Drass - Second Coldest Inhabited Place in the World
Drass Valley in Kargil District in Jammu and Kashmir is popularly called as the gateway of Ladakh. In the infamous Kargil War, Drass has played a significant role. The Pakistani Army in 1999 started dropping shells in Drass and in the surrounding villages and thus the war broke out between India and Pakistan.
In the end, India recaptured Drass and other parts in the premises and then on Drass has been recognized as the memorial of the Kargil War. Drass is nestled amidst the snow-clad peaks on the Leh- Kargil National Highway at a height of 3230 meters above the sea level. Zojila Pass is the beginning of Drass Valley.
Even when the harshest climatic conditions of winter hit the inhabitants here, the people kept guarding the valley intact and thus they are called the guardians of Ladakh’s gateway. The residents of the valley is known to be the saviours of stranded travelers who try to cross the pass along the snow covered trails and also they have stayed back in the valley to transport trading merchandise in the extreme cold.
Drass is recognized as the base for the three day long Suru valley trek.The coldest region of India is Drass where -12 degree Celsius is the average temperature during winter and it falls onto as low as -17 degree Celsius during the peak time of winter.
The tours of Drass compulsorily include a visit to the famous Drass War Memorial which is built to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the India-Pakistan War in 1999. There is a Brigade War Valley that also turned to be the space to commemorate the lives and dedication of Indian soldiers during Kargil War.
Located at a height of 3,300 metres or 10,800 on NH1, Drass is most popularly known for being the second coldest inhabited place in the world, right after the village of Oymyakon in Russia, also making it the coldest place in India. Sitting right in the middle of Drass Valley, this town is about 56 kilometres away from Kargil, the town known for its political and historical importance.
Often known as the “Gateway to Ladakh”, this town is the first after Zoji La Pass.The people of Drass are mostly from the Dardic and Baltic Tribes. The Dards are of Indo-Aryan origin who are believed to have migrated to Ladakh from Central Asia. This small town has a population of just about 1200. These people are known to have traversed through the formidable Zoji La even during its harshest weathers for trade purposes, and to help travellers with their route.
These hardy people can very well be called the guardians of Ladakh’s Gateway. Drass also serves as the base camp for the trek to Suru Valley taking one through beautiful meadows laden with flowers on both sides across the Umbala Pass, which falls en route.
Height: Drass Valley is located at an average height of 3820 meters.
Location: It is located 60 kms away from Ladakh and starts from the foot of the famous Zojila Pass.
Best time to visit: The season between the months of May and September are the suitable time to visit Drass. Drass - Second coldest inhabited place in the world
Best time to visit Drass
As beautiful as this little town is, it is known to have seen some of the harshest weathers in the history of mankind. The lowest recorded temperature ever in Drass was in 1995 when the mercury fell to -60 degree Celsius! As much as people would want to experience snow and experience harsh climates in the name of adventure, winters in Dras are not made for everyone.
That being said, it is not as if the weather is extreme all year round. Drass also witnesses some of the most beautiful and comfortable summers ever. The months of June to September see an average of about 23 degree Celsius. It is no surprise then, that the peak season, and perhaps the only tourist season that Drass gets to see is in fact the summer months!
Places to Visit in Drass1. Drass War Memorial
The Dras War Memorial, also known as the Kargil War Memorial, is located in the town of Drass, in the foothills of the Tololing Hill. Built by the Indian Army, this memorial was made to commemorate the success of Operation Vijay in 1999 when India finally took back command of some high outposts which had been invaded by Pakistani troops disguised as Kashmiri terrorists.2. Minamarg
The Memorial is known for its massive sandstone epitaph bearing the names of all soldiers and officers who were martyred in the war. Located across Tiger Hill, this Memorial also serves as a great viewpoint for some of the peaks that the Indian Army had taken back from the Pakistani forces.
About 30 kilometres from Drass, on one of the beautiful trails leading up to Amarnath, rests the breath taking meadow of Minamarg, right after Zoji La. Enveloped by the magnificent Machoi Glaciers and lush vegetation, this is every nature lover’s dream come true! Minamarg is also the very place where the few streams going through Zoji La Pass meet together to form the waters of the Drass River just after Zoji La.3. Matayen
The only place in the entirety of Ladakh where Kashmiri is the predominant language, Matayen is a small picturesque village located just 20 kilometres short of Drass. The first village after crossing Zoji La, most people of Matayen migrate to various other places in Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir during winters in search of more habitable weather conditions.
Also serving as the basecamp for traders during the month of March, Matayen sees local traders carrying vegetable and other agricultural produce on horsebacks across the Zoji La Pass.
