Srinagar to Kargil, TravelWithaCouple
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Himalayan Safari Tales #4 – Srinagar to Kargil

Most often during our travel experiences, taxi drivers turn good travel companions. Giving the local flavour to the many stories behind the places or simply by joining the conversations with their points of views or sometimes sporty enough to gauge the moods of the travellers and offering to take detours that might match their interest. This time however, we had a tad different experience. We had two vehicles for our group and a third vehicle joined with some other passengers and since the drivers knew each other, they decided to move as a convoy. A tightly packed schedule meant hurrying after the morning market visit at the Dal Lake and setting off to Kargil before breakfast. Since there was a possibility of curfew being declared again, it made sense to get out of Srinagar at the earliest.




The Kashmir countryside slowly revealed itself with its breathtaking beauty. Morning sun rays filtered through the clouds and gave many hues and shades to the green valley. Roaring rivers by the road. First sight of baraf (ice) and glaciers. Winding, dangerously narrow and unpaved roads climbing up from Baltal– all made our day. Though we managed to stop by at a few places of interest, the other two vehicles zoomed ahead despite our friends pleading with the driver for short breaks; not even stopping for lunch. The excuse he gave was that he had got instructions not to stop and reach Kargil as early as possible. Our driver also tried his best not to stop, but since the team leader was with us, he couldn’t come up with such an excuse.





The Zoji pass (or Zoji-la), meaning the ‘Path of Blizzards’ is the second highest mountain pass on the Leh–Srinagar road. At a height of 11,575 ft, it was the first of the many Las we were to cross in the coming days. Closed for traffic during winter, Zoji-la is where one of the fiercest battles happened between India and Pakistan between 1948 and 1949, when Pakistan tried to take over Ladakh. It was the first ever war in the world where tanks were taken to such high altitudes. Roads were cut by Indian army in a matter of days and many a time soldiers had to push the tanks up. Finally, it was a decisive victory. A stop at the Zoji-la war memorial. A moment of prayer and gratitude to those who laid their lives for the country. A few snaps with the soldiers.




Ahead of Zoji-la is Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world (first being Siberia). Temperatures here fall even up to –65ºC during winter. Drass is considered as the Gateway to Ladakh. It is in Drass that the Kargil War was fought in 1999. The small town of less than 2,000 people was shelled. After Drass is the Vijay Path, the 1999 War Memorial. A small army museum, a parade ground, and a souvenir shop complete the war memorial at the foothills of Tiger Hill.




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