Sept 18, 2019

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Explore the land of constant conflict amongst the two nations and discover how we, humans, have successfully turned Heaven on Earth to Hell. A conclusion to the Ladakh circuit

Words: Shourya Jain

It’s all about that base

As journalists we’re taught to be on our toes 24x7. Stay updated with everything that is going on around the country and the world. As much as I would want to do that, the sheer gory details of the Pulwama attack, pouring in from all ends, kept me away from the news for days. Militant activity in Kashmir is no news for anyone. But witnessing the intensity of it first hand is a whole different experience. Abandoned buildings with the walls showing impact from heavy firing, military personnel posted at every five feet along the roads, in trucks, on the roads and even up on the trees. I saw this and much more as soon as we finished the descent of Zoji La. You know Kashmir is a high-risk zone. You read it everyday in the news but only realise how it’s nothing more than a paradise turned into a battlefield of corrupt politics, international egos and everlasting terrosism after you see it for yourself. We detoured into the city of Udhampur owing to pathetic cell reception in the area, and landed right in the middle of a protest going on, on the streets.The police commissioner tapped on the window of our car and gave a brief of the situation. Understandingly enough, he offered to escort us out of the ruckus, himself, with a jeep full of policemen. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on in this part of the J&K because I was still hungover on other regions of the same state that seemed poles apart.

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After spending half a month in Ladakh, it was time to head back home to Rajasthan. I don’t know if it was hilarious or plain intriguing, to come across Moonland in Lamayaru, which looked a lot like the place where NASA could have shot Neil Armstrong with a model rocket and claimed it to be the Moon. A little down the road, the metaphorical boundaries of Ladakh began to fade. Barren lands start getting replaced with beautiful waterfalls and vegetation. Driving on NH1, you’d expect the roads leading to Kargil and Drass to be more dramatic. But no traces of the gruesome war remain. Small villages, walls alongside the roads laden with lush flowers, greet you as you drive into the sunset. The wooden cottages would have you believe you were in some remote area of Switzerland.

Approaching what is claimed to be the second coldest inhabited place on Earth, we expected Drass to be a lot colder than it was. The check post at Drass closes during the night and re-opens at 4 am. So we halted the journey and looked for a decent place to stay put for the night. At first I didn’t realise that expecting a decent place in Drass would be too much to ask for. So we settled for a guesthouse as it was just a matter of few hours until we could be back on the road. Ordering food while sitting on rickety benches and tables from a time before independence, I realised that Drass still lives in the past. Poorly plastered walls painted with oil paints in loud shades of green reminded me Locals agitating against police of houses in the movies from the 60s. Looking at the dingy rooms with dim lights and low heighted ceilings of its buildings, I wondered if Drass forgot to move on or was it just too comfortable in its simplicity? Remember when I said earlier that the scenery didn’t show any traces of war, it was beginning to show now, but instead in the people. I found people of this region to be colder than the region itself. A stark difference from the Ladakhis. Dreaming of a paradise lost, I dozed off for a couple of hours before Dad woke me up at 3 am to freshen up and be back on the road again. We headed towards Zoji La, roads were lined with trucks parked roadside with some of them prepping to head for the check post. The almost non-existent roads led us to the last treacherous pass of our journey. On this pass, the chances of getting attacked by militants is higher than your car sliding off the cliff due to black ice and mud slush. Due to the heavy duty traffic on this route, the sides of the ice walls along the roads looked like, well, pretty much any regular walls in India. A beautiful valley terribly polluted by human activity.



The Seltos wishlist

This is not a Kashmir which is supposedly called jannat in the folklore of the bygone era. This is not a Kashmir that my Dad had expected he’d be showing his children 30 years after he’d visited it for the first time. I don’t clearly remember if it was me acting out because my parents refused to let me stay back in Leh forever or because I had suddenly shifted to a dreary part of our country and was saddened by its state. We reached Sonmarg by 9 am, and made a pit stop at a hotel. Wild horses grazing in the hotel compound with fir trees in the backdrop and a stream of glacial water flowing by looked like a painting of hope being laughed at in the face by reality check.

From here on it was just army trucks and minimal tourism for kilometers. It was Patnitop where we could finally find some respite from the heat of the weather and the situation. Post Patnitop it was a drive of straight 36 hours to home sweet home. 3,000 kms, fifteen days, countless experiences and destinations, the Ladakh circuit should be on your clichéd bucket list if you haven’t been there already. I, for one, am always in the process of planning a trip to the Land of Lamas.

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