I feel numb. There is emotional emptiness. I am detached from reality and people around me. Am I having an out-of-body experience? Am I dead? Am I hallucinating? Or am I still sitting on the edge of a cliff, with a foot stuck in a dry bush and imagining all this?
I am pinching myself, trying to feel the pain in my already sore body. I am bruised, cut and hurt, still, I don’t feel a thing. I am trying hard to feel the feelings but I am blank. It feels like a clean slate. As if everything that happened to me before 2nd April 2017, 02:15 PM IST to be precise, was a past life experience.
However, the only emotion I felt in the last 48 hours was when a tear rolled down my cheek as I gathered the courage to tell my mother that I narrowly escaped DEATH.
Since October 2016, I have spent a lot of time in the mountains (Dharamkot and McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh). It was a love at first sight. I explored the area, went hiking, met a lot of interesting people, had some good and not-so-good experiences and survived the coldest winter of my life. To sum it up, I had a time of my life. McLeodganj will always be very close to my heart, I feel for the place. The vibration of this town is something that I cannot resist. I made several visits to McLeodganj in the last five months and my love for the town kept growing stronger with every visit.
On my most recent trip to McLeodganj (31st March 2017), I was accompanied by my friend Apurva and her friend Tarun. It was a short trip as we had just two days to spare and I was super excited to show them all the places where I had spent a lot of time. I made the itinerary for the trip and tried to include all the must-visit places.
We spent the first day just strolling around and cafe hopping in McLeodganj. The second day was reserved for hiking. We planned to hike to the waterfall that is beyond Gallu Temple (the checkpoint from where the Triund trek starts). Twenty meters from the temple the trail splits into two. The broader trail on the right leads to Triund, while a narrower trail to the left leads to Waterfall Cafe.
The Waterfall Cafe trek is a 2.5-kilometre / 1-hour trek. The trail is a narrow path that leads through a canopy of trees, crossing two mountain rivulets en-route.
The trek trail snakes along a pipeline that supplies water to Dharamkot. Keep this pipeline to your right and you’re sure to find your way to the cafe. The moment we started walking, I reminded my friends never to lose the sight of the pipeline.
It wasn’t my first trek to the waterfall and I had struggled the last time as well. Still, I decided to do it again. The feeling of accomplishment after you do something that seems beyond your physical capacity is unmatchable. I knew that I would not be able to keep up the pace with my friends so I asked them to walk ahead of me.
Five hundred meters from the starting point is the Sunset Cafe. I have watched some of the most gorgeous sunsets of my life while sipping tea at this small tea shack. After the cafe, the trail undulates through the forest. The gradual ascents and descents leave you huffing and puffing for breath.
It was hot and I was sweating profusely, still, I managed to cover more than half of the distance in 30 minutes. I was so happy and proud of myself for my new-found stamina. Little did I know that I was about to stare death in the face.
During summers and autumn, leaves and rotting branches drape this narrow trail. The fallen leaves add a splash of earthy brown and gray to the landscape nevertheless, they can get slippery and treacherous. At one of the narrowest points on the trail, I slipped on dry leaves and went sliding downhill. My first instinct was to catch hold of a tree branch or a rock but I just kept going down. I screamed, my friends turned around, they saw me going down. I am sure that even they went into a state shock after witnessing my horrific slide downhill.
Finally, I stopped sliding. I was lying on my back with my foot stuck in a dry bush that was preventing me from falling off a cliff. I was just lying, unable to move. The slightest movement could have uprooted the bush. It took me 2-3 minutes to contemplate what just happened. Then I heard Tarun crying out my name, asking if I was there. “I am unhurt but I am on the edge, I can fall off it any second,” I replied. Both Apurva and Tarun could not see where exactly I was as there was a huge rock blocking their view. I did not even bother to see where they were because I had bigger issues to deal with.
“Try and move around a bit and see if you could find a way to start climbing up”, Tarun said. I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just looking at that bush. I wasn’t even listening to him. I froze in that moment. For a minute I was just worried that if I don’t make it how will Apurva inform my family? Her phone was in my backpack. I went blank again.
I wasn’t scared of death. Not so easy to believe but I wasn’t. I know it in my heart and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. At least not now. I did not cry or panic. I didn’t even beg for help.
