Every account on the internet and advice from knowledgeable friends told us that the Kumjun La – Gramphu stretch would be the most dangerous and difficult. We were advised to postpone our journey because they said that the recent floods and landslides would have increased the degree of difficulty beyond reasonable levels. Besides the Maruti Swift may not be able to withstand the rigours of the journey. At the start of our adventure, I felt we should go up to Kaza and then return to Chandigarh via Nako. Akshay and Hemant wanted the thrill of a difficult drive and were convinced that we can do it and it would be a shame if we did not take up the challenge. My wife said she would put her foot down and not allow the journey to proceed on this treacherous route. As it turned out we all decided to go ahead via Kumjun La and Gramphu. Our experience on the journey till Kaza, the road conditions and weather, shifted our perception of difficulty. The Hotel Manager, Sahil, had straight advice for us – start as early as possible. A reassuring observation was that in recent times cars stalling due to water crossings was not happening though it was very common earlier.
On 18th August 2021 we headed out towards Kumjun La at 8.45 am, way after the others, as we had to wait for the petrol station to open to fill petrol. The others had prudently filled their tanks the previous day. The delay meant that we were on our own on this stretch, hoping for the best.
The drive to Losar, about two hours away from Kaza was pleasant as the roads were properly tarred. We stopped for a loo break and hot tea before we geared ourselves for what was to follow. The road grew dusty and bumpy and at one point we were at a fork and couldn’t decide which way to go. We selected what seemed appropriate but the car got stuck in a ditch and we had to get off while Hemant drove ahead and waited for us. We were near Kumjun La and soon saw the iconic milestone and signage. We had reached one major landmark but there was about 40 kms of torturous driving ahead.
Just after Kumjun La at Bartal, we stopped for lunch at a memorable dhaba called Chacha-Chachi dhaba. The atmosphere was wonderful and the food good. We enjoyed that brief halt.
The road beyond was awful. At several stretches we couldn’t call it a road. It was just a muddy path with loads of stones and boulders along the way. Many times, we had to maneuver our way allowing oncoming vehicles to pass or faster moving vehicles to overtake. At times the car got stuck in muddy and rocky patches and fellow travelers in other cars helped guide us out of the jam or move away rocks that was impeding us. The entire landscape was nothing but barren rocks. Luckily the water crossings were not difficult to navigate although we needed at times to get out of the car. The drive after Kumjun La was along the Chandra River but the treacherous nature of the drive gave us little time to enjoy the scenic beauty.
The images on this post will best describe the adventure we had.
It was such a relief when we reached the Leh -Ladakh Road and turned towards the Atal Tunnel. The roads were impeccable and the experience of driving through the Atal Tunnel was ultra special.
The Maruti Swift performed admirably. It certainly isn’t the appropriate car for this journey and we were lucky to come out of it unscathed.