Friday, 4 December 2015

On guardian angels and the adventure of a lifetime - part 2

Cont'd from here...

So I walked to the famous double decker living root bridge of Nongriat, and I must admit it wasn't as impressive as I expected. It was pretty cool but I'd found the long root bridge from earlier to be way more awesome. The shorter span of these twin bridges I think were largely to blame. Still the location itself was quite idyllic with a small waterfall, the little pools and the river, plus all that lush greenery.

While I was walking across the bridges and taking pictures, there was a group of Indians hanging out by the water below who I felt were eyeing me curiously. I tried my best to ignore them and just enjoy the moment. I sat down on the lower bridge and was quietly taking a mental image of the place when I heard someone address me from below. It was one of those guys. He wanted to know how to get to the single root bridge. I told him and also explained that it was worth going to because of the longer span. He thanked me and went away with the two girls he was with (all from Bombay).  The other guy (from Bangalore) said he and the Malaysian girl he was with were camping out in Tyrna. I'd also met two other dudes from Bangalore, and another couple who didn't stop, all on their way back up. Aside from those few I hardly saw anyone else, which was a relief. Heprit and the others at the dorm had all mentioned how crowded Nongriat was getting these days. Guess I got lucky and went on an off day. 

I'd decided to try and go to Rainbow Falls (a somewhat hidden falls some ways away) the same day if I reached Nongriat around noon. Since it wasn't much past that, I decided to give it a go.

I came back to my room; changed into my swimsuit; wore my jeans and t-shirt over it; packed my little daypack (a tiny backpack I’d bought at the Sohra market the day before) with the other two t-shirts, some snacks, my camera, towel, my zune (which I really should’ve left behind, but I had vague notions of listening to some nice music either on the trek or by the waterfall), a bottle of water, and some other odds and ends; and headed out to Rainbow Falls.

I had gotten widely varying estimates on how far away this purportedly amazing spot was – Heprit said it was 2 hours each way from Nongriat; Raju said bees minute, and after a pause added shaayad apko thees minute; and Charlie, guy who ran the guesthouse, said one hour to get there. I decided the locals knew best and one hour each way was doable before it got dark (it was 1:15pm when I set out and sunset was around 4:30).

It was fairly easy going at first, and I thought I should even be able to do it in the dark with my flashlight. Only, there was not a soul in sight, aside from an abundance of pretty butterflies fluttering around. Nor could I hear anyone. Only the constant high pitched chirping of insects and the occasional bird call. Before long, I started to wonder if I had again taken the wrong road. Thankfully, just as I was considering turning back, a group of guys approached from the other side. They assured me I was on the right track and went their way. Feeling more confident now, I walked along briskly and before long came across the long steel(?) suspension bridge and the root bridge right after it that I was told to look out for. Also, right after crossing these bridges (what fun to do it all alone!), I came upon a sign about the construction of a concrete footpath (which I’d been told about) and the footpath itself.

Up until this point, there had been a trail of rugged stone steps but they were rustic enough to still be fun. Now it was just a boring concrete path with proper steps. ‘Twas a downer even though I knew it was coming. Still, I made the best of it and was encouraged by the sound of falling water that kept growing louder and louder. Soon I spotted a pretty little mini waterfall and a pristine pool of water beyond the trees. No sign of a rainbow though, so I just took a few pictures and carried on the concrete path, ignoring what appeared to be a rudimentary trail leading to the pool. Sometime later, the concrete path just ended where there was water flowing across the path. On the right, I saw some sort of a waterfall, but it was more like a dribble, though from quite a height. Just ahead, across the water, was a pile of rocks stacked almost straight up. They didn’t look impassable exactly, in hindsight. But, for some reason I thought that was the end of the road.

I remembered someone telling me they had to climb down to get to the falls, and that it wasn’t an easy climb. And since I could still hear falling water downstream from where I was, I assumed Rainbow Falls was somewhere between where I was and the pool I’d seen sometime ago (foliage cover had been dense since my one sighting of the pool and I’d lost sight of it). I decided it was time to get back into clamber mode and took a path as close to the water as I could.

For a while I followed the water downstream, and though it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, it wasn’t terribly difficult either. After a while, however, the boulders close to the water started getting sheerer and more slippery. I persisted still and found a small hidden gush of water beneath some rocks. There was a handy boulder nearby where I could set down my things and take a dip, which I was quite ready for by now. So I stripped down to my swimsuit, put all my belongings in a pile safely away from the water, and gingerly stepped into the water.

