Not The Forty-First.
The only sound that could be heard is of the Gullan’s breathing. Panting due to lack of oxygen at the height of 5000 meters at Goecha La Trek, Sikkim. Gullan had decided to take a solo trek till the camp all by himself. Now lost the track and struggling to walk on 1.5 feet snow and no sign of vegetation. His guide had explained to him the track amid which the vegetation should have started by now but, it is white spread till infinity. After a few hundred meters he sees a red piece of cloth which gives him some life.
“I must maintain this track as people had used this track. I am on the right track.”. Gullan talking to himself and have calculated that if he maintains this track he will be at camp by evening.
A few days earlier.
Gullan packing for his next expedition and remembering the list of essential and uttering them nonchronologically.
“4 breathable T-shirts, polar fleece jacket, long sleeves T-shirt, waterproof jacket, 2 trousers, walking shoes, trekking shoes, socks, anti-chafing cream, sandals and flip flops, sleeping bag, poles, water bladder, toilet paper, thread, and needle, earplug, knife, sunglass, sunscreen, hand towel, head torch, gloves, leggings, compact down jacket, insect repellent cream, tissue paper, hand sanitizer, backpack and a tent” dictating loudly so that he does not forget anything and his wife can hear him and let him know if he is missing anything.
Suddenly the main gate opens and his son Gaurav step inside the house. He stops for a few seconds to understand the randomness in the house. Quickly understand that his father is preparing for another expedition.
“Papa where are you going this time?” Gaurav asks Gullan with eyes wide open and brode smile on his face. He is gonna get yet another adventurous tale to brag about his father after he returns. His father is a school principal. Adventurous trekking and mountaineering are rather queer hobbies for the person whose profession is teaching.
“Guess what it could be,”.says Gullan. Stop packing for a while and stare at his son to see if he could guess the trek he is gonna venture.
“Let me see your bucket list!,” says Gaurav and takes about a turn to face the wall behind. Places visited and not visited listed on an ostentatiously decorated piece of paper pasted on the wall. That comprises his bucket list.
“Chadar trek ladhak, friendship peak HP, Borasu pass trek Uttrakhand”Gaurav scroll downs from the top of the list. Hovering his index finger over checked locations. Murmuring the names of the location until he reaches an unchecked location and stops.
“Goecha La Trek, Sikkim?” asks Gaurav nodding towards Gullan.
“Yes, the most beautiful among all” replies Gullan.
“Tell me all about it” ask Gaurav and take a seat on a nearby plastic chair.
“The place speaks for itself there is no one on this planet who can capture the beauty of the place in his/her words. But I can tell you something for your knowledge. The track is the southeast face of Mt.Kanchanjanga which is the world’s third tallest mountain. You can see the view of the summit of Mt.Kanchanjanga and many other peaks like Talung, Rothong, Kabru, Koktang, Pandim, Tenchenkhang, Simvo, Jupono. You have to drive to Siliguri then to Yuksom, Sachen, Tshoka, Dzongri, Thansing then finally Goecha La Pass. This is the basecamp for the mountaineers who are aspiring Mt.Kanchanjanga. The major challenge which people face is the huge change in altitude over a small-timing duration. There are misty clouds that play around with your imagination. Absolutely beautiful.” Explain Gullan himself lost in the thoughts, traveling along with those misty clouds.
“This place is impeccable, you are my champion father, you will succeed,”.Says Gaurav with a broad smile on his face.
Then comes the time when Gullan takes the leave of his wife and his son. They will pray for his wellbeing continuously until he returns. His wife sees him off with moist eyes and his son with proud and thrilled.
It’s been a few hours since Gullan is walking in 1.5 feet snow. Exasperating and exhausted due to a lack of oxygen. By now he should have reached the camp. He is in the middle of nowhere and dark is enveloping him.
After walking for a few more kilometers the terrain is changing rapidly. White has vanished and green had taken its place. Densely green. Gullan meets a dead end after every few steps. The razor blade sharp leave is cutting him at every naked surface. The sound of the dark is intensifying along with his breath. Fear and horror have taken place of excitement and thrill.
Cutting those razor-sharp leaves with his bare hands ignoring his pain and trauma is going through. Bleeding all over, hands and arms dripping blood, sweat increases the pain when it flows around the wound, wrinkles on the forehead, eyes wide open to process any threatening event. Breathing heavily and cutting through the dense greenwood. Suddenly a drop comes and silence everywhere. No breathing, no sound of bushes being thrown away. Silence has enveloped like a river opens in an infinitely spread plateau after making its way through the mountains.
