After inhaling the abundance of freshness in Sonmarg we were headed to, what was going to be the most emotional moment of our 10 day expedition – Kargil. This name awakens a deep emotion within every Indian, for buried deep within its valleys is a story that reverberates the melancholy of the event that took place almost a couple of decades ago! Located about 130kms from Sonmarg, Kargil is at a height of 8780ft from MSL on the NH1 connecting Srinagar to Leh.
Crossing Zoji La, our first pass of the journey, we were all eager to reach Zero Point, where our driver preferred us to play in snow than at the Thajiwas glacier. This is the idea that gained him a blow across his face from the angry merchants in Sonmarg. Although a beautiful place, Zero Point which is just a little beyond Zoji La was swarming with tourists and local vendors.
We enjoyed our first encounter with snow in this trip, and we reveled in it until when we couldn’t feel our hands anymore. And that’s when you don’t mind the presence of the local vendors trying to drain your wallets for just eating Maggi. Having satiated our hunger, we were on our way.
Although we were aware of our destination and have heard the story associated with it before, the history that Kargil carries with itself is a story worth being told a million times over! And each time, one can’t help but feel proud to have been from the same land as the brave warriors.
After an hour’s drive from Zoji La, we passed through Dras village. This village is another small township with a population of just over a 1000. On the contrary to its below freezing point temperatures, there are no sophisticated buildings with heater systems in this place. To anyone as eminently emotional as I am, this place still echoes the cries from the war.
While I was still trying to fathom every bit of the village, our driver stopped at the Kargil War Memorial. And that was one of the rarest hour of my life where I hadn’t uttered a word. Walking through the pathway adorned by the tricolor, treading on the dried leaves fallen rang an eerie sensation. As I sauntered between the plaques etched with the valiant names of the heroes of the war, subliminal tears just rolled down the cheeks that had turned cold because of the chill in the air.
A friendly soldier untiringly and proudly tells the story of the war to anyone enquiring. As he began his narration, everyone stood fixed at the details of the hostilities that took place almost 2 decades ago. The strength in his voice resounded the spirit of every individual who was a part of the infamous combat on what is termed as the most treacherous battleground in the world. And this is called so for a good reason. After this we all just quietly completed the rest of the tour of the memorial in quietude. And this gentleman was ever so glad to sign one of my favorite books “Letters from Kargil” written by a proud daughter of one of the martyrs of the war.
With heavy hearts we stepped out and it was only time to retire for the day and thus we were dropped off at our stay for the night ‘Hotel Chutuk Heights’, by the banks of the suru river. The roaring of the river in the cold night lightened our minds our hearts and we were ready and eagerly waiting to begin the next day’s journey to Leh. This was going to be last day confined within the container on wheels, for we couldn’t wait to feel the rain and the shine in our faces!
- Dras is the second coldest inhabited place in the world
- Drass is one of the four sub-divisions of Kargil which is one of the two districts of the Ladakh region
- Winter is dreaded by every resident of the village and come summer, al the farmers are busy growing barley to stock it up for the winter
- It’s common for temperatures to dip below -30o C and according to one of Border Road Organization’s (BRO) boards, the lowest temperature recorded was -60 o C on January 6th 1995
- The Kargil war memorial is located at the foothills of Tololing Hill a mere 5 KM from Tiger Hill of the Kargil war fame
- Dras also hosts the riveting games of Polo. The zeal with which the sport is played is something to be cherished
- Dras is known as the ‘Gateway to Ladakh’
- The memorial is open from 7:00AM – 7:00 PM
- Come sliding down the manual sledges in Zero point
- Visit the Kargil War Memorial
- Stay back for the ceremony where they lower the tricolor
- Stand outside the memorial, spread your hands wide and feel the breeze
- Buy books from the store at the memorial. My favorite is Param Vir Vikram Batra
- Do not miss the flag lowering ceremony, albeit not as elaborate as the ones in Wagah or Leh, it does guarantee goosebumps
|Sunscreen (SPF 50+)||Extremely High||No amount of SPF can spare you from the tan, so embrace it with pride!|
|Thermals||Low||You can make the decision based on the time of the year you’re visiting|
|Rain Jacket||Low||You can make the decision based on the time of the year you’re visiting|
|Shades||High||These are very useful|
|Moisturizer||High||Without this, you’ll end up looking like you’ve acquired the grey scale disease|
|Jackets/Sweater||High||The quantity depends on your threshold to withstanding the chills|
|Clothing ( Also includes Nightwear, Innerwear)||High||Of course, you need clothes! But you can decide what you want to wear. But mind the climatic conditions.|
|Woolen socks and Gloves||Medium||These are really helpful in the night if you’re not lucky with temperature controlled beds|
|BSNL/Airtel Post Paid Sims||Low||These are the only ones that work|
- The best time to visit is after April, when the summer is just visiting the place
- You can bargain intensely with the vendors at Zero Point offering you your best snow experience
- Do not engage in loud conversations or take to many pictures in the memorial
- I would suggest a bike trip instead of a car/bus
- This place is a must for anyone who is grateful for the Indian Defence Forces for the sacrifices they make and the oath they take!
May 1999 was a haunting period in Kargil,
For it revealed alien movements in its hills!
Valiant men on both sides of the border were embattled,
Which left their families all rattled!
Thus began the most fierce post-independence war,
And causalities kept climbing in score!
Soon our National Flag was unfurled,
On the most treacherous battlefield in the world!