Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog


The road from Kargil to Srinagar is heavily gaurded. The Indians suffered humiliation when Muslim Mujahadeen took advantage of an early thaw to capture Tiger Hill on the Kargil-Srinagar route. The Indians are a little touchy these days and line the route with endless army.
I left
Srinagar and passed through a passport checkpoint, there's no one there so I carry on through expecting shouts and whistles but nothing. This is Indian security!
I push on and see signs telling me the Pakis are spying on I think:)
I want to take some photos of the valley but there's always army posts and signs saying no photography. One always has to be very careful with a camera around sensative areas like bridges etc.

Danger Sign
Reassuring sign on the heavily militarised
Kargil-Drass Rd.
To make matters worse I'm busting for a piss!

I pedal onwards. The road is quite monotonous. Massive army convoys of American sized portions pass by. The front army truck always has a fixed machine gun, it's operater blowing his whistle indicating for cars to pull over till the convoy is passed. I sit and wait for 15mins while it passes covering my face with my tee-shirt to avoid the deisel fumes.
I pass a monument just outside Drass to the fallen soldiers of Tiger Hill. I see Tiger hill in the distance, it's seemingly impossibly steep and in a way I admire the Pakis for lugging heavy artilery up such slopes.
I think of the world powers and modern warfare. If the Americans were involved they'd simply get a GPS position from a passing satalite, punch in the coordinates and send a few missiles over to knock a few hundred feet on the mountain. All would be over in a matter of minutes!
I reach Drass to be greated by the sound of heavy artillery practice in the distance. It's a bigger shit hole than Kargil, I can't believe it. Like Kargil, Drass survives from the passing bus trade but this time en-route to Kargil from
Srinagar. Few people sensibly stay here.
I check into a very smelly room in the government run guesthouse. I goto open the window to let in some fresh air only to find it's already open! I can't even lock my door from the inside so wedge it too with a chair and my bike. All night people try to enter not realising I'm inside. When I do fall asleep I seem to be woken immediately by the
4am call to prayer. There's no mosque nearby but 4 loudspeakers only 50m away....typical Muslim areas!

Heading up the Zoji La
Climbing the scenic Zoji La (3529m). On the other side of the pass lies Kashmir.
No photos on the top due to the military gaurding the pass.
Religion is a remarkable thing to see. How people and belief systems change in such a short distance. The call to prayer is great when you're sat away from the city looking at the prayer towers poking through the smog at sunset, but at 4am is down right annoying!

It's not even a pleasent sound. It always sounds like the guy is in incredible pain, literally screaming "Allah ahkbar" over and over and over again. It reminds me of the first time I got piles! I can't help but think that blasting it out across the land like this is brainwashing!?

Marmot on the Zoji La
A Marmot poses for passing cyclists on the Zoji La. I was waiting for it
to ask me for a pen!


Wake up early from the noise of the Mosque, artillery practice and more people trying to open my door. I give in to it all and get my smelly arse out of the smelly bed.
Head off towards Sonomarg (meadow of gold) and my first taste of
From Drass I pass through a military training area. First theres the rifle range, the noise from the rifles quite pathetic compaered to the artillery. Next there's the rock climbing area, the routes numbered waiting for the soldiers to finish their early morning excercise. Full safety gear is amazingly provided. Move on past the canyon crossing and moutain rescue area. I know this because there are signs telling me so. It's all a very busy place.
Approach the next passport checking post. Again there is no one there. These posts are actually very useful if you get in any trouble. They are all radio linked and take the details of all vehicles passing through. It is very wise to register  here for safety reasons....but I push on just wanting to see what happens.Nothing of course!
Then a voice call me from the field, it's an army officer having a wash. He asks if I've stopped for passport checking, I tell him there's no one there and he says "ok, carry on". Soo typical.
I start to climb the Zoji La pass (3539m). It's easy and scenic. Things are begining to turn slowly green. Gangs of labourers dig a new communications trench at the side of the road by hand. There are about 2 people every metre in the trench and more outside. It's a slow hard job.


Danger Over
Pssssssssssss....I'm relieved to see this sign!
The meadows below are filling up with heards of cattle. It looks quite amazing...but....there are also children there who spy me and come begging, but this time only for rupees. It pisses me off but at least they don't want pens. Then I hit switchbacks. The road is rough and I slow down. I'm easy pray for the kids who simply chase me begging and take the shortcut up the switchback and wait for me as I come. I have to laugh at the situation:)


Raja Moore
A soldier gaurds the faithful in his best turnups.
I said he looks like Rambo....he said no James Bond....Raja Moore!

Arrived at the Zoji La and was suprised to find it gaurded by army guns behind sand bags. I stopped to get a packet of buscuits from my pannier and the army guy blows his whistle to move me on. Nice pass though!

The Zoji La was actually amazing for a few reasons.
Firstly it's the border between Ladakh and
Kashmir and the army presence on the Kashmir side is heavy. The other major difference is the change of scenery. The Kashmir side is amazingly green and forested while the Ladakh side is bare in comparrison.
I stop for a soldier photo on
Kashmir side of the pass. There are many here, maybe every 200m or so. It's pilgrim time and 10,000 extra troops have been brought in to protect the Hindu pilgrims, 30 or so were shot several years ago while on pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave.
Thousands of colourful tents nesstle in the valley below giving shelter to the pilgrims. They look amazing sitting there in the valley.

Zoji La Summit
First sights of Kashmir heading down the Zoji La. Camping in the valley are
thousands of Hindu pilgrims on their way to Amarnath. 10,000 extra army
attempt to make their pilgrimage a safe one.

I make slow initial progress down the bad roads until they become paved. Again I pull over and wait for the passing of a massive military convoy. It passes and I move on but the Indian trucks must have been held back for hours until the convoy passed and they spew huge amounts of diesel fumes over me as I descend.

I eventually reach Sonamarg, another single road town. In reality it's the biggest shithole so far. All the buildings are basically rickety sheds knocked together from whatever timber or material they could find. But the road is tarmaced and there is nice green grass around the govermnet guesthouse. There's also an incredible amount of energy there. It's full of pilgrims who are going to Amarnath for the first time. They are very happy indeed. They climb from their cars singing and dancing in the street and crowded trucks and busses ply past with all aboard chanting as they pass.
I check into my smallest and dirtiest room yet, sleeping on the floor. It's the only available place in town. It's bad but I seem to grow fond of it. I like Sonamarg!
Woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. After much deliberation I decide to head off in the rain. It would be boring to sit in the room all day after all.
I try to make everything waterproof on my bike and make a Crud Catcher under my downtube from a plastic water bottle and hit the sodden roads.
I tag onto an convoy behind loads of army trucks and slip stream last trucks for 30km down hill. The road turns into a mud bath and soon my legs are heavy in mud but at least I'm providing much amusement for the locals. I pass an arrmy patrol guy standing at the side of the road keeping dry under a lovely pink umbrella, I have to laugh:)
I overtake several trucks and see the army convoy with the radio guy and usual machine gunner in the last army truck. I thought of the footage of the British soldiers in
Iraq killing a family in a car because it came too close to the army truck. But this isn't Iraq and I push hard on the peddles and head straight upto the truck and into it's slipstream about 2m behind. The guys just sit there smiling (laughing at my state) and giving me the thumbs up:)
I keep stopping to wash off the dirt and still arrive in
Srinagar looking disgusting!