After forty minutes, Gullan regains consciousness and found himself fell in an eight to ten feet deep pit. Not in the condition of moving an inch. The whole body is in pain, scratch wounds all over and bleeding from every naked surface. Both of his pole broken and the pit is pitch dark can’t even see his hand. Gullan tries to gather his energy and stands up, could not stand straight due to pain in his left leg. He needs to get out of this dark hell.
“You need to get out of this pit. You cannot die here, nobody will ever come to know you died here. The pit is not much high you can make it,” Gullan’s voice reverberates inside his mind.
Gather all his energy, despite all the pain, despite all the wounds. Gullan tries to crawl-up along the wall of the pit but there is no grip and no groves to hold. Besides all the inimical conditions he pushes himself along the wall, but after climbing a few feet he falls. Yell in agony. But Gullan knows he cannot let him decay here. Gullan again tries to climb with all gathered enthusiasm and this time he could climb out of the pit. Lay down on the ground almost dead.
A few days earlier.
Gullan starts his solo ride from Jodhpur to Siliguri on his black-green companion Kawasaki Versys 1000. His route is almost 1900Km and about forty hours. With major stops firstly at Jaipur then after in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. After that to Kathmandu, Nepal then again enters India through Siliguri, Sikkim. The route is despite tiring, is eye-catching. Gullan has to stop himself from distraction, which this perilous and green terrain is offering him. In some places, the road is wreaked. From Kathmandu to Siliguri the road is moist and misty clouds envelop Gullan as if he not driving, he flying high in clouds. Visibility is very low and the road is slippery and only two-lane. Every possible vehicle weather truck or cycle is on the same road and passing by each other with only a few inches apart.
Gullan reaches Siliguri. Now from here, his journey starts. Any normal person who has not much experience in mountaineering has to stay here for a few days to acclimatize in such low oxygen conditions before starting the ascend. But Gullan who is not new to such a low oxygen environment can enjoy the ascend immediately after a day of rest. Now Gullan needs to find a guide who can guide him through the whole route. So he decided to join the group of mountaineers who are going to begin the ascend the next day.
Everyone is ready to start the ascend at 6 in the morning, it a ten-day and 66 Km track. The track goes through the dense greenwood of Kanchanjanga nation park. During the ascend, Gullan meets many new people. This time he meets two friends who have come from Delhi Ashwin and Manav. Both are college students. They call him Gullan sir due to his profession.
“Gullan sir the track is getting difficult, can we take a break,” says Ashwin, he is panting due to lack of oxygen.
“We cannot stop here, we need to cover today’s track otherwise we will be out of schedule,” says Gullan breathing normally, resting his chin on his hand which is, in turn, resting on the pole, on which he is supporting all his weight through the pam of his hand.
“Who cares we have all the time in the world, we don’t need to catch any train,” says Manav, who is panting as well.
“Our guide said, we are going to take rest soon,” says Gullan.
“He is saying this for hours, ‘we will take rest at next turn‘,” a little normal Ashwin says sarcastically.
“We cannot stay here for long otherwise we will get lost, get up we need to follow him,” says Gullan pulling both of them to stand.
“I will not ever come to such a place, Manav you wanted this don’t you. What you were saying ‘we have only one life, we must visite heaven’ “ says Ashwin with distorted slang and making a monkey-like face while speaking to tease Manav.
“Ha ha ha, he said that” ask Gullan, while laughing.
“yes, I told him all the time, don’t make plans after drinking, he booked everything after getting high,” says Ashwin with a low face, Gullan still laughing.
“I was saying somewhere like Shimla, you said Goecha La Trek, you were showing me photos on Instagram, Were you not?” Says Manav, after bearing the insult for a while.
They kept walking till evening with just two stops, guide arrange everything from tents to dinner. Gullan could not talk to his wife and son as there is no network, so pull his phone out of his pocket and starts scrolling photos of his wife and son.
Gullan regains consciousness after laying there for almost an hour and he could hear the sound of water flowing nearby. He stands up gathering all his energy and try to walk towards the sound. The silence is so vast spread that you can hear a sound coming from a few Kms away. The water flowing is also far away and it is taking Gullan’s life to reach there. Still has to struggle with dense and razor-sharp leaves to make way. But somehow Gullan reaches the water source, it is flat and open here, it is dark already, so he decided to stay here itself.
