Way back in 1984, I had to visit Cyprus to negotiate some business deals. Cyprus was very competitive for import of products like detergent, edible oils, paper reams etc in bulk, repack them in consumer packs and export them to European and Middle Eastern countries. Most of the manufacturing units were located around Larnaca and Limassol, on its South Coast.
I had to stay there over a weekend. I was alone. All commercial offices were closed. I had nothing to do. On the Saturday, I hired a car from Hertz. I went for a beautiful drive to the popular historical places over the south coastal stretch of about 150 km from Limassol to Pephos and back.
After my Saturday drive, I was relaxing in the Hotel lounge and was wondering what I’d do the next day. Just then, I found a pamphlet in the hotel rack with details of a drive to Mountain Troodas. The mountain base was at a distance of 45 km and thereafter a steep climb of 6,500 ft. From the base, it was about a 10 km road to the top of the ice-capped mountain. It was winter season and was snowing almost every day on the mountain.
Unfortunately the mountain was closed except to those who took it up by foot and had a skiing permit.
Immediately, I wanted to rent a car to drive to the top of mountain Troodas as far as I could. The car tyres had to have snow chains. The chains provide grip while driving on snow and keeps the car from skidding. The car rental company informed me that driving on the mountain was not permitted during winter beyond 2-3km. Only skiers with permits could climb during that season. Hertz refused to rent a car to me. I tried Avis and they refused too.
I wasn’t going to give up, of course. I decided to drive as far as permitted even if I had to return from the first security gate. For that distance, I presumed I didn’t need the tyre snow-chains. I did not go to Hertz or Avis. I went to a local car rental company and hired a car. I did not ask for the snow-chains.
I kept the car at the hotel over the night and made an early start on Sunday. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the base. I started driving up. After about 3km, I reached the security post and the gate was open! There was no guard either. Maybe, the security did not expect any vehicle to come at that hour in winter!
I had the option to wait there or return. I had underestimated how cold it would be. I was not appropriately equipped to face 0-5 deg temperature. I had just one a formal coat, a jacket, thick socks, woolen gloves and formal leather shoes. For me, a change from warm weather to snow was an excitement.
There appeared to be no restrictions to go up. I decided to go further up. The mountain was covered completely with snow . There was a thin layer of fresh snow on the road. It was just thin flakes initially to about a couple of inches or so as I went up.
Slowly and steadily I drove further about 3-4 kms when I heard a car sounding a horn behind me. I could see it was a security jeep. I could see in my rear view mirror that they were signaling me to take my vehicle slightly to the left so that they could overtake. But the road was narrow and covered with snow. I could not take the risk of giving them enough space to overtake me. Moreover, it was not safe to stop the vehicle on that skidding slope. After about half a km, there was a spot created for overtaking, where the road was slightly wider and flat. The security asked me to stop. I took my car to the side and halted.
They interrogated me severely with several security-related questions. There were three gentlemen in the jeep, one of them was wearing a military uniform. They asked me to show the permit to drive up the mountain. I told them that I was not aware of the need for a permit.
To the question if I hadn’t read the sign at the security gate, I said it was snowing and hence could not notice it. They said I was silly to have come to that height in a small vehicle without any snow chain and on and on.
The car heater was not effective. I told them that I would answer all their questions, but I was shivering and needed a warm place and a hot drink, before I collapse. The chief security officer ordered me to leave my vehicle there and join him in his vehicle. I was sure they would investigate further as we were moving further up.
Me: In Hotel
He: Which country?
His colleague busted loudly: “Aaah! You, from Mother India Nargis and Indira Gandhi! Joker Raj Kapoor!” There was a broad smile on his face. He grasped my hand and continued, “We are friends! We like India. We love Indians”.
I let out a big sigh of relief, bigger than his smile! What happened thereafter was very exciting.
After a drive of another half a kilometer, he took me to a small hall. It was isolated. There was no one there except a lady sweeping the floor. It was a coffee shop for the skiers. They would normally come after 11 am and it was not even 9 am. My fingers were swollen to the size of my greater toe due to the cold. There was a fireplace at the center of the restaurant which kept the room warm. Gradually, I stopped shivering. The coffee house was not yet ready to serve hot beverages.
The Cypriot took me out to his jeep, poured a cup of hot coffee from his flask and said ‘warm up’. He probably could see a broad smile on my face. As both of us finished our coffee, he asked, “Now what do you want to do? Stay here for a while or go down right away”.
I said “Neither. I want to go up. Up further”. He said something in their local language to his colleague, probably telling him, “This is a mad guy”. He said, “Even the vehicles with chains cannot go up. Roads are covered with 3 to 4 feet of snow and in fact it is difficult to trace the road under the snow. My colleague will take you back to your car” and he left me with him to attend to something else.
I thanked him and asked the person with me, “Are you from security too?”
He: “No, I am the engineer in charge. I maintain the cable line and the satellite tower at the top of the Troodas mountain”.
I asked him, “If there is a problem with the cables at a higher level right now, how would you go?”
He: I have a special 4-wheel drive vehicle. A dumper truck with snowplows clears the road and my vehicle follows it. It is a slow process and takes hours to clear even one kilometer.”
Me: “Then I will sit in your vehicle and go with you. If you can please take me up!”
He gave a friendly stare at me. I reminded him, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”. He started laughing and said. “Ok. The mountain peak is about 3 kilometers from here. I think in this weather, I would be able to take you up about 1.5km.” “Thank you” I said.
He made a couple of calls, called for the dumper to clear the snow. It was like a bulldozer. Within 30 minutes, the bulldozer started clearing the road and our vehicle followed. After a couple of hours and climb of about one and a half km,
He: “Now we should go back”.
Me: “No, we should go further up”.
He: “How far?”
Me: “Right till the satellite tower”
He stared at me and said, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi. Ok my friend we will go up, risky though”. It was snowing and we continued. After about two more hours I reached the top of Troodas mountain, the top of Cyprus. There was a small one-room structure with some sophisticated machines and a tall tower at the peak. I walked, jumped and slided for about half an hour.
When we started returning, the cleared road now had a thick layer of fresh snow. The dumper ahead cleared the way and we returned to the spot where I left my little car. It did not take long to return. By then, it was already around 4pm. We had a coffee at the coffee house and then he escorted me to the car. I reversed the direction of the car to return. “A lazy day converted to a complete thrill!”
When I was about to leave in my car bidding him good bye, my Cypriot friend said, “remember 3 things.
One, engage your car in 2nd gear and do not change the gear till you reach the base.
Two, do not apply brake when your car is on snow.
- Three and most important, you will not go up again now.
Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”