Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate the events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. The below-expressed views, opinions or analogies are personal and may not be in line with the widespread conceptions. Please go to Motorcycle Diaries -> India: Ocean To Mountains (or Click here) to check out the previous events.
Date: 19th August 2016; Intended Route: Lamayuru – Kargil – Drass – Zoji La – Sonamarg – Srinagar
“The show must go on.”
I was so into NH1 that I don’t even remember when we crossed Lamayuru. The road was damn effing awesome. Everything was great till afternoon, but while we were having our lunch, we got to know that couple of days back; there was a terror attack in Srinagar, in which a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Officer was martyred; even the militants involved were neutralized after exchanging few rounds. We knew the situation in Srinagar was bad but it had become worse. The curfew was still on.
It was a crucial day for us; crucial with respect to decision making. We had to decide if we wanted to cross Srinagar or not. When we checked with the residents and the truck drivers passing by they said, Army and CRPF allowed people to pass through Srinagar after midnight, from 12 AM to 6 AM. It was just word of mouth information with no credibility whatsoever.
Post lunch we reached Drass and decided to check out the Drass war memorial. I had noticed a couple of bikes in the parking lot, loaded with luggage and with number plate from my hometown. As we were about to enter the memorial, we saw a group of riders coming towards us. I presumed that the bikes parked outside belonged to them (It’s not that difficult to spot a Malayalee) and I was right. They were from Kochi too and we got into a conversation. They said they were coming via Srinagar. Now that was a relief to see people coming out of Srinagar, alive! They told us their experience and gave us some tips on how to cross Srinagar. We got inspired by their story and considered to cross Srinagar on the same night.
As they bid farewell, we entered the war memorial. I would say, it’s a must visit place in Drass. “Drass War Memorial built by the Indian Army, located in the foothills of the Tololing Hill. The memorial is located about 5 km from the city center across the Tiger Hill. The memorial is in the memory of the soldiers and officers of the Indian Army who were killed during the 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan. The conflict later became known as the Kargil War.” I respect the Indian Defense Forces from the bottom of my heart for their patriotism and sacrifice for the country which we feel only during India – Pakistan cricket match. While we were going through the relics of the Kargil war, I felt proud of the fact that my dad had served the Indian Air force for 20 years.
While we were departing from the war memorial, we saw 4 riders overtaking us. I felt relaxed to know that we were not the only dumb ones who were trying to cross Srinagar, there were 4 more. While we were near Zoji La, we saw few riders halting. They were the same guys who overtook us; in addition to that, there were 3 more. And they said they had just crossed Srinagar. They gave us quite a lot of detail on the entire Srinagar situation. They were trapped over there for around 14 hours, so they were well versed with it. They even mocked us saying “Srinagar is a fireball now; while everybody is running away from Srinagar you guys are running towards it.” And I said, “Look who is talking, you are the ones who just crossed Srinagar”.
They also advised us to climb Zoji La before sunset and they left for Drass. It was nice talking to them. Meanwhile, we (all 6 of us) decided to ride together until we cross Srinagar. 4 of them were from Delhi, though they were nice, they were riding like a bunch of assholes, no respect for the road or the bike. While we were on top of Zoji La, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets. While I was enjoying the beauty of it, they moved on, and I was least bothered about it. However I was the one who proposed to ride together, at one point, I thought, I wouldn’t mind breaking that covenant. I knew we were getting a bit late; nevertheless, I stopped at Zoji La to take few wonderful snaps.
After a while, I saw everybody halting at a check post. The police asked us why we were riding into Srinagar at this point of time and they were not happy about it. Despite the fact that it was not a really good idea, we insisted them to allow us to pass the check post. And so they did. As the other group of 3 guys had said it was safe to ride till Kangan, we thought of riding till there and see the situation; and then take the next course of action.
We reached Kangan by 9 PM. When we enquired at the police check post, they said we can cross it only after 2 AM. We started riding backward to see if we could find any hotel to grab something for dinner and wait till 2, but all the shops in Kangan were closed due to curfew. While we had lost all our hopes and parked our bikes for a chit chat, a man standing on the balcony of the opposite building asked if we wanted to have dinner, and we all shouted together “YES” as if we were waiting for someone to ask. We went inside through the back door and he served us food, although it was not that great we didn’t have an option, at that time, an option was a luxury which we couldn’t afford. The only thing we had was time; we had to wait till 2 AM so that we can cross the check post and ride through Srinagar.
P.S. Tick tock, tick tock.