Being a good sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Land Rover Discovery Sport’s rite of passage through a pristine Kargil borders on the surreal

On the road from Zanskar to Kargil lies Suru Valley — a strip of green in an arid cold-desert ecosystem, most of it bereft of the more obvious signs of human folly, and all of it unavoidably gorgeous. The sheer scope of the landscape — some hills are shaped like lunar pyramids while others resemble vast rolling rivers of rock — is overwhelming in Suru Valley.

Piloting the Land Rover Discovery Sport, we drive past craters, stone-stacks, riverside lakes, sand dunes, enormous cliffs, gorges and passes and gurgling creeks, swerve to avoid herds of dzos, pashmina sheep and even the occasional roving Tibetan wolf and laugh at the limericks that the Border Roads Organisation inflicts on travellers every few kilometres. On the final stretch to Kargil, with the wind gusting, billowing sand reduces visibility to the point where even the Disco Sport’s fog lamps can’t make an impression. After driving for an hour into what seems like a big void, river pebbles knocking the underbelly and wild rose thorns pricking its precious paint, the Disco Sport emerges through the dust cloud in Kargil.

A word about the Disco Sport: the baby in Land Rover’s line-up is built as much for good roads as it is for the inclement terrain. It never complained, handling knee-deep slush at the passes, loose stones the size of footballs, and even desert sand, with consummate ease. Its off-road prowess requires little technique: press the appropriate Terrain Response button and the Disco adroitly manoeuvres itself out of ridiculous situations that you’ve had the lack of foresight to land up in. Under its urban clothes, this SUV is an untamed being that’s right at home in the wilderness.

A view of the Hundarman village in Kargil

A view of the Hundarman village in Kargil   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The next morning, in Kargil, we’re told about an abandoned village near the Line of Control. In 1999, in the shadow of a mountain, protected by an overhanging massif, residents of Hundarman village in Kargil huddled together in a cave used to dry apricots. Above them, artillery shells traced arcs in the skies, and, after a terrifying pause, were followed by ear-shattering explosions that shook the verdant valley.

Mohammed Ilyas, an erstwhile resident shows us around his old home that’s been converted into a gallery for visitors. The memorabilia includes letters written in Urdu by his mother to his uncle who got stuck in Brolmo, a neighbouring village, when the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war broke out. After the war, Hundarman was annexed by India, while Brolmo remained in Pakistan.

A scene during the Kargil Festival

A scene during the Kargil Festival   | Photo Credit: Naushad Khan

On the way out, we make a pit-stop at the Kargil Festival — an annual cornucopia of culture and sport, where archers using traditional bows and arrows strike targets hundreds of yards away, while horsemen, whooping and galloping, play a no-holds-barred version of polo. There’s plenty of song and dance by the myriad tribes that inhabit Kargil district.

A view of the Suru Valley

A view of the Suru Valley   | Photo Credit: Johan Castell

At the Zojila Pass — much dreaded by traders plying the Silk Route in the 18th and early 19th centuries — time has done little to diminish the peril of the crossing. Precipitous, unpaved, single-lane tracks with sheer drops on the left and trucks barrelling down at you from the other end are enough to unnerve all but the truly fatalistic. If you close your eyes and listen, you can still hear the sound of hooves, while a faint scent of frankincense wafts through the air, as caravans of loaded camels head to Kargil, and to the fabulous markets of Kashgar in Xinjiang and beyond. In the rear-view mirror, the dust rises up in spirals and comes to rest long after we’ve passed.

(The author makes a living chronicling his experiences on the road, shooting video and writing on auto, travel and golf. When not roving the globe, he lives in Delhi with a motorcycle named Blue)

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 7:10:11 AM |

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