We saw a couple of Military battalions on our way out of Leh. We crossed the Magnetic Hill, where on a particular point if you leave your car; it defies gravity and starts rolling uphill. Soon we left the landscape of Ladakh behind us and entered started seeing patches of greenery. The entire while the driver played tribal music of Ladakh which to us after a point got really unbearable!
We stopped in a really small village to have dinner. We did this fairly early as it would be difficult to find food at night. We ate at this restaurant which was in a garden and the vegetables used in the food were grown in a farm right behind the seating area. The food was very good. We then carried on towards Srinagar. Once it was dark, we could see the moon which was unusually beautiful, it was so beautiful that next time I go, I don’t mind sitting in the open for a couple of hours to catch just one glimpse of that beauty! Also we had been told earlier that the mountains in this region reflect the moon’s light at night and we can see the mountains as if it were day. That was a little exaggerated but the reflection did happen and we could fairly make out the mountains even at night, it was magical. The route to Srinagar though is very muddy and it makes the journey uncomfortable. I feel asleep, and woke up straight away when we reached Drass at around 2 30 PM, I keep cursing myself to have missed out on Kargil but then, the moment was gone. I really wanted to get down in Kargil and talk to people of that town which had suffered such horror 12 years ago.
Drass, however, is another amazing place. It is the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia in Russia. The temperature in Drass was an astonishing -60 degrees on 9th Jan, 1995. Also, as told to me by a local resident of Drass who runs a tea shop for travelers early in the morning that this was the place where the militants had started their operations during the 1998 Kargil War. He told me that Tiger Hills, one of the major peaks captured by the Pakistani Army was just behind his shop, (I could not see the hill in the darkness) and the Indian Army had set up bofors guns to fire at the peak on the hill which was right in front of his shop. He also told us that the Pakistani Army had come down to this very village after their capture of Tiger Hills and that was when the Indian Army figured out the Pakistani operations and retaliated. I felt a sense of pride in being in a place of such historic importance to India, too bad it was still dark.
At exactly 4 AM, the Indian Army allowed the cars to pass by and that is when dawn broke, slowly, the mountains started being visible and it was astounding. In less than an hour we crossed Zojila Pass which seemed like the gateway to Srinagar. As soon as we passed the Zojila Pass we were treated to a vast expanse of snow and greenery combined. We had reached Srinagar. From there on, till we entered the main city a gushing stream of water accompanied us all along, along with beautiful green mountains. I just could not take my eyes off the landscape. We, however, were struck by reality every 5-7 minutes when we saw a bunch of Indian Army men carrying guns patrolling the area, it made us lament on the sadness of what Srinagar had become due to all the disturbances from the other side of the border.
We reached the city in a few minutes at around 6 30 AM and decided to check out a little bit of Srinagar before carrying on to Jammu as we had our train only next morning. We hired an Auto Rickshaw to take us around a spot or two. We first went to Dal Lake where we took a ride on a Shikara [Dal Lake special]. We went around for an hour during which we went to a floating cafe where we had ‘Kawa’, a specialty drink of Kashmir made out of dry fruits and had snacks there too, we also did a little purchasing from the various vendors who sell everything from everyday utilities to ornaments in their Shikaras. We checked out the floating market and the hanging garden before heading out of the Lake. We saw a glimpse of Shankaracharya, a very famous temple of Srinagar from the Shikara itself. We then went to the Mughal Garden Pari Mahal, which was not really our kind of place, but we went there just because Srinagar is famous for gardens and we just had to go to one.
We then came back to the parking lot and hired another shuttle service to Jammu. While on our way to Jammu we came across a beautiful hill station called Patnitop, a place I am planning to visit very soon. It is one of those beautiful small hill stations which have not been as commercialized as places like Manali and Nainital have become. Once we climbed down from there, we crossed a crossing from where one can go to Vaisno Devi, a very famous shrine in India and entered Jammu. Once we reached Jammu, we were sure the trip is over, the crowded city and the screaming people were back, we found a hotel for a night’s sleep and left for Ahmedabad by the early morning train Jammu Tawi express the next morning.
We resumed classes the very next day.
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