He dragged his steps out of exhaustion as he followed the purr of the wheels he could hear in the ghats. His lips were parched by now, due to an hour long haul without water, in this cold and dry weather. It was going to get dark soon and all he really prayed was a shelter for the night. He stopped briefly to catch his breath as he looked at the wide expanse of the dry plateau that lay ahead of him. His bag of provisions and water was left behind on the hill he was descending from. It had been a long sprint downhill and the events he had left behind made him shudder with fear. Reluctantly, he continued his drag of a walk.
Ambar and Bijoy could have very well been described as the daredevil duo. They were always eager to embark on adventures that gave them a chance to explore the world that looked so glamorous in the NatGeo magazine. So, when they decided to go on a road trip to the mountains, they were not sure what was really in store. This was unlike anything else that they had ever experimented with. It was not the best month for the trip, they were told. A few months shy of the winters, the harsh dry plateau would be intimidating. For the friends, of course, this was absolutely in contrast to the warm blood that surged in their veins. They hopped on to their respective motorbikes and took off with their necessary gear, toolkits and first aid in tow, as was guided to them by their local contact there.
The terrain was tough and was named the world’s third-toughest roads to travel. Obviously, that had a lot to do with their resolve to complete the trip in flat 3 days.
“I think we must try and reduce the trip to two days and return short. The weather seems to be quite harsh,” Bijoy suggested.
Ambar invalidated the concern with a more positive winner streak. “How much fun this is going to be, my friend!” he claimed. Just to give wings to his ambitions, he dropped in an additional trek to the most dangerous pass higher up on the mountains. “What a sure shot dose of adrenaline this trek promises,” he finally said, sealing the deal.
Bijoy gave in as if he had no other option. Of course, backing down was out of the question, now that his friend sounded so committed to his plans.
Breathless, tired, sleepy but very motivated, they climbed the full stretch of about 800 meters uphill. It was getting difficult to breathe as they were already at a high of about 17000 ft. Altitude sickness started playing with Bijoy’s breath. In spite of having taken the basic medication to avoid the altitude sickness, they were beginning to give in to the forces of nature.
Ambar instantly passed on his oxygen mask to Bijoy as they took refuge beside a huge boulder. Another 300 meters and they would reach their destination, Ambar’s electronic compass directed him. Ambar checked with Bijoy to see if he was fine. As if his friend’s spur incited fresh enthusiasm, Bijoy stood right up on his feet and nodded affirmatively. Soon they began their last leg of ascent, with Bijoy leading the way, this time. Suddenly a bat appeared from nowhere and flew past Ambar’s face. As he turned to give it a glance, he lost his balance and was thrown by a gush of wind off the cliff. As a reflex, Bijoy called out his name but Amber was nowhere to be found. He ran towards the edge of the cliff to check. Ambar’s backpack was caught on the branch of a tree suspending him like a little baby on a baby carrier. His hands grabbed the tip of the cliff.
Panic-stricken, he called out, ‘Bijoy, help me!’
Bijoy contemplated for a while. Took out a rope from his bag and tied it to the bark of a tree. He threw the other end towards Ambar but it fell short.
“Bijoy, come forward and pass me the rope.”
“Ambar, if I step any further I will fall off the cliff as well,” Bijoy was shivering with fear by now.
“Try coming from the other end, I can’t hold on any longer, my grip’s slipping away,” Amber’s voice resonated of helplessness mingled with fear.
Bijoy turned around to check if he could help Ambar in some way.
‘Pass me the rope, Bijoy, we don’t have time.’ Amber screamed in anguish.
Overwhelmed with fear and helplessness, suddenly Bijoy turned around and ran as fast as he could down the hill, tears trickling down his cheeks. He ran till the time he could no more and crashed on the ground. He did not recall for how many minutes or hours he lay comatose on the dry, cold and barren land, when he heard a few Army trucks pass by. He hoped to get some help and ran towards the ghats when he spotted them. Panting and sobbing he ran again- his mind numb and his heart racing like the wings of a hummingbird.
Slowly the pace of his feet was dying and so was his hope. The purr of the wheels from the vehicles was beginning to fade in the vast nothingness around him. It was almost dark by now and as soon as he looked ahead from his tired, misty eyes he saw a flame far away. As if a turbo had struck his feet, he picked up his pace to reach for the light. A silhouette of a person emerged in the dark. Bijoy was relieved that he finally saw another human after many hours. As if he was about to throw himself into the person’s arms he thrust his body forward but landed on the ground with a thud.
“Bijoy, pass me the rope,” the voice echoed in the night as Bijoy closed his eyes eventually.