Six hours on the road, thinking we are almost half way to Srinagar and our driver gets the call we hoped he wouldn’t. He gets off the phone, “Sorry, road to Srinagar closed. You must stay in Kargil until further notice”. How we hoped he’d been given the wrong information. Sadly he hadn’t. We told the driver to try and go through anyway. Until we got to a roadblock and were sent back into town, to widespread dismay and grunts of disdain. (The road had only just reopened, having been closed for the past week). Driving back into town, we formulated a cunning plan.
“There’s nothing to do here right, and we will do almost anything to not have to stay here?”,
“So, lets go and ask to speak to the Police and explain we have a flight to New Delhi tomorrow, politely beg for some empathy, smile a lot, apologise profusely for the inconvenience and say how great India, Ladakh and Kashmir are (which is kind of true, anyway) and hope he’s persuaded enough to let us go through. We do not want to spent the night here.”
To many, it may sound futile. But given the lack of activities here to keep us busy, we figured we may as well try.
Twenty or so minutes later, we found ourselves at the Kargil Police Headquarters. A large, unnattractive bulding, in need of a lick of paint and to be quite frank, demolition. Outside were high walls, a no-parking zone and armed Policeman patrolling the perimeter of the building and gate.
We decided that amongst our shared taxi of five, consisting of Amelia and I, a rather amusing 20 year old Australian who enjoyed regaling us with many stories of how he once dated the daughter of a former Miss Japan with grand plans to eventually become a hotshot lawyer (my stories of once being known as “Dan the Gym Man” can’t compete with that), a 19 year old British gap-year lad looking forward to his upcoming freshers week at university, and a mid-thirty something Israeli lady who appeared to be undergoing some kind of early mid-life crisis on some journey of self-discovery whilst coming across as being neurotic with bipolar tendencies, it was decided that given I was white, NOT a child and male, that I should be the one to try and plead our case. We decided that Amelia should come along too, to flash her eyes and smile when needed and because nobody likes saying no to a white guy, especially in front of his lady. Bizarre logic it may seem, but this was a workable plan.
So out of the car we got, and over to the front gate we went. We were welcomed in and told the Chief was out at the moment, but would be back soon. I then spent the next hour chatting to a Kashmiri Policeman called Ahmed, rifle resting on lap, barrel staring down at my leg centimetres away, talking cricket, football, women and India-Pakistan relations, waiting to plead with the chief of Police to let us through on the supposedly closed road to Srinagar. Once he had enough of talking to me, we were moved into a small, dark room next to the entrance, which wreaked of paint and toxic fumes. Oh how I would hate to ever have to go to an Indian jail. We then chatted to another Indian family from Calcutta for the next half hour who were in the same boat as us, and talked football some more.
Mid-conversation, there was a lot of movement and fuss outside by the gate, the chief had returned. This is what we had been waiting for. We were ushered out of the small dingy room, and very briefly introduced to the chief. A generous portly middle-aged man, that you wouldn’t want to argue with, he granted us our request without us even asking and told us to be on our way.
“Just drive slowly”, he said.
“Yes certainly Sir, thank you ever so much”, we replied, and then repeated to the next five policemen we walked past, jubilant that we didn’t have to spend the night in Kargil.
Our plan had worked. We were going to Kashmir.
During the proceeding hours we would bear witness to and enjoy, one of the greatest road journeys of this earth. We bumped our way slowly across some of the most glorious natural scenery we have seen on our travels, taking in 4,000 metre mountain passes, Hindu Festivals in the valleys and Himalayan glaciers.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the Leh-Srinagar Highway.