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Last Shangri La

The contrast and the diversity on Srinagar to Leh highway is absolutely mind boggling. One slowly moves away from the heavily guarded crossroads of Srinagar, with picturesque Dal lake on one side of the road, to lush green Kashmir Valley full of apple plantations. Red cheeked and well built Kashmiris coupled with fair complexion are among the most beautiful people on this planet.  Spirits soar high in anticipation of similar ambiance through out the journey, only to be greeted by the dusty and parched roads of the region. Instead of tarmac, one drives on a dust bowl in a vision paralyzed by the dust from the vehicle ahead. The perennial construction work, coupled with heavy moment of Army reduces one to speeds no more than a saunter along this path. The route passes through the cities of Drass and Kargil, where the lives of people revolve around military help on tourism that has flourished in Leh over the last few years. Kargil, a sleepy town, is the preferred stop for spending night in the two day journey from Srinagar to Leh, and one can go around and see the war inflicted regions nearby. Complete silence at night ensures a good night sleep for the high passes and beautiful Ladakh Valley the next day.

Next day, one passes through multiple passes along the route like Namika la and Fotu la. The latter is the highest pass on the road situated at a height of 13, 480 feet above sea level, and offers spectacular views of unending mountain ranges. From here onwards, the road is completely tarmac and one can cover decent distances in quick time. Why one would want to do that is completely irrational. As you move towards the destination, you start feeling the vibe of Ladakh from some distance. Air becomes clear devoid of any dust, a distant monastery in the horizon, Tibetian flags on the shops greet you throughout the road. The experience of driving on a perfectly laid road with mountains on both sides, Om Mani Padme Hum inscribed in colorful letters on the stones, sound of a distant river flowing beyond them welcomes you to the last Shangri la.

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