Shipki La was amazing, beyond my expectations and that’s the way these Himalayas are, beyond expectations. I was excited because I was going to the ‘Land of the Highest Villages – Kaza’ and my next destination after Kaza was Pin Valley.
I met Akash in Nako and we decided to ride together. After spending a day in Kaza and riding through the ‘Hikkim-Langza-Kaumik-Kaza’ circuit we entered the Pin Valley. Pin Valley is very popular amongst trekkers. The Pin Parvati trek starts from Mud village, which happens to be the last village of the valley. Every year hundreds of trek-enthusiasts come here to walk over frozen lakes, barren mountains, and glaciers.
As we were entering the Pin Valley, we saw black water nallahs on the road. Akash found it weird and little disturbing. We were sitting on the bridge, admiring the beauty of the valley as water of the nallah turned black. We marched ahead without paying much attention to the color of the water. The same black water taught us some of the best lessons of life.
However, we had to wait for four long days to learn our lessons.
We reached Mud village and decided to take our motorcycles to even greater heights. We thought of taking our motorcycles to the Bhabha Valley. That did not happen. Coming this far in the glacial valley was an achievement, although.
As you ride in the Himalayas you want to go even higher. Sometimes you decide to do things that are not humanly possible. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail. However, the Himalayas always give you a second chance, to come back and embrace them. They always wait
As we were coming back from our glacial adventure, headed towards Gulling, a foreigner with long dreadlocks started waving at us fanatically.
“Hey, listen! Don’t go ahead! The road is blocked.” She was yelling at the top of her voice. Definition of trouble is different for different people. So we decided to go on because we thought our motorcycles will take us across. We reached the same spot where we were discussing the color of water few hours ago.
The bridge was gone.
The color of water was brownish now. In place of the bridge, an unimaginable amount of mud was resting and heavy boulders were flowing over it at an insane speed. We decided to come back because we had our motorcycles with us. Assets sometimes turn into liabilities. It was impossible to cross on a motorcycle or on foot for that matter.
Gulling was our pit-stop for the night. There was only one guest house and every inch of that guest house was occupied. We met a lot of people there, people coming from different regions of the world, people belonging to different walks of life. Mr PV, an IITB alumnus of 1975 batch. Parul aunty, Jon and Manda from Canada, Nikhil and Anamika with their daughter Chavvi, and Sameer and Anand from JNU. Not all were happy about their forced stay in the guest house yet they were smiling because that’s the best you can do when you are neck deep in trouble. We were quite hopeful of making it to Kaza the very next morning. Everyone was hopeful. The whole group stayed glued to each other for the whole night; sharing travel experiences and it became one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
That reminds me of one saying by the prophet Mohammed, “Don’t tell me how educated you are. Tell me how much have you travelled?”
He surely had a point.
We expected things to change in one day. In cities, road blocks are usually cleared in one day, at the most. Just that we were not in a city. The Himalayas have different ways of life. One day was spent in vain and it was time to leave. There was a marriage scheduled the next evening in a nearby village Sagnam. We would have loved to join a Himalayan marriage but the roads were calling us.
At least we thought so.
We reached at the site and the road was nowhere to be seen. There was no way one could cross that part without getting hurt or killed. After carefully analyzing the situation, we decided to go back and attend the marriage. Blessing in disguise, as they say, it turned out. The guest house guy Tashi assured us that the road would be cleared in one day, at the most. “Dulha, dulhan and poora samaan to road ke us side pada hai. Bas gaon hi idhar hai. To road to kholna hi padega, chahe saare gaanv ko hi na malba hatana pade”, said Tashi.
As we came back another not-so-good news awaited us. The guest house was running low on food stock. There were rumors of marriage being postponed. Some said that it will take at least one month to clear the road. There were hundreds of rumors floating around and every one of them sounded real. Such unexpected incidents make you realize that there are actually 24 hours in one day and passing them doing nothing but waiting is surely an arduous task. The second day seeped in and frustration levels increased gradually.
We didn’t even have toothbrush to clean our teeth. The passing days made us more impatient and restless. To pass my time, I had a funny idea; I decided to jog around in the village, to release my energy. That was my first time jogging-running exercise at a height of 3700 meters above the sea level. It took me 20 minutes to complete the 3.5 kilometer run, from Gulling to Kungri, which stands at a height of 4000 meters. Now that running exercise was over and I had nothing to do, I decided to play cricket with the local boys. After doing all this, I realized that there still were more than 18 hours left in the day. I befriended a kid and he took me to each and every house of the village. I got to know his uncles, aunts, father, mother, sisters, cousins, and almost everyone in the village.
It was our fourth night in the village and there still was no way out.
I decided to walk out of the valley and leave my motorcycle in the village itself. I had other plans; I had to climb the Stok-Kangri peak in twenty days. My parents didn’t have the slightest of the idea about my whereabouts. I decided to take a leap of faith. Next morning we got to know that few locals had already crossed the bridge. That was motivating enough. After dropping us at the bridge site Tashi said,” Although we like you but we wouldn’t like to see you back in the village again.” The site was scary and dangerous. As they say, there is a very thin line between bravery and foolishness. I guess I was standing on the very line that day. One wrong step, and you either create an avalanche for the following people or you are simply gone, vanished.
Boulders as large as the size of a buffalo were visibly flowing in the mud. Flow was fast enough to take a railway engine along with it. After a long discussion with Akash, I decided to wait for another hour before jumping in the slush. I said to myself,” If I die here all these people will see me going down but they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.” There were too many cooks and the broth was really getting spoiled. I was aware of the fact that If we I don’t cross the bridge today, I would be stuck here for God-knows-how-many-days.
An hour passed by and I dropped the bomb.
“I am going guys, wish me luck”, I said to the stranded souls. Akash followed and soon others followed. They believed in me and with them holding my back I too felt confident. I didn’t ask anyone to come along because the risk was not worth taking if one was not willing to do it.
I put on my gloves, tightened my shoe laces, got my bag and jumped in the slush holding a rope. As soon as I jumped I realized that I had underestimated the flow. Boulders were flowing incessantly and I just hoped that I don’t get run down by a huge stone. Dying under a boulder, that’s not how I indented to die.
The last 20 meters needed a miraculous effort. I was going helplessly down in the slush and even the rope which I was holding was inside the mud. To make things even more unpleasant, there were people behind me and their presence made me chose my every step carefully. I was supposed to make a way for them and here I was, trying to figure out the best way to not die. I was waist deep in the slush and then I decided to crawl. It worked, sometimes bending on your knees helps.
Finally I was out and the best part was that I was alive.
The job was not yet over. There were people behind me and they were to be rescued. Akash was going great but there were others too. I shouted, ran around, jumped in the mud, and we helped each other out of the mud. Jon lost his shoes, Manda’s lowers were gone. Everyone was injured. Everyone was trying his best to help the other guy. Everyone was risking his/her life.
Everyone was alive. I think that’s the way we get to know life better. That’s the way the Universe lets us know that life is a precious gift.
People were crying. Some were laughing. Some were silent. Akash was back to the business, clicking photographs, as usual.
The Himalayas test the character of a man. It brings the best out of a human being. In retrospect, without this experience my journey would have been a common one. Now that I am alive and [hopefully] I have seen the worst; I am glad that it did happen.
I am thankful.
My motorcycle will stay there until September. I will miss the valley. Akash has gone back to get his motorcycle from the valley.
September 10 is my day, to go back and embrace the Himalayas.