Research, shortlist, plan and execute. That’s the usual train that follows any travel. If only it was foolproof every time. How often have any of your plans derailed? Mine hadn’t ever, till the summer of 2018. A Ladakh tour that changed the way I planned my trips.
A missed flight, a delayed flight and a lot of wasted time later, we had finally arrived in Srinagar. It was time to begin our journey and move to our first stop – Sonamarg. Heaven is lesser of an adjective to describe this place. Right from the lush greenery to the nip in the air, to the hot kahwah, everything is delicious about that valley. The small market lane keeps bustling till 9 pm before all the shops shut and quietness is restored. (Head over to the market to buy some authentic kahwah, really inexpensive walnuts and local biscuits.)
Just as we were getting comfortable in the valley’s evening light, we were informed that there had been a landslide in the Zoji La Pass, which connects Sonamarg to Kargil. Landslide, how grave could it be; an entire evening, night and early morning would be enough to clear out the path right? Wrong. Little did we know that the situation in the pass was so bad that we wouldn’t be able to start our journey before the next 24 hours.
Panic hadn’t yet set in and our first priority was to secure accommodation in case we had to stay back the next night in Sonamarg. Of course, all the lodges and hotels were completely sold out, there was hardly any respite. After a lot of convincing and negotiations, it was agreed that we would scramble in as many rooms as we could get and spend the next day in supposed coziness if was required. There went our pre-planned trip out the window.
What do you do in such a situation? You try not to panic (try), hope that your luck will favour you somehow. Hope that you will somehow manage to make it to Kargil as planned, on the next day. You continue hoping and praying because you realize that besides this faith, there’s not much you can do. So even the most rational of us tend to bend toward our superstitious side.
The Bollywood movie ‘Om Shanti Om’ had taught me – “Agar kisi cheez ko poore dil se chaaho, toh poori kayanaat usse tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai”. Who knew that a mere movie dialogue would hold true? The morning rays brought warmth not just around us but also within – the pass was about to be cleared, so we were told. It was still a long waiting game. We visited the Thajiwas glacier, one hour from our hotel, sledged our way on the slopes, drank some more kahwah, walked our way back only to find out that there was still no go-ahead. Our belongings were already packed to avoid any delays once the road opened. A restless lunch later, it was finally time to leave Sonamarg. Oh, if only!
There were about seventy-eighty odd vehicles, queued behind the entry point to the Zoji La Pass. Six tedious and weary hours later, they finally let our vehicles pass. For anybody who has travelled to Ladakh before, will vouch for the fact that this pass is the trickiest of them all; narrow, muddy and beaten-up roads, two-way traffic and a lot of blind turns to drive your way through. To cross this pass, it takes about two hours usually. That day, it took us five and half hours.
Driving in pitch darkness with intermittent rainfall and snowfall for company at 11,500 ft. was not something we had signed up for. Not forgetting, the numerous times our vehicle was halted throughout the journey. Each time, we would get out to savour the cold, be swamped by cold gushes, feel the soft snow landing on our heads and hurriedly bundle ourselves back in the car. It was certainly an impressive drive. Making our way to Kargil after this arduous journey was nothing short of a triumph for us.
A BIG thank you to the BRO and the Indian Army for being ever resilient in their efforts to ensure that nobody endured any further difficulties than they already had. For working overnight and throughout the day for two consecutive days to clear out the roads. For managing the traffic effortlessly at such high altitudes to guarantee zero casualties.
To all the drivers, whose patience knew no bounds and for the grit they showed while driving in the dark pass, thank you.
A special mention to all hotel owners, managers and staff members in Sonamarg for accommodating travelers who were left in the lurch and for the warm hospitality that never fell short.
It’s moments like these that make your travel worthwhile. For as they as, behind the clouds, the sun is still shining.