Armin Wandrewala

novelist and dramatist from India
WS 98/99

Have a look at this excerpt from Alone ... in the Valley of the Gods (1997):

Armin WandrewalaBETWEEN THE DEVIL, (in the form of the steep, rock-strewn mountain-side), on my right, and the Deep Sea, (comprising the sheer drop into the icy waters of the Alaknanda), on my left, there was a barely walkable path around 6 inches wide, which itself appeared treacherous. One wrong step, and I'd be a goner!

My mind was in a quandary. Should I go ahead upto the Falls, or should I play safe and turn back? On the one hand, having come this far, it seemed a sacrilege not to go right up to the Falls; on the other hand, a considerable part of the way ahead appeared too dangerous.

I was completely and utterly alone. My folks in Bombay did not even know I was in Badrinath, far less trekking alone to the Vasudhara Falls! This was a totally unplanned, unscheduled trip, a spur-of-the-moment decision taken on impulse. Even my friends in Dehra Dun did not know I would be going to Badrinath. As far as they were concerned, I'd be returning to Dehra Dun immediately after completing my treks to the Valley and Hemkund.

Supposing I twisted an ankle ... I'd lie here for hours, helpless, unless somebody came along ... supposing I slipped, or missed my footing ... I'd go hurtling down ... supposing I suddenly felt dizzy ... supposing I got a cramp ... supposing ...

The scariest, gloomiest suppositions crowded my mind, as unfamiliar apprehension gripped my heart in a chilly, almost tangible hold. I took a deep breath and debated. Should I go ahead or turn back? My mind dithered in furious indecision. Even time-honoured wisdom, crystallized into clichéd proverbs was of no help – should "venture nothing, nothing gained" prevail over "fools rush in where angels fear to tread"? Or the vice versa?

As I mulled, and debated, and pondered over the paradox of irreconcilable preachings, a warning voice inside me cautioned that I couldn't wait about too long, thus indecisively. The weather seemed fine now – but in the mountains, one could never tell – and if it started raining, even the path back would become slippery and treacherous!

Searching for some justification, in my own heart and mind, to go ahead against such odds, I asked myself when, in the forseeable future, was I likely to come again this close to the fabled Vasudhara Falls?! Having come this far, it seemed a pity to allow my nerve to fail me now.

I braced myself mentally, pushed up my chin, and moved ahead.

In order to safely traverse that treacherous stretch, in parts I actually had to clamber over the rocks and boulders. I moved along on my right, closer to te mountainous side and almost slithered ahead, testing each rock as I stepped onto it. If it appeared even slightly loose, I would crouch low, going almost on my hands and knees ... in parts, I was clambering along almost like a cat, on two legs and one hand, with the other arm held aloft for balance. I had removed my shoulder bag from the shoulder, and had slipped it over both the arms, to rest on my back, so as to leave both my arms as well as hands free.

That patch, more than anything made me realise the importance of having at least one other person along, on a trek like this, where the unexpected was but to be expected! No one at either Badrinath or Mana, not even the ITBP men seemed to be aware of the ravages caused by the recent landslide in that uninhabited, desolate region. At least no one had warned me about it! At such moments, the presence of another person is invaluable – you have a hand to hold, someone to go for help if something happens to you, someone to pull you up, if you slip and start sliding down!

Traversing that stretch also made me realise how insidiously close death lurks around, just waiting for a chance! And yet, I had never felt so alive, as in those moments, when life itself seemed to be in jeopardy ... all my muscles were coiled, ready for action; all my nerves alive and tingling; all my senses finely attuned to the elements around me; my movements, controlled and economical; my mind (for once!) icy cold and clear!