Ever since I was a kid I took a lot of road trips. My father inculcated a love for travelling and roadtrips in me since an early age. However, in my 25 years of existence I had never built an extension to a road, I had never seen 40 random people come together to construct a path where there wasn’t one.
On the second last day of my recent trip to Spiti, we were returning from Chandrataal to Manali. Up since 5am, we were making our way along the pebbled pathway with games of dumb charades, conversations and silences in which we gazed at the gorgeous valley we were saying goodbye to. Our tempo traveller made its way ahead on a notoriously narrow path when our driver, Bhanu bhaiya, called out for everyone to get off. I saw that the path was just about the width of the vehicle, we’d have to move edge to edge. The road was brimming with water from a waterfall on the right hand side (inner side) and the water was then flowing into another waterfall (left hand side, open end). The trippers got down and I asked the ones from the second traveller behind us to also get down and go stand further ahead. I got back inside and sat on the seat next to Bhanu bhaiya. Bravely and selflessly he requested, madame its not safe, get down. I simply shook my head, this wasn’t up for a discussion. For a little while bhaiya tried moving the vehicle, move ahead, reverse, cut and ahead again. At this point the left flank of the vehicle was right at the edge and we saw that the tyre on my side was in a direction where there was no path left, only the waterfall below. We would have to make our own way, quite literally!
We got off and started looking for rocks to add to the upper level of the waterfall. In the blink of an eye, the biker gang from behind had joined our forces, my trippers were nowhere near the far off point indicated for them to wait but instead right in the middle of the action, local drivers had gotten below on a level of the waterfall waiting for us to pass rocks and together we all did so. This was at 10am, in about 6-7°, in the middle of continuously flowing freezing water but who cared? Everyone was hunting for rocks, some near, some far, some climbed up in search and some bent and scraped from below. Some men unleashed their inner Hercules and flipped huge rocks side to side! Without instruction we stood in queues and passed one stone after another. In the face of chaos there was unspoken coordination.
We had been travelling for over a week. Spiti while stunning is also a strenous trip involving long commutes. My trippers were fatigued, dealing with altitude sickness, nausea and what not. But they all came forward to help. Weak ones gingerly carrying rocks together, to others taking initiative at other spots. Help wasn’t asked for but help came and it came naturally because no matter how bad we often believe the world is, the reality is that human beings are inherently helpful beings. It would have been easy for someone to stand on the side with their hands on their hips and merely watch the debacle. But it was an internal decision that made them all come forward. You can spend hours talking, you can spend nights dancing together but the way people come together in a tough situation is what defines them.
Later one of my favourite trippers asked me in his broken Hindi, “But Niyati, sitting there, with the vehicle on the edge, wasn’t your heart going ‘dhak dhak’?”. Hah maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But it wasn’t the 19 trippers alone who were my responsibility, the 2 drivers and local guide were too. We’d faced a similar situation during the first trip I led with Neeraj to Tirthan, at the time he’d sat back with the driver. That day on our way back from Spiti I remembered the Tirthan incident later but now I understood Neeraj’s decision so much more. You see I don’t know much about vehicles that I could have guided Bhanu bhaiya in that regard, I am not the physically strongest to contribute in that manner but I do feel that a presence has a calming effect. My responsibility to him went beyond asking him about his meals and well being. Bhanu bhaiya unlike our other driver had been referred to as chilled out by the group. In every situation he’d remained unfazed and did everything with ease, but that day I’d seen him press his lips together. The man had bravely asked for everyone to move to safety but still had to see the situation through and after 8 days together it didn’t feel right to make him see it through by himself.
We were touched by the trippers coming forward to help forgetting their woes, by the unknown bikers going above and beyond to help too and after we built the extended path, Bhanu bhaiya and I got in the traveller and finally crossed the path together. He gave me his crooked teeth smile and we high fived each other. The trippers rejoiced and the second traveller followed. This is to remember the expressions on everyone’s faces, the camaraderie they shared in a tough situation and the spirit with which each and everyone came forward. There is a lot that is wrong with the world but there is a lot that is right too. When we witness it, let’s remember it and share it because we deserve a reminder of the helpfulness, the humanity, the goodness too.