10.05.2009 - 11.05.2009 0 °C
There are only two roads in and out of Ladakh. One comes from Kashmir over the Zoji La pass at 3530 m altitude, the other comes from Manali over the Tanglang La (5330 m) and the Lachlung La (5060 m) passes. The road into Kashmir is usually open from May to October, while the one to Manali is open from June to September. During winter the area is totally isolated, except for air travel. There is a heavy military presence all around Ladakh, but their main purpose is to keep the roads in working conditions. The army had opened the Zoji La pass in early May, so I took the bus from Srinagar to Leh. This is a two day journey with an overnight stop in Kargil. On the way to the Zoji La one follows the Son Amarg valley. This is still Kashmir and one passes a beautiful country full of forests and meadows. Here's a picture taken in Son Amarg, which is close to the snow line.
After this the road became more like a dirt track (the asphalt having been washed away by rain, snow, and ice) and began to snake up the mountains, culminating in a hair-rising climb up a very steep slope. The road is barely broad enough for the bus (which, being a standard Indian government company bus, would probably fail any safety inspection), and in addition it had started to rain and snow, making the dirt road rather slippery. I was unfortunately too busy praying to take a picture.
At the top, the road cut through a 4m high snow layer and we arrived at the Zoji La pass. There's a small military outpost here that registers all the people and vehicles that pass through. Here are some pictures of the outpost up on the pass at 3530 m altitude:
This is also the first time when I asked myself if it was a good idea to go to Ladakh with just a pair of jeans, a fleece jacket and a wind-stopper jacket. Fortunately I had my trusty winter-cap.
After the pass the road started to slowly loose altitude. Despite the risks of this road, it is definitely worth going this way just for the scenery. There are some incredible views that couldn't capture on camera (mostly because the bus will not stop for picture taking). Here's a picture I took on a break:
Occasionally one passes an accident. Here a truck had fallen off the road, and the bus had to stop until they had cleared the road, thus allowing me to take some pictures:
From time to time we passed a village or military outpost where I (as a foreigner) had to register. These were welcome chai-breaks. Here we stopped in Drass. There's just something with me and cold places...
We spent the night in Kargil. Since we arrived at sunset and departed a 5am, I didn't see much of this town. Here's a picture of Dha, a small village where we stopped again for me to register with the local military. Notice how the nature has changed. The Son Amarg valley in Kashmir on the other side of the Zoji La receives plenty of rain, but on this side of the mountain the climate is as dry as in a desert.
Here's a picture I took in Dha of a building next to a school. I would have paid to see what's in there. Unfortunately the bus was waiting.
Here's a picture I took when the bus stopped because 2 of the 6 tires were badly damaged, at which point the driver reluctantly accepted to make a repair stop. Again, where you can hear birds and wind in the trees in Kashmir, in Ladakh it's eerily quiet and all the landscape is barren and void of any vegetation.