Leh – Ladakh Diaries – Sonamarg to Kargil (120 KM)
Second frontier (Day 2: Jammu to Sonamarg) also accomplished and we were up for the next level. The target was to enjoy everything i.e. panoramic landscapes, tough terrains, thrilling drive, and overcoming hurdles. The drive through Himalayas in itself is sightseeing where at every juncture nature throw on us its abundance of beauty that fills us with awe. Due to the beautiful location of the hostel we were very well placed for our onward journey towards Leh on NH1D and the target for the day was to cover a distance of 120 KM till Kargil. The most difficult section of this highway i.e. Zoji La (Zojila Pass) was few hours away and we were eagerly waiting for an encounter with it. The route set for the journey was straight forward.
Sonamarg – Baltal – Zoji La (Zojila Pass) – Dras – Kaksar – Kargil
A fresh morning at Sonamarg
We woke up early in the morning and enjoyed the surrounding area near the hostel. We dream of mornings like this and wanted to drown ourselves in the purity of such bliss. Sonamarg “meadow of gold” truly matches its name which is surrounded by snowy mountains against a backdrop of blue sky, grassland, glaciers, and tributary river (Nallah Sindh”. The hostel was just beside the flowing Nallah Sindh and the sound of flowing river acted as a rhythm divine in this beautiful morning. Given a chance anyone would like to spend their life in such a beautiful place but that’s far from reality. We spent almost two hours near our hostel and went ahead with a thought to come back again here.
Conquering Zoji La (Zoji Pass or Zojila Pass) – “La” means pass
First good sign of the day was absence of rain as it creates a difficulty in crossing Zoji La since this mountain becomes very slushy and is prone to landslides. This pass can get closed in no time when the weather is rainy. We left from Sonamarg @ 10:20 am with trip meter at 2430 KMs. We crossed Baltal (an important place for pilgrimage to Amarnath yatra) @ 10:45 am covering 17 KMs. After crossing Baltal uphill drive towards Zoji La started.
We started negotiating twist and turns through the gravels with no sign of tarmac. The adventure of negotiating treacherous road through this pass with no barrier on mountain edge was undertaken cautiously by all of us. The view to the bottom would easily give goose bumps to the experienced of all as well.
Pics says it all…The thrill of driving through this terrain can only be felt by actually becoming a part of it.
We could see ourselves approaching the snow capped mountains and glaciers with amazing landscapes all along the way. Slowly and steadily we climbed the hill after negotiating narrow roads and reached the zero point at Zoji La (alt 3528 mtrs) @ 11:30 a.m. thereby covering a distance of 24 KMs. Even though this pass was not very high in altitude as compared to other passes planned in our tour ahead but yes gave us the necessary impetus for the rest of our tour. By crossing this we knew that we have entered the gateway to ladakh with an affirmation of changed topography i.e. mountains becoming more brown and bald. We took a half an hour break at zero point to settle our nerves and enjoy the beauty. There were stalls set up at zero point and on glaciers as well, one can enjoy sledge ride on the glacier as well. We were soon approached by traders to buy stuffs from them and this really hindered in our date with nature.
After crossing Zoji La the roads were very decent and at places went through snow wall on both sides. We had only covered 3 KMs after Zoji La where we saw a beautiful glacier and fresh water stream coming out of it that compelled us to take a halt. This place is known as Gumri and has a war history as well due to which army has built a small Zoji La war memorial in memory of brave soldiers. We walked on to the glacier, tasted fresh and cold water and almost spent 1.5 hours at this place. Time was not a constraint as we wanted to enjoy the moment and have sufficient time in our hand.
Drive towards Dras
The Dras valley starts from the base of the Zojila pass, the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh. We started enjoying this unique picturesque landscape that we had never witnessed before and were mesmerized by altogether a different view of Himalaya. The shadow of cloud gave an awesome appearance on those barren mountains as compared to other mountains. The road conditions were very good with less twists and turns and well laid tarmac. It felt like we were passing through a dreamy world. Finally, we reached Dras (alt 3280 mtrs) @ 3:30 p.m. thereby covering a distance of 63 KMs. Dras is the second most coldest inhabited place in the world and is also famous for the epicentre of 1999 Kargil war. We took a lunch break of an hour at Dras. We enquired for best restaurants in the vicinity from local shop and visited the same. Food wasn’t really that great but one should not really expect more in such a remote places. A traveller should leave all expectations of city behind while on a tough tour like this which largely remains uninhabited and cut off for half of the year from outside world.
Kargil War Memorial or Dras War Memorial
After covering 7 KMs from Dras we reached Kargil War Memorial built alongside the highway in remembrance of sacrifices done by our armed forces during 1999 Kargil war. The memorial is built on the foothills of Tololong Hill and has a huge epitaph with names of all the officers and soldiers who gave supreme sacrifice in the war. Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated on 26 July every year at the memorial. The main attraction of the whole memorial is an indoor exhibition hall and the Sandstone wall in the open. The exhibition room has the details of war with display of pictures and arms/ammunition recovered from enemy. The sandstone wall has the names of all the Indian army personnel, who laid their lives during the Kargil war fighting with intruders in highly inhospitable conditions. There is also a souvenir shop at the memorial. An army officer explains the details of Kargil war to the tourist with full vigour and pride. The peaks that were captured back from intruders can easily be seen from the war memorial. A giant national flag was hoisted at the Kargil war memorial to commemorate the 13th anniversary of India’s victory in the war. Our respect for armed forces increased manifold after visiting memorial and left from there with moist eyes.
Kargil – Our target for the day
We left from war memorial at 6:30 p.m. and the day was still bright. The drive ahead was straight through with good road conditions. We drove the beautiful landscape from one mountain to another and crossed many water streams through iconic steel bridges. One thing to note while driving through this region was that whenever someone from opposite direction was approaching us and have identified that the vehicle is from same state they communicate with thumbs up sign making a statement of pride. We crossed Kaksar @ 7:00 p.m. thereby covering a distance of 102 KMs. Finally, we reached Kargil (alt 2676 mtr) @ 7:30 p.m. thereby covering 120 KMs during the day. A minor hick up happened just before reaching Kargil where the clutch wire of bike broke down and the same was replaced with a new one carried as a part of road trip preparation.
Here is the glimpse of changing topography and 360 degrees panoramic view…
On day 3 we travelled 120 KMs with a running time of 4 hours thereby clocking an average speed of 30 Km/hr. We explored places all along the highway and were very satisfied with the day. We drove through one of the treacherous roads of the Srinagar – Leh (NH1D) highway and crossed Zoji La. The highlights of the day were Sonamarg, Zoji La, glaciers & panoramic landscapes, Dras, & Kargil war memorial. The toughest part of the day was finding a hotel in Kargil. Even after having multiple options all the rooms in various hotels were pre-booked on account of few rider groups and tourists on account of an annual pilgrimage tour of Indus. Finally, after searching for a while we found a stay option that we happily accepted it. We slept with a target for next day to finally reach Leh and conquer NH1D highway and its passes.