72 / True Grit
There’s no adventure without grit. This is what we’d agreed. We’d shaken hands. A gentle-person’s agreement. And it had been so since Delhi. The whole bloody trip had been one of grit and travelling light.
A basic hotel in Old Delhi.
An overnight train to Chandigarh.
A smaller train to Shimla
A 2 day jeep to Chitkul.
Right now it’s day 1.5 in a Jeep and we’re sitting on the side of the road, boulders ahead, boulders behind – a landslide that by some miracle slid either side of us – about 500m back and now an enormous mound in front.
We’d heard it. A low rumble. A frustrated groan of earth slaking a layer of shedded rock. The driver, un-phased, flicked up his his sun visor, positioning his head under its protection, as he slowly with quirked eyebrows, a crinkled forehead, gazed up at a lunar like landscape of rock free of tree or grass and waited, knowing what was about to happen.
Around us, small rocks began to bounce, like tennis balls being tossed, lobbed from above.
I opened my door, to which the driver says a calm – No Madame.
And then before us a roaring side, like a river but of stone. It reminds me of a child with a shovel on the beach, moving sand. The river of stone moves with such purpose, its design hypnotic, it makes total, almost divine sense that it should flow across our feeble, arrogant scratching of man, this that we call with permanence, a road.
The roar fades to a rumble and slows to a grind and then -
The next thing I hear is a bird with his quiet song, as if in unison with the stone river, he sounds a Finale, its Epilogue.
And then the shout of man. Many men. Our Jeep has stopped just before a bend in the road. We have no idea what lies around the corner. Our driver gets out and saunters along, at one point he stops, listens, before shouting back over the wall of rock. He gets to the place where the road has been swallowed and now lies hidden, heavily beneath. I think how strange it is that such a clear boundary-line has been drawn. Road no road. Rock. Road. Well I’m assuming there is road around the corner. We can’t see it if it is there.
When the driver stops his shouted conversation he turns back to us. Looks up searchingly. He looks up for a long time. Then he turns back and shouts at the river of rock once more. Then he nods.
Back at the Jeep he tells us, we must pack our things. The river of rock ahead has closed the road, the road will be closed for many months. We must leave our Jeep here and climb up the mountain above and over the rock and down the other side. There are cars on the other side as as they are in a similar predicament, unable to go where they wish to travel, unable to deliver their travellers we can hire one those.
I look up at a sheer face of unstable grit.
Only much later will I reflect on the danger of this situation.
I may or may not decide to tell my mother.
Outside the Jeep, we can now see men scrambling with shovels, picking here and there, beginning to nudge with force the river of rock from the road. Their stones flying off and bouncing below.
It’s only now that our driver shares that around the corner a bus has been caught, trapped in the downslide. Our immediate reaction is we must help! He must take us there!
Our driver shields his eyes from the glare of the sun, and tells use it is no use. We have no shovel. What can we do.
Under our feet, grit slides.