It’s 9am and the houseboats of Dal lake have already begun plying, scouting for tourists. The lake looks pristine at every hour, so who can resist taking a few pictures. Photos done, having said no to getting a photo taken in a traditional Kashmiri outfit, and we’re off.
There’s only one road that takes you to Dras – the Srinagar-Ladakh highway, and Dras is around 180km from Srinagar. Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but there’s always a lot of traffic and difficult roads en route, making it difficult to get past 10kph most of the time. For the first three hours, there’s nothing but long open stretches and barely any traffic. We can see the peaks in the distance. We get to our first uphill climb and that’s when the traffic starts to build up. Of all the days to be on this road, we’ve picked one when a convoy of 3,000 fuel trucks for the army are taking the route. We spend hours dodging truck after truck, a difficult task as it’s a single lane highway, and even one wrong move could result in absolute mayhem. The only one happy about this rather languid climb is our photographer who doesn’t mind the frequent stops. The view is fabulous. We put quattro to the full test on these roads, surfaces varying from dirt to tarmac and ice.
We decide to lunch at Sonamarg, another popular tourist destination. One of our colleagues visited Sonamarg a few years ago and wants to stop for lunch at the same hotel, but little does he know how much the place has changed. If you thought 3,000 trucks were bad, there’s at least the same number of tourist vans that stop here. It’s as crowded as a Mumbai station. That’s what happens when word of mouth gets out and places become popular tourist spots.
We decide to try our luck ahead for food. A plateful of noodles later, we’re ready to hit the road again. Next, we’re headed to Zoji la, which stands at an elevation of 11,516 feet. The route has just received some fresh snowfall, and since there’s very little traffic, other than the trucks, we have plenty of time to stop. Shots done. Photographer appeased. Next stop, Dras – the gateway to Ladakh.
The road to Dras, however, has some tricky stretches to manoeuvre through. While some sections are smooth tarmac, there are others where the road is covered in black ice and water. We negotiate these bits with extreme caution as there’s zero traction. Of course, this means progress is very slow and by the time we make it to Dras, it’s around 11pm. Luckily for us, the temperature is only one degree below zero. I say lucky as, according to the locals, temperatures often drop lower than 20 degrees below zero here.
Dras is a strategic point for the Indian armed forces, Tiger point in particular. It’s where Pakistani troops infiltrated the border during the Kargil War. And since it’s a vital link between Ladakh and Kashmir, the Indian armed forces fought hard to recapture it. Dras is actually not the original name of the place. It was actually called Hembabs which translates to ‘Barf ka Ghar’ (House of Snow).
And thus closes the second chapter of the Audi Great Indian quattro Drive. From the hottest place in the country to the coldest, over a 1,000km. We’ve been through rain, hail and shine. Literally. And what an experience it has been.
For the next chapter, we’re driving from the lowest point in India, Kuttanad in Kerala, all the way up to Khardung La in Ladakh, the highest. If you want to be a part of it, enter the Great Indian quattro Drive contest by 10th June. For more details, click here