A visit to distant geographical locations and particularly to a historical place is always a fascinating experience. Travel widens our perspective on life and life is itself a journey which makes us grateful. It has been well said that it is better to see something once than hear about it thousand times. Recently, I along with my friends had a chance to visit Ladakh during the summer vacations under the guidance and supervision of Mr. Ghulam Nabi who has served long back in the Ladakh division in an official capacity. We started our journey in a privately owned vehicle on 19th July. We reached Sonamarg by 12:00 PM and had a lunch. After lunch we proceeded towards Ladakh after crossing Zojila. We reached Drass by afternoon and had a chance to visit the Drass War Memorial built by the Indian Army in the foothills of the Tololing Hill across the Tiger Hill. We clicked some photographs inside the Manoj Panday Gallery and after the exit from the war memorial we went to a tea stall and had tea in Drass.
Topographically, the whole Ladakh division is mountainous with three parallel ranges of the Himalayas, the Zanaskar, the Ladakh and the Karakoram. The three rivers Shayok, Indus and Zanskar flow between these three ranges and most of the population lives in the valleys of these rivers.
We reached Kargil by the evening. Kargil is the second largest town in the Ladakh division after Leh. It is about 205 kilometers from the summer capital Srinagar. Kargil is a small town and is called as the land of Agas as it is inhabited mostly by Shias, and Agas are its religious heads and preachers of the town among Shias.
Next day we preceded towards Leh, the cold desert. Leh is fascinating and it is one of the beautiful mountain roads in the world due to its mesmerizing and colourful mountains. However in the whole Ladakh region one can see military posts, transit camps and cantonments. It took us about six and half hours to reach the Leh town. Leh possesses a marvelous architectural heritage; the most interesting monument here is the Tsemo Gompa and Royal Palace Leh. Leh palace is a must visit.
In Leh we visited several historical places including the 16th century Tsemo Fort, Tsemo Gompa. We also visited the Royal Palace at Leh. Royal Palace at Leh is a legacy of Ladakhi's war with the rulers of Kashmir in the 19th century. It is the miniature of Potala Palace in Lhasa (Tibet) and is the highest building in the world of his own times. Inside the Palace there are scores of compartments and a Royal temple. The construction of this nine storied palace on the Tsemo Hill was initiated by Tsewang Namgyal, founder of the Namgyal Dynasty (A.D. 1533-1834) in A.D. 1553 and was completed by his nephew, Senge Namgyal, the most illustrious king of Ladakh. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has restored the valuable ruins of the nine storied Royal Palace and is open for the public as a remarkable tourist destination. Besides these we also went to Shay, where we visited the Shay Gompa and Shah-i-Hamdan Masjid built by the great Sufi saint and preacher of Islam, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani popularly known as Shah-i-Hamdan in Kashmir where we offered evening (Maghrib) prayers. We also visited Thaksai and other Gompas lying in the vicinity of Leh.
On our way we stayed one more night in Kargil. Next day we met some friends in Hardas. Here we had a long discussion with a school Headmaster on Indo-Pak relations, regional politics and his life experiences on different issues confronting the state. He shared with us about his visit to Pakistan when he went there to meet his relatives across the border in Skardoo. Pakistan is just a few miles away from Kargil and they once used to go Skardoo by foot till 1971 after that the borders were sealed. But he had a chance to visit relatives in 2006 through Wagah border and shared some of his life time memories about the love and respect he received from the people of Pakistan.
After spending few hours in Hardas we went to the Kargil-Skardoo border on the top hills of Hunderman village where we saw the twin villages on the either sides of the border. From the top of the hill one can easily have a glimpse of Historical Silk Road and nearby village of Pakistan, and a Masjid with an Islamic architecture of Minaret on the other side of the village in Pakistan. On the border we were briefed about the border area by an army man who was stationed there and showed us some of the strategic locations and border posts of India and Pakistan. Back from the border we proceeded back towards Srinagar.
Dr. Reyaz Ahmad Ganaie has done Ph.D. from Pondicherry Central University, and works as a teacher in the Education Department.