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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Road Trip to Leh

Roadmap  from Srinagar to Leh
 It was just within days of my marriage that I went out with my wife to explore the beauty of Kashmir. We had already spent about a week in Kashmir, going around Srinagar, Pahalgam, trekked to Chandanwadi, spent some time in Gulmarg and Khilanmarg. The varied experiences and the beauty of the valley had swept us off our feet. Those days, the valley was calm and terrorism had still not raised its ugly head. One evening when we returned to the Army Transit Mess at Badami Bagh in Srinagar cantonment, we learned that an Army bus was leaving for Leh, the next day. I asked my wife if she was ready for an unplanned adventure. She was a game, so we registered our names as passengers too! We could barely sleep at the night as excitement to handle this trip was overwhelming.

 In the wee hours of the morning, we hopped on the bus with our baggage neatly stowed in the luggage boot. There were just a handful of passengers, the one I most vividly remember was a young Major with his petite wife who had a huge coin sized ‘Bindi’ on her forehead! The face still remains fresh in the memory, though several years have passed. The bus slowly started the climb, as the day was breaking out. The scenic beauty of the meadows, wildflowers and the small sparkling rivulets with almost no traffic on the narrow road appeared to be a heavenly, in comparison to the traffic we were used to! The silence would often be broken with a squeak of the birds or cascading waterfalls. After about 2 hours of drive, the bus stopped at Sonmarg. The place looked like a huge picture postcard! The piping hot ‘kahwa’ (local tea) went excellently with the ‘poori and aloo bhaji’ the Army Mess had packed for us. It was very refreshing.The temperature had started to drop, as a few drops of rain greeted us on the upward climb. Near Baltal, the climb was extremely steep and on either side of the road, there was a wall of snow. I had never in my life witnessed such a scene. 
Serpentine roads

The heart missed the beat when I looked out of the window of the bus! The deep valleys, protruding hills and the serpentine road made the view unmatched. From Baltal, one can take a route to visit Amarnath, the legendary cave of the snow Shiv- Linga. However, we were content just to see the trail that went down to this great destination. 
At Gumri
A little later in the afternoon, we reached Gumri the second coldest place after Verkhoyansk in Russia. The treacherous glaciers on which we attempted to walk still remains firmly etched in the memory. On the entire route, there was hardly any vegetation or human presence. The barren beauty was only interrupted with a picket of the Indian Army where a lone jawan stood guarding our border valiantly.  We crossed ‘ Dras’, the scene of a bloody battle many years later.  By 5 PM the bus reached, Kargil a major Army outpost. It halted at the Transit Camp where we were to stay overnight! The mess orderly showed us our room that was perched on the hilltop overlooking a frozen river. We could see a barbed fence that was just a short distance away, and were informed was the border of Pakistan! Never had I expected that I would be this close, to the neighbor country. The beauty and snow covered hills all around with chilly winds is beyond words. To add the icing to the cake the mess havaldar appeared with  cups of steaming coffee and  ‘pakoras.’ Later we explored the small village at Kargil, had a taste of the tea, prepared by Yak’s milk, a novelty. We could barely sleep due to howling winds at night and constant screech of the tin shed roof. Next morning the journey continued through the barren hills at high altitude through villages of Sarkas, Larmayuru, Alchi and Phey. The sight of locals, Buddhist monasteries, Gompas and yaks from time to time were the only companions besides BEACON ( Border Roads Organization) and Army personnel.  By late evening we reached the Transit Mess at Leh, overlooking the airfield. The Officer In Charge, a Major, greeted us and informed that we were the second one from Navy to have visited the place beside the Chief of the Naval Staff who had been there a month earlier. The time spent at Leh deserves another post!

PS- Map Kind Courtesy Google. 
2. Old pictures digitized for this post

13 comments:

  1. Ur post is a welcome change from the usual tales of road trips on bikes to Leh. Reading ur post, I was wondering u were so lucky to have visited in the good times and managed experiences (Kargil and proximity to border) that one can't dare for under the present circumstances.

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  2. Those memories must be so precious for you both, Sir. I have a similar shot of my parents on their honeymoon in Shimla.

    Indeed those were the days where one could have enjoyed without much of terrorism worries. I am afraid to even think about exploring that region...God bless our soldiers.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Alok for that very kind comment !

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  3. You made my day Shaivi with that beautiful comment! It makes it worth penning down memories:)

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  4. you are blessed to have an eager and wonderful travel partner in your wife. the excitement you felt years ago is still felt in your narration today.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely! My partner in crime has been very supportive and credit goes to her for all the successful trips so far:)

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  5. It must have been something else - nature in its purest form that fills us with awe.

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely pristine! Thanks for reading Purba!

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  6. Men have peculiar memory. Like you, Alok too remembers a lady if she wears a big bindi. :)

    Sir, you are lucky to have a wife who is always in for impromptu trips. As travel enthusiast, it's always good to have an adventurous partner. The experience sounds endearing. Looking forward to your Leh post. That old picture is really sweet.

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  7. Ha ha... Good observation Saru! True I am blessed to have a partner equally daring and fun loving! Will pen a post on Leh soon:)

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