high mountain pass. The second highest mountain pass on NH1, Zoji La (11,575 ft.). ‘La’ is the Tibetan word for pass. Hence Zoji La Pass is a misnomer. We still had 10 kms to reach Zoji La and the road became bumpy. The air became dusty, our view from inside the car was hazy, the window panes were pulled up to avoid inhalation of dust. Dribbling through Mountain rocks and pebbles on the road, we reached Zoji La. I felt that the angry and ferocious mountains have almost cordoned me into a space from where I cannot move into the next valley. Next moment I felt that mother Himalaya was a bit tensed to let off her child into unknown territory. Its a beautiful feeling and a duel which continues between the human mind and the great Mountains.
After crossing Zoji La we reached the Zero Point. Zero point is named in this way as the temperatures keep roaming around the 0°C mark.
As we came down from Zoji La the road slowly became smooth, the mountains got arid, the green on the mountains slowly changed to light brown. This feature quickly made me realize that we’ve reached the rain shadow area of the Himalayas. No rainfall, hence no greenery. Totally awestruck by the structure of mountains in this area, time seemed to pass too fast. Our vehicle kept moving until afternoon when we reached Drass.
Drass is a very small town in the Kargil district and is called “The Gateway to Ladakh”.
A town which is a gateway to a life changing experience carries with it the darkness of ruins, the lost lives of our protectors, the officer’s war cry that could not pierce the deafened politics, the melancholy of numerous families who lost their sons. After visiting the war memorial we returned to our cars and headed for Kargil. The silence was so loud, that it was unbearable. My feelings cannot be possibly put into words. The journey will continue in the next part.