Apocalypse Now (errr….Always)
In the last few years, during my travels, I have had very interesting experiences. Almost always, the satanic (Yamraj*) forces have conspired to add a few twists, turns and seemingly apocalyptic events during my trips. I am not tempting fate here, but I cannot help but admire this subtle conclave of disasters that strike. I am happy that these forces have been acting up on a spatial inverse of me.
Allow me to enumerate them in reverse order of screwed-up-ness. (countdown)
6. A couple of incidences like the Bodoland agitation in Siliguri enroute Bhutan in 2009 and crossing Hyderabad in the thick of the Telangana agitation(think rioting) in Hyderabad when going from Bangalore to Kolkata via Hyderabad en route Bhutan in 2009.
5. Witnessed live firing in Srinagar in 2007. J&K is notorious in this regard. On a family trip to J&K , we were enjoying the scenic beauty of the numerous gardens of Srinagar alongside Dal lake. We were in a tourist bus and being shown around town. All of a sudden we heard gunshots and when we looked out of the window, we saw some armed men shooting in the direction of a mosque. The driver of our bus took a sharp turn and we sped away from the scene. We could see through the windows at the back of the bus, the commotion and panic surging through the people.
4. Experienced an earthquake(6.9 magnitude) that shook the ground beneath the feet by a good 5-6 feet when trekking in darkness at around 16000 feet in Mt Everest region near Namche in Nepal. This earthquake also shook Sikkim, Bhutan and parts of Bangladesh. It was around 7PM when it occurred and it was the only day that we were trekking into the night. It was also the longest day of the entire trek of Mt Everest Base Camp. 2 friends and I had started our descent from Periche’ and after a 2 hour delay due to our sherpa getting injured, we planned to reach Namche the same day. There was a very loud clap followed by hysterical distant screams and sound of landslides. We were fortunately not jolted too much or we might have tumbled down the mountain sides.
3. Drove on a bike through Anantnag, 54 kms south of Srinagar on the Jammu Srinagar highway 1A , where about 400 mobsters were pelting stones, rocks and bricks. We had taken a wrong turn and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the mob with all mobsters encircling us, and asking us about where we are from and where we were going. One of our bikes had a flag which fortunately was a buddhist prayer flag and not an Indian flag. If it were an Indian flag , I would not be here today writing this. We were then declared as tourists and let out of the chakravyuh** of rioters . Needless to say, our hearts were in our mouths.
Flag of turmoil ( flag on the bike) ***
2. Bomb scare and suspect hijack on a flight. All passengers got delayed for almost 10 hours. Sapan, Sharath and I checked in at Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport for our return journey to Delhi. We had been on a trek to Everest base camp. We had been trekking and travelling for about 19 days now. The flight started taxiing when we heard about a plane crash. A Mt Everest mountain flight had crashed into the mountains. Say what , we were trekking the same area a few days back. When travelling from Kathmandu to Lukla in a Donear 9 seater, we had seen numerous aircrafts in the Kathmandu airport which had some raw tinkering done on it. It was like the welding you see in a garage on an old car( possibly an ambassador or an old premier padmini fiat) . It was disheartening to hear, but I was not surprised. These small planes are really tough to manage once they develop a fault. This news, though disheartening, was not alarming. As we continued taxi-ing on the runway and as the pilot was gaining groundspeed, we heard the reverse thrust and the brakes being applied.We thought it was a technical snag, but after a few minutes of silence, we saw all sorts of personnel converging on our aircraft. Within minutes, multiple armed vans surrounded us. The pilot announced that we will all be disembarked till further notice. We were not allowed to take out any belongings. As we exited the plane , it was evident: We were on a plane that had a bomb scare/hijack threat. About 180 passengers were escorted to a holding area along the runway. The investigation ensued and after about 10 hours, we were cleared for takeoff. Meanwhile we were witness to the procedures that are followed when a bomb scare situation arises.The troublemaker, a lady from Italy who had been shouting doomsday slogans and abusing co-passengers( a bunch of girls from Delhi) was arrested. She had apparently told everyone she met that there is a bomb and that the world is going to end. This event caused an airspace shutdown of Kathmandu airport for over two hours! Multiple agencies had to ratify the aircraft clear – The airline , airport personnel, airport police, army, commando units, security agencies etc.
Kathmandu Airport - Amidst a storm
Kathmandu Airport - Amidst a storm
1. Leh cloudburst and flash floods. I have seen the flash floods of 2010 unfolding right in front of my eyes. A few friends and I had just reached Kargil at 10PM after a full day ride to Dha and Hanu villages, Aryan civilization settlements. We were touring Ladakh on bikes. We saw news OB vans all over the town and when enquired , we were told that Leh had been lashed by a cloudburst and flash floods just an hour or two ago. We had dinner and went to sleep. The rains in Kargil were just beginning. At around 1AM, the cloudburst and flash floods struck Kargil. The only bridge connecting Kargil to the NH was washed out and was covered in 4 feet of sand,rocks and slush. An entire mountain face had been washed away taking along with it numerous houses. The scenario in Leh was worse. We were stuck in Kargil for 2 days and 1 of those 2 days incidently turned out to be a Kargil bandh. We had made a hotel (Hotel Siachen) our refuge which was nicknamed “Hotel Baghdad” of Kargil. Akin to the Hotel Baghdad, this hotel was the only hotel which remained open during the Kargil war in 1999. As the floods were unfolding, we saw 10’s of journalists setting up their equipment in the main dining hall of Hotel Siachen. It looked like a mini NASA command center for those 2 days. We eventually departed Kargil for Srinagar and truly saw the destruction that was beset upon the state.
Kargil before the floods hit
Kargil Flash Floods OB Van ***
Hotel Siachen - The "Hotel Baghdad" of Kargil ***
What were some the most scariest moments that you have gone through?
*Yamraj: The hindu god of death.
**Chakravyuh : A multi-tier defensive battle formation that looks like a blooming lotus which once an enemy enters, is impossible to get out of.
Pictures with ***are credit to : Sreenath , Kiran, Shrishail.