Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Srinagar to Leh

Travelling through the Kashmir and Ladakh region, from Srinagar to Leh

After just a couple days in Srinagar it was time to move on. With Independence Day around the corner and none of the Jammu/ Kashmiri Indians apparently interested in it, maybe Leh would have some celebrations to see, not to mention a change of scenery and pace.

The road from Srinagar to Leh is only about 430km but takes upward of 17 hours in a jeep, more if you are taking a bus which doesn't appeal considering how bad the roads are meant to be.

Early start, up at the crack of dawn to head to the jeep stand and to make sure a ticket was available, 1800 rupees for the whole journey. Not a lot by standards back home but for India that's a load of cheons.

Had to wait for the jeep to fill before we could set off, eight passengers in total and the driver who turned out to be a bit weak behind the wheel. Around 7am set off down the road and east towards the hills and Leh. The first hour or so was mainly trying to get out of built up areas and make it to the meandering hills of the north of India.

Once on National Highway 1 (not kidding) we were out in the sticks and very soon the only civilisation for miles were random homes and shops to cater for locals and foreigners intent on hiking the remote regions of the north. One such township was Sonmarg, not too far out of Srinagar, and if you stayed here for the night with no intention of hiking, you really would appreciate a good book.

From here the road became a little more interesting. Due to rain there had been flash floods which in turn had created many landslides and also caused several sections of the road to become rather difficult to drive on. As mentioned before, our driver was a bit of a flake and pretty quickly he lost his nerve whilst driving on the slick terrain, not what you want really. Thankfully one of the other passengers had done the route before and drove through the tricky stretch. Ironically enough he was taking a jeep so he could avoid driving as he thought the roads were too dangerous at this time.

'Road' through the hills

Trying to pass each other
Once through the hard part we came to one of many passes that the roads take here in the Kashmir and Ladakh area. The Zo Lija pass was clear today but one of the passengers told everyone how just a couple months ago fifty trucks were stuck in the pass because of snow that had fallen over night. Thankfully things were alright this time round.

Welcome to Ladakh
Once in Ladakh the roads hardly improved but the views became more spectacular as you stay well above 3000m above sea level. Leh, the destination, stands at around 3400m so not too much more height to be gained as the journey continues.

One of the little towns passed is Drass which has the proud distinction of being the second coldest, inhabited town in the world, somewhere in Siberia is apparently the first. As the journey continues and we reach Leh, there are plenty more claims of being the world's best something, from highest petrol station to paintball centre. What a claim.

Leaving the rough patch behind

The jeep in all it's glory

Mountain views
After a few hours, the terrain and views start to change. Since passing the Zo Lija pass, mountains have had that typical grey colour speckled with snow when they're tall enough, trees are in abundance and there is plenty of greenery to be seen for miles around.

However, when you round the main corner of the village of Mulbek, the scenery takes on a completely different turn, with the green and greys replaced by an arid landscape with no sign of life for miles around. These desert views continued for the duration of the journey, with only the ineviatable darkness obscuring the view of this never changing area.

Passing through Mulbek

Views past Mulbek

Arid landscape of Ladakh


Once the sun had gone down, a puncture was inevitable. By and large this shouldn't be a problem: jack out, tyre off, new one on, go. Obviously forgot where I was. Only took the best part of an hour to get the tyre off, let alone complete the job.

By now, with Leh and midnight fast approaching, it had been a long and arduous day. Nothing particularly fun about bumping around in the back of a jeep for 17 and odd hours. Arriving in Leh at this time also proved to be a disaster in terms of accommodation, however, by now everyone on the jeep had bonded and one of the older men in the front was only too happy to offer his home up to those who needed it, what a trooper. Head down for the night after a long old trip.

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