I decided to not waste any time and make full use of stay at Alchi. I first headed straight to Nimu to have a glimpse of confluence of Indus and Zanskar. We must have passed Nimu the previous night but of course could not spot anything in the dark. The confluence was really grand with rivers adorning different shades of brown. The Indus river goes through a deep gorge before the confluence. I was mesmerized by the sight which also formed like three spokes all equiangular.
I clicked the confluence from every possible location on the main highway high above. I saw a road leading up to the base of confluence where some foreigners were taking dip and decided to go there myself. The road was actually under construction road from Nimu to Darcha via Padum. It was not clear how long the road has been constructed. The road to Padum is actually from Kargil. This will be an alternate road. Anyways, I climbed down from the road up to confluence. The foreigner group left by then and I was only one at the confluence. I dipped my feet into the water and sprinkled some water on myself as an act of bathing ritual. The time spent at the confluence was truly magical. Two big, historical and grand rivers meeting in front of my eyes. Just imagine the origins of the two rivers. Indus, traversing whole of Himalayas and Zanskar coming from the most treacherous valley in Ladakh. These rivers have been there for more than 5000 years since Indus Valley civilization. These rivers had seen it all.
After spending an hour I came back to to village called Basgo which had a monastery and some boards were depicting it as Ancient Citadel. The broken down monastery was there but citadel was completely ruined with two walls still standing. Actually all the structures in Ladakh region are built of mud which gets eroded over time. The monastery was protected and one of the few world heritage sites. On entering the main temple, there were some people working on the paintings to restore them probably. There was no other visitor at that time. After looking at the paintings and huge status of Buddha, I came back.
Then I went to Likir monastery which is 5 km spur from the main road. Like all monasteries in the region, it was also situated on the hilltop. The view of the monastery from distance was magnificent. There were lot of foreign tourists at the monastery at this time. Today was some special day as there was lot of activity. There was some ritual going on the sides with probably head Lama in full robe doing some kind of havans. I visited few temples which were all had religious objects like deities, thankas & all the walls were painted. I knew Buddhist rituals and terms through my reading in bits and pieces but could not relate much. Then there was a congregation of all the lamas and students in a prayer hall where they chanted mantras and played musical instruments. Tea was served to all including the curious visitors. This was the famous butter tea which I was having for the first time. All the foreign tourists and I witnessed the ritual. The Buddhists are very accommodating probably due to Tibet factor. It is their endeavor to spread Buddhism and bring recognition to Tibet in international eye. After this ritual while I was preparing to leave, there was a procession of all the interns on the road.
I could not understand much so I left and came back to Alchi and visit the monastery there. This was not on a hilltop. It had 4 temples again having idols and pictures of deities with religious objects and wall were all painted. All this was not making sense to me. After clicking some customary pictures from outside (inside its not allowed) I came back. There were lot of shops outside selling curio items from this region.
There is no STD booth in Alchi but a Cyber cafe (working using VSAT) which surprisingly worked. It has enormous charge of Rs 3 per minute. In Leh, it was Rs 2 per minute. After checking mails I came back to guest house to pay attention to my disc brake as it was giving sounds of plates touching rotor even when brake is not pressed. I took out the wheel, cleaned the plates but no improvement. The plates were still touching the disc. It may be due to malfunctioning of hydraulic system of break. I decided to live with it.
Mulbek is where the ethnicity of people shifts. The majority of buddhists come down and taken over by muslims. Here we met a group of foreigners going to Kargil. There were 4 boys and 2 girls on 4 bikes all bullets. The lunch was shady and I hoped it doesn’t upset my stomach. From there we rode non-stop to Kargil. In a narrow passage of road there were two hens who ran helter-skelter on hearing the bikes. One of the hen probably came under my front tyre. Since we were at speed so could not look back at what happened. I hoped she is fine. I felt very bad @ this accident and was thinking all sorts of bad things that may happen to me as punishment. It was a bad omen. Soon we reached Kargil. From a distance Kargil looked beautiful set around the bend in Indus river which was sweeping lot of ground.
There were curious onlookers on the road soldiers as well as normal public. We went inside a market in Kargil to have tea. From Kargil the road became treacherous with lots of truck traffic from the opposite side. This could be due to release of traffic from Srinagar side of Zojila pass. This leg of highway passes closest to the LOC. There was a board on the roadside announcing in hindi Aap dushman ki nazar mein hain (You are within the sight of enemy).
