My Trek In Uttarakhand: Part II

Nature's fury, everyone said. Nature didn't look furious at all. The rain poured as it pleased, on an unknown schedule, oblivious to my glowering at it and a thousand people's tears. The river frothed and crashed against itself, its currents converging now and diverging later, sometimes circling in eddies, tiny and huge, as if on some urgent, secret purpose. Nature don't give a shit. I didn't give a shit either, although now it looks preposterous that I took my apparent misfortune so seriously. I had called up my parents casually informed them that our camp was under the river now and the trek was cancelled. The network is weak and I'll call in case of any trouble; meanwhile I'll be switching off my phone to preserve the battery. They called my uncle, a Brigadier in the army, but forgot to mention that I had a new phone number. He assumed that I had changed it without informing anybody. I found out later that he had frantically spent the next hour trying to contact me through the trek organizer. He was successful, of course. Minutes later I got messages from three Colonels asking me to contact them if I got into trouble. Thank you very much, sir, but we're safe and rather comfortable, and it looks like there are people who need your help more than us. Somebody offered to send a helicopter to get me, and in a weak moment I let the others know about it. That became a standing joke for the rest of the trip. Every time we got stuck, or when a helicopter passed overhead, somebody would smile and snigger and ask me to call the helicopter. Only after the trip did I begin to appreciate what my family must have gone through. Hearing the news would have been, for them, confusing on so many levels. The nerd went to the Himalayas? Alone? His camp was washed away in the river? Wh..What? Cpt. Cool and Boss got us rooms at a modest inn that doubled up as a Chowmein Center. We got spooked with the less-than-clean, outdoor kitchen and the carton of potatoes collecting rain near the toilet. But the actual kitchen was inside, we were told, and the outdoor kitchen and the man in it were only for Chowmein. The carton was forgotten and soon Boss was serving us aloo parathas off the pan himself. One of the toilet doors didn't close and the other had shit in it, but we got it cleaned and had ourselves a nap. After lunch, we attempted to salvage our trek by walking aimlessly on the road, my ugly white poncho attracting a trail of flies for some reason. In the middle of our walk, the clouds parted for sunshine, and it didn't rain after that. By the time we got back, I found out that Chocolate Girl had found out there were rooms in a much better hotel nearby.?Chocolate Girl is one of those people who can taste the difference between different mineral water brands?. Later in the evening I high-fived her for getting us rooms with an AC and hot water, at which point Businessman claimed some of the credit for himself. I couldn't high-five him though, because the couple collapsed into a discussion trying to decide how the credit ought to be split up. Meanwhile, I would get a call on Cpt. Cool's or Boss' phone every few hours, which was followed by a general outcry of 'Helicopter' by everyone around. We were all getting calls. The Marus got calls and usually assured the caller that they were OK. Scientist gave an explanation of the situation along with a short summary of what had happened to us till now. Engineer's calls were the most interesting. He got calls from an Uttarakhandi family he had met on the train from Chennai. He had bonded a lot with them over the journey, he told us, even eating meals together. I thought little of it until he told me that the state was the best place for Brahmin boys to find girls- Brahmins make some 20% of the state's population. He explained it like it was a convenient goldmine. So it is, I thought. Although Engineer's/ my own generation of Brahmins is the most corrupted in the history of the caste, that doesn't at all mind mingling with other castes, we would prefer not to have our mothers cry and disown us. Technology companies would do well to open an office in Uttarakhand. Hordes of TamBrahm engineers wouldn't think twice of shifting there at half their current salaries. We spent that evening together, drinking and eating. I found out that Paradox's tattoo was his Board Exam answers written in Pali. When he found out that my college is in Goa, he excitedly asked me about this club and that party, and I hadn't been to those places. Or heard of them. He looked at me with a mixture of pity and condescension, and the pride of being cooler than a 22 year old. Later the Marus told me about the stuff they had done, albeit more kindly; that didn't stop me from feeling miserable, however. The next morning we sat on a car and drove off to see what remained of our camp. The water was back to normal levels, but the camp was completely under river silt. The camp would have to be excavated, and the tents washed. Most of the things, like beds and lamps, were not recoverable. All this time, Cpt. Cool regaled us with stories of his treks. 