The Zanskar Odyssey - The return journey
Day 7 & 8 of the trip
Its been 6 days since we started our journey from Leh and reached Padum via Kargil and Rangdum (Day-1, Day-2, Day-3 & Day-4). We spent 3 nights in Padum, the capital of Zanskar region and explored various monasteries around it (Day-5 and Day-6). It was time now to head back as our Zanskar Odyssey was coming to an end. Despite being up till late yesterday shooting some amazing pictures of milky way, we started early in the morning from Padum. The plan was to reach directly to Kargil. It was going to be a treacherous journey as our two day onward journey (from Kargil to Rangdum and Rangdum to Padum) will now going to be one loooong drive. The thought itself was hurting us since few days. We obviously had to take number of halts on the way, most of them at the same places where we had stopped during our onward journey.
Our first stop was the awesome dairy home that we had visited earlier. The local ladies were as expected busy in their regular chores so we decided to have our packed breakfast without disturbing them. They generously offered us some freshly prepared farm cheese (Paneer). It is heartening to see their kindness when they themselves have so little. We too offered some chocolates as a token of gratitude. The small house surrounded by some cattle with a stream of fresh water flowing by in the middle of nowhere will always be engraved in our hearts.
On our way again, several horses we saw earlier were still there, grazing with peace without a care in the world. We reached Rangdum around lunch time and had a quick lunch at the same place we stopped earlier - La Himalaya. Sleep made our bumpy ride shorter and we were soon out of the remote Zanskar areas crossing villages near Kargil. We were surprised to see some landscapes with villages located at edge of hills around Suru river, something we might have missed on our onward journey. We finally reached Kargil around 5 PM and checked into the same hotel. With much less stops and lots of sleep, our return journey from Padum to Kargil was less torturous than what we had imagined. We got away with just few aches and pains.
On the final day, we were to start from Kargil and reach Srinagar via Dras and Sonamarg, a relatively smaller journey. Unfortunately the war memorial at Dras was closed to visitors on that day as some minister was visiting it so we could not stop there. We stopped at a green grassland after Dras where a stream of river was flowing by. It was extremely relaxing and peaceful with some rocks lying around and mountains on all sides. The weather was mildly cool and wind was extremely pleasant. Beautiful tender dandelions hiding under the grass and pebble stones good enough to make cairns was enough to get our cameras clicking. We met a local old man who was trying to communicate something which we couldn't understand but gladly posed for us.
Few kilometers down the road we reached the Zojila pass and saw an amazing glacier upclose. The glacier cuts through the road but BRO (Border road organization) has built a tunnel for the melting ice to pass below the road. The sheer size of the glacier and lovely scales formed by pure white ice diluted by dirt left us speechless. Sheep managed to easily walk on these glaciers but most of us were scared to do so. The sight of huge glacier flowing down the mountain looked like a highway of ice, a path to reach the clouds which covered the peaks.
The road post this spot kept throwing us surprises one after another. The interplay of clouds, mountains, snow and water created magnificent sights. The landscapes competed with our road, one getting more and more beautiful at each step while the other getting more dangerous than what we have ever seen. Steep valleys on one side and narrow wet dirt roads, our hearts were in our mouths every time a vehicle approached us from other side. Few centimeters separated us from being on what can be called a road and what could be our final moments of life! But this was normal for our driver and he cheerfully kept driving. We soon saw the Amarnath Base camp, a stretch of plain with multicolored spots. Thousands of Hindus flock this place every year to visit caves of Amarnath Shrine. We could also see some helicopters of Indian Army which took the elite few to shrine.
We soon reached Sonamarg where we had lunch. We loitered around for few hours relaxing under huge pine trees. A beautiful white horse grazing alone in the woods accompanied us and few locals posed for us. Few laughs, some snacks and obviously some photographs quickly brought evening. We had some awesome kashmiri kahwah tea under twilight sky and soon it was time to leave. We reached Srinagar late in the night and boarded flights back home the next day.
Coming back home seemed like going back to a long forgotten world. A world we knew so well but still didnt feel like our own. For few days each time we looked out of a window, our eyes kept inching higher searching for the peak of the mountain which did not exist. Our hearts kept longing to experience kindness in people which did not exist. Photographs and memories of those mountains and people is all that is left with us, till we walk those magical lands again. Thus comes to an end our series of travelogues - The Zanskar odyssey.