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Thread: Self-Drive Exploratory Expedition Travel -> Zanskar & Unknown Kashmir, "off-season" October 2011

  1. #51

    Padum, Zanskar, and around ..contd...

    Bardan Monastery or Bardan Gompa is a 17th century Buddhist monastery, approximately 12 kilometres south of Padum, in Zanskar, Ladakh, northern India. It belongs to the Dugpa-Kargyud monastic order and was one of the first monasteries of this sect to be established in Zanskar. The monastery also ran several smaller hermitages in the area.

    The monastery consists of a large Dukhang or assembly hall which has some grand statues of Buddhist figures and several small stupas in clay, bronze, wood and copper.

    The monastery of Bardan suddenly comes into view.
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    Again here some road maintenance work was going on..
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    We turn back from here from around Reru. The road does not continue till Phugtal monastery, the brilliant cliff-hanging monastery as I have seen from images.
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    Again brilliant landscapes as we return back to Padum, definitely again we stop so often - the vistas are such!
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    What a fantastic drive it was, and this image is one of my favourite as Tsarap Chu makes a brilliant turn in the Zanskar mountain lands
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    Back to Padum and evening time we go towards Karsha Gompa, the most important monastery of Zanskar
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  2. #52

    Padum, Zanskar, and around..

    In the second half of the day, we were headed towards 14th century Karsha gompa or monastery.
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    One can drive till the base of the monastery after crossing the river
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    Panoramic views of valley unfolds from the top of the Gompa
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    The complex is of 14th century with imposing whitewashed buildings clinging on to the ascending hillside
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    And we spend some time over there and also going up and seeing the prayer room
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    While in Padum, in mid October, this was only eatery that was open. In all the 3 days that we stayed over here they took great care of us, trying to cook up a different meal every day..
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    October and with cold winter nights, by 7/8 pm Padum streets empty out. But then for us it is great time to travel as we revel in places like these with less crowds.
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    Today was our last day in Padum as we leave tomorrow for the return journey. But who knew there was a big rally group coming up that would close the Zanskar valley exit and entry for the complete day.


  3. #53

    Padum, Zanskar valley, to Srinagar, Kashmir Valley -> 450 km approx, 28 hours [a day-night-day drive

    Padum to Srinagar, -> 450 km approx, 28 hours - slow progress and then got stuck for 5 hours due to Himalayan Car Rally
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    Though we planned the return drive to Srinagar with a stop at Rangdum and then to Srinagar, ended up doing this big, big overnight mountain journey - a nonstop run from Padum to Srinagar via Kargil. Readers would recall that the clutch pedal though not stuck, was not coming up fully and I had a talk with vardhan harsh and later on with Tanveer of at Khajjiar, Himachal. The problem was not so much over there so ignored it, went to the TASC here at Srinagar before the Zanskar drive and they did some adjustment to the spring or something and said everything will be okay. Tanveer said to check it out via drive to some incline road to Gulmarg or outskirts, but then Wazwan meal [!] was waiting and thought most probably everything was okay. But it was not such. By end of our Zanskar trip, the clutch pedal would not come and every time I had to pull it up with my foot. So I had decided that we are going to straight to Srinagar, any time the clutch spring may go kaput with all the mountain roads of Zanskar and Zoji la in between. At end it was all because of the Rs 100 clutch pedal spring, which was ultimately changed at Srinagar once we reached safely.

    The return day rather started well with bright weather and a superficial car wash
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    I had heard overnight at the eatery that when the Himalayan car rally comes all entry and exit to Zanskar is blocked for that day. Now after breakfast as we exit, the first of the cars have started to roll in.
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    The entry to Padum does not fall into competitive section...
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    So we are allowed to go as farther as possible and was told by one of the marshall to check with the people manning check points about how much further we can go.
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    And our drive continued till we are told to stop and wait
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    But not far as we are told to stop in this pasture land. Someone asked me whether we knew that they will be coming but more surprised they were to find a family roaming around in this time in Zanskar.
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  4. #54
    And after sometime the first of the cars from Extreme category came up
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    And so too the bikes...
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    We remain over there for around 4 hours almost as the last of the extreme category riders go by .
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    Let me clarify that I have no adverse opinion about being stuck for the Car Rally. It happens once a year and I was stuck as my return date went along with their date, I should have kept a tab on it. Also my observation, do not bother to get your name in the Adventure group. Better be in the extreme even if you are a novice. - just a passing personal observation based as seen.

