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India’s Coldest Place: Lets explore Dras or Hembabs as the local say

India fortunately is blessed with a variety of terrains and temperatures.

Where it is home to the vast Thar Desert, it also boasts of the highest mountain range in the world. Similarly, while there is a place in India so hot that it cannot even sustain life, there is also the world’s second coldest continuously inhabited town. This place is Dras a town that deserves to be famous for a lot more than just its temperature. The best way to explore the reality behind this legend is to actually pay it a visit. The Drass Valley begins from the base of the Zojila Pass, which falls en route to Ladakh. Resting at an altitude of 10,990 ft, Drass came into the attention of mainstream media and travellers after the Kargil War. The town falls in the Kargil district and houses the heroic Kargil War Memorial and Cemetery.

Here is everything that you need to know about India’s coldest place.

Dras
Dras is often refered to as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’. Drass is a large village with small clusters of huts scattered over a valley. The inhabitants are Dards and Baltis. Drass still maintains a charm even after the ever growing presence of Indian soldiers in the region. Guaranteeing a mesmerizing holiday, the region draws hundreds of tourists every year to witness and experience its harsh beauty.

Nearby
Zoji La – The Drass valley starts from the base of the Zoji La pass, the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh . For centuries its inhabitants are known to have negotiated this formidable pass even during the most risky period in the late autumn or early spring, when the whole sector remains snow-bound and is subject to frequent snow storms, to transport trader’s merchandise across and to help stranded travellers to traverse it.

By virtue of their mastery over the pass they had established a monopoly over the carrying trade during the heydays of the Pan-Asian trade. A hardly people enduring with fortitude and harshness of the valley’s winter, the inhabitants of Drass can well be described as the “Guardian’s of Ladakh’s Gateway”.

Trekking

Drass is a convenient base for a 3-day long trek to Suru valley across the sub-range separating the two valleys. This trek passes through some of the most beautiful upland villages and flower sprinkled meadows on both sides of the 4,500m high Umbala pass, which falls enroute.

The trek to the holy cave of Amarnath in neighbouring Kashmir, which stars from Minamarg below Zoji La, takes 3 days and involves crossing of 5,200m high pass. Drass also offers numerous shorter treks and hikes to the upland villages.

How to Reach
You can fly to either Srinagar or Leh directly, and then take a taxi to Drass. It is best, however, to land in Srinagar and then take a taxi towards Ladakh, as Drass will fall on the way.
Local buses moving between Srinagar and Kargil pass through Drass. Buses from Srinagar leave for Drass in the afternoon.

If you are driving or biking to Drass, then follow NH1.

Where to stay
Drass has become a popular pit spot for people travelling from Srinagar to Leh. Several tourist accommodations and a Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department guesthouse (call +91-9560-788884 to check for availability) are the available stay options for those travelling to Drass.

The Baru La Hotel in the lap of Baru mountain away from the hustle and bustle of the town. A popular hotel if you are looking for more comfortable lodging. Check out their website, or can be reached at 9469190337, barulahotel@gmail.com for reservations.

 

 

 

 

 

The Highland Mount

 

ain Resort & Spa

It is located just a little away from the main Kargil bazaar and bus stand, on the banks of the river Suru. Just experience the quietude and calmness inside. Suotes not recommended.

Few budget hotels & homestays as well but they can only be reserved when one reaches there.

People of Drass
Drass was a part of the Balti Empire that spread all the way from Skardu (now in Pakistan) to the end of Ladakh. Therefore the people of Drass, similar to the natives of Gilgit, belong to the ‘Dard’ community. Dard is a community of Indo-Aryan people who migrated to Ladakh from Central Asia centuries ago. The native language in Drass is the Dardic language of Shina, and the town has a Muslim majority with very few Buddhist households. Around 1,200 people inhabit Drass throughout the year, while living in extreme conditions and working tirelessly to sustain a culture, which would have otherwise been lost in time.

