There is a lot more to Assam than just the ‘4 am sun’. Most people have pre-conceived notions about the north-eastern part of our country that stems from ignorance but a trip to this region will change most opinions. During our stay in Assam, one thing I always looked forward to were the bi-annual travel trips our family went on. We covered tons of places there and each place was more beautiful than the other! What makes these places even more appealing is the fact that they have not been touched by commercialization yet. Unlike Shimla where you find a CCD or Ooty where you have brand outlets, places like Namdapha transported us back into an era where kerosene lamps were the source of light. Out of all those memorable trips, the one that has stayed etched in my mind is the one to Changu Lake, near Gangtok.
That day all of us were dressed in the most expensive of sweaters and shawls because it was the last leg of our trip that year and we had heard so much about the beauty of the place we were about to visit that the excitement was visible in the way we dressed! Why I remember this particular detail is because ….well, you will find that out a li’l later. We boarded our van and set out on the journey. I do not remember details like the altitude at which the lake is set, it was pretty high in case you are curious or the dimensions of the lake. What I do remember is how beeping awesome the place was. I have never seen a more beautiful lake. Surrounded by hills on all sides and half frozen, I am shocked how Yash Raj films has not shot a song here with a chiffon saree draped actress :). We clicked photographs from all possible angles but such beauty can never be captured on film , had hot momos and tried to stay warm in our rented furry coats. Our driver prompted us to get in since it was getting dark and there was a light drizzle as well. We obliged him and got into the jeep and tried to take in as much as we could of the place as the vehicle sped away.
After about 15 minutes of journey, the jeep came to a sudden halt. We looked out of the window and saw an entire chain of vehicles that had stopped at various levels of the hilly road. For a few minutes the driver spoke in his local language with another driver and came back with a worried expression on his face. In broken hindi, he told us there had been an unexpected landlside which in turn had rendered the road untravellable. I do not remember what conversations happened after that but after a while we were directed to go downhill on foot. Unfortunately, there was a shortcut available as well. Being the kind of people we are (and I am not stereotyping), we decided to take the road less travelled by :D. The rains had made the ground slippery and there was no support to tread the slope. I remember one gentleman had a baby to hold on to and he started rolling down the hill because that was the safest way to reach ground without getting hurt. We followed suit and after much difficulty reached plain ground. There were tens of people like us there who looked in disbelief at the landslide which was bringing down boulders and tress with ease and had created a pool of quicksand. The local people came to our rescue and provided us with clean towels and makeshift umbrellas. We thanked them for their hospitality and asked them about possible ways out from the place. One elderly gentleman studied the landlside for a while and said that it would be difficult for women and children to cross the quicksand pool and suggested we head back to the army camps. A heated discussion followed with ma wanting to go to the camp while dad was in favor of getting out asap since his leave was ending and he knew we would be stuck there for 4-5 days. We stood there helpless for about 45 mins as tons and tons of mud,trees,rocks and god knows what fell from great heights into the makeshift pool. A few co-tourists decided to take a risk and cross the pool. The locals and army people were extremely kind and helped the people who were crossing over. Finally we mustered enough courage and dad convinced ma to cross the pool. My sister was very young and very scared to cross the ‘thing’ as she called it then. An army guy came up to us and lifting her,crossed the pool. I did not want to step into that eww thing either and that army gentleman (god bless him) carried me in his arms and crossed the pool. With me and my sister on the safer side, I heaved a sigh of relief only to realize that ma and pa were still on the other side. I started crying and yelling at the same time asking them to cross as fast as possible but ma was petrified and it took them a good 20 mins to cross the pool. I hugged my parents and held them tight and it was only then that we realized how lucky we were to escape unhurt. A dilapidated truck was standing there waiting to carry the people down the hill into the town of Gangtok. As we boarded the truck, to lighten our mood pa started joking about how ma could not wear her shoes once again and how her expensive shawl looked like a rag. Till date, dad teases her :).
Once we reached our hotel, the gatekeeper refused to let us in. Cannot blame him because we did look like beggars with mud on our clothes and shoes and faces like food deprived urchins. Once dad spoke to the receptionist, we were let in and after about 3 hours of cleaning – scrubbing would be a better word, we looked presentable. As the family sat down for dinner that night, for the first time I saw dad getting extremely emotional in front of us as he hugged me and my sis and said some pretty sweet things. That incident made all of us realize the unpredictability of life and how important it is to take risks.
Amidst all this chaos and panic, none of us took out the camera to click photos of the landslide. I have lost count of the number of times I have narrated this incident but it still makes for an exciting story doesnt it??