And so it happens that I find another Rock that stands out in this meadow. Ever since that rendezvous with My Rock on our first camping site, I have somehow been drawn towards these Rocks that stand out in their loneliness in these vast meadows yet without them the meadows would have looked bare and incomplete.
Whilst the rest of the gang lingers around the grassy meadows, I climb on to this one too. However, my moment of solitude is short-lived as the trigger happy members of our gang spot a photo opportunity. They want me to jump from the Rock while they train their weapons on me – a mid-air flying shot or so they say. Now, amongst the gang members who are trying to lock me in their view-finder is my pardner-in-crime Sunitha and this fact is not lost on our good friend, Altaf. He literally runs up the vertical face of the Rock and declares that we should do the jump together, holding hands!
I somehow do not have a good feeling about this and all I now want to do is to get back on solid ground asap and feel the grass underneath my feet. While the shooters adjust their shutter speeds I glance at Altaf who seems to have locked his own focus on Sunitha (Suni for him) and her camera.
One…Two…Three and we Jump!
Click! Click! Click! The Shots are fired!
The flying high lasts a couple of seconds (in slow motion). First as we take off and fly higher I notice the soaring mountains in the horizon and the clouds flirting with them and just as gravity starts pulling us down I look down and notice that our landing ground is anything but soft and there is a slight gradient too! I adjust my legs accordingly and pray that Altaf has noticed it too.
We touch-down (crash land! actually) and I hear Altaf let out a groan immediately. He is doubled up in pain and to our horror we notice that his elbow has popped out of its socket! Thankfully, we had Nandita amongst us who with the help of Joby manage to pull it back into the socket but the pain is excruciating for the poor guy. But he is a man of the mountains and shortly he is up and about with a sling around his arm fashioned with a scarf from one of the ladies and the charming smile is also back on his face.
The rest of the day is not quite as eventful (and no more Rocks I climb) and has the trail starts entering the pine and birch forest the rapid descent turns out to be indeed a killer on our knees. Those healing blisters flare up once again and our pace slows down considerably.
We had started around nine in the morning and it had been almost seven hours of grueling walk downhill until we finally glimpsed the first signs of habitation in Naranag. This small village in the Ganderbal district of Kashmir also serves as the base location from which trekkers start their climb towards Gangbal Lake or undertake expeditions to climb the Harmukh peak. It is also a place that has a rich history and it this history (archaeological ruins) that peeks at us before we reach the village.
And staying true to the reputation earned during this trek we are the last ones to arrive at Naranag. A quick lunch at a small café (the enclosed four walls of the café seem suffocating after the days out in the wilderness!) we head towards the hustle bustle of Srinagar in the hired taxis that have been waiting for us.
Though our stay in Srinagar is at different locations, the gang decides to meet for dinner and the final goodbye at Mughal Durbar restaurant.
The Great Lakes of Kashmir trek has been a fantastic start for my three sojourn across the mountains. As our houseboat at Dal Lake, Srinagar rocks softly I close my eyes with a tremendous happiness and excitement that tomorrow that comes…comes with no plans no schedules and no company too (everyone else had an early morning flight to catch). I am thinking of exploring the city of Srinagar, thinking of heading towards Leh, thinking of taking up the offer to stay with a Kashmiri family in a village, dunno what I am gonna decide but well…my long cherish dream of getting high in the Himalayas has just started!