August 29, 2012
I had to wake up early and get ready by 6:30 AM, for I was supposed to report at the taxi stand before 7:00. Sanjay was kind enough to drop me off at the stand and it took a while before the taxi hit the road. Only three of us had made prior reservation in the taxi, and were charged Rs. 800/- for it. The rest came in the morning and got seats for Rs. 700/-.
Tip: Though there is a difference of 100 bucks, I’d suggest reserving a seat before itself, for you get your preferred seat. There are also times when you might not be able to find any taxis in the morning.
Tip: For people heading towards Leh, there are two travel options. One is to take a taxi to Kargil, spend a night, and then take a taxi to Leh the next morning. The other option is to cover the 400 odd kms on the same day. This would be a really long ride, and isn’t suggested for people wanting to enjoy the scenery through the way. These taxis start at around 5:00 in the morning and reach around 9:00 in the night. Both the options cost pretty much about the same, close to 1500 bucks. The stopover at Kargil gives you more time to acclimatized to the high altitudes and prevents altitude sickness.
I reserved a window seat in the middle row of the Tata Sumo, and it was very comfortable. I had the company of a German couple, a school teacher from Srinagar who works in Kargil, and a couple of other guys. The driver also happened to be a friendly guy.
Once we got out of Srinagar, the landscapes started getting better and better. The whole journey was an absolute delight. The landscapes were full of greenery just outside the city, but as we headed towards Ladakh region, everything turned brown, and there was the dryness we could feel in the air. We first passed through Sonmarg, another scenic tourist spot near Srinagar. People were telling us that we might find snow here, but we found nothing. Mid way through, we cam across the road, or rather a pass (for there was no real road) which leads to Amarnath. It was an amazing view. Then we headed off towards Drass, the second highest inhabitable region in the world. I was expecting this place to be freaking cold, but it wasn’t. We stopped here for lunch, but I skipped a meal. The ride was a little more than 200 kms long, and we passed through valleys and plains for about 8 hours before we finally reached Kargil at around 3:00 PM. Once we were near Kargil, I don’t know why, but for some reason I could see an Indian flag waving on every mountain peak I looked at. It just felt great :).
Kargil was a very small town. Sanjay had informed me that there is really nothing to do in Kargil, so suggested I try to head of to Lamayuru monestry directly and spend the night there. So I enquired at the taxi stand if anyone would be willing to take me to Lamayuru. Even the German couple was interested, and there were also an Israeli couple who wanted to spend the night at Lamayuru. The distance from Kargil to Leh is about 200 kms, and Lamayuru is mid way through, at 100 kms. No taxi was willing to cover this distance unless we paid them the fare upto Leh. So we dropped the idea and decided to spend the night at Kargil instead.
The German couple found a guest house through Lonely Planet and dropped in there. This place was too expensive for me, so I instead looked a little more and found this guy on the streets who offered me a room for 300. I bargained and got it for 250. It was a pretty decent room. Just no hot water, and though the weather wasn’t cold, the water was freezing.
Once I dropped the luggage in the room, I headed back to the taxi stand to book a taxi for the next day, to Leh. We (me and the German guy) spoke to a couple of guys, and finally made a deal where I got a seat on the back on a Scorpio for 600 bucks, while the Germans got seats on middle row for 700 each. It was a bad decision to go for the back seat, but there were no more middle seats left :(.
I headed back to the room, crashed on the bed, and didn’t get up until it was almost 8:00 PM. It was initially difficult for me to sleep for there was no fan in the room (and I can’t sleep without a fan, or something else making some kinda sound), but I was yearning for some good sleep, so it didn’t matter after a while.
I got out and decided to go find some food. I hadn’t had anything substantial throughout the day (I just had a packet of chips and some tea), so was hungry. I’ve read quite a lot about it being very difficult to find vegetarian food in Kargil. Some sites even went to the extent of saying there is no vegetarian food in Kargil. So all I was hoping for was some maggi. But wait, I roamed around a little, and towards the end of the street, I found this Punjabi Vaishno Dhaba which serves pure vegetarian food (So for all you fold out there who said it’s not possible, in your face :P). The place was decent enough, and there was an elderly Sardarji serving hot food. There was chawal (rice) with either Rajma, Aloo Soya or Dal. I asked for some Rajma Chawal. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but food nevertheless. It filled me good enough.
On my way back to the room, I headed into a cybercafe, which charged Rs. 60/- for an hour of internet. I sat for 30 minutes, checked my mail, facebooked a little, and then went back to the room. I watched couple of episodes of The Newsroom before calling it a day.