I wanted to stop and click some photographs but due to visibly high presence of soldiers did not want to attract attention. Eventually we reached Drass and checked into HillView hotel. The place is known as Siberia of India, the second coldest inhabited place on earth. That reputation reflected as it was getting cold as we closed in on Drass. On the road many kids want to do hand touch with bikers by extending their hand. I avoided most of them lest it may cause some imbalance. We have to be careful as well as some overzealous kid may cause accident. Many times they utter some comments which could neither hear so understanding is out of question. I hope they were not abusing us.
In the morning I surveyed the scene around the guesthouse. There were high rocky (rather than mud) mountains around with famous Tiger Hill behind the hotel. The day was sunny so it didn’t felt much cold. There was a bomb shell in the hotel with a flower potted in it.
We started from Drass at around 9:30. Our destination today was only Srinagar. First few kilometers were fine but soon bad road started with loose stones and gravel. We were not going beyond 2nd gear on 20 kmph. In the valley below there were some groups of nomads we saw who were doing cattle grazing and making ropes. These people are the glimpses of the traders on the old silk route and Zojila pass one of the passes on the route. We were checked once by J&K police check post by just noting down our names and vehicle number. Before entering Zojila pass we were checked once again by Army guys who had a sniffer dog as well. There was not very serious checking only few questions and then let go. The soldier there was anyway from Vizag so became friendly on hearing that I came from Hyderabad. Just before Zojila pass, we were stopped due to some blasting that was going on for road widening. A bulldozer came and cleared the path in 15 minutes. Soon we crossed Zojila pass.
Zojila is not that treacherous or ascending from Drass except the bad roads but the descent into Kashmir valley is huge due to relatively lower altitude there. As soon as we got the first glimpse of Kashmir valley, it was splendid with trees and grass on the slopes with cute little stream flowing. This was complete contrast from the barren landscape on the other side from which we came. Sight of trees and greenery was really soothing to eyes after almost 10 days.
We continued towards Sonmarg via Baltal. There was a convoy of army trucks descending along with us and just like previously we thanked them for for giving us side by waiving to them. There were soldiers posted at every 100 mts or so and we waived to them as well. They responded with equal enthusiasm. I had never been to Kashmir before except watching it in movies and I understood why it is called heaven on earth. It is ironical that such a place which should be celebrated is in dispute. We rode all the way to Srinagar and reached Dal lake late in the afternoon. Till then though we crossed many check posts but nobody stopped us. We wanted to stay in a houseboat but due to bikes decided to stay in hotel beside the Dal lake. After having lunch I did not waste time and proceeded to Dal lake. I hired a Shikara and asked him to take me around interesting locations. What I saw I had not expected. There is entire village thriving in this lake with houses, shops, schools etc. I recalled the old Doordarshan serial Gul, Gulshan, Gulpham which depicted life around Dal lake. Small kids and women were using the boats. I went to a Kashmir emporium and bought some stuff like bedsheet, kurta payjama and wooden decorative pieces as souvneirs which still adorn my showcase at home.
17th Aug (Srinagar – Jammu)
Today I started for Jammu which is around 300 kms from Srinagar. I wanted to reach there by evening so that I could book my bike in the evening Jhelum express to Pune. Since it was longish distance to cover so rode continuously with only short brakes passing through Qazigund, Banihal, Ramban, Jawahar tunnel, Patnitop, Udhampur. At Jawahar tunnel before entering I was stopped by the police. They asked me curiously, “Are you an Indian?”. When I said “yes”, they let me go. The tunnel was dark and dingy and I had to be really careful for 5-10 it took me to cross it. As I descended the weather became hotter and dusty and in Jammu I was sweating. I reached Jammu station at around 5 PM but the parcel office was closed and I could not book my bike. After few calls I managed favor from a friend in Jammu who promised to take care of my bike and parcel it later. After refreshing myself at his home and home cooked dinner I boarded a a Delux Volvo bus to Delhi. After staying in Delhi for couple of days with a friend I flew back to Hyderabad.
The trip was a life changing experience for me facing harships, elation, fear, joy and finally a sense of achievement. I rode around 2600 kms in 18 days. The trip is something I am proud of. I can hold my head high and boast about it. Thanks to Ghumakkar community due to whose encouragement I could pen, picturize and post it :)