Most Memorable Birthday
Day 7 – 18th June, 2013
It’s my Birthday today. I knew this was going to be the most memorable birthday of my life. I wanted to celebrate it riding to our next destination which we was decided to be “Sarchu”. But our fate had something else decided for us. Yesterday we had taken a halt at Darcha.
When we arrived at Darcha the climate was hot. We were told by the Police not to go any further as the next pass ‘Baralach-la’ was closed due to heavy snowfall. As the sun set down yesterday it started raining and we felt sudden drop in the temperature. Pretty soon the temperature went so down that we started shivering. We buried our heads inside thick blankets. The rain started pouring down with more force, and winds were blowing at scary speeds. We started getting ideas that the roof of the place we stayed in would anytime be blown off by the winds. The owner of the place seemed unprepared for the rains and it was obvious as it hardly ever rains in Ladakh. The roof started leaking. We somehow managed to pass the night in such harsh conditions. When we woke up in the morning we were all surprised to see snow all over the place. The table where we had meal the previous day was all covered with snow. Even our bikes had snow accumulated on top of it.
Early in the morning when we were fast asleep snow fell down and covered the entire region. There’s a famous saying in Ladakh – “Mumbai’s fashion and Ladakh’s climate can change any moment”. We totally agree with this quote. Even the mountains which were all dry yesterday were covered with snow today. I went outside, bare footed to enjoy the view. When I came back I could not feel my feet. I realized my mistake. I should have worn my footwear.
We went to the police tent right on the opposite side of the road to check out the status of Baralach-la, they informed us that the climate at the pass has become even worse and there’s 2 1/2 feet of snow over the pass. All the vehicles that passed yesterday from Darcha are still stuck up there due to this. The pass will remain closed today also. That meant we had to spend one more day at Darcha. The place we stayed in was taken care of by a newly married young girl and her husband. None of us could tolerate her attitude. It was because of her that we wanted to leave Darcha as that place was not giving us positive vibes. When we stayed at Khoksar, the owners were very warm hearted people and they took very good care of us and mingled with us very easily. On the contrary, this girl and her tantrums were getting on our nerves. We had to tolerate her for one more day. Sometimes “nature” can be very cruel.
By afternoon many cars, trucks and bikes gathered at the Darcha Police check post, right in front of our place. When they learnt about the situation at Barlach-la, most of them turned back and went back to Keylong. Our place was turned into a refugee camp.
Observing the people gathered in and around our place was a thing that killed our boredom. We met many interesting people, mostly French. One old guy came to Avinash with curious looks on his face and looked at his fleece jacket. He asked Avinash where he bought the jacket from. He saw the brand name on Avinash’s jacket and that’s what made him so curious. Avinash’s jacket was a Quechua which is a French brand. Anyways, he started a conversation with Avinash and Maithili and soon many others joined in. Avinash named this old guy “Quechua Uncle” (without him knowing it, of course). Quechua Uncle’s Hindi was really very good. He had a sound knowledge and good vocabulary of Hindi. His sense of humor was also very good. While other people outside, standing beneath a cloudy sky were worrying about how to cross Baralach-la, bunch of people inside our place were having a nice conversation and a good time.
During this time a Himachal Pradesh Tourism Bus stopped before our place and a poor old guy with a big beard got down from it. He entered our place and ordered tea. He was carrying many blankets. We presumed it was for sale. Quechua uncle whispered something with him and bought two blankets from him, 750 bucks each.
Soon after that, Avinash, Rajesh and I thought we should warm up our bikes as we were worried if our bikes would start after standing all night long in below 0 degree temperature. We dusted off the snow that was gathered on our bikes and then attempted to start them. Our bikes started without any problem. While we were revving up our bikes, two French bikers came to us and started a conversation. They had rented bullets from Manali. They were heading back to Keylong and were planning to come back after 2 hours to find out about the status of the Barlach-la. I adviced them not come back all the way back here just to find out if the pass has opened or not. If they can get in touch with local police they will keep them informed about the Barlach-la status. They liked the idea and headed back to Keylong.
Our entire day was very lazy. We just ate and slept. One of the Police Officers whom we had met at Tandi had come down to Darcha post just for a routine visit. He recognized us and sat with us for a cup of tea. We had a good time chatting with him. We talked to truck driver who had entered in our place for a cup of tea. We were curious to know how they drive their trucks on these dangerous roads day night. He told us that they drive on this tough terrain roads keeping complete faith on the God above. He explained how hard their life was. We could sense that he was remembering his family while talking to us.
By evening we received good news that Baralach-la road has been cleared. We were happy to see vehicles coming from Baralach-la which were stuck there since last night. Police informed us that we can make a move tomorrow morning.
We had our dinner early and slept early, feeling excited about the ride the next day.
This could have been the last day of my life
Day 8 – 19th June, 2013
I had a narrow…very narrow escape from death today. It’s still very hard for me to believe that I’m still alive and writing this diary. This is what happened.
We left Darcha at 6:30 in the morning. The road was really very good in the beginning. But as we approached Baralach-la the road became uneven and dangerous to ride on. At Darcha we had received news that there was a casualty at Baralach-la. Due to heavy snowfall there was a traffic jam at the pass and many vehicles were stuck there overnight. Out of all these vehicles there were these 6 guys who died due to extreme cold temperature and Oxygen deficiency. It is mandatory that one should not spend more than 5-10 minutes at the high altitude passes otherwise AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) starts attacking your brain. Your brain receives very less oxygen and as a result your decision making ability goes for a toss. You get headache and your blood starts getting thicker.
