I arranged with some friends from Bangalore and Mumbai to meet in Srinagar and take the road route from there to Leh, a distance of 400-odd kilometres, via Zojila and Kargil, to be covered over two days. While I had traveled to Ladakh in 1986, I had flown, and so missed much of the stunning landscapes along the way. This time, armed with a brand new Sony camera gifted to me by my kind brother (the second camera he has gifted me over the years!), I was really excited about traveling to Leh by road.
On each occasion, we were violently stopped by heavy cordons of CRPF jawaans J&K Police. They banged the vehicles with their batons and screamed at the drivers of the jeeps for daring to go towards Sonmarg. There were mostly young Kashmiri men among them. When we got off the vehicles to explain the purpose of our visit to Leh, they straightened up, especially when they realised that Jyoti Singh was traveling with us. They showed us pictures of the flooding ahead on the highway explaining, this time gently, why we could not go. The same armed men who were throwing their weight about a minute ago were behaving like obedient schoolboys.
Yet, daily life goes on amidst these stiff odds. Big billboards advertise higher education - such as medicine or engineering - in Bangladesh, not in India or Pakistan! People speak openly against the Indian government, against all Indian political parties and the National Conference, and against Narendra Modi. Our driver Mehraaj Bhai told me that PDP would have won with a far handsomer margin had Mufti not allied with Modi's BJP. Srinagar's leading newspaper Kashmir Rising is openly critical of Indian policies in Kashmir.