Travelogue: Kashmir to Ladakh
A visit to distant geographical locations and particularly to a historical place is always an exciting and fascinating experience. Travelling widens our perspective on life and life is itself a journey which makes us grateful. It has been well said that it is better to see something once than hear about it thousand times.
Recently, in a first ever trip I along with my friends had a chance to visit Ladakh during the summer vacations under the guidance and supervision of Mr. Ghulam Nabi who has served long back in the Ladakh division in an official capacity. We started our journey in a privately owned vehicle on 19th July. We reached Sonamarg by 12:00 PM and had a lunch. After lunch we proceeded towards Ladakh after crossing the arid and mountainous Zojila top. We reached Drass by afternoon and had a chance to visit the Drass War Memorial built by the Indian Army in the foothills of the Tololing Hill across the Tiger Hill. It is situated on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1D. The memorial has been built in the memory of the soldiers of Indian Army who laid their lives during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan. The main source of attention at the Drass war memorial are Vijay Path (victory path) which is beyond the entrance gate, the next is Amar Jawan, Wall of Heroes, Veer Bhoomi and most importantly Manoj Panday Gallery named after Captain Manoj Panday, an officer of Gorkha Regiment who was posthumously awarded with India’s highest Gallantry Award, Param Veer Chakra for his courage during the Kargil war. The Manoj Panday Gallery has three main areas viz, the Hut of Remembrance having several boards with the names of soldiers who had laid their lives during the war. The second one is Photos and History Gallery displaying the photos of the war and the last one is Captured Weaponry and Equipment Gallery that are displayed in the Gallery. We clicked some photographs inside the Manoj Panday Gallery and way back at the entrance gate after the exit from war memorial we went to a tea stall and had a tea in Drass. Then we further proceeded towards the Kargil.
Topographically, the whole Ladakh division is mountainous with three parallel ranges of the Himalayas, the Zanaskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram. The three rivers Shayok, Indus and Zanskar flow between these three ranges and most of the population lives in the valleys of these rivers.
After having a glimpse at the war memorial we started our journey and reached Kargil by evening on the same day. Kargil is the transit hub of Ladakh and is located 8780 feet above the sea level. It is the second largest town in the Ladakh division after Leh. It is about 205 kilometers away from the summer capital Srinagar. After reaching Kargil we booked a dormitory of a hotel to take some rest. Then after, we undertook a visit to main market, few Imam Baras of the Shia community and other few places till late evening. Kargil is a small town and is called as the land of Agas as it is inhabited mostly by Shias and Agas are its religious heads and preachers of the town among Shias. There are several Imam Baras in Kargil.
According to the Census Report 2011, Kargil town has a population of around 10,657 where most of them are a mix of Dard and Tibetan descent. It is located at the junction of famous Silk route and on the river Suru and Nallah Wakha. It is famous for Mulbekh Monastery, Tiger Hill, Cave Monastery and Suru River.
On next day as per our plan we proceeded towards Leh which is 225 kilometers away from Kargil. We started our journey by 6:00 AM. The travel from Kargil to the cold desert, Leh is fascinating and it is one of the beautiful mountainous roads in the world due to its mesmerizing and colourful mountains. However in the whole Ladakh region one can see military posts, transit camps, cantonments and most of the strategic and beautiful places are occupied by Indian Army including the Kargil-Leh road. It took us about six and half hours to reach the Leh town. It was Friday and after reaching Leh by 12:30 PM we immediately booked the hotel and had a lunch. After finishing the lunch we went for congregational Friday prayers in the historical Jamia Masjid. Leh is a district headquarter situated roughly between 320-360 North latitude and 750-800 East longitude and its altitude ranges 11,567 feet above the sea level. District Leh with an area of 45100 sq. kilometers makes it one of the largest district in Ladakh as well as in the country. It is bounded by Pakistan Administered Kashmir popularly known as Azad Kashmir in the west and China in the north and eastern part and Lahul Spiti of Himachal Pradesh in the South East. It is 434 kilometers away from the summer capital Srinagar and 474 kilometers from Manali, Himachal Pradesh. Leh possesses a marvelous architectural heritage; the most interesting monument there is the Tsemo Gompa and Royal Palace Leh. Leh palace is a must visit during any ones’s tour of Ladakh region as it has been standing there as a symbol of the old glorious days of the Royal family.