    And so it was only by very late evening with the last of the sunlight fading out, that we cross the Drang Drung and Pensila - there is still a whole lot of night drive is left in some of the most rocky high mountain roads. We are going to Kargil overnight straight.
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    October 16, 2011, as night falls and bitter cold it is we cross Pensi la and drive to the night.
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    We stop around this Army camp which incidentally was doing reparing of the Army rally Gypsies, may be around 9 pm beyond Rangdum. There is also a small dhaba here where we get Maggi. It is open so late as the Zanskari drivers coming from Kargil are stuck on this side due to the car rally.
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    After sometime, an Army truck heads out, their destination is also Kargil. We were also accompanied by an official car and that too having West Bengal no. plate. We both are going to Sringar direct with an overnight drive to Kargil. We go most of the way together, get separated at Tangole where they took the main road and I the road through the village at dead of then night and we join again before Sankoo. We reach Kargil at 430 am. Catch up an hour of sleep as we wait for the petrol pump to open at 6 am.

    On towards Kargil through Zanskar mountain road - all through the night.
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    The drive to Srinagar via Zoji la started around 6 am again and we reach Srinagar by around late evening back to our hotel in Badami Bagh area. Fully exhausted, just slump to bed after a hot bath and fast dinner. Next day I go to a TASC for that clutch spring change, a small coil spring that costs all of Rs 100, but that made me drive all through day-night-day for 28 hours.

    But then the day after is more significant again. The Expedition enters the decisive phase, it becomes Exploratory again - we move towards the extremes of Kashmir Valley - towards absolutely less travelled lands of Gurez, Lolab and Bangus. And we did not have a clue on how to go about it.


  5. #55

    Srinagar - Bandipora - Razdan Pass - Kanwalzan - Dawar [Gurez] -- approx 140 km

    I have read about Gurez some 2-3 years back through newspaper article, where it mentioned that it is place along with Bangus and Lolab are some of the most beautiful valleys and places of Kashmir that are yet to come into limelight.

    Now on searching on net I find no information, calling the JKTDC office they say there is no facilities there and when they heard i am doing a self-drive journey - they would look at me blankly for minutes.

    Let us know more about Gurez and its location

    So where is Gurez located. Dawar is the main village of Gurez sector.
    The valley of Gurez is located at a distance of around 130-140 kms from Srinagar city, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Srinagar falls on the National Highway 1-A which is connected by International Airport and national highway network to other parts of the India.

    From Srinagar a black top road leads to Bandipora, which forms the main transit point on the journey towards Gurez. Bandipora can also be reached from Baramulla via Sopore. Bandipora is connected to Dawar (Gurez) by sumo as well as bus service.

    A black top road leads from Bandipora towards Razdan and then onto Gurez. The 40km (25mile) road stretch, from Razdan to Dawar, is in a bad shape. At Razdan (altitude 11672 ft) one can catch a glimpse of the Harmukh peak, one of the highest mountain peaks located in the Kashmir valley.

    The land route to Gurez remains closed for three months of the winter starting from December due to heavy snowfall in the area. Access to the area during this period is maintained through a chopper service. However, there is no regular time table for running of this service. Source

    Srinagar to Gurez 140 km approx via Bandipora, J&K and then Razdan Pass
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    Since no GPS, using Wikimapia for details. After Bandipora the zig-zag orange line is the roads to Razdan pass and beyond. If needed, click on image for a magnified view.
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    After Razdan pass comes the fork and here Kanwalzan is located. One side goes to Bagtore meadows and LOC and the other goes to Dawar of Gurez. The white line is the Indo-Pak LOC which is just a few kilometres ahead
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    Dawar village comes up after Kanwalzan, where the JKTDC hut is located. The village lies parallel to LOC line. Straight ahead goes to remote lands of Kabulgali and even to Drass, part of which we travelled the next day.
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    This was the info that I had while we left for Gurez on 18th October 2011 -- that it is difficult without permission, that I would have to go to Bandipora and get the permission, beyond Razdan pass is in Army control and the permit is necessary, that there are flare ups and skirmishes that can happen any time with the LOC being just few kms away.