'KFC ka India head aaya tha ek baar idhar...ajeeb banda tha, jaate waqt bye bhi nahi bola...' 'Cisco mein ho aap? Ek baar unka group aaya tha...' And the best of all, 'Haan, Rahul Gandhi aaya tha hamare saath. Beech raste mein Shatabdi ruki thi, aur bilkul normal aadmi ki tarah woh bus mein aaya camp tak, kisi ko pata bhi nahi tha ki Rahul Gandhi aaya hai. Aur woh dikhta nahi hai, par bahut fit hai banda, sabse aage nikal jaata tha...' Cpt. Cool is immensely likeable. His own house was flooded when he was with us, but he confronted that with a calm smile. If NASA dropped Cpt. Cool on Mars, he would be back in Dehra Dun within a week... but that wouldn't be the cool part. The cool part would be that he would have managed it within a hundred bucks. The road ahead, to the pilgrimages and the next camp in our trek, was blocked by landslides. The road back to Rishikesh was blocked as well. So we decided to go to Tehri, via a road somewhere on the side, presumably. In accordance with Murphy's Law, we encountered a huge landslide along this road as well, the traffic was blocked for a kilometre ahead of us, and the machine clearing the rubble moved with the efficiency of a toddler walking for the first time. Even worse, the road behind us had had partially caved in and disappeared at a point. Businessman and I were worried that the road would cave in fully and we would get stuck. But Corporate1's calm veneer hadn't cracked, and Cpt. Cool listened to me and made no response. Scientist had gone back to the car to wait it out as soon as we reached the landslide, telling us we would be wise to do the same and not disturb the rocks' fragile arrangement. Everyone else waiting had given up, mostly. Some had spread out blankets and food and were having themselves a nice picnic. Some were napping. More strangely, at a couple of places a dozen ladies had arranged themselves on blankets to sing bhajans. The universe is indifferent, ladies, I thought. That seemed to make their singing louder. We saw a bunch of worried-looking Americans as well; high school and college kids here for some NGO. We also saw that some people were making their way up the mountain, along a little stream on our left, ostensibly to go over and around the landslide to the other side. For some reason I regarded this with skepticism and told everyone that there probably was no way over to the other side and we ought to go back. The people were probably climbing out of desperation, or possibly to some other place. I went and asked a woman who was making her way up the steep path with a suitcase on her head, a baby in her arms and sandals on her feet. She tried to convince me to follow her so much that I half-suspected that we would get robbed by her gang on the way, but that was simply the extent of her helpfulness (or my cynicism). Chocolate Girl looked at the stream and remarked that as the stream had found a way down the mountain, there must be a way up as well. Despite the questionable hypothesis, the conclusion turned out to be true. So we packed our bags and went up the mountain. I, Chocolate Girl and an Uttarakhandi woman were in the lead, and the latter two conversed the whole way. I lost track of the conversation very soon, but was able to gather that the woman had at least two children, one of whom was studying in Dehra Dun. She was determined to make the other a doctor. She also told us that eggs in the mountains were better than the ones we have in the city as an explanation to why she didn't break a sweat the whole way. It's a pleasure to watch the state's people walk. The lean woman ?seemed to have no trouble walking on the steep dirt track in her heeled sandals, while I huffed and stampeded behind her in my heavy shoes. Much to our joy, we made it to the other side where we hired a car, crossed the Tehri reservoir to our guest house for the remainder of the trip. From there, we could sometimes see the Himalayas peeking through the clouds. That brought me much contentment. At least I saw the Himalayas. The next morning I was sitting on a bamboo chair outside my room, eating sour apples off a nearby tree and reading A Feast For Crows with that view of the Himalayas ahead of me. That was the most absurd situation in my life.
? As it turns out, different mineral water brands do taste different. I wanted to see if I could taste any difference at all, but there was nothing to it. Different brands taste very different.