Gullan sits near the shield of a big rock and sneaks his hand into his pocket and finds that he is missing his phone, it must have fallen in the way. He could not see his wife and son even on the phone, the thought of not able to see his wife and son at such time broke him, devasted him. He is not in the position to even go and look for his phone.
Guide and other group members at the camp.
“Where is Gullan?” ask the guide to Ashwina and Manav when all mountaineers reach the camp.
“He said, he wants to tracked alone so he took another way,” says Manav
“Which another way, there is no other way to come down this is the only way. How many times I had told you all not to lose the track,” says the guide
“I told him that but he said he will find a way to the camp,” says Ashwin with a tens face.
“You know there had been many foreigners who claim that they have climb Alpes and many other mountains and got separated from the group here. None of them came back, there are forty such climbers, they all were aspiring Mt.Kanchanjanga and during descend at the very place they got lost and never made it,” says the guide, already made his mind that Gullan is not going to survive.
Gullan Kms away.
Gullan Kms away from camp unaware of this statistic is resting beside a big rock sheltering him near a micro river, the sound of water is given him hope. His son’s words “my champion papa” motivating him to keep it going until his last breath. So he needs to get up and get going until he meets any civilization.
“Get up Gullan you can do it, your son and wife are waiting for you, you can’t die here like this, you are a champion father, don’t let your son down,” says Gullan to himself, stand up with all he might and start walking in such a dark.
Gullan is unaware of where he is, but he is very near to the camp. Gullan kept walking still struggling to make way through the razor-sharp bushes. Suddenly he stops and tries to hear, he is not even breathing to listen to the sound. It is the sound of hope, the sound of life, the sound that says he is not the forty-first. Gullan could listen to the people talking. He started walking towards the sound and after a few hundred meters he could meet the rest of the group at camp. He falls as some of the group members see and rush towards him.
“Gullan sir are you alright, can you hear me” ask Ashwin putting Gullan’s head on his lap. They take him into the camp and give him the basic first aid and water.
“Gullan sir you made history, the guide told me that there have been forty mountaineers from India as well as from foreign who had lost like you and never came back,” says Ashwin and smiling.
“I am not the forty-first!” says Gullan with a low voice, still showing off his sense of humor.
“Yes, you are not the forty-first. You are very and brave and strong, I would not have made it,” says Ashwin.
“Where is Manav?” ask Gullan.
“Manav, guide and few others have gone in search of you, now they are coming back, we have informed them about you,” says Ashwin.
“How you got lost, you said you are behind us and want track down alone, how did all this happen?” ask Ashwin
“I took another path and a little longer path. There was nothing other than snow, I kept walking and after that, I saw a red piece of cloth placed on the ground, I thought this the right path as people come here and somebody unintentionally left that piece of cloth there and kept walking, then dense forest started and I fall in ten feet deep pit. It was all very horrible, I lost hope in myself and I thought I will not be able to survive but memories of my son and my wife kept me going and I reach the camp” Gullan explain his saga briefly.
“Guide told us that this red piece of cloth is placed deliberately to indicate people that the way ahead is dangerous and not to step beyond that,” says Ashwin
“How will I know, instead of the placing piece of cloth they could have placed board saying ‘Danger, Not to step ahead‘. I lost my phone too,” says Gullan.
“We will find your phone won’t worry,” says Ashwin with conviction.
Ashwin and Manav along with few others set out for an expedition to find Gullan’s phone.
“Phone cannot be found I do not know where it dropped yesterday, don’t waste time we need to get down,” says Gullan losing hope on phone.
“Let us try, you came out of Kanchanjanga unharmed is a miracle in itself, so we will find your phone,” says Ashwin and left in search of the phone along with others.
They took all the information about the route from Gullan. They were amazed to see how the dense bushes are torn apart barehandedly by Gullan, it would take proper types of equipment to make such way through those razor-sharp bushes. After a few hours of search, one of the group member sees something shining on the ground and that is Gullan’s phone, another miracle happen that day. Gullan is flabbergasted by the discovery that they have found his phone. Completely in working condition with a few scratches.
“My phone is not forty-first either” says Gullan and giggle.