Couple days back, I headed to Tirthan to lead the first group trip for the year. In fact, Niyati was leading it, and I was taking a backseat for the first time.
I am a very lucky man. Made a random prediction that we would see snowfall on Saturday, and as we trekked up to Jalori Pass, the first snowflakes started falling. The group reached the pass, tired, but in high spirits. Earlier in the morning, the drivers had warned us to be back by afternoon. The weather can change anytime, they had told us.
While coming back, it started snowing properly, and the whole group was happy, dancing, making videos. Three of us ran down the mountain, feeling the breeze on our faces. Eventually, we stood near our vehicles, waiting for everyone to come down. On our right was the cliff facade, on our left was the precipice that looked all the way down to the Tirthan Valley.
When everyone came, we got into our Tempo Traveler. Another group, of four people, settled into their Innova. The moment we started moving downhill, I knew something wasn’t right. There was too much snow on the road, and the vehicle was skidding. I waited for a few seconds, not wanting anyone to get worried. In five seconds though, I knew there was something dreadfully wrong. I left my seat to go tell the driver. By this time, the car was swerving, and the driver braked hard, and the vehicle stopped meters from the precipice edge.
He asked everyone to get off the bus. I find such moments and people brave. It had happened once before in Ladakh years back. The driver asking his passengers to get down and be safe, and not get down himself, and get his vehicle, his daily bread winner back into safe zone.
Once everyone else got down, I locked the door and sat next to him. I don’t know if its foolhardy or stupid, but I will never leave a man on my watch to face danger alone. What’s the point of being called Captain, if you can leave one of yours in the face of trouble, I had no illusions that I could help him physically, I just wanted to be there to encourage him and offer any help.
I could hear a screeching sound from behind. I looked out of the window and the other Innova was coming wildly downhill, towards our stationary vehicle. My group members did not realize that it was skidding, and tried to wave their hands and ask it to stop. Despite all his efforts, the driver couldn’t brake and in the nick of time, everyone got out of the way. Except for our vehicle.
With a sickening thud, the Innova banged into our vehicle and pushed it towards the edge. In that microsecond, I knew we were going off the edge, and everything was a blur. But the vehicle suddenly stopped. There was a two feet snow wall that had formed on the edge, and the passenger sides’ tire went right into that and the tempo stopped. I was out in a second, and the driver too jumped off from his side.
It’s funny but I didn’t feel the slightest nerves when I jumped off the vehicle. I walked to the group, as if it was the most normal walk ever. The only thing that was in my head was that a few people would be scared or worried, and I need to assume control. But when I reached them, I was proud of them. Nobody was creating a ruckus or panicking. Sure, everyone was talking, but we got the whole group to stand on one side. I looked over at Niyati, wondering how the young girl would cope with this in his first stint as trip leader. And I saw her instructing people very calmly, to stand on one side. It made me proud of her. I looked over to my boys, after the driver told us he needed a few stones, and they all hunted diligently. The Innova driver looked highly apologetic and frantic, but it hadn’t been his fault, and everyone including his own passengers reassured him and asked him to forget it all. It made me feel very proud of them as well, for being sensitive to a scared man. I was processing a lot of information from all sides and I sensed I was entering a different zone. It’s a zone I love, taking charge of a mad situation, and controlling it.
Soon, we took a decision to leave the vehicles behind, and walk downhill a few kilometers where other vehicles had now been instructed to wait for us. The whole group walked together, chatting, helping each other, keeping spirits high naturally. We were actually having fun walking downhill, despite some people being tired after the whole day’s activity.
Nature is wondrous. You can ask for snowfall, and even an hour of it can derail plans and like how. Underestimating it is always foolish. But believe in it and it will take care of you. It might sound cheesy, but not even for a second did I ever feel threatened or scared that anything would happen to us. I just knew that everything would be alright. In fact, it was lovely walking downhill, as a delicious breeze kept brushing our faces.
This post is not meant to worry anyone. In fact, it is to celebrate 20 odd people who showed calmness, happiness and a spirit to help each other in a slightly adventurous situation.