A Journey to Remember…….Safarnama The travel tales

I begin my blog with an apology. In my earlier blog, I inadvertently mentioned that Zoji La is the highest point on NH1. However, it is the second highest. The highest point is Fotu La which comes after Kargil on NH1. (La means a mountain pass).

As the day dawned, my eyes again drifted towards the window - the mesmerizing Himalayas and the majestic Tiger Hill, towering over Dras. How could one possibly get enough of this beauty and grandeur? Nevertheless, we continued our journey on NH1. About 5 kms. after Dras, on the way to Kargil, we arrived at the Kargil War Memorial.

Situated in the foothills of Tololing Hills, this memorial was built by the Indian Army to commemorate the success and sacrifices made during Operation Vijay. We were there around mid - July and the preparations for Kargil Vijay Divas (26th July) were in full swing.

Lines from the poem “पुष्प की अभिलाषा” by Pandit Makhanlal Chaturvedi adorned the gateway-

“मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली! उस पथ पर देना तुम फेंक,

मातृभूमि पर शीश चढ़ाने, जिस पर जावें वीर अनेक ”

Each word resonated with the idea behind this memorial. It was a moment of great pride and honour to be here and witness the glory. The Tololing Hills, which saw all the action in Kargil War, stood proudly in backdrop as the jawans narrated the incidents and showed us around.

A museum of war memorabilia gave us an insight into the events during Kargil War. But it was disheartening see the wall full of names of the martyred soldiers. There were hundreds of names, from each and every part of India. I made a point to read each of those names. In my small way, I told each one of those unknown people that I owed this moment of freedom to them. Their sacrifice a decade ago ensured that this paradise was still a part of India and this journey was possible today. Ironically, while someone like me got a chance to experience an astounding journey through this beautiful land, the people who gave their lives fighting for this, are merely the names on a wall today. Life seemed so unfair in that moment! As we hit the road once again, I reckoned that no one deserved a war - certainly not this beautiful land or its resilient people and least of all the soldiers and their families.

After Kargil, more barren mountains and dusty roads awaited us. We didn’t see a soul for miles. As the bends turned sharper and slopes became steeper, our mini-bus showed signs of fatigue. Crossing Zoji La (11,575 ft) yesterday had taken its toll. The driver wasn’t keeping well either and the highest point on NH1 – Fotu La (13,478 ft) – proved a very tough challenge. We somehow crossed Fotu La but Leh was still hours away. We continued the journey taking small breaks to rest the driver and cool the vehicle.

As we crossed mountain after mountain, the condition of the vehicle deteriorated. Finally, the poor vehicle gave up the fight and refused to move beyond a certain point. We were in the middle of a highway, atop a mountain, overlooking a deep valley, surrounded by extreme darkness and cold. The nearest light that we could see was in the valley, a few thousand feet below us. We were living our worst nightmare!

What followed is a story for next Sunday! Happy Reading and Stay Safe!

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