KV Correspondent

Journey that started on a scary note

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N J Ravi Chander
Following a fabulous holiday with the family in Kaziranga, the Rhino habitat, we headed to Kohima, the abode of the Kulkis and Naga tribe, known for their independence and colourful culture. We drove past pretty tea estates, verdant forests, rolling hills and scenic landscapes. This was our maiden trip to the North-East, a place of outstanding natural beauty, weird customs and teeming wildlife.
As the car cruised into Nagaland, tribal rituals greeted us. Topless, young men with ash smeared all over rolled on the streets, punishing their bodies, and a multitude followed them. We believe this was a sort of penance to appease the gods. The ritual ends with a dip in the river and the sacrifice of a fowl to the deities. We sped past the milling crowd and into the empty streets and up the hill towards Kohima, Nagaland’s capital. Our travails had only begun!
The omnipresent poor condition of the roads put a damper on our travel, and the curves on the hilly road made our stomachs churn. With hills on one side and steep gradients on the other, a false move spelt disaster. Gruesome tales of tourists getting waylaid by armed gangsters and dacoits after dusk on the lonely hills abound, giving the faint-hearted tourists goose pimples.
One can hardly spot a police patrol or an armed constable in these parts, and with the sun going down early, a broken-down car could become a sitting duck for thugs wishing to make a kill. Moreover, the visibility was too poor to drive on the road, enveloped by thick mist. The long drive, coupled with the umpteen twists and turns on the hill, took a toll on the car. Soon, our chariot ran out of steam and refused to budge. Easing out of the saddle, our driver, Manu, tried to cool down the fuming engine with cans of water that he carried in the car’s boot, but to no avail.
It was now pitch dark with nary a soul in sight. The few passing trucks and vehicles paid no heed to our impassioned pleas for help and sped on. Our tour agent was also miles away, and it was futile to call him for help, anyway. Finally, with time ticking away and not wishing to hang around any longer, our driver set off to find help. Being a local, familiar with the terrain, he advised us to stay put in the car.
My elder son, Sachin Kumar, stood guard outside the car, flashing his torch toward the oncoming vehicles. My better half, Shobha, who appeared petrified, began whispering prayers to all the deities she knew. Strangers in a strange land, far from home, we seemed to be in a hole.
Seconds, minutes and hours flew by and still, there was no sign of the driver. Finally, after an agonising three-hour wait, our pilot emerged from the shadows with a mechanic and began working on the vehicle.
Another few minutes of impatient wait followed but much to our delight, the engine roared again. The sound was music to our ears, and as the car moved, we thanked the heavens. The wife’s prayers and the enterprise of the driver also appear to have paid off. What followed was a memorable trip, but this incident will remain etched.
(The author is a former banker who has taken writing as a past time engagement. He contributes to various nation and local news organizations including Kashmir Vision)


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