4. Ningoor Masjid
About 7 kilometres from Drass, this mosque, just like any other religious site in the world, comes with its own shares of folklore. Legend has it that during its construction, one of its walls was raised naturally, without human interference! A picture perfect example of architectural masterpiece, this mosque has passed the test of the harsh climate of its region and pops out quite brilliantly in the winter cover with its hues of emerald green, turquoise and Persian blue.
5. Musko Valley
Located at the western extremity of the Ladakh region, Musko Valley was once considered glaciated and unsuitable for human life to sustain. It came into popularity during the Kargil War of 1999 when Pakistani troops infiltrated through this valley across the Line of Control.
The valley now has a well settled population enjoying the stunning vistas of mountains and meadows on all sides of it! With the gurgling of Drass River flowing through it, Musko also serves as the base camp for the trek leading up to Gurez in Bandipora district of Kashmir. The valley is also known for its array of varieties of mountain flowers and most people of Musko are involved in farming and sheep rearing.
A small village in Suru Valley, Saliskote is located about 22 kilometres from Kargil, on the way to Padum- the administrative headquarter of Zanskar region. Until a branch of the Mutahhary Public School opened here in 1993, this village used to be one of the most educationally backward villages of the region.
The village is known for the Darul Quran E Meraj, a beautiful mosque. Saliskote can be reached via Drass through a trekking trail over a period of two days, covering the Laser La region.
Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, located about 140 kilometres from Srinagar. This temple is an important part of Hinduism, and is known to be one of the holiest shrines of the religion.
Surrounded by snowy mountains on all sides, the cave itself is covered in snow for most part of the year, except for a few summer months when it is open for pilgrims. While there are a number of routes to complete the yatra, starting from Srinagar and Pahalgam, one route starts from Minamarg, located just 30 kilometres from Drass. This route is a shorter one, spanning just over 3 days.
8. Tiger Hill
Also known as Point 5062, Tiger Hill is one of the highest peaks in the Drass- Kargil region and was the centre of battle during the Kargil War of 1999. This hill is of immense strategic importance due to its height. During the War when Pakistani troops captured this peak, they could easily access the entire brigade stationed in the area.
This hill also has a route to Siachen Glacier and connects Srinagar in Kashmir to Leh in Ladakh. Tiger Hill is best visible from the Kargil War memorial.
9. Drang Drung Glacier
Being the only glacier in India, and one of the very few glaciers of the world, that can be reached via road, the Drang Drung Glacier is a must visit spot for anyone visiting the Drass region. This 22 kilometres long massive glacier is located right after crossing Pensi La into Zanskar region.
A true piece of nature in its rawest forms, this glacier is a thing of heaven for all adventure enthusiasts, but requires a strenuous 3 days trek from Padum. This glacier is accessible only for three months around the year- from July to September. For the rest of the year, the roads connecting to this glacier including Zoji La and Pensi La remain closed due to heavy snowfall.
The glacier is accessible via NH1 and one can spot it towards the right hand side while travelling from Kargil. Located at a height of 4,780 metres, this glacier is a river of ice and snow, and serves as the source of Stod River. The majestic Doda Peak rises from the Drang Drung Glacier. You can also visit Pangong tso lake.
10. Dras River
Originating from the Machoi Glacier- also the source of the Sind River- near Zoji La Pass, the Drass River is a massive 83 kilometres long river flowing entirely in the Drass Valley. The NH1 connecting Srinagar with Ladakh runs parallel to this river.
Flowing through the towns of Matayan, Kharbu and Kakshar, the largest settlement on the bank of Drass River is the town of Drass itself. This river is also popular for the river rafting experiences it offers to tourists. Rafting through snow-capped peaks and monasteries located on hilltops, rafting through the Drass River is an experience of a lifetime!
Things to do in Drass
1. Mushko Valley Trek
Mushko Valley is located at the extreme western end of Ladakh. This valley, which was once considered too harsh to be suitable for civilization, now serves as one of the great treks in Drass region.
The valley is now well inhabited with lush green meadows dotted with an endless varieties of colourful flowers, and mighty majestic mountains surrounding it from all sides, keeping its trekkers some great company! Mushko is also the base camp for a trek going till Tilail in Gurez of Bandipora district of the Kashmir region. This is a beautiful 3 days long trek hosted by the Drass region.
2. Trek to Saliskote
This simple one night trek starts at Drass and goes up till the Saliskote village. This village was known to be one of the mist educationally backward villages in the region until a school opened up here.
Covering a distance of 22 kilometres, trekkers enjoy the beauty of the Laser La region while trekking from Drass to Saliskote. This is one of the remotest regions in Ladakh, and prove to be a great way to mingle with the local people and learn about the Ladakhi culture.
