Mark Twain once said, “God created war, so Americans would learn geography.”
That is exactly what happened to millions of Indians 19 years ago. Most of India had not heard of either Dras or Kargil in 1999.
A little glimpse into what this region is all about.
This is a land where time stands still. The snow sculpted landscape of Dras valley will move you in ways only nature can. The brown rocky mountains, sharply eroded ridges and picturesque rugged valleys – all enhance Dras’ theatrical setting. If Ladakh is paradise, Dras is your stairway to that paradise. Driving through Dras valley is mesmerising and meditative. We let our imagination run amok and dreamt of trading caravans of yore that rode in and out of this valley carrying fabled silks, spices and unnamed treasures.
The weather adds to the beauty of the place. To explore some of Dras’ most picturesque viewpoints is one of those timeless experiences. The intense beauty, travelling through the remote mountainous terrain has a calming effect and it inspires. The first town after you cross the famous Zojilla Pass, Dras & the gorgeous valley is resplendent with wildflowers blooming in colourful abandon, even as the Dras river playfully meanders through sea buckthorn thickets and a patchwork of fields in multiple hues of green. It is extremely cool during summers and temperatures drop to sub zero in winters. The average temperatures hover around – 22 degrees Celsius. It is the second coldest habitable place on earth, the first being Siberia.
The Srinagar-Leh highway drive, which skirts the Dras river, is staggeringly beautiful. The magnificent landscape of Ladakh unfolds itself as the dense green forest-clad slopes of Kashmir Valley give way to bleak multi-hued mountains. Stark beauty takes a different meaning altogether. From the flower-sprinkled green fields to the old-world stone homes in villages nestled on the banks of the Dras River, the amazing sights of the valley compel you to just sit back and gaze in awe the soulful harmony of man and nature.
The population of Drass comprises people of Dardic (also known as Shinas) and Balti tribes. The Dards are descendants of Indo-Aryan people believed to have originally migrated to Ladakh from Central Asia. They speak Shina, a Dardic language. The Baltis form the major tribe in the whole of Kargil.
The villages in Dras Valley are surrounded by terrace farms all along the hillsides. These terraces are home to groves of tall poplar and willow trees, orchards of apples and apricots and fields of barley and buckwheat.
During winter, Dras turns into a frozen paradise. Everything is covered with snow and the landscape is a surreal white dotted with browns & purples here and there. The extremes of winter cuts Dras off from the Kashmir Valley and it disappears into a world of its own.
Sporting in high altitudes – Horsemanship is a treasured tradition of the Dard natives here and polo is played with particular zeal and fervour in Dras. There are numerous riveting contests of polo organised during the summer season and it is the favourite sport of the landlocked region, besides football and ice hockey during winters.
Beneath this earth young warriors sleep – this inscription says it all. India lost 527 bravehearts and 1363 soldiers were injured badly. The Memorial at Dras at the foothills pf Tololing is testimony to the fierce battle that was fought for more than 60 days. Lying below the tricolour, that sways high against the backdrop of the very same mountain, these martyrs are testimony that Indian Armed Forces will go to any length to protect what is ours!
Dras has been developed as a tourist destination since 1999, following the Kargil War. This new facet of the local economy initially took the form of visitors specifically arriving to see the war zone. For many of us it is nothing short of a pilgrimage to pay homage to all those who fought to save this paradise.
Places of interest –
Manman Top, 10 km from Dras (from where one can view the Dras Valley and the Line of Control.
Gomchan Valley, 5 km from Dras (a highland valley with glacier and steam running through)
Dongchik, 10 km from Dras (A model village in terms of agriculture, education and peace. Only village with zero cases as per police record)
Bhimbet Stone, 7 km from Dras. Legend says this piece of rock is supposed to represent Bhim, the burly Pandava from the epic Mahabharat, and that the soil surrounding it has great healing powers.
Draupadi Kund – 18 km from Dras
Minamarg (A valley 30 km from Dras headquarters, hills of which is bounded by Machoi Glaciers and also is a traditional route to Amarnath Yatra)
Laser La (A hill station about 14 km from Dras, especially known for its milkwhite water and Laser La glacier)
Mushku Valley 8 km from Dras (popular for various wild flowers during summer season in the deserted Ladakh region)
Dras-Gurez Trek Route (A trek route from Dras, Ladakh to Gurez, Bandipora in Kashmir which runs through Mushku Valley, Botakul and mountains (vehicular road also links Dras with Gurez))