Journey through Dras - Second Coldest Place in the World
Finally, we finally decided to hit the road again. This is the life of the traveler. There comes a day when one have to leave to go further. Saying goodbye is not always easy but I think we keep the best of each place and each person met. The memories are engraved.
We learn a lot, and then further there will be something else to learn or to live. Travel is the school of life. It's getting to the point. I can say that I have a good life. I gave myself the means to live my dreams. I had the motivation to get out of a system that consists in losing my life to want to win. I prefer to live all simply.
The Enfield is well loaded, almost a bit too much, but I have a good driver. It is a four hours drive through the imposing mountains, and yellow, mauve, red, big pebbles, and sand dunes. A colorful desert punctuated oasis of life where each river passes. How beautiful! We never tire of these sumptuous landscapes offered by Ladakh!
In each village, we are greeted with a smile. The children hit us. The road workers shout Jullay to greet us. We would almost feel like heroes. Lamayuru is at the heart of breathtaking lunar landscapes. One would think to dream as so much it is magnificent and unreal! We rolled on the moon.
Day 1 - Dras
When we wake up, after a night in Lamayuru, it's raining hard. The rainfall in Ladakh is equal to the Sahara, but with climate change, it rains more and more in recent years. It represents a real danger for homes that are not built to support as much rain.
We took the opportunity to visit the monastery and fill ourselves with good energies. With other travelers we shared good times to discuss, to drink chai, to eat, to play chess and to drink chai again.
With the bike loaded, we decided to take the road to Kargil but the rain decided to follow us and the gusts of wind. We are encouraged by the signs along the way on the BRO boards that say when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
After arriving at Kargil, it's like a little shock. Here we are back in the everyday India. This India is different from the one we had taken a vacation in Ladakh where everything is so quiet and peaceful. Here again begins the life full of thrills! At every corner a surprise arises. There are the colors, the smells, the noise, the horns sometimes unbearable, and the swarming crowd.
We continue the road after Kargil, in the rain and the wind. We move towards Dras in a setting that is more and more away from Ladakh. The further we go, the more we feel that Ladakh is already far behind us. Dras is the coldest habitable place in the world after Oymyakon in Siberia.
At night our neighbors on the top floor were so noisy that it was hard to sleep. Indeed, a bunch of rats partied upstairs doing funny noises all night long. It seemed that there was a big move over our head. In short in India, you should always expect everything and especially to be sometimes disturbed by more or less friendly critters.
Day 2 - Srinagar
We quickly understood why Dras is the second coldest inhabited place in the world after taking the road towards the Zojila pass (3529 meters) which separates Ladakh from Kashmir. It was a terrible weather and the road was difficult, certainly more difficult than the Manali to Leh road.
It was a great feat of driving our bike on such roads in such weather! We will remember that for sure! That's the adventure! We remember better the most difficult and painful moments, certainly because they reinforce us even more.
At the foot of the Zoji La, under the gusts of wind and rain, ice cold to the bones, we meet shepherds with their flocks of goats and sheep on the road. They make us sign that we are crazy! I'm almost scared. What is waiting for us? How is the road? I hope that behind this mountain there is a wonderful sun that will warm us up.
I regularly move my icy fingers as I pick up the wind in the face. How do we drive between mud and pebbles? Driving such a loaded bike is not easy. It is not always easy to enjoy the landscape. We must follow the movement of the bike, cling in the difficult parts and in the hairpin bends. But I'm less afraid than in a local bus and traveling by motorbike is a fantastic experience!
Arriving at the top of the pass, we have in front of us Kashmir. There is a brilliant green landscape, imposing mountains topped with clouds, and a blue sky which can be seen in the distance. A descent on a narrow, muddy path, with needle turns along the cliff is waiting for us. We understand better why the shepherds have treated us crazy now. This road promises to be terrible!
At the top, we are greeted by soldiers with bullet-proof vests and carrying their submachine guns. We see lots of soldiers stationed there in this cold and clueless place. They are preparing a chai out there by the side of the road and they are happy to have a little company. Salamalekum Kashmir! It is a rather surprising welcome to our arrival in Kashmir we will not forget soon.
After a descent through Zoji La, we are finally on the best asphalt roads. We pass through landscapes of brilliant green, beautiful blue rivers, fields of wheat and rice surrounded by snow-capped peaks. How beautiful! It looks like the Swiss Alps, but more imposing, greener, more idyllic, and more perfect.
We stop at Sonamarg, a small tourist town planted in a superb mountain scenery. We meet a houseboat owner who offers to follow him to Srinagar. There, we discover a real little paradise, a nice family, and a houseboat on Dal Lake. Dal Lake is often compared to Venice, with its floating gardens, lotus flowers and water lilies.
We are in a more luxurious boat and our boat is more rudimentary but cosy and charming. On the more luxurious houseboat, there is what we dreamed during the whole trip by motorcycle! Comfortably lying in my hammock on the small deck of the shikara, I let myself daydream in front of the idyllic view. I imagine a lake reflecting like a mirror, an old wooden boat floating on the water, surrounded by water lilies, reeds, a few ducks, and fishes jumping.
The sound of cicadas and the song of the mosque that rang around me five times a day gives the place an even more special atmosphere. Sitting on a wooden pontoon I try to fish with a lot of patience but unfortunately there will be no fish for tonight on the menu.
As we walk in the moonlight on the lake, I become almost a good shikara man. I now manage to paddle on one side without the boat turn on itself. My job is to draw the water that comes into this old boat all rotten! We wander the night on the lake in an old boat in a romantic atmosphere!
Day 3 - Jammu
The alarm clock rings in the morning. The locals get up at 4am! It's Ramadan, so they fast from 7am to 7pm! They pray 5 times a day. It's a strange concert to hear the sound of the mosques that sounded all around us, it gives an even more special atmosphere to the place. At the floating market, early in the morning at 5am, we ride in a boat in a traffic jam of boats filled with vegetables and fruits.
We move today to a charming and rather small houseboat on the Nageen lake, a small lake next to the famous Dal Lake. In a decor dating from the British era, we admire the spectacle of eagles flying over the lake, ducks, shikara, and colorful boats. Some merchants desperately try to sell us handicrafts but they soon realized that we were not good shopping tourists.
We buy walnut and green chilis. Then we spent hours drinking the Kava. Today we decided to take the motorcycle route back to Jammu and Amritsar. Unfortunately, as every time we want to hit the road, the rain starts to fall as if to tell us to stay a little longer. The journey continues towards Amritsar.