The people of Drass have been negotiating trade and transportation through the Zojila Pass for centuries, and being natives, only they have the skill to live through the riskiest spells of winter. Keeping a watch over the Zojila Pass since the heyday of pan-Asian trade has earned the people of Drass the title of ‘Guardians of Ladakh’.

Places to visit in and around Drass

Suru Valley
The coldest place in India is a great place to acclimatise yourself and take short treks before heading to Ladakh. There are a few 3-day treks here that you can attempt. One is a trek to Suru Valley, which traverses across the sub-range between two valleys. You can also trek to the holy cave of Amarnath or to Tilaik in Gurez of Kashmir, in just three days. If you don’t want to exert too much, then shorter treks and hikes to higher and more isolated villages, such as Dongchik will be ideal for you.

Mushkoh Valley
A glaciated paradise, Mushkoh Valley is located 8 kilometres from Drass in an isolated region of Ladakh. Renowned for a great number of wild flowers that bloom here during the summer months, a trekking trail also begins here leading up to the site of Tilail in Gurez. The site is known to be uninhabitable and is an ideal place to view the white expanse of the surrounding glaciers.

Dongchik
Dongchik (10km from Drass) is considered a model village in Indian democracy. It practices progressive methods of agriculture, education and harmony amongst people.

Ningoor Masjid
Ningoor Masjid (7km from Drass) is a must-visit. The beautiful Turkish blue when juxtaposed against the brown mountains, creates a sublime spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.

Bhimbet Stone
Bhimbet Stone (7km from Drass) is a holy stone with fables of Hindu mythology. Locals believe that many years ago, the stone flew from one side of the mountain to its current position. And it is also supposed to represent Bheem, who along with his brothers travelled through the valley.

Laser La
The unexplored site of Laser La makes a charming hill station located about 14 kilometres from Drass. This lovely site is known for the dazzling milky white of the water that flows through here and the Laser La glacier which is located here. The enclosing Rocky Mountainsgive an enchanting sight from this region.

The wonderful expanse of the Himalayan mountains here provides a respite from the hassles of the daily life. An adventurer’s paradise, the Himalayas are home to unbeatable landscapes providing an ideal ground for adventure activities. In spite of the dispute between India and Pakistan over this northernmost Indian state, these beautiful regions of Jammu and Kashmir like Drass, Kargil etc., still make an excellent site for trekking and vacation.

Situated on the trail leading towards Amarnath, Minamarg rests 30 kilometres from Drass.The wonderful meadow of Minamarg rests right after Zoji La. Surrounded by the dazzling Machoi Glaciers and brimming with lush vegetation, this region is a wondrous sight. The region holds varieties of exotic flora making it a true paradise for all the nature lovers and enthusiasts.

Kargil War Memorial
The Kargil War Memorial (7km from Drass) is a place that can instil a fleeting moment of patriotism even in the most stoic and cynical person. Commemorating the martyrs of the 1999 Kargil War, this memorial, also known as “Vijaypath”, contains an epitaph bearing the names of all the brave officers and soldierswho died fighting for their country. The tombstones of every soldier (not just Indians) is a moving sight and a profound reminder of the high cost of freedom.

Matayen
Matayen (20km from Drass) is a tiny, picturesque hamlet, which is the only village with Kashmiri-speaking locals in the entire Ladakh valley.

Manman Top
Out of all the places to see in Dras, the Manman Top (about 10 km from Dras) is perhaps the most important one. Upon reaching Manman Top, one can view the entire Dras valley and even the Line Of Control (LOC). Then there is the Chorkiat Forest offering a variety of flora and fauna, the Dongchik village which has zero cases to its name as per Police record, Laser La which is a little known hill-station, the Brigade War Gallery providing information regarding the Kargil War, Tiger Hill, and much more.

Highly recommended that you mark it as a ‘must visit’ onto your Ladakh itinerary! Not that it needs to be said but do carry a lot of winter clothes.

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