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Catching a Moment - Running Blind

INDIA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [178] | Scholarship Entry

I woke up when my oxygen-deprived brain sent me a covert message: we had stopping moving. Disheveled passengers were getting up and filing slowly towards the exit of the bus. A tea break at 16,500 feet? Rubbing my sleep-encrusted eyes, I reached the door and my turn.
In an instant, I was as awake as I’d ever be.
I was stepping into a void.
One rear wheel of the bus dangled over the edge, while a 2,000-foot drop of the monumental Ladakhi landscape lay in wait below. There was a scrunch of metal, as the vehicle wobbled ever so slightly…
My feet landed on the hard road. I lit a shaky cigarette. It was cold and lonely out here.
Here was somewhere between Lachulung La and Tanglang La, brooding high passes that had been breached by the serpentine grey ribbon looping, stretching, rearing and spinning towards Leh in the giddy distance.
Without being asked, the twelve year old helper boy clambered onto the roof and started unfastening our luggage quickly. With every cautious step he took, the coach’s centre of gravity shifted.
He was limned in the fading light, a sinewy blur of humbling courage.
As if sensing the inherent drama of the situation, the sky rumbled in anger. We looked up to see dark clouds skidding towards us. There was a moist threat in the air.
An hour passed by; so did several yellow lorries. The sudden, hard pellets of rain were all that greeted us.
At six in the evening, a truck pulled to a stop. A thick black tarpaulin sheet covered all its sides. Relief leaked inside me faster than the dribble of droplets on the tarp. We scrambled aboard, all thirty of us, refugees of the road.
Inside, it was pitch dark and Bible-black. We were wedged back-to-back, toe-to-toe with not an inch to spare. The truck sputtered to life and got on its way, picking up speed.
Sitting on our haunches like prisoners of war, we could only imagine the wheels biting into the gravel past the slippery, bottomless slopes.
Someone lit a joint, and passed it around. The air was thick and sweet. The flickers of chance companionship illuminated our faces one by one, as the truck sped on - a sealed coffin moving urgently from numb desperation to the warm promise of life.
At some point, going by the wild lurching motion and lusty singing from the cabin, realization slowly dawned on us.
Our driver was dead drunk.
It was a sobering thought but then, I’d wanted adventure, I’d wanted to split the seams of security.
Who was I to complain?

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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