India is a very godly country with equally ungodly transportation schedules. While it doesn’t have the crazy early morning departure times of it’s Manali-Leh contemporary, the road through the Kashmir along the Line of Control with Pakistan is about as long and includes it’s very own set of peculiar oddities. Leaving at a more sane hour of around 3:30pm, I was lucky enough to take in some of the Ladakh valley scenery along the Indus river. Like most shared jeep/SUV packages, people are crammed into every available space with luggage attached to the roof. In my particular “scorpio” (some kind of Indian Land Cruiser knock-off) there was one traveler in the front, three in the back and four slammed into the extreme back, facing one another, two on each side. If the rear hatch opened, people would pop out like a jack-in-the-box. The cheaper the ticket, the less comfortable the ride. I foolishly opted for cheap. Being that this was not the first jeep trip I’ve taken through these kind of landscapes (high-altitude, single lane, twisty switch-back, crumbling asphalt/gravel roadbed) I should have known better.
Either way, the first few hours were quite scenic, albeit heavily militarized. This road probably has to be the most fortified public road in the world. Every second kilometre for about 100km outside of Leh found some kind of military installation, mostly logistic and infantry, but I noticed a few light mechanized units thrown into the mix
The road skirts the Indus for quite awhile. When I arrived in Srinagar, I found out that three Malaysian travelers had been killed that day when their SUV plunged into the Indus…two others were still missing. Drunk driving was suspected.
Traffic was mostly a mixture of heavy transport (fuel, goods) and assorted military vehicles. Tata attack.
Road conditions were mixed.
Dinner was a typical truck stop. Driver making sure everything is ship-shape. Indian jeeps, despite the passenger densities are quite comfortable from a suspension point of view…but this guys tires were balder than Patrick Stewart.
Pardon the light, as it was getting dark, but this is probably the best example of Indian single lane driving in the Himalayas.
Unlike the the Manali-Leh route, the military check points along this section were substantially different. Where that road the checks were simple and unobtrusive, this route the check points were actually stop-points where sections of the highway were closed. Security being the reason, possibly because they didn’t want anyone doing anything suspicious in the dark along this stretch of road. We spent several hours as two of these check points. One, called Drass (not much more than a tent) is apparently the coldest place on the planet after Antarctica and some place in Siberia.
When it got light again, I was officially in the Kashmir, which bears a striking resemblance to the Rockies. Trees, green rivers and pasture.
Truck stop for breakfast.
That was about the last image I shot of this stretch of the highway. The altitude dropped significantly after this picture as the military presence increase substantially. Unlike the Ladakh side, which was mostly installations, the Kashmir side saw full battle-rattle section-sized foot patrols along the road with heavily armed infantry posted almost every second kilometre. Despite being somewhat ‘safe’ for travelers, one glance at any local newspaper will confirm that there is still quite a bit of violence in the area. Trekking would is apparently awesome here, but I didn’t have the cash for another supported trek, especially something in the 7-10 day ranges…and solo might not have been the best option. I might have chanced it if I had a partner…one of the curses of traveling solo.