Srinagar Road Trip
The pleasures of the journey are equal to the delights of the destination, and nowhere is this truer than on the short drive to Gulmarg. The smooth road lined by tall poplar trees, curves gently through mountains that are interspersed with flat expanses of rice fields and picturesque villages. Saffron, which is cultivated in very few places in the world, is grown here and as you climb higher after Tangmarg, fir and pine forests cover the hillsides. The heady scent of saffron mixed with pine fills your senses and at one point, known simply as ‘view point,’ you park and feast your eyes on the grand spectacle of snow-covered mountains. In Gulmarg, you are greeted by hundreds of flowers and after yielding to its irresistible beauty, you take the scenic route back to Srinagar.
Road Trip Srinagar to Kargil
This is one of the most fascinating drives in the world, and it also helps you gradually acclimatize to the rarified air in the heights of Ladakh. But because of the tense political situation in Kashmir and the strategic importance of this road, there is high security and it’s best to be cautious and follow all instructions of the security forces Also ensure that the vehicle papers are in order, you have proper identification and only travel in daytime.
The road usually opens after the snow melts in June and is drivable till October, when it gets snowbound again. After leaving Srinagar you go through the spectacular Sindh Valley to Sonamarg, or the ‘meadow of gold’, situated at 2730 metres. It is the last major Kashmiri town on this route and in summer, Sonamarg is carpeted with flowers that glisten like gold in the bright sunlight. As the steep climb up to the Zoji La pass at 3529 metres begins, the road surfacing deteriorates and because it gets very narrow and the turns extremely tight with steep unprotected drops, traffic movement is one way and vehicles from the Sonamarg side are only allowed after 1.00 p.m. And Friday is the dry day, when the road is closed for maintenance.
The Zoji La dramatically marks the boundary between Kashmir and Ladakh, and as you cross it, you go from the sheer lushness of Kashmir into the stark and barren landscape of the Trans Himalayas. The road descends down to Drass which is an important base for the Indian Army and the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Siberia, with temperatures plummeting to -50°C! Here onwards the road travels along the Drass River with the valley narrowing and almost becoming a gorge. Interestingly, this stretch falls in the line of sight of Pakistani field guns located on the mountains across the border and occasional shelling is not uncommon. Obviously, stopping here is unadvisable and strictly prohibited by the Indian Army. After a challenging but enjoyable drive you reach Kargil and it’s best to fill up at the Indian Oil pump, before parking yourself in a hotels.
Road Trip Srinagar to Kargil – Zanskar – Kargil
A road built as recently as 1980, but given its extremely poor condition, obviously not an important or much frequented one. But the grand vistas, awesome glaciers, racing rivers and streams, glorious green fields and age old monasteries, make this a drive you cannot miss Set out at daybreak with packed lunch and drive at least till Parachik, where you get a staggering view of the twin Nun and Kun Mountains and are within touching distance of the Gangri Glacier. If you are well prepared and have the days to spare, it is worth going all the way to Padum, where the road ends. But remember you have to come back on the same broken road.
Road Trip Srinagar to Kargil – Leh
As you leave Kargil and cross the Suru River, the road plunges into ridges and valleys and then climbs onto a high flat plateau, now made fertile by a large irrigation scheme. At Mulbekh, an impressive 9-metre tall sculpture of Maitreya, the future Buddha, carved into a rock face dominates the village. A simple café here is a nice place to stop for refreshments.
Next comes the Namika La pass, also known as the ‘Pillar in the Sky’ at 3720 metres. The road is smooth and fairly wide and soon you are ascending Fotu La, the highest pass on this route at 4093 metres. At the summit you get the first tantalizing glimpse of the mysterious Lamayuru monastery, but oxygen is scarce at these heights so don’t stop for long. The road u7 descends sharply and all of a sudden you are at the spectacularly sited monastery. Perched on a crag overlooking the Indus River, the amazing monastery of Lamayuru was built in the 10th century and is thought to be the oldest in Ladakh. On the left, just short of the monastery is the old ‘Jalebi Ghat’. Drive for 1.5 kms to view the incredible moon land of wind eroded hills and pinnacles of the lunar like moonscape.
From Lamayuru, the road descends steeply to Khalste, which has an Indian Oil pump and some restaurants. Here the road meets the River Indus and runs with it. At the junction after Saspo, the road on the right leads to Alchi, a vast complex of monasteries regarded as one of the most important Buddhist sites in Ladakh. It is also the only Gompa or monastery, built on flat ground in Ladakh and is known for its massive Buddha statues and architecture. Onto Nimmu, via a flat plateau where the road becomes wide and arrow straight, allowing you to unleash the horses packed under the bonnet. At Nimmu, the different coloured Indus and Zanskar Rivers merge, and this spectacular sight can be seen from the road itself.
Further down the road is a signboard saying Magnetic Hill. Army officials insist that this hill emits a magnetic field and influences all metallic objects in the vicinity, and if you park your vehicle at the marked spot and switch off the engine, you can experience the gravity defying phenomenon of the vehicle being drawn uphill! This may or may not happen, but the ‘Pathar Sahib Gurudwara’ placed besides the road, should move you with its intense and spiritually charged atmosphere. And the tea that is distributed free is also refreshing. Soon you get your first glimpse of Leh, the historic town dominated by the ancient 17th century nine-storied palace.
Road Trip to Srinagar
The Vedas, the Hindu scriptures say, “It is in the mountains, at the confluence of rivulets and in the lush green valleys in the lap of the Himalayas, that the restless and turbulent mind, finds a semblance of peace”. Surely, there is something magical about the Himalayas, the world’s greatest mountains, which challenges the human spirit and evokes humility, making even the most withdrawn and lackadaisical soul look upon them with awe and respect.
