A memory of crossed by and I thought of sharing it with you.
“Mission Accomplished!” No, I am not referring to ‘Road to London’. This is a flashback after completing the tough Parikrama of precious snow mountain Kailash in 2004. It meant trekking at an altitude of over 20,000ft above sea level. It was a 3-day steep climb which my wife, 4 other devotees and I took up to Mt Kailash in Tibet.
3 Land Cruisers waited for us. 9 of us, including 3 trek staff with their stove, gas cylinder, utensils and food supplies. After a short drive, the vehicle, which was carrying our cooking material and tents, ran into some technical problem. We decided to adjust in the two other vehicles. We had to leave the camping and tent material behind because we were not expecting to need them till we reached Kathmandu. We moved all other materials for cooking to our vehicles.
Along the way, there were no teashops or restaurants, so dinner had to be cooked by the staff. At that stage, we realised that we had forgotten to move the gas cylinder! We had to satisfy our appetite with biscuits and dry snacks. We found a Tibetan teashop only the next afternoon. In its display, it had cooked rice with meat. Being vegetarians, we requested him to serve us the rice with curd. He obliged by removing the meat from the rice. We couldn’t bear the thought of touching the rice, let alone swallow it. We requested him to make just plain rice for us. He had already cooked all the rice he had with meat.
We made a meal out of snacks yet again. The stock of dry food was near exhaustion too. By evening, we were still looking for a place that would serve us anything vegetarian. It was getting colder; we were already at 10ºC. Heavy winds made it even colder. Thank God, we were inside a vehicle.
It started raining, taking the temperature further down. The route we were on, was completely isolated and was monitored by armed Chinese soldiers. We reached near a check post where a nominal toll had to be paid. Trying to save on that, our Chinese drivers took a ‘short cut’ – an unpaved, dirt road. We were completely unaware of the drivers’ decision because we didn’t understand their language.
When our vehicle made sounds but wasn’t moving, we figured something was wrong. What a wonderful scene to be stuck in – absolutely dark, deep mud, rains, heavy wind and very low temperature made extra special by a grumbling, hungry stomachs in tired bodies. Using sign language, the drivers assured us that we needn’t worry because the other vehicle would pull the stuck one out. Instead of bringing the second vehicle behind the first one to pull it out, drivers organised the other vehicle to drive to the left of the first one so that they could pull out the stuck vehicle from the front. Before we realised what was happening the second vehicle found itself stuck in mud – much deeper mud. Both vehicles were stuck with super-intelligent drivers and stupid passengers!
We all had to get down in the muck to push the vehicle behind. No more protection from the covered vehicle. This hardship was unnecessarily when they could have been driven on good roads for a nominal toll.
Now the car had to be pulled backwards by another vehicle. It would be a few hours or may be the entire night before another car passed by around that isolated area. We were told that we couldn’t sit inside the vehicle. The good thing is that be it good times or bad, they are never permanent. Our Sherpa set out on foot and came back within half an hour having found a structure, half a kilometer away. One of the drivers went there to check it out. He came back in 15 minutes with permission from the owner of the structure to stay there till we got help for our vehicles. Ha! At least we had some protection from the freezing night.
Since we had three women amongst us, I went ahead to check if the place was safe. As soon as I entered, there was a strong, sweet smell of alcohol. Hundreds of beer cans were scattered around. A large stock of liquor bottles and hundreds of used empty bottles were stacked on the side. I knew Pushpa would not be able to tolerate the smell. But then, we didn’t really have an option, did we? To make things a little comfortable for her, I kicked the empty cans aside. There were 3 benches with thin mattresses over them – good enough to lie down for a while. I could sit and share Pushpa’s bed.
There were 3 more chairs. My co-passengers could use two empty ones. The caretaker of the place already occupied one. He was an elderly face, full of wrinkles, large wide red eyes, long beard, a conical cap. It would be fine with us as long as he didn’t use the long gun in his hand. Pushpa tried to relax by lying on the bed. His chair was very close to Pushpa’s bed. He probably had weak eyes and time and again bowed down inches away from Pushpa’s face. That scared her. She asked me to tell him to look the other side. I told her, “I dare not say that as it was not a very bad situation as yet! After all he had gun in his hand!”
After an hour and half, we had our vehicles back and continued our journey by the proper road. At the check post, the army guy checked the vehicle, asked a few questions and allowed the vehicles to pass. There was no toll to be paid!
That was the occasion when we practically had to starve for cooked food for 3 days.