It all began with Drass. The discovery of beauty in barren brown mountains, the intensity of (let’s call them) anti-green landscapes and the thumping sound of the heart in the ears.

The landscape of brown barren mountains starts in Drass

Mountains start to become brown and barren as the Greater Himalayas start after the Zoji la in Drass.

Drass was the town we chose to spend our first ever high altitude night in. It turned out to be so much more than just an “altitude acclimatisation” stopover on the way to Ladakh.

Amarnath yatra seen from the Zoji la

This is the view from Zoji la, the first mountain pass that leads the way from the lush green valleys of Kashmir to the cold desert of Ladakh. The tiny specks of settlement seen at the bottom are the tents at the base camp of Baltal. This is specially set up only during the Amarnath yatra.

The fun started with Zoji la.

The mountain pass which leads the 400 km Srinagar-Leh national highway. It is essentially a bridge between the lush greens of Kashmir (where we had spent the last 45 days) and the golden browns of Ladakh.

A relatively short mountain pass of 13 km that starts right after Baltal, the first and dangerous pass on the Srinagar Leh highway, NH-1 D, the shortest access to Ladakh sees a lot of bikers when it opens up in the summer months.

While we were on it, it also felt like a bridge to the other side of life! There were plenty of opportunities for the vehicle to skid and topple over to go plunging into the Indus which flows all along the Zoji la.

After Zoji la, it is a smooth drive to Drass. A board declaring Drass to be the second coldest inhabited place on earth (Siberia being the first) greeted us. Just next to it is the accommodation facility of the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department.

Tourist accommodation provided by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department

This is the accommodation facility of the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department. Dras is so much more than just an “altitude acclimatisation” stopover on the way to Ladakh.

We were curious about how people in such a cold region lived. We walked through the village and peeked into their houses. The houses here were starting to look different from the ones in the Kashmir valley.

Would you like to live here?

A beautiful house drenched in golden sunlight surrounded by barley fields and the barren Greater Himalayas in Drass.

The wooden structures were gradually transitioning to stone and mud houses. Barley was the main crop here. Copperware was replaced by ceramics.

A neatly arranged kitchen of a house in Dras with all the utensils and other kitchenware organised on the shelves in the wall.

Warm wear was a must even in the summer.

Young girl from Drass, wearing a bright red salwar kameez and a sweater, head covered, stands by the window in her house and smiles for the camera as she casts her reflection in the window glass.

Women carried these multi purpose baskets every time they stepped out. They were used to carry mud, dung, crops, flock and children!

Women from Drass carry these multi purpose baskets every time they step out. They are used to carry mud, dung, crops, flock and children!

The mosques were a work of art! Adding a splash of colour in the otherwise brown landscape.

A mosque in Dras with its colourful columns and decorative inscriptions adds colour to the other brown landscape surrounded by the Greater Himalayas.

We didn’t know any of this till we actually visited Drass. Drass was primarily known to us because of the Kargil war. It was unsettling walking through the streets and seeing the mountains right in front, where, in the recent past a fierce war was fought.

We headed to the Kargil War Memorial.

The Tricolour swaying high, against the Tololing mountain range brought goosebumps.

The Indian tricolour at the Kargil War Memorial sways with the breeze in the backdrop of the Tololing mountain range in Dras.

Next to this is a small war museum, where the army screens a short film. A must watch. A memorial ground on the other side, is a disturbing sight  – as it should be. We highly recommend a visit to the Kargil War Memorial to everybody – not just Indians. It’s a humbling visit.

We highly recommend a visit to the Kargil War Memorial at Drass to everybody – not just Indians. It’s a humbling visit.

Walking through the village, we saw two young boys playing cricket without any gear – no bat, ball or stumps.

The young boy, Mateem had travelled on a Sadbhavna tour. It is an initiative by the Indian Army, wherein children from remote regions travel to various parts of India and interact with others. On this tour, he had seen a cricket match live and caught on the fascination for cricket.

The young boy, Mateem had traveled on a Sadbhavna tour. It is an initiative by the Indian Army, where in children from remote regions travel to various parts of India and interact with others. On this tour, he had seen a cricket match live, and caught on the fascination for cricket.

Mateem was from Srinagar. He and his siblings were visiting their cousins in Drass. Seeing us chat with Mateem, they all came over.

