There is a single valley that runs up into northern Kashmir and only road one road heading this way was built called the 1A. This is it, this is where it all happens. I have had the odd day that I have been able to veer off this, into a bit of peace and quiet of a mountain valley, but the rest of the time it’s been this dam stretch of abused asphalt that I have had to deal with as well as every conceivable vehicle that travels it.
I think that 40% of the traffic that travels this road is the military and the rest is whatever can be pieced together and made to move forward on its own, it’s then classified as a vehicle and it is here, and oh yes, it also has to have enough power to be able to sustain an air horn at full blast all the time.
This road is just wide enough for 2 vehicles, that is most of the time. The one side of this pass, there is a mountain side of sheer rock, or if it is not there, then it’s just been part of a relatively new land slide. On the other side there’s a sheer cliff that drops away to the valley below, from 50 to 500 metres and more. This is the side that I have been running on. I only have about half a meter in which to work at the best of times.
Like a chameleon I have been running this edge, for over 120km now. My one eye, constantly gawking over the edge of the cliff below me, scanning for obstacles that I might trip over and then plunge to my death below. This eye is also constantly looking for safety zones that I can duck behind should a truck try and knock me off the edge. The other eye firmly on the oncoming traffic, at times twisted back looking at what’s coming from behind as here you actually don’t know in what direction the traffic actually flows as it changes all the time.
The Indian drivers seem to think that best overtaking spot is always on a blind corner and of course it must be a bus and a truck together. I will come trotting around the same bend and hear the commotion, horns blowing, screaming brakes, tyres squealing as this mass of steel squeezes around the corner into the on coming traffic who, guess what? They are also trying the same move and here I am stuck in the middle of this mad duel for position on the road. Below me is the 300m drop, next to me and ahead is just chaos unfolding. My only escape from sure death is to jump between two of the road side concrete blocks that are build to try and stop the vehicles from plunging over the edge and down the cliff as I have seen the evidence on many a corner, the latest been an ambulance lying at the bottom of a gorge looking like an exploded egg.