We left Chanze Meadow in the midst of blinding rain. Our destination was Dhiskal Meadow near Yousmarg (the end destination of the trek). Thankfully, the evening before, my local guide, Javed had managed to hire a horse and even though, it was to take us only to Ashtar Valley, it was a heaven-sent offer. By this time, my clothes no longer got dry and my shoes made a squelchy sound every time I walked. I was wet, my foot sore, and exhausted. The constant rain also made matters worse and all I could think of was to head back to the creature comforts of Srinagar: a hot bath, a nice bed, and clean, dry clothes. It was a far cry from the excited, energetic enthusiasm of the start but we all have our limits. In retrospect, the last two days were challenging but they also proved that I could do it; I would not break down and cry in the face of adversity.

Onward to Dhiskal Valley

The flower-filled Ashtar Valley

Our trek that day took us via Ashtar Valley. On clear, sunny days, Ashtar is one of the most beautiful places in Kashmir. Most people say that it is a literal carpet of wildflowers. On that day, flowers still bloomed in masses, but the blinding rain made us rush through it. Bakarwal and Gujjars roamed the mountains and valleys, despite the rains, and the bells of their herds echoed strangely. The world seemed to be a strange place of subdued sounds, sights, and colours. Everything seemed to be wrapped in cotton wool as fog lowered the visibility in some places. At times, I could hear the sound of rushing water but could hardly see anything due to the fog. Javed, Shuib, and I trudged along and at one point, clouds opened to reveal some patches of sunshine. Ashtar Valley opened up in front of us. It was a magical dream; just as the travel brochures describe it. There were endless carpets of wildflowers, green meadows that glistened emerald green, and a gorgeous river ran by. We crossed the river, exchanged horses, and walked on towards Dhiskal Meadow, which seemed to be too far.

Dhiskal Meadow and Bakarwal hospitality

The rain started again with more ferocity and fog covered us completely. I cannot remember how long we walked/rode that day but by the time, we reached Dhiskal Meadow, we were fainting from exhaustion. And the cruel rain just wouldn´t stop. I was so cold that my teeth chattered and my fingers were numb from holding the reins. Somewhere in the middle of the vast Dhiskal Meadow, we saw a Bakarwal (nomadic Kashmiri herder) hut. It was a fundamental structure of mud, tarpaulin, and wood and goats everywhere. The hospitality we received inside, however, was princely. The Bakarwal family took us in, shared their food and kangri with us and never once made us feel unwelcome. We spent that night in the hut with the family and thanked god for still having such kind, simple people on earth. The kindness of strangers: have you experienced it during your travels?……….to be contd.

Heading over to Ashtar Valley; I rode for more than 8 hours that day

The flower-filled Ashtar Valley

Javed and me

Our Bakarwal hosts at Dhiskal Valley

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