The day started with somebody knocking at the door hard on the door. I was still in bed and Subhadeep was up and almost operational :). He opens the door and the reception guy with two fully Armoured Army Jawans comes in.
Kahan se aaye ho…. kyun aaye ho… kahan jaana hai…. ID dikhao (where from have you come….why have you come….where are you going….show your ID cards)!! was what followed. Once satisfied, they left and we got along with our daily duties :).
The destination for Today, Kargil, was quite far and given the fact that we have to cross Zoji – La, I was bit concerned if not worried. I didnot want to cross Zoji la after dark. But before that, we had some work to be done. We thought of replacing the hand brake lever and a couple of small things before we moved ahead. All these were to be done at the Honda Service center Kashmir Honda. The owner/manager was very non-coperative to say the least. Even after requesting him couple of times to just give sometime to replace the lever, he was talking all bull-shit and kept on doing the work on other’s vehicles, some of whom came after us, instead of our’s. In the meantime, we were joined by Puneet, Bhargav and two of his other friends who had to ride continuously from Ludhiyana to catch up with us. These four Gujrati friends were to accompany us from here on.
Some how, the bike was serviced and we left the showroom at about 12:45 PM. We decided skip breakfast and to keep moving in order to make up for the time wasted. With directions from other people on the road, we were soon out of the city. We kept going on for 20-30 minutes but I realized that in the last more than 20 minutes, I didnot see even a single milestone/board giving the direction for Sonemarg or Kargil or Zoji-la. I doubted our direction and hence, stopped to ask the locals. It was tough to make them understand as I found out that, almost none of them understood Hindi. Somehow we got an army jawan we suggested us to take the narrow road right in front of us which will take us to the Kargil highway. We thanked him and proceeded. Soon we were crossing small villages and then, we were in for a very pleasant surprise.
I braked hard and tried to accept the pleasant surprise that, we were actually passing through an Apple orchard, actually orchards!! We all, immediately took the cameras out and started clicking from every possible angle. After a lot of clicking, we focused on the apples and headed towards them. I actually, had never imagined myself having an apple directly off the tree, so I was enjoying a lot!! We all had enough of the apples to make-up for today’s missed breakfast :). I also put a couple of apples in my camera bag ;-). Lost in all this, we did not notice that we were the subjects of curiosity of quite a few school children, standing and enjoying our acts/actions/excitement, call it whatever you like :).
After spending almost half an hour there, we resumed out journey. We soon reached a bridge on crossing which, we finally met the Srinagar – Kargil road which made us happy but what was frustrating was that, there was a milestone which said Srinagar 25 kms . We had almost done 60-70 kms since we left srinagar!!!!! As soon as we touched the highway, the landscape around us turned from narrow village roads to green fields on both sides, wonderfully colored and designed small houses. And with each passing km, the vistas around were becoming better and better. We were enjoying every bit of it.
As we kept on moving, hunger started to creep in but we decided to carry on for as long as we could, because it was already past 12 and I wanted to cross Zoji la before dark. After crossing quite a few small and wonderful settlements, we stopped for Lunch at a very very beautiful place. Sumbal. There was only one dhabba and we asked what he had for lunch? Dal – Chawal – Rajma. But wait, he doesn’t have enough food for the six of us:shock:. He told he will cook for the rest of us in half an our so we asked him to go ahead. He was a very nice guy and I talked with him about their life during the month of winters.
He was more than happy talking about as other locals joined. He told that in winters, his village gets fully covered with snow and they have a tough time managing day – to – day activities. Getting drinking water too is not as simple as we would like to think. He and the other locals there were all praises for the army. In winters, the Army provides them with the necessary necessities, starting from the roads to ration, etc.
Even after such hardships, he was all smiling and never seemed to complain. This actually brought a feeling of guilt inside me. We have everything that we need and very much more than that but still we are never satisfied and here are the people who are very happy and satisfied with so less, of everything!!
The lunch was still not ready so I thought of talking a walk upto the Indus that was flowing just 100 mts the shop. It was a wonderful view. Colorful, small houses on the banks of the river or very near the bank were making the vista complete. I would have killed to have a house, a small house here, if I could :).
After sometime near the river, we returned back. The lunch was ready by then. It was over in no time and it tasted really really good!! We paid the bill, which was very less than our expectations so, added a handsome tip to it and left after thanking them. Time really well spent.
As we moved on, towards Sonemarg, the views kept on amazing us. It was just wonderful. Everyone was enjoying, at times, one of Punit’s friend used to get up from the saddle and danced as he rode :D.
Soon we reached Sonemarg. Contrary to my expectations, it was not at all crowded. But the place looked awesome nonetheless. Didnot spend much time there and moved ahead towards the mighty Zoji-la.
I realised we actually have started the climb when the tar gave way to kuccha road. I really felt lucky that it did not rain in the last few days. The fact that I was scared of Zoji-la plus the narrow road (if i may say so) would have been scary for me. The views from the top can scare anybody so, what kept me comfortable was ‘not looking down’ ;-).
There were very few vehicles and no bikers apart from us. We stopped at couple of places where the road was being cleared after landslides. The sun was on the other side of the horizon but I was much relaxed now as we had conquered the Mighty Zoji-la.
We continued with the plan to stay at Kargil tonight. We were riding in a relaxed way. The roads were a mix of good or bad. By now, we were riding in plains and we came across many temporary establishments of the BRO who were working hard to keep us connected. By 7, we reached Drass and for some unknown reason, i liked the ride from Zojila to Drass, the terrain, the setting sun, the climate… un-describable. The only thing I was sad about was, as we reached late, we would not be able to visit the Drass war memorial.
After crossing Zojila, we all were riding few kms apart, at each one’s comfortable pace wo I had to wait for others to come in order to decide whether to stay in Drass or Kargil. I personally preferred Kargil because that would give us better eating options. Once everyone came, we decided to move ahead as it was only 7:30 in the evening so, we started for Kargil. The road was real bad, actually it was non-existent for the next 10 kms.
After that, it was freshly laid tarmac and we were cruising at 80-100 without taking any risk. There were incomplete patches at regular intervals but, they were just ‘patches’ :).
Just few kilometers before entering Kargil, the road again gave way to potholes and gravel and they accompanied us until we were at the heart of the town.
I directly headed to the district hospital and checked-in in Paradise Guest House, just opposite to the hospital.
Rs.500/room with 3 beds, running hot water and parking. It was a steal!
After dumping all the stuff in the rooms, we moved out and had awesome chicken!! Also, had wonderful chat sessions about the war that happened, their daily life and the so-called ‘azaadi’.
I must say that, wherever I talked about this topic (azaadi) with the locals, they were very much against it. Very much unlike the people in Srinagar.
This wonderful day came to end finally at about midnight.
Enjoy the pics
As we left Srinagar
The apple orchard
Lunch and Fun at Sumbal
On the way to Sonemarg
Zoji La from here on
Finally In Drass