According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the information on a sign board available at the entrance of the Palace, Leh was founded in Circa A.D. 14th century by Khri-Gstug-Lde. It was pronounced as Sle or Gle in the beginning and with the passage of time its name was changed into ‘Leh’ by Moravian missionaries, who preferred the German orthography.
In Leh, we visited several historical places including the 16th century Tsemo Fort, Tsemo Gompa. We also visited the Royal Palace at Leh. Royal Palace at Leh is a legacy of Ladakhis’ war with the rulers of Kashmir in the 19th century. It is the miniature of Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet) and is the highest building in the world of his own times. Inside the Palace there are scores of compartments and a Royal temple. The construction of this nine storied palace on the Tsemo Hill was initiated by Tsewang Namgyal, founder of the Namgyal Dynasty (A.D. 1533-1834) in A.D. 1553 and was completed by his nephew, Senge Namgyal, the most illustrious king of Ladakh. The material used in the construction of the palace is stone, mud bricks, poplar wood, mud mortar and wooden rafters. The mud plaster utilized locally known as “Mar-kalak”. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has restored the valuable ruins of the nine storied Royal Palace and is open for the public as a remarkable tourist destination. Besides these we also went to Shay, where we visited the Shay Gompa and Shah-i-Hamdan Masjid built by the great Sufi saint and preacher of Islam, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani popularly known as Shah-i-Hamdan in Kashmir where we offered evening (Maghrib) prayers. We also visited Thaksai and other Gompas lying in the vicinity of Leh.
On next we planned to go Pangong Lake and accordingly as per our schedule we started our journey at 06:00 AM. The lake is 135 KM from Leh at the height of 13,940 feet above the sea level. The road leading to the Pangong Lake is in a rough and dilapidated condition but we continued our journey however unfortunately after travelling 75 KM due to the rough and arid road resulted a technical snag in one of our vehicle and we had no option but to come back without serving the purpose and on the same day we reached back to Kargil and stayed one more night in Kargil. By late evening we had a small shopping as well and on next day morning we along with our friend Ghulam Nabi who had served in the region met with some of his friends in Hardas who received us with great respect and served us with tea and offered some apricot boxes as Ladakh is famous for these apricots. Here we had a long but good discussion with a school Headmaster on Indo-Pak relations, regional politics and his life experiences on different issues confronting the state. He shared with us about his visit to Pakistan when he went there to meet his relatives across the border in Skardoo, Pakistan which is just a few miles away from Kargil and they once used to go Skardoo by foot till 1971. After that the borders were sealed but he had a chance to visit their relatives in 2006 through Wagah border and shared some of his life time moments and the love and respect he received from the people of Pakistan.
Finally, we hugged each other, bid adieu to them and left the place. After spending few hours in Hardas we went to the Kargil-Skardoo border on the top hills of Hunderman village where we saw the twin villages on the either sides of the border. From the top of the hill one can easily have a glimpse of Historical Silk Road and nearby village of Pakistan and a Masjid with an Islamic architecture of Minaret on the other side of the village in Pakistan. On the border we were briefed about the border area by one of the army men who was stationed there. He showed us some of the strategic locations and border posts of India and Pakistan. Finally we had a brief photo session on the border and returned back from the border and started proceeding way back towards Srinagar.
After crossing the arid and toughest mountainous Zogila road, the trip to Ladakh was a very nice and a new experience in our life but the most horrifying part of this visit to Ladakh were the roads leading to Zogila and Pangong Lake which one can never forget in life. After crossing the arid Zogila hill road we reached Sonamarg by afternoon and had a lunch in Sonamarg. We stayed few hours at Sonamarg and started our journey and reached back to our respective homes by late evening.
Ladakh is a good tourist place and our entire tour to this beautiful region in the Himalayas where mountains and army cantonments dominate the landscape was a new experience in my life and we enjoyed a lot along with my friends during our week long mesmerizing journey. We fully cooperated with each other in this entire trip and I am thankful to my friends particularly Ghulam Nabi who accompanied us and introduced this adventurous place to all of us.
Author has done Ph.D. from Pondicherry Central University. He is an occasional writer, poet and social activist working as a teacher in the Education Department.