Monday, June 17, 2013

Stuck up There

My Dad was posted in Gangtok, a beautiful hill station - my Mom used to visit him with me and my brother every weekend from Calcutta, no matter what. We would start on Friday, reach on Saturday, again start on Sunday and attend school on Monday.

It was one such trip in July 1990 when North Bengal and Sikkim had received heavy rain. We were travelling from Siliguri to Gangtok, and midway on the hills, we found ourselves behind a series of vehicles, all stuck up because the road ahead was blocked by a large boulder.

Landslides are a pretty common phenomenon in this part of the world, especially in the rainy season. My brother and I, all of 10 and 11 years of age, got out our taxi to check the situation out. Mom was apprehensive, but she let us move out so long we remained in her line of vision. There were no mobile phones at that time, so there was no way one could communicate with anyone in the outer world.

A chill ran down our spines as we looked down - we were on the edge of a steep cliff, and the landslide had broken the barriers on the edge of the road. The boulder that blocked our way sat on a bed of smaller rocks and uprooted trees, and seemed to hold back the avalanche. The balance seemed delicate, and the slightest disturbance could bring the mountains down. 

There were people leaning against their vehicles or walking around, hoping that help would arrive. Our challenge was not to overcome this critical situation, but keep our cool.

Hours passed, sunlight dimmed. Our mom, along with others, was looking tensed. The idea of spending a night in the wilderness with two children was definitely scary.

We were lucky to be children - worry was something that we were unfamiliar with. The thrill of being in such a critical situation seemed to egg us on, and we seemed to relish the challenge of being completely helpless to Mother Nature.

My brother and I tried to speak to people who were complete strangers, whose languages were unknown to us (we could not speak Hindi too at that stage), and somehow lower the tension. No one had anything better to do, so they communicated with us through smiles, facial expressions and gestures. We kept the spirit up, and would not let anyone panic.

Late evening, an army truck came downhill and took charge of the situation. They put some sandfilled gunny bags and made a stable path for people to cross. They managed to interchange passengers from one side with those on the other; so that they could use each other's vehicles to move towards their destinations.

The present rainy season has brought back memories of a this scary experience. I've been hearing of tourists and pilgrims stuck up in the hills - I can identify with their plight, and hope that this blogpost brings some ray of hope to them.
Photo: An old one scanned for you - the monkey watches human beings in distress.


Madan Mohan Saxena said...

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Madan Mohan Saxena said...

simply superb.

Anonymous said...

That was some hard experience and really Rainy season brings havoc almost every year and the present conditions is no different.

Aparna Anurag said...

good one!!