“It’s high time we do something. It’s time for the action. The situation is not good. We should have paid heed to the rain warnings”, said Rijul.
“We should not worry about things we can’t control. We are at the mercy of Devi Bhagwati, she will decide. So do not worry, water is still ten meters away from us”, said Pandit G in his usual philosophical tone.
“What the hell? Water has penetrated my last line of defense, my ‘kachha’ (underwear) is wet”, said I.
We had two sleeping mats for three people. Rijul was literally sleeping in the open and the ‘Darati Nalah’ that looked beautiful in the evening now looked sounded like Niagra Falls.
It was a flash flood or a cloud burst maybe. The ‘nalah’ that Pandit G declared to be ten meters away was flowing right in front of us.
We ran like crazy animals to save our lives.
Surviving the Flash Floods with Gaddi Power
The whole scenario changed within minutes. Darati Nalah that was flowing 30 meters away was now touching our feet. A gaddi bhai approached us asking for the torch light. Their sheep was stuck in the flood. The noise of stream was deafening. I hate to admit it now but I imagined another Kedarnath like havoc right in front of my eyes. Those brave gaddis’ didn’t let even a single sheep-goat go away in the flood waters. It was not possible without divine intervention; stepping foot in those waters was not humanely possible. Let alone saving fifty sheep.
Not a single sheep was lost. We managed to escape freezing water using my camera’s flashlight. The battery died. I lost my camera charger and probably I left my pair of jeans too at the base.
If you intend to go there, look out for my stuff please.
“Bhagwati is testing us, we must not fail her”, said one of the shepherds. I was am still trying to understand how they did what they did that night.
It rained incessantly the whole night. Even those shepherds had not seen such rains in their entire Himalayan experience. The hard part was yet to come. It was just midnight and we had to spend at least 5 long hours in wet clothes, without any shelter. But with these gaddis’ around, you don’t have to worry much. Within minutes they pulled a tirpal (loose waterproof sheet) and we all cocooned under it. Seven people spent 5 looooong hours in 6 square feet area.
And after waiting till eternity the weather cleared a bit. The skies cleared and we all slowly emerged out of our bunker. After what happened last night, lesser mortals would have decided to fall back. But our gaddi’s don’t do that. They are not lesser mortals. They are the Mountain Gods’.
They had taken permission from the Bhagwati and nothing could now stop them.
“Once we have been granted permission, there is no point even thinking about not crossing. That would mean disrespect”, said the leader of the clan.
We, the lesser mortals, followed them. The journey started at 0645 in the morning. It culminated at the top of the 4700 meters high Darati Pass at 1430 in the afternoon. What happened in between those seven hours is called meditation.
We, or at least I, experienced miracles. Observing those gaddis’ match step to step with sheep was a blissful experience. The man cocooned next to me last night was leader of the clan. Those rubber boots, that piercing voice seeking blessings of Bhagwati with every step, and the confidence in his eyes are still vivid in my memory. You couldn’t differentiate between him and his sheep. While climbing up, he was one of them, a docile animal with absolute faith in its master.
The symphony that echoed with every jaikara of the mountain Gods and goddesses was mesmerizing. Crossing these passes with gaddis’ is a lifetime experience.
I was the last one to reach at the top. It was a long tiring walk and the major reason was not the flash floods but the altitude of the base camp. The Alyas Cave is not more than 3200 meters whereas the top is 4700 meters high. 1500 meters up in the Pir Panjals is no cakewalk, in my opinion.
Gujjars’ and Gaddis’ believe that one gets nauseating feeling at these passes because of some herbs. And I got a taste of it. While going down the pass I couldn’t help it and slept on the boulders. Pandit G too joined in soon. We both slept for an hour or so. Even then we were feeling nauseated. We somehow managed to reach Tindi by dragging ourselves in the dark.
Just like the Kalicho and Chobia Passes, this pass too is almost 10-12 KM from the nearest village on the Lahaul side. The road is always well marked on the Lahaul side, relatively speaking. Tindi is on the banks of the Chenab River and it’s not visible until you have actually reached within 100 meters of the village periphery.
Two things that are common in all the Pir Panjal Passes are a) a taxing boulder zone on the Lahaul side which lasts as much as 15 KM at times, and b) super water management of wild streams for irrigation purposes. Be it Kali Cho, Darati, or Chobia; Lahuli’s have efficiently channelized these wild streams for agricultural and daily use purposes.
Another surprise was waiting for us at Tindi. I met an old friend of mine after Nine years. We both studied together in school. It was a wonderful get together. We stayed at his place and enjoyed delicious Lahauli food. I have realized that on these trekking expeditions I miss food all the more.
And then I finally understood the meaning of slept like a log saying.
Next day, another pleasant surprise was waiting for me. Last year we went to Pangi-Kishtwar and we had to manually lift the motorcycle at a broken bridge at Killar. GREF’s Major Narwal and his men helped us to lift the 180 kg monster back then. This time I met him at the monstrous Madgram Nallah. He and his men have successfully managed to bypass the stream. The Madgram Nallah is no more a threat, he says. I hope what he says is true because Madgram Nallah is one big fucking monster.
FYI, Darati Pass derives its name from the word Darati (sickle). At the top, one has to walk on a sickle like path and hence the name.
The Zanskar plan was cancelled with immediate effect. Only to be executed sometime later in the future. However, the company marched to the Chandertaal Lake from Tindi.
The Rain Gods have not been merciful this year. First it was the Kedarnath fiasco, then 200 sheep died at the base of the Chobia Pass this year and a poor shepherd too. And as I type this, cloudburst in the Miyar Valley has swallowed 200 sheep and the valley is in the mourning now. I pray it gets better.
P.S. Gaddis’ are the mountain God’s as my good friend Rijul says. They cross these mountains at will and they are the true Himalayan wonder boys.