We woke up to the picturesque sight of the lake astir with unhurried activity. Flower vendors selling blooms, a young lady posing for a shutterbug dressed in traditional Kashmiri attire, the locals ferrying to school and work on their aqua cars. After a hearty breakfast on the patio of our houseboat and some noon chai we moved on our journey forwards.
Our charioteer to kargil was Mohammed and was he a godsend. He was friendly, chatty and knew roads like the back of his hand.
1st stop was Kheer Bhawani temple which is situated near a spring, the colours of which change to dark brown or black signalling impending disaster. Swami Vivekananda visited this shrine on his trip to Kashmir. Devotees offer kheer(rice pudding) as Prasad here and hence the name, and we got some delicious kheer too.
Next stop was the picturesque Sonamarg. Beautiful green meadows with snow clad mountains in the backdrop all of this blanketed by the cerulean sky, this place is heavenly. The majestic Sindhu- here a little more than a stream- glides along most part of the route and mesmerises with its clear blue water. It was no surprise to find a Bailley’s bottling plant here, this water is delicious.
Cruising forth we reached Zozi La which is one of the highest mountain passes at an altitude of 11,575 ft. The BRO’s efforts at building and maintaining this treacherous pass is laudable. The drive was exhilarating with serpentine roads, at times overlooking the valley sometimes passing through snow. We stopped at zero point to cavort in snow and to click pictures which will be cherished since we seldom get to enjoy the snow. This is also the point of demarcation, from where Kargil begins.
Mohammed proved his worth by stopping briefly at Draupadi kund. This hidden gem is like an oasis in the snow. It is the most exquisitely beautiful pond in the middle of nowhere. This place is where Draupadi took her final bath before breathing her last. It has a small temple which gets buried under the snow during winter. Here we witnessed a local family filling water from the lake and my heart went out to them for enduring the hostile climate of this unforgiving land, stoically and yet being so content.
We crossed Drass aka the gateway to Ladakh, which is the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia. We stopped at the Kargil war memorial- which commemorates the sacrifice of Indian soldier during the war. It was one of those occasions that I felt proud of my fauji connection. The sun was setting as we approached Kargill and checked into a BRO accommodation. This too ,was in a setting no less beautiful than those witnessed earlier in the day. Surprisingly, even here we actually ran into some old friends.