I got the impression from my studies in school that the foreign invaders had mainly two difficult and tricky routes to enter India – Khyber Pass and Rohtang Pass. A pass is a narrow path at a high altitude that lies between two mountains. I wanted to visit them to see how difficult they were in reality. Khyber pass is presently between Afghanistan and Pakistan and hence not easily accessible. However, I could visit Rohtang Pass .
Around 1986 I decided to take my family for an adventure vacation. I selected Rohtang Pass. My wife Pushpa and our three children Meeta, Seema and Anand, in the age group of 7 to 12, were excited and were looking forward for a week’s fun and pleasure.
Rohtang Pass is a dangerous narrow passage at a height of 13,000 ft between two tall mountains of about 15,000 ft. It is a dangerous and tricky route as the very name ‘Rohtang’ suggests ‘pile of corpses’.
We took a train from Bombay and drove to Kulu and then Manali. I engaged a popular travel agent for all arrangements from Manali. I chose April in anticipation of finding snow around. It was just the start of season and we were amongst the first tourists that season that wanted to use tents. The tents were at a beautiful location at the bank of a river that ran next to a mountain. There was a water-fall very close to our tent. It was a romantic atmosphere.
We were all very hungry and anxiously waited for our food. Due to some problem, the cook hadn’t arrived. One of the other staff members cooked some food. After 9 PM, we were served some tasteless boiled rice and daal. None of us could eat.
By then it had begun drizzling and soon it started pouring heavily. Heavy wind added to problems and the temperature started dropping below 5 degrees C. There was no power or lanterns and the candles would not survive to the wind. We were drenched even in the tent due to heavy showers.
The facilities were inadequate to survive the night. Sleeping bags did not reach. I was frustrated and had a heated argument with the tour operator. I lost my patience and decided to quit the place, without realising how to move out of that isolated location.
In the heavy rain we started walking through the pass. There were no habitants for a 2-3 kilometer stretch. No vehicles either. We were all shivering from the cold. I fell short of ideas.
Just then we saw an army vehicle approaching from behind us. We signaled the driver to for help and guidance. He said there was no facility around that place which could provide shelter to us for a night. He was on duty and didn’t have authority to pick anybody up in his vehicle unless his boss granted permission.
Though he had a walkie talkie, he didn’t want to disturb his senior as it was past 10 PM. I requested him to, at the very least, drop us till their camp site so that we could somehow manage from there. Looking at a family with children, he picked us up and dropped us near the entrance gate of their army office. He told us to take shelter under a shed near the entrance gate till the rain stopped and then find our a way to Manali. We were not adequately geared to stand to the cold weather.
When we have many problems at the same time, the major one dominates over the minor ones. Finding shelter was the dominating problem right then.
I requested the security guard for permission to speak to the officer in-charge. When I explained the situation to the officer, he spared one of his jeeps and instructed the driver to drop us to a hotel in Manali. He was a God-sent for us.
We reached the hotel past 1 AM and at last had a cozy sleep.
I learnt the lesson, however popular a travel agent might be, we should be prepared and equipped to face contingencies on our own.