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
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
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.
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
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?
The wooden structures were gradually transitioning to stone and mud houses. Barley was the main crop here. Copperware was replaced by ceramics.
Warm wear was a must even in the summer.
Women carried these multi purpose baskets every time they stepped out. They were 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.
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.
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.
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.
Mateem was from Srinagar. He and his siblings were visiting their cousins in Drass. Seeing us chat with Mateem, they all came over.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.