The passengers in the shared cab I took to go from Leh to Kargil were very interesting, all were muslims but with extremely different personalities. When they asked me my name (which is as Muslim as it can get) one of the passengers got super excited resulting in me getting a earful of Quran scriptures quoted (read shouted) at me. I love theological debates but not with people who mave a closed mind and who think their way is the only (right) way and that everybody else ought to feel the same. i listened to that guy to begin with and offered my views which were ignored and then it became such a one sided conversation that i completely lost interest. But he kept going on and on and so I turned my head away to gaze out of the window but even this hint didn’t register with him. I then had to resort to closing my eyes, pretending to be sleepy and then after 10mins of this he finally got the hint. The other passengers also came to my rescue and asked the guy to stop his religious and theoretical rants which nobody else in the cab was understanding either. The other people were really cool though, the type who keep their faith to themselves unless asked to share their experience and who respect the fact that everyone is entitled to follow a spiritual path that resonates most with them.
After I was dropped off in Kargil (the rest were going to Srinagar) Mushtaq, whose car I came in arranged for a guesthouse by speaking with some locals kids. This guesthouse (Dass Pa guesthouse) turned out to be more like a homestay with an extremely friendly family. The room was big, airy, with a lot of natural light, an attached bathroom and homemade food that was absolutely delicious! The owner’s nephews were extremely sweet guys and one of them, Abbas, was the one i spent a lot of time with. Despite being only 22 he is very well grounded and walking around the town with him was always a treat as he seemed to know everybody (Kargil being a very small town). We never walked 30secs before he was greeted by someone he knew!
There’s not much to see in Kargil. In fact, the small town seems a few decades behind time. I found no wi-fi anywhere except in Roots Café. Most of the people frequent internet cafes that get busy as the kids come back from school. There are many shops for typewriters which frankly I cannot remember seeing anywhere else. There are only a handful of restaurants and dhaba style cafes are a lot more common. I still enjoyed my time there primarily coz of the homestay where i was staying. It was very interesting to hear about the Indo-Pak war of 1999 from people who’ve lived through it and had to do some voluntary service (like taking food and ammunition up to the hills to the soldiers) as part of the war. Most people (including me) thought that the “Kargil” war was fought in and around the town of Kargil but infact it was fought over 150kms of the Kargil district spreading into Drass and as far as the Nubra Valley in Ladakh. Visiting the War Memorial in Drass, from where you can see some of the peaks where the war was fought, and learning more the war was a very humbling experience.
The highest mountain (the peak right at the back) in the above picture is Tiger Hill. At an elevation of 5307mtrs it is one of the highest peaks in the region and was one of the most important spots during the battle.
Drass is a small town, some 60kms from Kargil, and is one of the regions where the war was fought. It is known to be the second most coldest, remotest and uninhabited places on earth after Siberia. To think how the soldiers must have braved this condition to fight for their nation is unfathomable to me.
While in Kargil i also visited the LOC (Line of Control) which divides India and Pakistan. This is not an actual boundary as i had imagined but a very rough outline of it.
Everything after the first mountain on the left and the second mountain on the right belongs to Pakistan and the tiny patch of green (which actually looks black in the pic above) seen in between the mountains is actually a Pakistani village. Before visiting the LOC I confirmed that there were no cease fire violations. At the time I thought I was being silly but then i heard of another place (only 8kms from the War Memorial) that was blocked off because of these violations.
One of the things that (pleasantly) surprised me was the openness of the muslims in Kargil. Unlike Leh which has similar number of Buddhists and Muslims, Kargil is primarily muslim. I remember discussing my backpacking adventure with some locals in Delhi and i was greeted with remarks like “ah, so you are just whiling time away” or “how come you are behaving like the foreigners”. Unfortunately, there are some who will never understand the importance of traveling and will always look at it as a waste of time. But on hearing the reason for me being in Kargil and why i was alone the locals greeted it as an amazing chance to learn and grow. Knowing i am Muslim (and a female) made them happier that i am doing something different and some said they would pray that i get to travel even more. It was also heartening to see girls going to school and a LOT of women working as school teachers. In fact, on the way to Kargil there were many places where men and women were doing roadwork together. Almost all women wore the hijab but it seemed more of a choice (as i discovered when i spoke to a couple of ladies), a habit rather than a rule imposed on them. Despite fears that have been voiced by fellow travelers i found Kargil very safe and open minded. Speaking the local language has definitely proved very useful and having a muslim name meant that i was at the receiving end of caring/loving partiality which i have no complaints about.