3. Trek to Amarnath
Perhaps one of the most important pilgrimages for Hindus, the Amarnath Yatra, has several routes a pilgrim can choose from including from Srinagar and Sonmarg, one of the more recently opened trails is the trail from Drass. This 3 days long trek starts at Minamarg right below Zoji La and takes one across this high pass. This trek to the holy shrines covers 30 kilometres from Drass till the Amarnath Caves.
Hotels in Kargil
1. Hotel The Kargil
Run by the popular Ladakhi family, the Baghs, Hotel the Kargil is for the family’s warm hospitality. The hotel’s fine dine restaurant is open every day from 6 am to 10 pm and serves exquisitely prepared buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The tourists coming in, in a self-drive vehicle, can also avail the complete car check-up services provided by the hotel, before hitting the road again. One service that makes this luxurious hotel a class apart is its absolutely free of cost laptop rental facility, for those looking to work remotely, or to just catch up on a movie along with a free connection of Wi Fi.
2. PC Palace
A hotel known for its unique combination of the old world charm of Kargil hospitality, along with the comfort of modern day luxuries, PC Palace in Kargil is your home away from home. With seasoned professionals, trained to curate customized trips for their guests, this hotel also serves as the one stop place to plan your adventures ahead of Kargil.
With basic as well as luxurious amenities including free Wi Fi, free parking, 24 hours room service, café etc., this makes for a cosy yet comfortable stay in the lap of Himalayas.
3. Hotel Rangyul
Located on the Kurbathang Kargil- Leh highway, this hotel offers separate wooden cottages with stunning views of the mountains from all sides. With 4 luxurious suites and 6 double bed deluxe rooms, Hotel Rangyul has accommodation to suit every need and budget. A roof top garden, private balconies in each room, and a multi cuisine restaurant serving vegetarian, non- vegetarian as well as Jain meals makes this place perfect for everybody.
4. Hotel Greenland Kargil
Right in the heart of the city, lies this big hotel with 35 deluxe and standard rooms, which makes for a great place to stay at in Kargil. With an uninterrupted view of the Kargil hills, this hotel offers an Internet connection, laundry service, a lip smacking menu of Ladakhi, Indian, Chinese and continental dishes, and a 24 hour room service during peak season. The highlight of the hotel is that its pet friendly, so now you can easily plan a trip to Ladakh with your dear pet, without much hassle!
5. Hotel Zojila Residency
Away from the hustle bustle of the main city, in a more peaceful setting, this hotel is perfect for those looking for some peaceful time. With the rooms overlooking the magnificent Suru River, the hotel is the place to be at for your late evening tea session!
The hotel also has all basic amenities like Internet facility, doctor on call and laundry service etc.
The hotel specialty is hands down its magical dining location situated right on the banks of the Suru River!
If you wish to stay in Leh, here's our deatiled guide on hotels to stay in Leh.
1. How do I reach Drass?
Drass is easily accessible by rail, air and road(road trip being the most favorite). The nearest railway station to Drass is Jammu Tawi located about 380 kilometres away. From here, one can take a bus till Srinagar and further hire a cab till Drass. The nearest airport to Drass is the Srinagar airport located about 165 kilometres away. From here one can take a state transport bus, take a shared taxi or hire a private taxi to reach Drass. Here's our full guide to leh-ladakh bike trip which can help you.
2. What is the weather condition there?
Drass is the popularly known as the second coldest inhabited place in the entire world! It experiences extremely harsh winters with temperatures dropping to as low as -40 degree Celsius. However, the summers in Drass are pleasant and mild. With the average temperature ranging around 23 degrees to 25 degree Celsius, the summer months are the perfect time to visit Drass.
3. What is the distance between Dras and Leh?
Drass is located at a distance of about 238 kilometres from Leh.
4. In which state Dras situated?
Drass is situated in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Click here for full guide on delhi to leh trip.
5. Why is Dras called the Coldest Inhabited Place in India?
With temperatures dropping as low as -40 degree Celsius and a record low of -60 degree Celsius, there is not another place as cold as Drass, which is well settled by a population. It is no surprise the, that Drass is famously known to be the coldest inhabited places in India, and the second coldest inhabited place in the world, right after a small village in Russia.
6. Is there a regular taxi service from Srinagar to Dras?
Yes, you can find taxis ready to leave for Drass as soon as you step out of the airport.
7. What is the distance between Srinagar and Dras?
The distance between Drass and Srinagar is about 141 kilometres. You can also check out our article on manali to leh journey.
8. Which is the nearest airport to Dras?
The nearest airport to Drass is the Srinagar Shaikh-ul-Alam Airport, located at a distance of around 141 kilometres.
9. Why is Dras known as the 'Gateway to Ladakh'?
Zoji La is a Pass that connects the Kashmir and Ladakh regions of Jammu and Kashmir through Srunagar and Leh. Since Drass is the first inhabited town after crossing Zoji La, it is commonly known as “Gateway to Ladakh”.