Ladakh Odyssey – Part 4 of 4

13th Aug (Alchi)
Vicky & Sandy came to our room @ 5:00 AM to wake us up and start for Drass & Zojila. Previous night I could not sleep for a long time thinking whether I should go with the rest or stay at Alchi for some time as my holiday was not yet over. After some deliberations it was decided that Vicky and Sandy would proceed as they did not have much leaves. Only in the morning I could make out our gorgeous guesthouse Choskor.

Guesthouse at Alchi

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.

Indus river passing through a gorge

Confluence of Indus & Zanskar

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.

A ruin of citadel at Basgo

Monastery at Basgo

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.

Likir monastery surrounded by mountains

Inside Likir monastery

Procession carried out from Likir monastery

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.

About Alchi monastery

Curio stall at Alchi

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.

14th Aug (Alchi)
Today I decided to visit Lamayuru monastery which was some 50 km towards Srinagar. There is a village in between called Khaltse which has a petrol pump where I wanted to fill in for the onward journey. Also I hoped to find a mechanic. I filled the petrol but could not find a mechanic, so continued towards monastery. The monastery is the oldest in the Ladakh region and witnesses lot of foreign tourists. Also its location is dramatic, on a hilltop with moonscape hills around. Hills with lot of mud.

Lamayuru is midway between ascent to Fotu La, the highest pass on Leh-Srinagar road. The road passes through a narrow valley carved by a tributary to Indus. The monastery was similar to what I had seen at Likir with prayer rooms etc. But there were lot of foreign tourists here. Because of no directions probably I missed the main temple of Vairocarna but I was not very keen. I read some portion of the book Amazing Land Ladakh and trying to relate to what I saw in monastery. Soon gave up and decided to come back. The one thing I didn’t like about all these monasteries was the smell which emnates in the rooms and they being dingy. It is a bit claustrophobic or asphyxiating. But I do respect their sentiments. I could identify few things like Tangyar, Kangyar, scripts, thankas and female deity Tara.
I had planned to visit Ri-dzong monastery as well but left it for next day if I had to stay at Alchi on 15th as well. Ri-dzong is supposed to be situated in more dramatic place which was evident from the spur that you see taking off from the national highway from Lamayuru. I came back to Khaltse and made few phone calls to fix up certain things at Jammu and at office.
There was a helper boy in the guesthouse. He was basically from Uttaranchal and working here. Whenever I asked him for water, he would ask back whether mineral water or local pani. It is what they use and probably get from a stream. At the guest house there was a French family as well with whom I talked a bit at dinner table. They were very gentle but poor in English. I had some conversation with the head of the family about EU etc. He told me that it was only for economic reasons o/w each country follow their own culture. He explained all this to me very laboriously. His daughter was charming and always smiled at me. His son was bit interested in talking to me. They were an adventurous family as they were traveling in local buses and walking even though they didn’t know proper English forget about Hindi. They had walked 4 kms to the guest house from the main highway. Later it didn’t come as surprise as I saw many foreigners walking enroute to Alchi. Probably roughing out is their idea of holiday. It may seem strange but I have admiration for French people as they were the only country in UNSC which did not put any sanctions on India after 1998 nuclear tests :)
15th Aug (Alchi – Drass)
Today we decided to go up to Drass on the advice of guest house owner and few taxi drivers and locals. The drive was approx 230 km and with kind of road it looked easy. So, we got up at 8 AM and left by 10:30 AM. The drive up to Lamayuru was enjoyable with no traffic, good road and sunny weather. After Lamayuru it was ascent to Fotula pass the highest pass on Leh-Srinagar road. We stopped at many places for photo op. Lazily we came up to another pass Namik La & climbed down to Mulbek. We decided to have lunch here. The landscape till was more or less moonscape but frequency of green patches and habitation increased.

Fotula pass

Namikala pass

Mountain stream with suprising green patch

Some more green going towards Mulbek

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.

Kargil town

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).

Road closest to LOC

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.

16th Aug (Drass – Srinagar)

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.

Tiger Hill at Drass

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.

Entrance to Kashmir valley from Zojila pass

Green Kashmir valley

Sonmarg

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.

Houseboats at Dal lake

Shikaras at Dal lake

Market on Dal Lake

Snacks on Dal lake

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 :)

10 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *