Srinagar to Kargil: The adventure of Zoji La

Start of the day (14 August 2018)

I got up around 6:00 AM. Movement of the houseboat due to wind / waves, caused me to wake up a couple of times in the night. I stepped out of the room around 6:30 AM, the morning was beautiful. It had drizzled in the night and the weather was very pleasant. I took some photographs of the lake and watched activities happening in the lake. Breakfast and tea were served at 7:30 AM.

After the breakfast we sent our bags on the Shikara to the ghat. We then got ready and left for the parking area in another Shikara. Mushtaq Bhai came to see us off at the parking area.

See the reflection, in the water including birds on electric wire and the hill !!
To the starting point
Mushtaq Bhai came to say goodbye
All geared up!!

Srinagar to Sonamarg

We received our bags at the ghat and helped the support staff loading them in the backup vehicle. Manish then briefed us about today’s ride. Today we had a ride of 220 KM to Kargil through the Zoji La.

We rode by the side of the Dal Lake and through Srinagar city for almost an hour, passing through Ganderbal on to the Srinagar – Leh highway. In about 30 minutes, around 10:30 AM we were riding alongside the beautiful Sindhu (Indus) river, and the mountains, this was the first sight of the Indus. This is the river of Indus Valley Civilization from our history books. The views were very beautiful. I felt like the Indus was saying to keep the heart clear, just like its transparent waters, take everything with you, the good and the bad, keep flowing, doing good and the world will be a beautiful place.

The road was narrow but well maintained. Around 11:45 AM we reached Sonamarg after riding about 90 KM from Srinagar. Sonamarg is a very famous tourist attraction in Kashmir. The Indus, the green pastures and the mountains offer majestic views from Sonamarg. Baltal from where the Amarnath Yatra starts is close to Sonamarg and we could see several camps with pilgrims from the road.

Just outside Srinagar
First sight of the Indus
Approaching Sonamarg
Beautiful Sonamarg
Don’t want to ride, just soak in the views
The Indus @ Sonamarg
Beautiful Sonamarg

Sonamarg to Zoji La

We had our simple lunch of parathas, curd and pickle at Sonamarg.

We started for Zoji La around 12:30 PM. Zoji La is about 30 km from Sonamarg at an altitude of 11575 Ft (3528 m). It separates the Kashmir valley and the Drass valley. This pass often closes in December and then opens in April. Road to Zoji La is one of the most dangerous, high altitude roads in the world.

The ascent to Zoji La started within minutes after leaving Sonamarg, and the temperature started dropping. The road to Zoji La had water streams, mud, dust, broken roads, no roads, ongoing road maintenance work, and traffic of heavy trucks ahead of us and in the opposite direction. The 411 CC Himalayan could run in the first gear only. One trick of maintaining the momentum of the bike, given yesterday during rider briefing, was helping a lot in crossing obstacles. Wayne, Baskar, Teja, Sebastian, Rodney and Michal were also enjoying the thrilling ride. The anxiety had gone away, and I was enjoying the ride, carefully crossing mud, broken roads and overtaking trucks. There were portions of road where barely one vehicle could pass and the side of the road was not solid, anytime it could slide down.

We reached Zoji La top and stopped to click a few pictures, what a ride and incredible hour they were! I will never forget this experience.

Riding towards Zoji La
A deep deep valley, little chance of survival !!
Ascent of Zoji La, broken road, dirt, mud, and heavy traffic
Some unexpected traffic, they must go first
Finally at Zoji La top !!
Braveheart truck drivers.. Skill, faith and courage everyday to make ends meet!!
We too passed the test of Zoji La!! An incredible ride
Sonamarg to Zoji La Ride

Zoji La to Drass (Kargil War Memorial)

4 – 5 km after Zoji La the road was wider but still almost broken, with water streams, and mud and dust at many places. Around 3 PM we stopped for permit check and had tea. The RE Himalayan is very comfortable during long ride, one does not feel tired. The second quality is that it is well balanced and allows easy change of riding position from sitting to standing. The bike is purpose built for the Himalayas.

After a ride of 40 km we reached Drass, which is called gateway to Ladakh, at an altitude of 3300 m. Drass is the coldest place in India with a recorded low temperature of -45 Deg C.

Indian Army has built Kargil War Memorial in Drass, at the foothills of the Tololing Hill. The memorial is in the memory of the soldiers and officers of the Indian Army who were martyred during the 1999 conflict Kargil War. The memorial has a huge epitaph with names of all the officers and soldiers who laid down their lives during the war. Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated on 26 July every year at the memorial. One can see Tololing Heights, Tiger Hill and Point 4875 in the background of the memorial. This memorial tells the stories of bravery and courage of ordinary men who became real heroes with their deeds and commitment to uphold the national pride under extraordinarily challenging circumstances. We spent about 45 minutes at the memorial. With moist eyes, heavy heart but full of pride and memories to cherish for a lifetime we left for the onward journey to Kargil.

It is a matter of pride for us that our elder brother Shri. Akhileshkumar Jain has served in the Indian Army. He has served at the Siachen Glacier. Salute to you Akhilesh dada!!

Memorial of the Immortal Soldier
What motivates these soldiers?
Shaan Teri Kabhi Kam Na Ho, Aye Watan, Mere Watan !!
Shaan Teri Kabhi Kam Na Ho, Aye Watan, Mere Watan !!
They won the war, with their fire power. The Bofors Gun
Tiger Hill

Drass to Kargil

The road condition improved a lot after Kargil War Memorial, except a few bad patches. Now the Drass River was flowing by the side of the road. Around 5 PM a short spell of light rain occurred. As you leave Sonamarg and cross Zoji La, the Himalayas start becoming barren the greenery goes away and the brown / grey mountains start appearing.

Around 5:15 PM Lalit realized that he had lost his mobile phone, somewhere near the Kargil War Memorial. Pankaj and Lalit decided to go back, while I and Chandrakant decided to continue for Kargil. Around 5:45 PM everyone including Imran bhai with the backup van had reached outskirts of Kargil town. We caught up with other riders and Manish and informed them about the lost phone episode. Manish immediately inquired if Pankaj had checked the fuel level in the bike, concerned that they may run out of fuel soon. Now everyone was worried as there was no mobile signal and we could not call them.

It was about 6:00 PM and beginning to get dark, I and Chadudada asked others to leave for the hotel, and continued to wait. Pankaj and Lalit returned around 6:45 PM. They were advised by some army men to go to an Army camp about 5 – 6 KM away and from there call the war memorial instead of going all the way back to Drass. They followed the instruction and came back. We fueled up our bikes and followed Imran bhai in the backup vehicle, who guided us to Hotel Royal Gasho at Kargil.

River flowing by the side of the road

End of the Day

Upon reaching the hotel, we were delighted to see a spacious room, and hot water in the bathroom. We ordered tea and freshened up.  I called up Shilpa to inform about today’s ride and enquired about Baba’s health. She informed that Baba was much better and has resumed regular activities.

Once we left Srinagar, the mobile connectivity had started reducing drastically. Pankaj and Lalit went to Police Station to record a FIR for the lost phone, but were told that most of the staff were occupied in the duty for Independence Day. They returned around 8:30 PM, then all four of us went for a dinner. The entire group joined in for the dinner, including Manish, Imran Bhai and all other riders. We finished the dinner by 9:30 PM, and went back to the room. Four of us kept talking about the experiences of the day, and went to bed around midnight.