Leh to Kargil - A guest article.

>> Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In the March of 2007, I got weary of all the work (or the lack of it!) and decided to roam around India. After a surprisingly nice trip to Jharkhand-Bihar, I set my sights further north. Luckily, an equally mad friend of mine, Rucha, got invited to a trip to Leh Ladakh. And even though it was a complete "off-season", we both idiots decided to go. One of the most memorable journeys we had there was a trip to Kargil from Leh, on the eve of Rucha's birthday. Here is a beautiful account of the same in Rucha's words. Thanks Rucha for letting me put this up!

Leh to Kargil

Before I took the plunge into IT, my ambition was to get into Indian Army and I most earnestly dreamt of getting posted to Leh. Though without the uniform, I got my chance to partly realise this dream of mine. A friend posted in the region invited me to come over. God bless him :)

In-spite of the un-seasonal snow in Northern India, I and a friend decided to go ahead. We were warned that most of the roads would be closed. But the silver lining was that routes to Kargil would be open...... and then after see-sawing on go - no go a couple of times with the dare devil friend of mine, landed in Leh :)

We visited many monasteries and historical places which included Hermis Gumpa, Thiksey Gumpa, Lameyru Gumpa, Shey Palace, Shanti Stupa, Hall of Fame.... but what I would always cherish is the drive from Leh to Kargil.

This route on Leh-Srinagar NH, through mountains presented to us sceneries that made a life time impact on me. The breathtaking view left me so spell bound that at times I would forget to put my camera to use and at other times I would just keep clicking so as not to miss any of this natural beauty. My first association with fresh snow ....and how special it was... The only colours visible were white, brown and blue. White from the snow, a colour so pure that it could make any other colour look adulterated yet it enhances beauty of every colour it is put with. Brown from the parts of the mountains where snow had not settled or had been removed. A colour which reminded me that we were still on earth and had not reached heaven yet. Blue from the sky, which embraced this splendor and every other on the face of this planet. A position to be envied with highest respect.

There was magic in these colours and I have no words do describe what marvelous paintings they had painted, just those three colours. The road windings could be compared to random but yet beautiful and thoughtful brush stokes of an artist.

Or you could just let your childish imagination run wild and compare the white-brown mountains to vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce or a chocolate cake with lots of icing on it:) Who had thought that our biggest disadvantage of the un-seasonal snow would turn out to be the most amazing experience?

With snow covered mountains on both the sides, the road was pretty much cleared, thanks to BRO (Border Road Organisation). These guys have a tough job to do and in an equally rough weather. Watch them perform their job once and none of us would ever complain about our work being tough. Atleast going forward I will never. This road currently has a single lane and BRO is working towards making this double. As a result, we came across 3 road blocks which took around 30 to 45 mins each to be cleared. These guys who would be working on the second lane, would stop their primary work and clean the road off the debris, which resulted from the main work to let us pass by. And then they would again resume their initial task. God knows how many times they would have to do this during a day. They not only have the physical strength to do this in rough weather and terrain, but also have tremendous amount of patience to handle such interruptions. Hats off to them!!

Our adventures for the day had just begun. Going forward we got a flat tyre. Our driver did not let us give him a helping hand, he wanted us to sit comfortably inside the car and stay protected with warmth the heater provided. It’s difficult to get your limbs working in such a cold whether and add to it the temperature difference, inside and outside the car. In such situation any kind of help is most welcome, but not for Mr Kinchukh …. the proud owner and driver of the Scorpio, we were traveling in.

We arrived in Kargil with a delay of couple of hours. I had expected Kargil to be a small village with a handful of houses and a military base to keep the Pakistanis out. But surprisingly it is a town with population almost same as Leh and more than a couple of Army regiments. It was 7 in the evening. Our driver had been sure that finding accommodation in a hotel wouldn't be a problem and we had arrived without any bookings. We ended up going all around the town from one closed hotel to another ... it was off season ... almost all hotels were closed. Only one hotel was open and it was but obviously full.

We contacted the base we were staying at in Leh and requested them to arrange for accommodation in one of the bases at Kargil. My friend had got posted out just after we arrived in Leh, so we had called upon his senior a Colonel for help. After a couple of calls it was decided that we head towards a given Army base while the Col would get in touch with somebody at the base. It was almost dark and we moved out of Kargil in search of the Army regiment. The base couldn't be found and neither could we find anybody on the road to direct us. Aaahhh ……I forgot to mention none of our cells were working in that area. None of the connections from outside of Leh work in this region, for obvious security reasons. BSNL and Airtel services are available in Leh. But only BSNL provides service in Kargil. So our temporary Airtel connection was of no use in Kargil. Mr. Driver's cell was operational with only incoming calls. So we waited inside the car in pitch darkness for the phone to ring. And when it finally rang the news was that communication could not be established with that army base.

But the people at Army base in Leh didn’t give up on finding a solution. Help was coming in from completely unknown quarters. We were told that somebody in Jet Airways was trying to get in touch with a relative in Kargil and so we were asked to go back to the so called city area again. This time when we entered the town there was practically no difference between the outskirts and the market area. It was just 8:00pm and almost all lights were out. Fortunately we found a STD booth open. Luck was on our side .... yes I will say that in spite of all the events during the day....... because across two cities there was a chain of concerned people who were trying to help us....... yes, I repeat we were fortunate. We called back and got confirmation that the relative was on his way to search for us. After a while he arrived with a friend. On his way he had asked a restaurant fellow to stay open coz he was sure his guests would be hungry …...how very thoughtful. We had dinner with them, an Inspector and a Prosecutor....what a company to have, in an unknown place. Who would do what to us with them by our side :). From them we got to know that a place which is dreaded since Kargil war has a very low crime a rate. Just around 20 cases all together, in a year. Our cities are more dangerous than our battle fields. They also told us the only bridge (Iqbal Bridge) which connects Kargil to rest of India, is positioned in such a way that the bomb shells fired from across the border either fall before the bridge or beyond but never on it. Isn’t that amazing piece of information? They also introduced us to salt tea – tea which has salt instead of sugar. Can’t comment much on that I barely managed a sip but my friend drank to the last drop. I don’t know whether he was being brave or had liked it. :) After a little more chit chat, they escorted us to the Circuit House. From no place to stay ....we landed up in a place where VIPs lodged during their visit to this city near….. LOC.

Out of the six people who were trying to arrange things for us, we didn’t know five of them and thus was the case with the key person, the gentleman from Jet Airways. Until we were placed safely at the Circuit house this kind man would call up every 10mins to tell us not to worry and everything will be taken care of.... No, I wasn't worried but was surprised and delighted that someone was so concerned about complete strangers.

In an known town, with no place to stay, with PAK just across the mountain .... I was not scared. Its only when I narrate this that I feel I should have been a little apprehensive if not frightened. I was way too contented to know and experience that, in my country strangers were so helpful and could still be trusted.
Next day I woke up to celebrate my coldest birthday but the best one so far, with my faith in humanity not just intact but stronger.

-- Rucha (Feb 08)


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