TTwo girls and their baby sister smile for the camera in Drass

Meet Zaibon Nissa, the girl on the left in the photo below. Probably the smartest kid we have met in our travels. She told us they belonged to the Dard community and spoke one of the Balti languages.

May I take your picture too?

Meet Zaibon Nissa, the smartest kid we have met in our travels. She asked us if we knew the language. When we answered negative, she decided to teach us some basics. She is till date, the only kid who has asked us if she could hold the camera. And taken a photo of us, making sure of getting the frame just as she wanted!

She asked us if we knew the language. When we answered negative, she decided to teach us some basics. She asked me to write sentences in English. She would translate each one, explaining every word. All the while making sure I was taking correct written notes!

She is till date, the only kid who has asked us if she could hold the camera. And taken a photo of us, making sure of getting the frame just as she wanted!

Bhimbet, a massive rock that can fly!

We then headed to a place on the outskirts of Drass, called Bhimbet. Mateem and his brother Mubarak volunteered to take us there.

Bhimbet is a massive rock representing Bhim from Mahabharat which is supposed to have moved across the mountains on its own in Drass

It is a piece of rock that is supposed to represent Bhim, the burly Pandava from the mythology epic Mahabharat. Local folklore says that overnight this piece of rock moved, by itself, from the other side of the mountain to its present location! The locals also believe that the soil surrounding it has great healing powers.

First sunset at high altitude

The sun sets in Dras among the pink sky and dark clouds against the silhouette of the poplar trees near the stay facility of the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department.

We were back in Drass just in time to see the first of many glorious high altitudes sunsets. We don’t know if altitude affects the cloud formations. Because, the clouds here were something special!

On our bucket list of Drass was to have a look at Tiger Hill, the highest and the most famous mountain peak of this region. However, it was covered in clouds the whole time and continued to evade us.

Tiger Hill is the highest and the most famous mountain peak in this region. It shot to prominence when a fierce battle was fought here in the Kargil War of 1999.

Drass was an excellent introduction for us to the high altitude nature of the mountains and its people. The next day we headed to Kargil, to begin the rest of our journey further ahead into the Zanskar and Ladakh regions.

Landscape from Drass to Kargil is dominantly brown from the barren Greater Himalayas, snow almost melted in the summer, with the greens indicating a village.

Tips for Drass:

  • Drass is at an altitude of over 3000 meters. Pay attention if your body starts showing any signs of discomfort.
  • Walk at a slower pace, do not rush into things. Consume sufficient water.
  • Kargil, which is further ahead of Drass is at a lower altitude. Head there if Drass feels uncomfortable for the first high altitude night.

Need help planning your trip to Ladakh?

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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  1. Mohmmad Mateen

    Sir, here I’m Mohmmad Mateen

  2. Asmita Nikalje

    Very interesting article. Enjoyed reading it. Thanks

  3. this is very informative thanks for sharing great captures too!

  4. its nice blog i visit there before its really nice peace for mind to get relax

  5. Hi Readers,
    We are a group of permanent residents and travel experts of Ladakh working together in the tourism sector form last few years. if anyone want to know anything about travelling to Ladakh and its integral parts. feel free to contact us.

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  10. Hey Hi,
    i am planning to visit ladakh in june 2018 and dras is one option for me for the return journey from dah hanu to shrinagar. we are group of 12 people. You mentioned about jammu and kashmir government guest house contact number but when i am trying, nobody is picking up the call there. do you have any alternate contact number for the same? also, can you suggest few other options for stay in dras which are budget frinedly and also hygienic?

  11. Nilofar arif SHAIKH

    Beautiful place I read first time about this beautiful place and soon plan a holiday.

  12. Wow wow!! Such pretty photographs. I remember spending a night in Drass and thinking how pretty it was!

  13. Hi Sandeep

    Pls give details about transportation facility about there…. Or is it necessary to do private vehicle only

    • There are public transport buses that operate within Drass. You will also find shared cabs to take you from Drass to Kargil. State transport buses which go from Srinagar to Leh also have to cross Drass.

  14. Hey Sandeepa and Chetan,

    Beautiful portrayal of a place.