From time immemorial, the call of the Himalayas has been irresistible, and the Kashmir valley that is surrounded on all sides by these high mountains has been most visited places in India. The Hindus ruled it and later took it back from the Mughals who conquered Kashmir and fell in love with it. The British also succumbed to its many charms and even today, a dispute rages between Pakistan, India and the separatists, over the rule of Kashmir. In spite the violent struggles Kashmir remains a most enticing destination and continues to beckon and draw visitors from all over.
Located in the heart of the valley at a height of 1730 metres, Srinagar meaning ‘beautiful city’ is scenically set around several lakes and gardens, and is famous for its mosques, temples, handicrafts and immense natural beauty. The celebrated Mughal Gardens with their terraced green lawns, cascading fountains and bright and colourful flowerbeds, display the adoration the Mughals had for this city, to which they contributed to so richly. And the Dal, Nagin and Anchar lakes are not just attractive lifeless water bodies, but are also inhabited by several communities who have chosen to settle and live on these still waters. Their locally built wooden boats are their unique floating homes and so well structured is the infrastructure on the lake, that some of its residents never need to step on land! Shops, tailors, bakers, doctors, ice cream vendors, you name it, all can be found on the waters. Even vegetable gardens and acres of lotus fields! The vibrancy of the amazing lifestyle that the lakes support has to be seen to be believed, and the best way to experience this is to go for a shikara or paddleboat ride. You could also stay in any of the several houseboats that function as ‘floating hotels’. These houseboats have between 2 to 4 elegantly done up bedrooms with attached toilets, a common dining and sitting area, and they serve the delectable Kashmir’ ‘Wazwan’ cuisine. Once you have stayed on the lake and watched the world row by from the balcony of your boat, you will realize that what began as a dream, lives on as an unforgettable experience.
Road Trip Srinagar to Gulmarg
A vast cup-shaped lush meadow at 2730 meters, with green sloops where the silence is broken only by the gentle tinkling of cowbells, this is the meadow of flowers, better known as the hill resort of Gulmarg. Snowcapped mountains surround it and on a clear day you can see as far as Nanga Parbat, one of the tallest and most impressive of Himalayan peaks.
Gulmarg also has an 18-hole golf course laid out to international specifications amongst the pleasing beauty of flowers, and it is believed to be one of the highest and most picturesque golf courses in the world. In the winter, Gulmarg becomes India’s premier skiing resort, with both gradual and steep slopes linked by ski lifts and chair cars. It is a particularly good base for cross-country skiing and Gulmarg now also boasts of the world’s highest and Asia’s longest cable car system that offers sweeping views of the Himalayas and access to some of the tougher ski runs. Gulmarg was also the favourite holiday destination of Emperor Jehangir who once collected twenty one different varieties of flowers from here, and it is said that his last words on the deathbed were, “There is no place like Kashmir, there is only Kashmir”.
Road Trip Srinagar to Kargil
Kargil once served as an important transit centre on the ancient Pan-Asian trade route. Numerous caravans carrying exotic merchandise comprising silk, brocade, carpets, tea, poppy, etc, passed through here linking Kashmir to China, Tibet and other Central Asian countries.
Today Kargil links the valley of Kashmir to Ladakh, and is a good midway halt on the difficult road route from Srinagar to Leh. But few of us had heard of it until recently, when it became the focus of world attention. In 1998, Pakistani soldiers slipped unnoticed into Indian Territory and entrenched themselves in the heights of the Himalayan peaks surrounding Kargil. They started shelling the road aiming to cut off Leh from Srinagar, but the Indian Army soon launched a brave and successful mission and took take back the heights.
Kargil is back to being an indistinct town in the Himalayas, but its strategic location is no longer lost on anyone and it continues to serve as an important midway point and base for exploring the Zanskar and Suru Valleys.
Road Trip Srinagar to Zanskar
Along the northern flank of the Greater Himalayas, two rivers flowing towards each other meet in the broad plain of Padum and become the Zanskar, which then flows off northwards through a gorge in the Zanskar range, to meet the Indus. This T-shaped formation of valleys is known as Zanskar and it was virtually untouched by outside influences until as recently as 1980, when the road via the Suru Valley and over the Penzi-La (4401 metres) was built.
The Suru Valley with its extensive tracts of alluvial plains and verdant hillsides that are intensively cultivated by a zealously agrarian pleasantry, serves as the granary of Ladakh, and is also the gateway to Zanskar, which is the most isolated of all trans-Himalayan valleys. Surrounded by high mountains and deep gorges, with some one of the largest glaciers outside the polar region, Zanskar remains inaccessible for nearly 8 months in a year due to the heavy snowfall. This geographical isolation along with the esoteric nature of Buddhism practiced here has enabled its residents to preserve and perpetuate their cultural identity. Within the mountain ramparts of this lost Shangri-La stand a number of ancient yet active monastic establishments that lend a mystical aura to this magical and largely undiscovered land. These last few surviving satellites of Tibet, the rich alpine meadows, hundreds of varieties of wild flowers that cover the countryside in summer, majestic snow capped mountains, the twin towering peaks of Nun and Kun, awesome glaciers descending along the Himalayan slopes and giving birth to gurgling mountain streams and speedy clear rivers, and all the immeasurable and unimaginable natural beauty, make this haunting region a dream destination for every traveller and explorer. But as the facilities and infrastructure are very limited, you should only venture here if you are well equipped and have the spirit of a discoverer.
For more information on road trip Srinagar to Leh contact Swan Tours – One of the leading Travel Agents in India, Some links which would give details of holiday packages in Srinagar and Leh Ladakh are as below: