We have to leave Chatpal today in couple of hours and everybody is still asleep. I tried to wake everyone but the rain made it impossible to snap these lads out of their dream state. They were sleeping dead.
We left late and got stuck in traffic and check-posts. We made a 3 hour stop at Srinagar. I didn’t like Srinagar at all. It was dirty, polluted and crowded. Reason why we stopped is that we had to buy supplies from there. It costed us an entire day. We were all very tired and exhausted travelling on this never ending road to Yousmarg.
As we started to climb up, the view outside the car window started to transform. The clouds started to take interesting shapes. We were back in the valleys. Rich with unharmed wilderness and beauty. The air had a certain freshness which released the stress of the 10 hour road trip. The view just got better and better with every turn we made. As if that villages we crossed welcomed us with open arms. The shepherds with their sheep was the only traffic causing us to stop. A magical fairyland where the clouds and the sky danced in hues of the setting sun. A valley of meadows clad with wildflower and surprises.
The night sky was full of life with the twinkle of a zillion stars and constellations I have only read about, shooting stars I have only dreamt about.
After taking a hot shower in the room, I went out for stargazing in the terrace where I saw the first shooting star in about 9 years. It was like a dream. Everybody has slept by then. I thought of waking up early the next morning but my body wanted to rest. I woke up late and left with Abhinav and Sakshi for a hike in the woods to see what lies beyond these meadows. After about 45 minutes’ walk through the jungle, we came to a meadow where roam wild horses. They were in a pack grazing in the sun on a flowery bed. I slowly moved in and sat at a distance, giving them time and space to be comfortable with my presence and until I was in the middle of them. They were happily grazing with an eye on me. I just sat there, thinking how lucky I am to see wild horses roam free in the wild. We spotted a waterfall at a distance and followed it for about 15 minutes only to find out that it was a sprinkler from a broken pipe. Nonetheless, the sprinkling water in the valley was as good as a waterfall which cooled us off. We saw army commandos appearing out of the woods with their guns and ammunition as they walked across us. Something or the other keeps reminding us that Kashmir valley is a sensitive area and there are reports of militant activities from around.
We went to the part of the meadows which was covered with purple blossoms. It’s an area protected by the forest department and was fenced. But fences can only stop Xplorians to a certain extent. I placed my camera and our pretty Astha in the blossoms without harming the flowers and took beautiful shots of both of them. Each one of us found our quiet place among the flowers. None of us spoke to each other for the longest period of time until it was time to go. This was our last night in Yousmarg which culminated with music & bonfire and a walk in the meadows under the starlight sky.
It started with a long drive to Srinagar in the heat and dust but soon after reaching Srinagar, I took a ride in the Shikara and told the oarsman to take me to some place quiet. Dal Lake turned out to be a wonderland for Alice, and the oarsman – Mad Hatter. The lake is right out of your fantasy, you will feel like you have swam across this lake in your most vivid dreams. It’s full of secrets, full of surprises, full of wonders and it’s up to you how far you want to go down the rabbit hole. I crossed floating markets, villages, fishermen communities, dark canals where there is absolutely no sunlight, listening to folklore and the sound of the oar, I fell asleep. As the sun nears the horizon the lake casts a perfect reflection of what lies above. A perfect symmetry which leaves you stunned. As the night veiled the sky, there was a calm in the lake like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’ve never sat next to a water-body so dark & still. Udit, Altamash and I took the boat out for a stroll. Sameer, our caretaker was also there and he let me row. Struggling to keep it straight, I handed the oar back to Sameer. There were a zillion stars in the sky and a faded, disappearing patch of the Milky Way was also visible. Looking at them reflect and twinkle on water, I realized I just had the most memorable night of my life.
Ever since last night, I wanted to learn to row like a pro. Today was the day. Sameer gave me a few tips as we took the boat out for some time and came back all confident. This time I wanted to row on my own without any supervision. So I took my buddies along, on a two hour long Shikara ride. Took me a while to get a hang of it but soon the oar became an extension of my limbs and I couldn’t stop. We crossed the busy lake into the quiet villages lined in the canals. We crossed local fishermen in their worn out boats wearing their worn out clothes with their worn out nets, smoking rustic hookahs as they frequently passed by us. It was already dark and we were still half an hour away from our houseboat. Sameer must be worried about us I thought and I decided to row back home.
So today was the third day in a row when we’ve been waiting for the road till Kargil to open up and it still hasn’t. There was no point staying in Srinagar any longer. It was time to go home. This truth couldn’t sink in me. For me and a lot others, this was not the end. This isn’t why I quit my job for. The trip must go on or at least I will. We came back to Delhi all heavy hearted back to the hassle, back to the handicapped city life hoping to find a way back on the road, which we did. This time, it’s me and Sumi. We are going down south to cover the off beaten parts of the Indian west coast. It’s going to be one adventure I hope.