On a beautiful starlit night at 12’o clock in the morning in brutal freezing temperature of less than -3 degree, I stood rapt in awe and fear on the second highest motorable mountain pass in India located at an elevation of 5,350m(17,582ft) with nowhere to go.
It was one of the scariest, memorable, and mystified nights of the fifteen moons I have seen recently during my hitchhiking in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and J&k .
I was hitching back to keylong after a wondrous journey to Leh and was in the last phase of my 15 days hitchhiking expedition when this dreadful but venerating incident happened.
I along with my two college mates who were also my travel partners, left upsi (a small village 50 km from Leh on the way to Manali) at 6’o clock in the evening in a convoy of three trucks. Up till now we had travelled together at every stage of our journey but time had different plans for us for the upcoming night. We were forced to separate as there was not enough space for all five of us (including driver and his helper) t o board the same truck. So my friend sanchit and I occupied seats together and Vikas took the place in the other truck with the entire luggage.
As the journey begin, sanchit got engaged with his camera capturing as many views as he can, who knows when we will travel this road again, I suited myself to the comfort of window seat and alluring aroma of silence which has always compelled me to visit these barren and uninhabited places. Train of my thoughts was interrupted with the heavy voice of our driver who announced that we will reach Tanglang la pass in half an hour (which according to some clams is the second highest motorable mountain pass and one of the most risky track on Manali-Leh highway). Idea of crossing the famous pass for the second time was enough to fill us with energy and rejuvenate our tired body.
It was almost 10 in the night when we reached on the top of Tanglang la pass and were happy with the idea that soon we will reach Pang and will get something to eat along with a cup of hot masala tea. My aspiring thoughts of food and tea were ruined by a sudden halt of our ride. When I suspiciously looked towards driver trying to know the reason of this unplanned and unreasonable stop on the top of one of the highest mountain passes in the world, the puzzled look in his eyes gave me a feeling that something is wrong .As Our Driver opened the door to examine the fault, a sudden cool breeze of wind flew in making me realize that the temperature outside is in single digits and next thing I was worrying about was warm clothes which unfortunately was in the luggage which up till now must have reached Pang.
So I left my warm seat to help the driver but soon regretted the decision. I was surrounded by darkness blended with coldness, perfect mix to scare anyone. It was a snowfall last night, thick walls of ice on the mountain surface near me says that. Stars were shining bright and sky was crystal clear, I have never witnessed a moment so scary, lonely yet pure and beautiful in my life. At that point standing on the top felt as if I am close to almighty, I looked up and the beautiful starry sky felt like a scene of a magical film. Everything was so dramatic, charismatic and situational, hard to believe but it was all real.
So finally our driver claimed that we cannot move ahead as some part has broken and now we have to wait till the dawn. He also made clear that he is no mood to share his blanket and will prefer sleeping instead of waiting for a lift. So now four of us (driver, helper, I and Sanchit) have to sleep in the same cabin of which our driver and his helper suited themselves in their sleeping bags.
First 5 minutes were enough to know that it will be nearly impossible to see the sun next morning, Negative temperature, No Blankets or other warm covering and no place to lie down in 180 degree position at least for some rest, and the clothes we were wearing had hardly any scope of warmth in that brutal cold.
I gazed in the dark outside the window looking for any hope to rescue, but it was just black, cold, and dead. While still looking for something unknown outside, I asked sanchit if he has any alternate plans for spending the night, no replies from him compelled me to stop my search, I turned over and found him shivering, trembling ,eyes closed, arms folded, for a second I thought he has attained nirvana. It was clear that some help and warmth is needed anyhow if we want to witness the dawn next day.
I closed my eyes and started praying to the mountains, it was strange, praying to mountains but I did it. I never felt that high, I was in a trip without smoking up, a trip I will always remember, a high I will always crave for. I was fighting with my thoughts when I heard someone singing, there was no way I could have believed it, past 11 in the night on the top of the second highest mountain pass in below 0 degree temperature, singing, really? I was sure that I am going crazy, but then again I heard the sound of men singing in chorus, I stepped down from the truck with the torch in one hand and a useless Swiss knife in other, started chasing the voice, walking alone on the empty road in the dark, and for the first time I was not scared. It was so beautiful all around, so serene, Stars, Ice, Cold wind it was magical. I walked around 2 Kms in that state of disarray for 30 minutes continuously and to my surprise I finally stopped, I found the rescue, a tent of Road labourers.
I rushed inside and found 4-5 men sleeping in their sleeping bags, two men sitting around a campfire and singing some folk song which I couldn’t understand or was not in the mood to listen, they saw me, stopped their singing, stood from where they were sitting and stared at each other and then at me, I can infer their astonishment.
Few things I remember in pieces after I reached out to that miraculous tent house were,
“Someone got a hold on me and gave a pair of socks, enquired me about my whereabouts ,all other sleeping souls were awake and were kind of horrified by my mysterious presence in their adobe,2 people brought Sanchit from the truck, I remember someone giving me a cup of black tea as there was no milk available (someone saying that in the background),A sleeping bag wrapped around me which was wet from inside due to the moisture in the air, I was consoling myself that night will pass and I will wake up alive”
Next emotion I can recall was the happiness I felt when I saw the rays of sun piercing our tent cloth, I knew its dawn and we are alive I shook Sanchit and to my relief he was alive too. We thanked to our saviours and came outside on the road and walked towards the truck, it was still standing there, silent. Driver and his helper were still sleeping; we waited for 15 min after which we got a ride in a diesel tanker to Pang.
So this is how a mystical, orphic, wondrous, scary, hallucinating night came to an end, a night I will always remember and cherish.
I thank my friends Sanchit and Vikas without whom this journey would not have been possible……
- A Night to Remember… (vaibhavvardhan.wordpress.com)