The water was quite cold, but after all the walking and sweaty climbing, it felt rather nice. However, the force of the water at that place was too much for me to not get swept away, and besides I spotted a foreign girl sitting in a nice spot right by the big pool (same one from before) a little downstream from where I was. She seemed busy with something (her own thoughts perhaps) and didn’t notice me. I considered yelling and waving, but decided it would be rude to break in on her solitude in that way. Instead, I decided to grab my stuff and try to get where she was - there had to be a path leading to there, surely.

Pack back on my back, clothes in one hand, shoes in the other, I clambered on barefoot. After a while though, I started running into roadblocks. Had to keep backtracking and trying different ways to get ahead. Then I had my first really close call – slipped on some moss while trying to jump from one boulder to another, and fell in between! Thankfully, my big hips (those things are good for more than childbearing as it turns out) saved me from a certain case of broken something (possibly my neck), and I stayed wedged between with my feet dangling, until I could finally get my nails into a groove on one boulder. Managed to literally claw my way back up, heart beating wildly and head swimming.

I should note here that, aside from that girl I’d seen from afar, there was no sign of any other human being for miles around. As I was hanging on for dear life, I had fleeting thoughts about how bad a place that would be to die at. I wasn't even on the trail anymore. No one would even know I was laying dead there for days or weeks perhaps.

After this very scary experience, I decided going barefoot wasn’t smart, and wore my shoes again. Also, stuffed clothes into daypack to free my hands – had been tossing them on ahead of me so far when I needed my hands. The going got more and more difficult, and I kept almost giving up but never quite. Part of it was a determination/bull-headedness to see this through, and part of it was, well, fear of what would happen if I did fall whilst trying to backtrack. Seemed like getting to that girl was my best bet.

I finally found an approach that got me within a feet or two of the pool, but these last couple of feet were basically a sheer drop down into the water. I could get into the pool, sure, but there was no way out that way. So, if I left my stuff behind and jumped in, there was no guarantee that I’d ever get them back.

Meanwhile, I saw her again, and this time I didn’t have to think twice before yelling and clapping to get her attention. I’d actually yelled out “hello” and “help” before when I thought I was stuck with nowhere to go a little before I finally managed to get to this spot. But, the sound of gushing water was so loud here that there was no way she would’ve heard me. So this time I clapped as well, and that worked. She looked around confused at first, but then finally saw me across the pool.

I signed to her asking if there was a way to get to where she was. She signed back that she’d come from somewhere behind her (the trail I’d ignored before as it turned out). She didn’t know how I could get to her from my spot across the pool. Swimming, combined with wading where the water was not too deep, seemed like the only option. Stupid me thought I could swim with my pack on my back and not get anything inside too wet (especially my phone and my camera), if I managed to keep it mostly afloat. I was doubly stupid to think I could swim with my trekking boots on.

Of course, as soon as I jumped in, I went down like a rock. My pack had too many clothes that all absorbed water and made the whole thing heavy as lead. On the other end, my shoes and socks got completely drenched, and did their part in pulling me down into the cold as fuck water (I was no longer longing for a cool dip!)

For a bit I thought it was game over for me. But I wasn’t quite ready to give up and resign myself even now. Had to think quickly. Managed to get my pack off my back which helped me to surface for a bit and gulp down some air. I didn’t let it go, however, and managed to drag it to the side, prop it up against some rocks, and pushed it up above the water level. Also managed to drag myself out somehow (still had my shoes on and the boulders near the water were slippery as hell, no grippable spot in them).

I tried to squeeze some of the water out of my pack, but it wasn’t happening. So I took out all the clothes and dumped them on the rock, saving just a couple of shirts to insulate my camera and phone (which I should’ve realised were already quite drenched by now). Also dumped a soaking wet roll of TP (god knows why I got that with me!) and decided to try again with the now lighter pack.

I moved to a spot as close as I could get to the other side, but the pool was much deeper at this point and I knew better than to try swimming there. It seemed to me I’d have better luck going around the pool the long way because I spotted a few boulders just beneath the surface along that side, which I thought I could use to take breaks between my swimming (I’m completely out of practice, and even in the best of times, I was only an okay swimmer).

Oh, how wrong I was! Parallax error. Boulders underwater were nowhere near the surface. I almost drowned again. The pack itself, which wasn’t waterproof, was absorbing water, and my shoes were dragging me down again.

Meanwhile, my guardian angel across the way realised I was quite of my depth (heh) and started changing into her swimwear. I caught a sight of her doing this as I was floundering in the water, struggling to find purchase on the boulder nearest me to get myself out of the water. I can’t tell you how much courage that gave me. And hope. Above all hope. She wasn’t going to abandon me and go on her way. I had someone who was going to at least try to save me.