    Just wanted to know if we can book the accommodation in advance and if there is a permit required for foreigners (Maldivian)

  15. Hi Sandeepa, Which time of the year best time to go to Drass Leh and Kargil please advise. I am very much interested in going by mid May or Jun

    • Hello Raj, these high altitude Himalayan regions can be visited for sure in the summer months, June to September being peak season. Roads start opening up as the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) completes the repair works and takes the snow off the roads. Because it is so weather dependent, the exact dates of the roads opening change every year. Even so, the Srinagar Leh highway is generally open by June – so you can access Drass, Kargil and Leh. The Leh Manali highway takes a while, sometimes around June end.

  16. Hi sandeepa

    May I know which camera u used to take dras pictures here above ?

  17. akanksha pande

    yes your journey was amazing n thrilling , photo excellent myself akanksha tour n treak passionate i aslo plan my tour nlgoing to leh nubra valley ts omoriri kargil n dras only three ladies safe n amezzing thrilling journey nature is beautiful food flower foto mast your pic give mi sweet memories

  18. Hi there, I have book my flight to Leh on 14 October. Hopefully I’m not too late to enjoy the scenery. Please advise.

  19. Hi Sandeepa

    I will be traveling via dras on 20th july… just wanted to know regarding booking of rooms, is it nesscary to have booking or place will be avaliable for ad hoc booking.

  20. Hi,
    This is vivek .
    I have planned to visit Drass in June 1st week.
    I heard it is a good place to trek.
    But u haven’t mentioned anything about that.
    Do u have any idea of the trek?

  21. Hi guys… Thnks for sharing ur wonderful experience with fellow travellers. It would realy be very kind of u to Help me out on this. We r traveling to leh via srinagar n we want to spend 1 night @ drass. can u share any info(contact number) on hotels n Home stays or dormitories… We r 12 guys. Thanks

    • Hey Sanket, we wish you all an amazing trip to Ladakh. We had stayed in the J&K Tourism guest house, they have enough rooms for 12 people. No number though, since we just walked in and got the room. The guest house was almost empty when we reached there. We did look around at other hotels/guest houses, but found the tourism board one to be the best of the lot.

      • Hi Chetan,
        We planning to go for a trip in August. We are planning to take a car rental in Delhi and by car to Jammu and from Jammu to Leh and to Ladakh. And returning to Delhi via Manali…please suggest whether it I as a good idea to take car for all these places

        • Hello Lokesh, there are specific instructions about which car registrations can go in these areas of Ladakh. Only local car rentals are allowed. We suggest you check about all of this before you make a plan. You will find many resources on the internet for this information.

  22. This article vividly captures the beauty of the place. Must have been a truly enlightening experience.

    • Absolutely, Ronak. The beauty of Drass came as a complete surprise. Especially since all you hear about it is just a place en route Ladakh! Glad we stayed back in Drass for a day.

      • Hi sandeepa,

        I want to visit sando top and manman top where I can see LOC. Is it possible ? If so, how far are they, how to reach ? Best accomodation at drass ? Plz let me know detail ..
        Ty !

        • Hello Deepak, whether or not you can access these points depends on the situation at the time and what the Indian Army keeps open for civilians. The best accommodation is the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Board’s guest houses. You can just walk in for a room, pre-booking is not necessary.

          • Hai Chetan I want to visit tololing top battlefield area if it possible ?Or any top’s.

          • Hi Sreenath, allowing you to get to the top is the army’s prerogative. But along the Srinagar-Leh highway especially around the Zoji la you will see places where the actual battle did take place. Even so in Drass itself.

          • Hello Sandeepa required contact details for Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Board’s guest house. As u said rooms will available but still wanted to pre-book before going. request u share the contact details….thanks

          • Hi Jayesh, this is the contact number for the Tourist Reception Centre in Drass -01985-274014. Best would be to speak to them and tell them you need to reserve a room.

          • Thanks Sandeepa……for your prompt reply…really appreciate

            Have one doubt….if we start early morning from pangong can we reach lamayuru same day as for the date constraint want to skip leh in between. As all the car tour operator has given us negative response on the same. thanks again sandeepa

          • Hi Jayesh, to reach Lamayuru from Pangong Tso, you still have to cross Leh. There isn’t any other shorter or faster route. Wouldn’t recommend the extra drive from Lamayuru to Leh either. (Even if we would’ve said it’s okay, you should still listen to what the local drivers say. No one knows the road conditions and weather as well as them!)

          • Thanks Sandeepa

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