After the breakfast and a nice coffee, we finally started towards Drass, which is at a distance of 60 kilometers from Sonamarg. For reaching Drass, one must cross the treacherous Zoji La, which is the first of the mountain passes. As mentioned in the earlier post, I always feared this pass and I was very tensed. The road was decent enough, though I knew it would turn into worse as we reach the pass. The weather was very good and has started getting warm. With mountains all around, we could sea snow caps on some at a distance. One side of the nearby mountains was filled with pine trees.
Normally there would always be a check post in Sonamarg where we need to make an entry and there would be another right after Drass. This check is to make a note of who all have ascended to Zoji La and in case someone do not reach Kargil, rescue teams would search the pass. However we did not find any as we crossed Sonamarg. As we rode further, we reached Baltal which is the base camp for the Amarnath Yatra. We could find hundred odd vehicles parked at the camp. This camp also has a helipad from which one can fly to Amarnath directly. It was pure pleasure riding on this black tarmac with twists and turns. There was a slight descent and Srivadana thought that we had crossed Zoji La and this was a cakewalk. Little did she know that the actual fun starts ahead.
As we rode further, as expected the rode turned bad and narrow. I was riding almost at one end near to the valley as the road was really bad. And remember, this is with both of us along with our luggage.The incline got steeper and steeper we were almost riding at 10 kmph speed.
Then the vehicle gave up after taking a turn. The valley was right behind. The road ahead was at a 50 degree incline and filled with small stones. The vehicle could not move further. The road was so steep, that two other cars which were having around 5 passengers each also gave up right in the middle of the road. Two trucks had to stop behind these two cars, and they were yelling at the car guys. Their yelling was very genuine as if the heavy truck drags itself back, they will lose control of the vehicle and crash down into the valley. The passengers of the cars got down and started pushing the cars themselves.
There were a group of local guys who were driving a car and they approached. Then the endless taunting started. “You should not have come like this“, “Go back and come with a better vehicle“, “It is not good to come with a female to such a place and with this vehicle“. While I was planning for this trip, I actually thought about this scenario where the vehicle is not able to pull itself. I always knew that this road is frequented by army convoys. The plan was to take help from the army and Srivadana would ride along with them while I ride the Activa. But something happened here. With all the thoughts pushed by these guys, my mind went blank. I could not think clearly. I would have gathered my thoughts in a while, but I became brainless at that moment.
Then one of the guys suggested the same which I had initially planned. He suggested to stop a truck and have Srivadana move further and then I attempt taking the vehicle. They themselves stopped a truck and requested the driver to have Srivadana go along. The truck driver initially thought that we were requesting to have the Activa to be put in the truck and refused. Once we cleared him of that doubt, Srivadana got into the truck along with the luggage and moved ahead. I had already told her the exact location she need to alight the truck.
Once Srivadana went ahead it was time for me to move ahead and I started off. I just had one thought in mind. Get onto the Zoji La top. With that determination, I rode very slowly. The road was extremely bad. As it is the road is narrow, and on top of it there was construction going on in some parts. As I neared the top, I found that snow was melting from one side and there were water crossings at couple of places. Water crossings can be extremely risky if you are not careful. You need to judge the terrain, depth and flow of water. The best way is to stop the vehicle and get into the water to know. I did the same. I passed through the crossings with a bit of effort and finally reached the Zero Point, which is almost the top of Zoji La. It was around 12.30 PM. I was so elated that I shouted in excitement.
Srivadana had alighted the truck just minutes before and was waiting anxiously. She never thought that I would turn up so quickly and she was already planning to come back looking for me if I was late. I was extremely delighted to conquer Zoji La and seeing Srivadana. That was the moment I confidently thought that Ladakh will be done. There were restaurants on the top and we had nice tea and noodles. One thing I must mention here is the noodles made in Kashmir. Though they are the normal Maggi ones, the way these guys prepare makes it extremely tasty. I am not sure if it is for the lack of other types of dishes, but I can say we had the best noodles in Kashmir.
The heck of all this is that, I neither have a picture nor any video of us ascending the Zoji La. This experience lie in our memories, etched for a lifetime.