Across the Kashmir Valley and over the famous Zoji La pass lies Ladakh -
the Land of High Passes. It is a magical land, completely different from
the green landscape of many other parts of the Himalayas. It is nature at
an extreme. A land of freezing winds and burning hot sunlight, Ladakh is a
cold desert lying in the rain shadow of the Great Himalayas and other
smaller ranges. Little rain and snow reaches this dry area, where natural
forces have created a fantastic landscape.
Ladakh forms part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Some areas
of Ladakh are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan and China. The
borders of Ladakh touch those of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, the Kashmir
Valley and Himachal Pradesh. Made up of two administrative districts - Leh
and Kargil, Ladakh covers a total area of about 59,000 square kilometers.
Before the use of aircrafts, Ladakh could only be reached by road. The
main land approach to Ladakh is the 434 km Srinagar-Leh highway, with
Kargil en route. For the most part, this road follows the historic trade
route, thus giving travellers a glimpse of villages that are historically
and culturally important. The most dramatic part of the road journey to
Kargil is the ascent up the Zoji La pass (14,000 ft) in the Great
Himalayan Range that serves as the gateway to Ladakh. More recently, the
Manali-Leh road, crossing several high passes including Tanglang La
(18,200 ft), has started serving as a second artery of commuting between
Ladakh and the rest of India. To the north lie the Saser La and Karakoram
passes, gateways to Central Asia from where trading caravans used to come
for many centuries.
The Drass Valley
Dras is an enchanting valley formed by the Dras river, which rises
in the Machoi glacier near the famous Zoji La pass. The river is joined in
its course by many other rivers and streams flowing in from snowfields in
the nearby mountains.
The short summers of Dras begin in May, when the snow begins to melt. Crop
sowing activities start late, while harvesting is done early so that the
crops are reaped before the beginning of snowfall. Barley and other coarse
cereals are the main crops grown here. Agricultural production is hampered
due to the poor and unproductive soil and the short growing season.
Moreover, there is a lack of irrigation facilities in many parts of the
Dras valley. As a result, agricultural yields are not enough to meet the
needs of the people living in this valley. Food grains have to be imported
from Kashmir. Fuel too is a scarce commodity and has to be brought in from
across the Zoji La Pass.