Sonamarg to Kargil is 124.7 km of exciting ride along beautiful and exotic landscapes. It is equally good as the destination itself. The famed Zojila Pass taunts you at the beginning of the journey. From there onwards, the road is much better and so is the journey. We drove for miles through barren rocky mountain, sparsely inhabited at places where water could be found. The Zojila pass rise to a height of around 4,000 meters above the sea level. The rugged road is chiseled out on a steep rocky mountain and is one of the most narrow and difficult passes in India. The pass is integral to the success of Kargil war and the control of Kashmir. The pass also connects the rest of India to the rather isolated valley of Ladakh. The road is so narrow and repeatedly stalled by landslide and glaciers. It has played an important role in the power shift and power control.
Our car was stopped by minor landslide, so we got off from the car to watch the valley spreading below. We could see the Amarnath Yatra camp spread out all over the valley, just waiting for the pilgrims to arrive within a week’s time. The pass offers a beautiful yet disastrous views as we trailed up the narrow road. Once we crossed the Zojila Pass the landscape changed drastically and entering into the gentle valley was like a great relief. Sonamarg is the last town with decent vegetation. From here on the green mountain gives way to orange and red Rocky mountains occasionally tipped with snow.
The lonely landscape is occasionally broken by army camps. There were very few settlements and most of them at the base of mountains, fed by rivers. Drass is the largest town in between Sonamarg and Kargil. The valley is spacious enough and has some vegetation. It is also considered as the Gateway to Ladakh, a stopover place for tourists travelling to Leh or Kargil.
We arrived at midday and in the middle of summer, so we didn’t get to feel the infamous cold waves. A signboard welcomes you to the town. It said that Drass is the second coldest inhabited place on earth. The temperature can dip to -45 degree Celsius in winter. The valley comes back life with sprouting green plants during summers and it is not so cold at this time. The contrast between the green valley and orange mountains makes Drass exotic and beautiful.
We stopped at Drass for lunch and soon headed for Kargil. Unlike popular belief, the famous Kargil War of 1999 was fought in Drass rather than Kargil. The Tiger Hill which was a symbolic and moral boosting win for India is situated just about one hour drive from Drass.
The road towards Kargil from Drass was dotted with plants and flowers. You began to appreciate greenery a lot more as you drove deeper into the heart of Ladakh. Not far from there, the road begins to follow the great Indus River. Most of the small towns, villages and old civilizations are located along the banks of the river. The greenery and the breezy wind made the ride more pleasant.
Just before entering Kargil, the driver stopped by the banks of the river. “It’s almost there,” he said, “The women folks come to fill water from a spring here.”
“What spring?” I asked.
“It came straight from the snow-mountains. Best water,” he said.
I followed them to the spring, shaded by tall trees growing on the well fed banks. A barren mountain loomed above, and I found myself lost in the beauty of exotic landscapes.