I redoubled my efforts and succeeded in clinging on by my fingernails again. She was an excellent swimmer and had reached me by now. She took my backpack from me, said she’d take it over to the other side and come back for me. Relieved of my pack, and relieved I wasn’t on my own, I got calmer and managed to hold on. Still no luck getting out of the water on my own though.

She came back as promised, however, and helped me up and out. She then told me she could take my clothes (the ones I’d left behind) and my shoes, if I could manage to get myself across without them. I thanked her profusely, and accepted her assistance, after protesting a bit to not worry about the clothes because they weren’t important at all. She assured me it wasn’t any trouble and she could easily take everything, and even come back for me, if necessary.

It wasn’t necessary though. I managed to swim across on my own, albeit very slowly and clumsily. When we got to the shallower part, she told me I could just get up and wade through that bit. However, that proved tricky, because my legs felt like jelly, and I couldn’t stand let alone walk/wade. So I kept to swimming until the pool became too shallow for that, and then she helped me up.

I was shivering like mad, but extremely thankful to still be alive. She realised I had nothing dry to wear and not even a towel to dry myself, and offered me her own towel and a shawl to wrap around myself. We then wrung my soaking wet clothes, but they were still too wet to be of any immediate use. My own shawl was the least wet of all my things, so I wrapped that around me, and wore my soaking wet shoes again, and tried my best to follow her up her path. I’d managed to lose my contacts whilst floundering in the water, which I only realised when trying to see where I was going in the now deepening twilight. Everything was blurry, so I tried my best to follow in her exact footsteps as much as possible.

My adventure wasn’t quite over, as it turned out. At one point, I stepped onto a slippery rock, which together with my wet shoes brought me down hard. Almost fell through the cracks again into another sheer drop, but luckily she caught me in the nick of time, and helped pull me up. Got away yet again, with just some bruises and scrapes.

Decided barefoot was better, and managed that tricky steep section with her help. After that the going finally got easier. It also got pebblier, so back on the shoes went. We soon hit the old concrete trail, which I was now thankful for tbh. My shoes were so wet that I joked that I still felt like I was wading through the pool. But I did manage to squish my way back to Nongriat without any further misadventures. Oh, so grateful to still be in one piece, bruised and battered and rattled as I was!

I don’t think I can ever thank this girl, D, from Germany enough. She quite literally saved my life that day. And made not the least fuss about it afterward. Was even kind enough to invite me over to hang out with her and the other guests staying at the homestay across the river in Nongriat, when she found out I was all by myself at the guest house.  Before going over there is when I wrote down all of this in a handwriting that's gotten even more ugly from disuse (I seriously had trouble making out my own writing in parts when I was transcribing this).

My only regret is not asking for her contact information that evening. I was afraid to seem pushy, and thought I’d ask for it the next day as I made my way past their homestay to get back up the mountain to Tyrna. Unfortunately, she was out that morning, and though I left her a note (more like an essay, because I’m too wordy for my own good as you, too, have realised by now), I haven’t heard back from her yet.

So there it is. A bad and scary day, in one sense. But also, my luckiest day ever as well!

The good luck, guardian angel protection, what-have-you continued on the next day as I made my painful way (would've been painful enough even without all the extra hurt I'd stocked up on thanks to the previous day's outing) back up the 3000 steps to Tyrna and then back to Sohra from there.

First it was the guide from the Cherra Holiday Resort, who was taking a guy from South Korea back up after a daytrip to Nongriat. He offered to carry my bag up for me. And though I politely refused his kind offer the first time, I very gratefully accepted it the second time, after I’d climbed about halfway up.

Next it was the two nice gentlemen from Assam, also on a daytrip, who kept me company for the last 500 odd steps, bought me frooti and tea, and finally, and most importantly, saved me the kilometer long uphill trek back to the bus stop at Mawshamok and the gamble with the bus back to Sohra, by offering me a lift in their car. And thus ended my adventure of a lifetime! Had a nice story to tell the new people who’d now taken all the beds at the dorm too. :)

Many lessons have been learnt on this trip, but the greatest of them all is to never forget how wonderfully kind people can be, and to always try and be as nice as I can be to others in my turn. Pay it forward, even though the debt will never truly be settled. For I truly believe I am the luckiest dumbo alive, and can’t imagine how I shall deserve even half the kindness and good fortune that has come my way.

No comments:

Post a Comment