The previous night, when I was almost ready with all packing done, my kid suddenly started showing uneasiness and we found she had fever, a trip which was not expected to start in that way. We were little nervous but thought of moving ahead with the medicines we had. It was a 9.05 KF flight from Kol-Del and subsequently a 12.45 Del-Srinagar flight that took us to Srinagar by 2.15pm. We decided not to waste any time in a height of 5000+ ft at Srinagar and straight away proceeded to Sonamarg which was around 8700ft height. The checkout /baggage claims took hardly half an hour and were greeted by Kazim with his nice Xylo outside the airport. We did some last minute shopping of mineral waters, dry foods etc. from Srinagar, got some quick photo session near Dal lake and were on our way towards Sonmarg by 4.00pm. The NH1D to Sonmarg via Gandarbal, Kangan, Gund is around 3 hrs journey across amazing Kashmir Valley, road was superb. We were greeted by an awesome rainbow enroute may bring all lucks for our coming days. There are few options in Sonmarg regarding accommodations, Glacier view is nice private one but quite pricey with 2000+ room rent even in off season. We chose JKTDC with close proximity to market, nice ambience with running hot waters at 1000 for 2 adults and a kid. It was a bargain as 1300 is the official off season price if you try to book it through JKTDC web interface. The dinner was awesome there and fortunately the kid started showing improvement in her health but we felt the chilling nights even with all the blankets on.
Dal Lake Srinagar:
On the way to Sonmarg:
We knew about the restrictions of crossing Sonmarg towards Jojila between 6.00pm in evening and 11.00am in morning but we were told it could be managed if we start before 6.00am as no one would be there in the check post to stop us. Unfortunately that’s not the case and we were stopped even before 6.00am just outside the JKTDC GH at Sonamarg near the check post. No amount of pleading was sufficient to make them understand we had to start early as our today’s stop was even further to Kargil at Purtikchey. They just asked us to come after 11.00am which means loosing a day on the very start of the trip. Kazim came handy here, his brother was the driver of DIG, Kashmir and few phone calls there after, the same security guard came out and himself found out our car and made our roads with a smile and murmuring softly why we didn’t tell him that we were the guests of DIG. Unexpected but we were through by 6.15am. In India, connection is the key The best thing is we were the only car going in opposite direction and we had ample time to take snaps with no cars behind. The road to Jojila was one way and full of dusts and definitely in a bad shape specially the ascent from Sonmarg. The road towards Baltal to Amarnath diverts from in between and after some delay with lots of truck traffic we were on Jojila top by two and half hours. Jojila to Drass was nice with mix of good and bad roads. Just before Drass you would find the diversion to Mushko Valley which was in headlines during 1999 Kargil War. The same road now is through to Tulail and Gurez and one can go to Srinagar via Bandipore by making a loop. The road was recently inaugurated by BRO in 2010 and yet to be opened for civilians. Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in earth as the JK Tourism board displays was a small and nice town with heavy army presence. We tasted first Namkeen Chay (Salt/Butter Tea) of our trip here and we got addicted to it, it was really nice. Drass could be a good pit stop for lunch before Kargil and road from here onwards crosses War Memorial, a must see enroute and colourful mountains and valley and the valley starts narrowing down after this and you would find you are following almost the LOC and Kazim was showing us the signs of shelling from other side of LOC on the road side poles, trees, mountains all through this section during 1999 Kargil War. Tiger Hill, Tololing and other commonly uttered names during Kargil Wars can be seen across the mountain ridge and the sacrifice of our army would surely touch your deepest. Just before Kargil, you would find Drass and Suru river meets and though non descriptive, you would find Kargil as largest town between Srinagar and Leh in this route. Road towards Zanskar via Suru Valley and towards Leh bifurcates here. Our destination was Zanskar and we first met Mr. Golam Rosul, Tourist Officer, JKTDC Kargil who was in charge of reservation for all the alpine bungalows across Suru and Zanskar Valley. Surprisingly he greeted us in Bengali and later we knew he was posted first 2 years of his service at JKTDC, Kolkata and quite familiar with Kolkata. A very nice gentleman with good sense of humour he advised us to choose between Sankhoo, Purtikchey and Panikhar situated in 8500, 9500 and 10000 ft height respectively. Height of night stay was important as we were trying our best to acclimatize as quickly as possible. Sankhoo and Panikhar were closer to shops and had a better chance to get foods arranged in off season while Purtichey is more scenic with perfect frames of Nun Kun you could see from Bungalow. We chose Purtikchey but Mr. Rosul gave us papers for staying either in Purtikchey or in Panikhar in case Purtikchey was closed. The tar road ends near Sankhoo around 40km from Kargil but the road is very scenic and you could see fall colors all the way in this road. After Sankhoo, the unpaved road starts for rest of the 234 km towards Padum but locals expect next year paved roads would reach till Panikkhar. 13km from Sankhoo on unpaved road we reached Purtikchey and luckily found the caretaker of the GH nearby. No guest stayed there in whole month of September and he was surprised with this sudden arrival of tourist but somehow agreed to Rice/Dal/Sabji kind of dinner from the winter stock he had. We caught the last rays of evening sun on Nun-Kun and after dinner quickly move to bed but it was one of the coldest nights in our trip. There are only 2 rooms in the nicely located GH but most likely you would get them unless you hit the region in July/August peak season.
Sonmarg in the morning:
See the trail below towards Amarnath Shrine via Baltal:
Sonmarg JKTDC, an excellent value for money option to stay:
Drass War Memorial:
Just before Kargil, Drass and Suru river Meets, we will catch Suru from here and it would be with us till Pensila:
Entering Suru Valley:
JK Tourism’s Alpine Bungalow at Purtikchey: