It’s not the greatest endorsement for a town when your guide puts a phone call through to his mother only for her to advise him to leave the place immediately. That’s what happened when I was in Kargil in the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir last year.
Other things happened during my 16-hour stay. A war nearly broke out. Mind you, I knew that was on the cards before I arrived. The previous day I’d wandered into a cafe in Gulmarg near Srinagar, ordered a coffee (Nescape 3-in-1 served in a heart-covered cardboard cup), and unfolded a copy of The Times of India to discover the front-page headline, “After 14 years, Pakistan opens its guns in Kargil”.
So why did I still go? Well, if you want to get from Srinagar to the former Tibetan kingdom of Ladakh (and I did), you have to go to Kargil. It’s the midway point on the only road. Plus, my guide said he had no concerns at all about continuing our journey as planned. (Clearly the apple fell a long way from the tree…)
In the end, everything was fine; in fact, Kargil – which is no stranger to armed conflict – proved to be in a relatively mellow mood, despite the skirmishes a couple of kilometres away on the disputed border. It was a perfect afternoon, too, and while my stroll through the streets threw up plenty of reminders of the region’s problems, the town actually grew on me.
Will I be booking myself and my family into a Kargil hotel for a two-week stay any time soon? Dear god no! But there are worse places. (Dras, just down the road, for starters. Yikes.)
Here are some pics.