I was standing on the bank of a knee-deep stream, thinking no need to put my cellphone into a plastic packet in my knapsack, it’s not at all deep and how pretty the rushing water looks, all white and emerald green.
But the group I was trekking with had divided into two, one was looking tragic on the other side of the stream and we learned that two of its members had been swept by the current and the boy’s arm had popped right out of its shoulder when he saved the other. And I thought for the 175th time, why on earth did I agree to come on this trek.
Everyone was looking timorously at the rushing water and I am willing to swear it sounded like it was hissing and laughing at us. Instructions were shouted and a thin rope was flung across the water. We were told to keep on one side of the rope, hold hands and walk sideways.
Now when you are crossing a stream and someone is bawling out to you to walk sideways it gets confusing. Do you walk sideways along the length of the stream? Or do you walk sideways across its breadth.
I thought how difficult can it be, it’s a knee deep stream with pretty white water. Considering that I am 56, 5ft 6 inches and weigh a good 77kg I laughed the light laugh and stepped out first, holding the hand of a girl half my age and size behind me and the hand of an experienced strong male trekker who taught me how to climb sideways down an almost vertical slope, half an hour earlier.
Did I say I laughed the light laugh? In a few traumatized minutes, I was laughing on the other side of my face, terrified out of my wits, because that miserable stream had its own ideas of Sunday morning entertainment.
It would not allow me to place one foot down, kept waving it away and any fool knows, you cannot proceed anywhere on one leg. Everyone was screaming instructions and I announced I could not move. They screamed some more and logic dictated I had better shift somehow towards the other side of the stupid stream.
Big mistake. I realized too late that I should have waited there until the stream eased up sometime after the monsoons. This was August...like maybe December?
CAPTION: THAT'S ME STRUGGLING WITH A RED AND BLUE KNAPSACK ON MY PETRIFIED BACK
It swept me off my feet, the strong man grabbed me, but you know ... 77 kgs and a stream with murder in its heart. I took him with me and we were both tossed around like twigs in the white water.
With the immersion in the cold water, the terror disappeared immediately and I felt this deep curiosity about two things, where would it end and why for the 176th time did I agree to come on a trek because 56-year-olds put others at risk. But the stream got its laugh of the day and tossed us both near the other bank.
That trek to Dudhsagar was with a group called Off Trail Adventures run by the diminutive Bianca Dias. I will never forget that trek not because of that stream with a demonic sense of humour, but because it opened a whole new world. Pure, simple, beautiful, where the only sounds were the call of the birds, the laughter of the streams and the majestic roar and crash of the mighty Dudhsagar waterfall. Experiencing all this in the company of people half my age who showed grit and maturity beyond their years.
The boy with the dislocated shoulder was in agony, you could see it in the dullness of his eyes, which were sparkling with fun an hour before. He, like a few others, had lost his shoes in the monster stream and had to hobble with his dislocated arm held sideways over a buddy’s shoulders. I gave him my spare set of ladies sandals which he accepted gratefully, and he walked up steep slopes helped by everyone, crossed one more stream, not as vicious as the one that caused the dislocation, and then had to be hoisted up a vertical shoulder of land. And not a word of complaint from him.
We climbed up in the intermittent rain, up more slippery slopes and finally onto the railway tracks so that we could come up close and personal with a sight that shakes you to your core, the mighty Dudhsagar in full spate. There are few sights more beautiful or awe-inspiring.
After that a frantic hobble with cramping muscles over the tracks to a goods train; clambering on to the engine, trying not to think how the hero with the dislocated arm managed. The slow train ride from leafy pathways, cool streams in a thick forest with butterflies and birds, to a motorized world with dirty puddles of rain water and a concrete jungle. Two completely different worlds, straddled by us, humans, the common denominator.