I was riding barely 10-20 meters behind Avinash. We had arrived so high on the pass that we started seeing snow on both sides of the road. There was also a continuous strip of snow at the center of the road. I tried to keep my bike away from the edge and the center of the road. There was a deep valley on our left side. If one falls from here I doubt even his or her dead body could be found. At some point snow on the road had turned into hard ice by vehicles passing over it. As Avinash’s bike was moving on this road without skidding I never even imagined that there would be hard ice on the road before I saw it myself. But it was too late.
Before I could do anything about it, my bike’s front wheel had skidded on ice the moment it stepped on it. Me and my bike fell and skidded left in the direction of the cliff. I do not know whether I should call it my luck or a coincidence or something else that there was a big block of hard snow accumulated on the road side. My bike bumped into it and bounced back in the opposite direction. Had the block of snow not been there I would surely have fallen down deep into the valley and died. At that very moment, all 30 years of my life just flashbacked before my eyes within a fraction of a second. I remembered everything and everyone. I remembered my first day of school when I was weeping seeing my mom leaving me and I was thinking I would never see her again, my school friends, my plays and dance performances on stage, my punishments, my school teachers, all the prizes I won, all the troubles I had put myself through, all the good and bad memories of school life, my family, fights with my brothers and all the happy moments I had with them, my parents, my cousins, my college days and my college friends, my office, my team …. I just can’t write everything I remembered there.
I was in a deep shock and breathing heavily. I stood up and looked ahead and noticed that Avinash was not there. He didn’t realize that I had fallen and rode ahead. I looked back, the road was empty. There was no one around, just me, and my StreetHawk, White sparkling snow, blue sky up above and a deep valley on my left side which appeared even deeper now. I wanted someone to show up to confirm that I’m still alive. I looked at my fallen bike and thought of lifting it up but I refrained from doing so. My bike was lying on top of snow and the wheels were facing the cliff. While lifting the bike if wheels skid then my bike would take me with it down the cliff. I just stood there and tried to catch my breath. It was difficult as the oxygen levels were low in the air.
After a while a white Scorpio arrived behind me. I knew that Rajesh would also come in sometime as he was riding behind me. The Scorpio just stood there for few seconds and then the doors opened. Few young boys got down from the car to help me. One of the boys opened his mouth to ask me how I fell but when he started walking, he skidded but regained his balance. He didn’t complete his question. Rajesh also arrived by then. He was shocked to see my bike lying on the road. He must have assessed what had happened; he got down from his bike and joined these boys to help me. They came and helped me lift my bike upright. We pushed the bike little ahead where there was no snow on the road. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. They smiled, waved good bye to me and went back into their car. I elaborated the incident to Rajesh. He helped me to calm down. I hopped on my bike and look back at the block of snow which had saved my life. May be because of my emotional state of mind at the moment, when I looked at that block of snow it looked like a protective hand of the mountain.
After this dangerous incidence, I took extra precaution while riding on the snow. As me and Rajesh-Kinjal rode further ahead, the snow on the both side of the road turned into walls. Snow accumulation on the road side was much larger as we rode higher and higher. I wondered how BRO (Border Road Organization) soldiers would have cleared the road with so much of snow on top of it. The walls of snow had grown to be 1 or 2 meters high. While I was recovering from my shock, Rajesh was getting into one. His bike wasn’t performing well. He was having problem riding on a steep inclined road. While he was struggling with it, the clutch cable snapped. He stopped at the edge of the small pond in the middle of the road. He became worried. Even though he had a spare clutch cable he didn’t know how to replace it, neither did I.
We both knew getting help at such high altitude was difficult. Rajesh stopped many passersby but no one actually knew how to replace the clutch cable on a Bullet. We were feeling helpless and wondering how to handle this situation. Then luckily a Sikh guy wearing orange kurta showed up. He was riding a bullet and was carrying heavy luggage on his bike. We even spotted a spare wheel with rim tied on the pillion sit. We assumed he was a solo rider. He stopped for us and asked what happened. Rajesh told him about our misery and this guy just took the clutch cable from Rajesh and replaced it in no time. Happiness reappeared on our faces. We thanked this guy. We thought our problem was solved, but little did we know that bigger problem was waiting for us ahead.
As we approached Baralach-la, we got stuck in a traffic jam. Trucks from both the sides had come face to face on a narrow path at the pass and caused the jam. The vehicles were not at all moving. Luckily Indian Army came to the rescue and resolved the jam. I really salute our soldiers for the hardship they do on such dangerous terrains. This whole business had taken more than 2 hours. We were at 15000 ft high altitude. One is advised not to spend more than 5-10 minutes at such high altitude due to Oxygen deficiency in the air but we had spent 2 hours there at it had started taking its toll on our body. My body started shivering with cold, my head felt heavier; I started feeling out of breath even though I wasn’t doing any physical activity. To make it worse, I started feeling severe headache.
Once the traffic jam was cleared we started riding down the descending road. After riding for about half an hour we reached Bharatpur. Avinash and Maithili were already waiting for us there. Bharatpur was not a residential village but just a collection of many restaurants with overnight stay facility. The entire Bharatpur resembled a big fair. My condition due to AMS was getting worse with every passing minute. I saw many riders suffering with the same symptoms. AMS had struck Avinash as well. While having light food at Bharatpur we decided to stay at Sarchu as we wouldn’t be able to ride further in such condition. Sarchu is at 14000 ft which is also a high altitude place. We knew our AMS symptoms will continue to haunt us if we stay at Sarchu, but we had no choice. It was evening anyway, so we rode ahead and reached Sarchu.
We rented two tents and dumped our stuff there. Avinash and I were feeling so down we just entered our tents and went to sleep right away. We didn’t even wake up for having dinner. We drank a glass of Glucon-D at night and called it a day.