Before leaving for Ladakh I had a strange feeling that I might never come back. I was afraid that AMS or something else could take my life. That is why I actually made it a point to meet everyone before the trip – mom, dad, Shruti, Tarka (the drive through the rain), Avadhoot, office gang, of course my husband, and even his friends. I was sad that I couldn’t meet my sister but we spoke on the phone.
In Ladakh, our gang of 13 strangers went to the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar rivers. Indus is India’s pride, all vegetation and life is presumed to thrive on the banks of Indus while the Zanskar flows all the way into Pakistan. We decided to go rafting in the Zanskar river. We got dressed in river shoes, body suits and life jackets. The leader rafter; Sanjay, gave us safety instructions before starting. He asked if anyone has done rafting before. Few had; including me. I said I had done rafting in Kolad. He said that Kolad is a warm river while Zanskar will be freezing. Zanskar has whirlpools which can pull you in while the rapids in Kolad are not that dramatic. Sanjay’s safety instructions included information on what to do in the following conditions:
When you fall from the raft – hold the rope encircling the edges of the raft
When you fall few feet away from the raft – look up at the sky to stay afloat and the raft leader will pull you up by holding your life jacket from the shoulders
Someone asked what if you fall and drift 10 to 20 feet away from the boat; he said; “good question!”.
He explained that in that condition he will throw a rope and one has to catch the mouth of the rope; which has a solid handle. He will pull at the rope to get the person near the raft and then the same rules follow: look up, hold the rope and he will lift you from the life jacket.
Now we were off on our rafting expedition. We were on 2 rafts; 6 in one, 7 in another. Sanjay was in the other raft but we had a younger leader. The first rapid was massive. It shook us right, left, up and down but we stayed put. After that there were no rapids for quite sometime – only beautiful landscapes to behold. Suddenly our leader spotted a whirlpool and started screaming –
Row forward! Get in !
Before we knew it, I was no longer on the raft. I was in the Zanskar river! Our raft had inverted completely!
I tried to recollect the safety instruction 1. Look up. I did that. I was atleast 19 feet away and going farther way from the other raft. I cried for help. Sanjay threw the rope and thank god I caught it by its mouth. I started pulling the rope and going ahead. Then I remembered safety instruction 3. Keep holding the mouth of the rope. So I held it back again and signaled him to pull. He pulled me and I reached near the raft. Phew.
I immediately held the rope tied to the edge of the raft.
Behold! Just as I was about to be pulled to safety another whirlpool pulled me into the water. I told myself to look up. I came out of the water gasping but I did not let go of the rope. Sanjay asked me to close my mouth or the water will go in. Then in one powerful stroke he pulled me up. I was safe. I didn’t speak for 5 minutes and then I screamed; “guys, I am alive!!”.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew were all under the raft which was completely inverted. Luckily, they all held on to the rope on the edge or to someone’s jacket. One by one each of them were pulled up by our raft leader. Sanjay saved me first as I was alone and then went for the rest of them. All this happened in about 5 minutes. Thankfully we were all safe. The raft leader of the other raft managed to set his boat upright. There were 2 boys in canoes, also helping us out. The rest of the rafting journey was a beautiful and peaceful one. Once the rapids were over, people jumped into the water too. Everyone admired my presence of mind, calmness and bravery. Even the instructor said that most people panIc in this situation but ‘aap bombaywal hain’. He felt glad that I caught the rope. I am glad too! I felt really special. I feel extremely lucky to be alive!
I feel more courageous after Zanskar. Having been brought up to fear and be cautious, I felt a whole new liberation. I also thanked God, the universe and Budha for this experience.