    So with that brief idea and with the hotel owner saying that we are going to see parts of Kashmir that most Srinagar people havent seen, early morning we head off towards Bandipora asking directions here and there.
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    Now there is no images or photos of what followed was a dramatic day. I enter Bandipora, enquire about DC office and promptly directed by the locals.

    Take a white paper, write down details of us three [wife, son and me], and after a thorough airport type search was let into DC office. The gate policeman was bemused and amused no less seeing a family driving out to Gurez from Kolkata.

    Inside I am absolute lucky to find DC himself there, he glances over, looks at me, said if Razdan pass closes due to snow [it was already 3rd week of October] and plus there can be sometimes problems also. May be seeing that I am still hesitating and standing over there, here direct me to the DSP police of Bandipora.

    The same reaction, said it can be risky, plus yours are small family driving out - directs me to the ASP Police. Now he is a fine young Kashmiri gentleman who lets me sit in his office, write down a complete letter directing that we are to be taken care and the complete way he went forward to go for that permit among his duties was astounding. I had by that time left hope for a permit and suddenly now this was like magical.

    The ASP connected with our sense of driving and wandering, and we still remain ever grateful to him for this part of the trip. He also advised that next time come down with a letter from your local police station verifying your residence then it would be much easier.

    With that permit in had we were elated like anything. Our journey is on towards Gurez.

    This again ranks among those elusive drive permits that we have got till now, either that be of North Sikkim and Gurudongmar or Koyoul and Demchok at Indo-China LAC or this one. None of us have any special connections or such, I just stand there with an application form and things does seem to fall into place!

    So with the permit and written letter by ASP Bandipora, we are elated. There is nothing to stop now, from here we knew that there is an absolutely newly constructed JKTDC hut and we could take a chance there or at the circuit house may be. There is a petrol pump, just before entering Bandipora. Fill fuel over there as till 2011 that was the only one.

    Beyond Bandipora and up to Razdan or Rajdhan or Rajadhani Pass.
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    Razdan pass, this is an image while we were exiting from Gurez.
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    Razdan pass remains closed for nearly 5-months - the 83-km Gurez-Bandipora road was thrown open for vehicular movement on Saturday.
    The 14,000-feet high Razdan pass, which connects Gurez Valley with Bandipora, receives very heavy snowfall during the winter months leading to the closure of road for 5-months.

    The road is normally opened for traffic by the end of May, but this year the Border Roads Organization (BRO), Hindustan Construction Company executing Khisen Ganaga Hydro Electric Power project that maintains the road, started snow clearance operations right from the beginning of this month. Source

    Beautiful landscapes amazes one on a fine late October morning - I could not click much pictures while going as already late due to the Bandipora permit time and plus was not sure of where to stay in Gurez.
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    Razdan Pass crossed and now down towards Dawar, Gurez
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    Kanwalzan is the fork where one road goes to Bagtore and another towards Gurez valley
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    Again not much pictures as we were late and there was that thing to fix up an accommodation. Late evening we enter Dawar, the main village of Gurez
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    Asking around we soon know that there is an absolutely newly constructed JKTDC hut and the caretaker is a fantastic gentleman, Mr Mohammad Ghulam Lone. These are the places where tourism is now being developed and as such this was just completed. He opened up one of the rooms and suddenly all our troubles and ideas about where to stay just go away. As said everything somehow fall into place in our trips!

    There is only one eatery out there just on the main road beside the JKTDC. Fantastic people they are, very curious on seeing us and so too were we - knowing their land themselves. The soon have simple yet hearty dish at that night and we retire early in that cozy new JKTDC lodge.
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    Tomorrow we have an absolute exploratory journey ahead, see how long we can go parallel to the LOC, parallel to River Kishenganga, towards the mountains of Kabulgali and may be even beyond. There is a reason why we say this has been our best travel till date - we have seen the Pangi valley of Himachal, the Padder and Margan of Kashmir and then the Suru and Zanskar valleys and now again to Gurez and Tulail valley of Kashmir!


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