Nasrun Mir takes us on a journey of heavenly experience
Three in the morning is the time when I normally go to sleep, but last weekend I billed for a journey stretching 150 km from Srinagar on a motorable pass where “motorable” and “pass” are subjective to interpretation of maladies, adrenaline rush and natural beauty, which makes you forget everything, even driving.
The road to Drass is one of the most dangerous as sand, loose stones plunging over the precipice and hairpin curves keep you inches away from “heavenly abode” journey to God.
My driver, chain smoker and loquacious, driving a Chevrolet Travera was a first timer like me on the road to Ladakh. His perception about the journey was more mythical, which sometimes made us laugh, as he was too scared of turns and the legends of the road – a deadly combination over 18000 feet.
After two hours journey from Srinagar, which itself is magnificent as the greens, mountains and rivers make you feel in heaven –The journey from Sonmarg towards Drass on single-lane road is out of the world experience.
The movement we crossed Baltal, a base camp of Amarnath pilgrims, the only thing you could see is serene beauty, and plenty of Indian soldiers manning the high altitude battlefields which these days are abiding a bilateral cease fire between the two South Asian nuclear powers. But, perhaps behind the white and camouflaged uniforms appeared the most splendid and surreal beauty I have ever seen or will ever see.
Patches of lush green meadows extending towards the snowcaps, waterfalls, rivers bisecting emptiness of greens like those dewdrops on lotus leaves was just like a reverie. The sky was so blue that it could hurt your eyes; sunshine so bright that you can go blind and few clouds moving over, were like the characters of fairytales ready to narrate a new story.
We rounded a turn before Zogila and there, two feet of road was missing. A solider confirmed that this is standard, and we have to rebuild highway by ourselves, otherwise, we are stuck here for the day.
I was travelling with a caravan of 12 cars and ours was the first to leave Srinagar, but the last to reach Drass. After ‘rebuilding’ the road the task was to come in full speed, pray you do not slip and jump up a feet in air to reach the other side of the national highway. Everybody passed the test, but our driver didn’t even try. He took a u-turn, and moved back to drive on the other alternate route, delaying our scheduled arrival time of 8 am by at least two hours.
As we crossed Zogila, the highway eased and suddenly in between the towering snow mountains and green meadows, nomads of Kashmir created patches of life on emptiness of nature where even a touch of humanity seems to spoil the beauty. But these gypsies’ simplicity perfectly blended with the Mother Nature.
From Zogila to Drass the voyage is romancing with nature in reality; you are in its lap and she sings ballads through melting snow; her tender kisses are fresh in the breeze and her touch is mystic when you feel the warmth of the sun. It is the Shangri-La of the world, where Buddhism arrived way before it reached Tibet. And suddenly in this romanticism, my fellow traveller said, “Look that is Tiger Hill” and I suddenly remembered this land of “high passes,” what Ladkah literally means, is bordering China and Pakistan, India’s two arch rivals and in 1999 on these mountain ranges, India and Pakistan fought each other and Drass suddenly became ‘world famous’ as the potential nuclear flash point.
My first steps into Drass main Bazaar I saw women quietly chanting and men whose faces resemble those great epics of Lhasa, perhaps that’s why Ladakh is also called as mini Tibet, deweeding the shaking barley and some heading to Mosque and some to Polo field.
Drass is a small town and the second coldest place inhabited by humans. In winters the temperature in this region goes below minus 40 degree Celsius, but warmth of hospitality and unique joy on the faces makes life easy. People in Drass are crazy about Polo. There are around 14 teams and on match day, thousands gather in the newly constructed Polo ground.
Drass is still backward but the natural beauty and history of silk route makes you feel that you are in the middle of melting pot of civilizations. This place is undeveloped paradise and many lovers of nature want to see it this way only. But being a sensitive area, government of India is doing its bit in bringing up the infrastructure and considering its tourism potential, a big five-star hotel chain is also mulling a hotel in this remote region.
But for lovers of nature and simple life, Drass is a way to find something lost within and sustaining that through a voyage of adrenaline and spirituality.