Switchbacks: the road to Umbala Top, the shortcut from Sankoo to Drass bypassing Kargil; Jammu and Kashmir, India.
We got up at around 6, hoping to get an early start from Rangdum. It was nice and cool with the sun coming up and we were ready to leave after breakfast at the only dhaba in Rangdum but not before just sitting outside and taking in the warmth of the sun. The route was the same back and it got a little cloudy later in the morning threatening to rain and it did too with a few drops near Panikher, but thankfully that was it. After a late lunch at Sankoo, we inquired on the deviation we had seen on a new road to Drass that bypasses Kargil; and we got information from a Malayali army man who told us that there is one place where there was a slide that had not yet been cleared but smaller vehicles could go. Emptying all the fuel we had been carrying when we left Kargil into the tanks(with an audience of school kids) and also buying 3 ltrs of petrol from a local shop(all he had), we decided we had enough fuel to skip Kargil(which has the only petrol bunk around) and head straight to Srinagar.
The road up to Umbala Top(Umbala Pass) was superb, freshly tarred with the powder still on, and enough switchbacks(aka hairpins aka loops) to put all other switchbacks to shame. It got colder as we climbed the 33kms to the pass but the view was unique: we had always been riding in the valleys along the rivers, but this time we were higher than some of the mountains around that rose from the valley. We could see the road going down to the stream flowing in the valley on the other side and could also barely make out a road on the top of another mountain far away; and it seemed natural for us to assume that the road would go down to the valley and follow the stream(like other passes around) to Drass, but we were in for a surprise at the stream.
We followed the road down to the stream to find it end at the stream. Our earlier attempt in the day with a shortcut we had taken when leaving Rangdum had the bike going through the water with the silencer completely submerged in the water(the bike did get cleaned a bit :), but this time the water was clearer and not as deep comparatively, so it was an easy crossing. The only problem was that there was no road or path on the other side of the stream. After some searching around(some path-finding so to say which we have had some experience with while trekking in the western ghats), we found the path we had to follow and also found the slide that we had been informed earlier of. Luckily for us, the 4x4 lorries had already made another path around the slide(this we found after some looking around). The climb up was on kuccha road which turned into neat tar roads again. We were now on the way down to Drass on the shadow side of the mountain and that meant it only got colder this late in the evening. We got to see the path we had rode down and the valley we had climbed up from and a little ahead around a corner, we could finally get into some warm sunlight and a unique view of Drass: from the top, of both the river and the town. This had been one good shortcut, for the ride and the views it offered; probably the first few civilian vehicles to have come this way.
Part of 'The Trip/2007', Aug/Sep/Oct/Nov.