Setting out early on a clear crisp morning on the highway to Dras we hit Pathar Sahib soon enough. Like we were to discover, everything in Ladakh is larger than life & incredible is the norm, we bowed our heads in front of the rock bearing the indention of Guru Nanak’s silhouette & the demon’s foot. Guru Nanak seems to be the original intrepid traveler.
On the road again we crossed the’ Magnetic’ hill. We sped past it as it held no such ‘magnetic’ attraction for us. The confluence of the two mighty rivers the Indus & the Zanskar showed the latter in much muddy light.
The highway was a dream run & we sped past tiny villages, the surrounding fields showing a hint of luminescent green. The road alignment seemed to have changed since the last time I had traveled on it & we passed through the much photographed ‘moonland’ & not above it. We wound our way around the Lamayuru monastery which had been a bit of a blip way down there on a side last time. So there were none of the hair-raising ‘jalebi mors’ up to Fotu La where, the last time, our teenage (or so he looked) bus driver in all his youthful exuberance had taken a wide turn on the first bend down & so, had these two shrieking women nearly jump across the engine onto him.(I plead guilty to being one of them.) But to our credit we dint! We just held onto each other & prayed. Not daring to look down from the nearly 13,000 feet we were at. I guess our reaction just ensured he drove at a more staid pace & took tighter turns thereafter! The pass itself was windy & there was a hint of falling snow this time. The vista on the other side was stunning with this snow-crested massif on the left looking like a ‘I’ve- been- here- forever’ implacable chunk of giant rock.
At Mulbekh, right next to the main road, carved on the face of a giant rock face, stands the Maitreya Buddha, its base hidden inside a tiny temple.
Kargil seemed to be warmer than Leh going by the greener fields & orchards of flowering apricots. Their pale beauty frustrating my efforts to vividly capture their beauty on camera. After Kargil there were frozen streams of snow melting into the river flowing along the road. At one place the path had been cleared through this huge muddy mound of snow. Ponies grazed contentedly on patches of green along the snow in the fading light. Winter giving way to spring.
Dras was still frozen in most bits. A village on the far side of the stream was still snow bound. The entire geography of the place seemed to have altered since my last trip, it seemed. Given it was too early in the year there were none of the rolling grassy meadows & wild flowers that we had enjoyed that time. The War Memorial is a must-visit. The last letters making me want to bawl buckets. There is a ‘Draupadi Kund’, a fathomless spring ahead of Dras on the road to Zoji La pass. The Pandavas have supposed to have come this way on their last journey….It seems to have been the last journey of many a braveheart.