Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sonmarg to Kargil – via Baltal (June 28)

The next morning I bid farewell to Papa-ji and I was off in a sumo to Baltal. At the police checkpoint at the entry, the military asked sternly (I think I understood the Hindi, just by the cognates and tone…) – if there were any pilgrims. Driver said no, only locals (Wow, I really do pass for Ladakhi huh?) and off we went. But there was another police checkpoint, and this time they spotted me and questioned me, and said no, I couldn’t climb. So I sighed and the super kind driver said wait a bit and we would go back to Sonmarg. So just over an hour after I left Sonmarg, back I was with Papa-ji who told me I should stick with my sumo driver who would help me find a ride to Kargil. There was yet again another strike and no government buses would be going from Srinagar to Kargil. Sigh.

My lovely driver secured me a ride with an Indian family and off I was. This ride is beyond words. At times you are literally bisecting glaciers, with ice above you and below you, the melting water flowing strong beneath your wheels; there are herds of sheep and goat traversing endless snow and ice; the mountaintops seem to encircle you from every angle and you realize just how small you are. This is one of the most beautiful road journeys I have ever done in my life, if not the most. Wow.

We made a few photo stops along the way, but before 3pm I was in Kargil. I made my way to the Sikh Punjabi hotel (yes, there is a trend here, I have no idea how/why it got started but I’ve decided, and so far I haven’t been failed, that Sikhs are sort of the noble caring protective figures in India, for me at least). Kargil is, um, noisy and unattractive. But wow, Ladakhi people. It’s like, what on earth happened to the genetic mixtures of ethnicities to produce the people here? I don’t mean this in any negative way, but the features of these people mix such contrasting ethnic traits that it really epitomizes the melting pot that is India. You can see distinct features of Muslims, appearing like Kashmiris or even further west, perhaps Pakistanis or Central Asian nations, combined with the Mongoloid Tibetan, Mongolian, and perhaps even Chinese influence, and then throw in a splash of Hindu Indian blood…it’s quite striking. Within a block of people you can see almost every nose, hair, eye, cheekbone, and jawline feature you can imagine.

The rest of the afternoon I managed to escape Kargil town in both directions and wander through gorgeous farmland and small villages where very friendly people came to greet me. I was pretty exhausted from the almost continuous consecutive days of travel on bumpy roads, combined with high altitude walks, so passed out early.

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