I heard Apurva and Tarun talking to each other but could not understand what they were saying. For a minute, I had that sinking feeling. Everything was happening in slow-motion.
I could hear Tarun more clearly now. He asked me to start moving to my left. “I can’t move, there is nothing to hold on to”, I said. Although I realized that I couldn’t just keep lying there, I’ll have to start moving. As I crawled a little upwards, I slid down again. I took off my shoes and tied them to my backpack. I got rid of all the leaves around me. Very slowly, I started to crawl upwards again. There was nothing to hold. Even the soil was loose and damp. I slid down again.
While I was striving hard to move, Tarun managed to come a few feet down and seeing him sitting on a tree branch 20-feet above me was a sight of relief. It was clear in my head that I’ll have to make it to that tree on my own before I could get any help. He found a huge log and asked me to hold on to it and start moving upwards. I somehow managed to grab it but I was still lying on my back. I was sure that Tarun will not be able to help me in that position, I will have to turn around. I let go of the log and slipped down, yet again.
In that moment both of us thought that this is the end. Surprisingly, I returned to the same position. Again, my foot was stuck in the bush and I had not fallen off the mountain.
While Tarun was trying to pull me up there was a moment when I felt that even he is risking his life. I asked him to go back. I told him that I might die right here but you shouldn’t. This might sound like giving up but it was not. I was worried for him. How could I have lived with myself if something had happened to him while saving me? Even the thought of it sends chills down my spine. But he didn’t listen to me and kept asking me to try and climb up.
While we were busy down there, Apurva was trying to get help from people who were passing by. Some of them actually bothered to ask if I was dead or alive and walked off very conveniently. I have nothing against them, I don’t have a lot of expectations from people anyway. I wasn’t hoping for a divine intervention either. Only I could have helped myself in that situation and no one else. I believe in myself, I believe in the strength of my mind and I believe in the universe.
I have been meditating (Twin Hearts) and chanting for quite some time now and I think that is why I was able to keep my calm in that situation. I did not even shed a tear, my heart was beating fine, my pulse wasn’t racing and I was fighting against all odds. I have always been labeled a ‘quitter ‘ and I actually started believing it. I did not quit when it mattered the most and that is enough for me to reinstate my faith in myself.
I chanted for about two minutes and started crawling upwards again. I spotted a huge piece of wood and started digging holes while lying on my back. There were a bunch of plants around me. They looked like tall grass but had thorns. I held on to them and don’t know how those tiny plans took my body weight and I managed to turn around. I used those holes to rest my feet so that I could push myself up. I kept clearing the leaves, digging holes, getting support from plants and most importantly, crawling upwards.
Meanwhile, I heard Tarun talking to someone but it wasn’t Apurva. Now I was not very far away from the tree. Tarun was still waiting for me to get there. Finally, I crawled up to the bottom of the tree and saw a total stranger standing on the top of a huge rock adjacent to the tree. He was extending his right arm for me to hold and climb up. Meanwhile, Tarun pulled me up and now both of us were sitting on the strongest branch of that tree. We still had a long way to go. The other man then pulled me on the top of the rock and slowly and steadily we made it back to the narrow trail. This is how my life was saved and I lived to tell my story.
How can you thank someone enough for something like this? Tarun risked his life for mine. Nobody would have questioned him for not getting down there, still, he did. The other person was a complete stranger. I don’t think that I can express my gratitude towards both of them in words. These two men restored my faith in humanity.
I got to know a lot about myself and about the basic human nature in those 45 minutes. Not everything we believe is right and all the people are not same. We must never underestimate ourselves as we don’t even know what we are capable of. Not everyone around us is our friend. We must never consider ourselves invincible as we never know what is waiting for us around the corner. No one loves us more than our mothers. Plant more trees, they actually save lives.
I had pulled out a Tower card in my most recent Tarot Card reading and I was ready for a core-shaking experience but I wasn’t expecting the actual scenario in that card being played out in my life. Anyway, I made it out alive and I will take everything that happened in a positive stride. I am blessed to have friends like Apurva and Tarun. I am indebted to them for life and I would bless them and that stranger in my meditation every day.