“What time is it?” – I asked my husband, this time a little impatiently!
“09:00 p.m.”, came the reply.
I started calculating in my mind, how many more hours would it be before dawn? We were stuck in our little Maruti Alto since 05:00 p.m. that day. It had suddenly started snowing very heavily in Sikkim. We were putting up at Ravangla, South Sikkim and had left for sight seeing at around 09:00 a.m. in the morning. We started our day with a beautiful place called “Tarey-bhir” situated on a locale near a rural hamlet called Sadam, which is about 18 km away from Namchi. We absolutely loved trekking up to the end (around 10,000 feet), and somehow, I lost my soul to this place. You can find more pictures of Tarey-bhir on my INSTAGRAM POST
We then proceeded to a place called Char Dham or Siddheshwar Dham near Namchi. It is a replica of all the 12 Jyotirlingas and Char Dhams in India. The four most revered Dhams of the Hindus Jagannath, Dwarika, Rameshawaram, Badrinath has been replicated in this complex and it is believed that visiting this place washes away one’s sins.
Next on our list for sightseeing was the Samdruptse Monastery, which is located on a hilltop adjacent to Namchi town. We had been out sightseeing the entire day, and by the time we reached Samdruptse Monastery, it was almost four in the evening. A 45-meter high statue of Guru Padmasambhava adorns the hill top. It is the highest statue of Guru Padmasambhava in the entire world! The place was so serene and the chants of the Buddhist Monks could be heard from the Monastery. We first witnessed a hail-storm up there. As soon as we entered the Monastery, we experienced hail-storm. And soon, the hail-storm turned into snow. I had never experienced snowfall in my life, so naturally I was quite excited about it. We started clicking selfies and taking videos of the snowfall, to capture the special memories. During the hail storm, we first picked up the pieces of ice, and started playing with them, not knowing the surprise that awaited. Next came in snowfall. By the time we left the monastery, it had started snowing heavily! For a few minutes, I even felt very special, since I encountered snowfall in this trip. But my happiness was short-lived. We clicked a couple of pictures and walked back to our car, which was entirely covered with snow. So much snow that we could not even recognise the car that brought us to the Monastery. We were still contemplating if we should visit the last spot on our itinerary, Temi Tea Garden, the only tea garden that caters to the tea supply for Sikkim. Until, our car reached a halt. And we saw hundreds of other cars, that moved at a snail’s pace on the snow. On our way back from the Monastery, our car was trapped along with hundreds of other cars/vehicles in the snow. What felt liked a matter of minutes, dragged in hours, and finally it was 16 long hours before we could pave our way out of the dreadful place!
The irony of the entire situation was that we were only 11 kms away from Ravangla, and around 12 kms away from our Hotel, yet we could not make our way through! First our car was moving, but at a very slow pace! And then, it stopped moving. We were told by the driver, that the road was closed due to heavy snowfall. Hence, the vehicles were stranded in the snow. Again we started moving, but inch by inch, or if I could say, micro-inch by micro-inch! The milestone changed from Ravangla 11 kms to Ravangla 9 kms, but in my mind, it took ages to cover those 2 kms! I was hoping that it would just be a matter of a few hours, before the snow could be cleared and the car would take us back to our cozy rooms of the hotel, where we would order Chinese for dinner. I had even mentally made a note of what I would order for dinner. My husband had even proposed to call up the hotel and order dinner, so that by the time we reached the hotel, dinner would be ready. Afterall it was just a matter of 8 to 9 kms. He took out his phone for dialing the number, but, hard luck, there was no network in our mobile where we got stranded! I quickly switched off my phone, because keeping it on wouldn’t be of any use either! The pessimist side of mine quickly judged that we were here for the night, so ordering dinner was out of question. And my thoughts came true too quickly! Only that the time passed at a snail’s pace!
It was probably the longest night of my life. By the time I had asked my husband for the time, I was literally in despair! I still flickered on to the hope that we would make it to the hotel by midnight atleast. Bit by bit, our car started paving its way through the snow. The last milestone that I saw was Ravangla, 6 kms at around 12 in the night. Tired and hungry, our driver too gave up! He announced that it would be too risky for him to even move inch by inch through the snow that had already turned ice by now! So there our car stood in the queue, amongst hundreds of other cars, carrying tourists and localities, babies and old people alike! Everybody was trapped! No mobile network, no food, no water. Luckily, we had a bottle of water and some almond cookies that my husband had bought that morning from a local bakery in Namchi. I did not dare sip a drop of water! I felt the urge to relieve myself, however, that meant walking through the snow in the dark and pee. I controlled it, till I felt my bladders would burst at a point, and finally gave in! Ohh that chill when I first got down from the car. My socks had already turned wet with the snow, and my shoes were soiled. I gathered enough courage to relieve myself in the open, even if that meant people were passing by! I could not care anymore. Once I got back to the car, I was shivering with cold. It must have been minus some degrees then. But too bad, no google to check the temperatures!
01:00 a.m. : I snuggled in the back seat of the car, while my husband took the seat next to the driver. My socks were wet with the snow. My feet turned cold. Very cold! So cold that they turned numb after a while. I moved my feet but could barely feel any sensation. That was when I used my gloves to cover my feet and put my hands inside the pocket of my jacket to keep them warm! That gave me respite, but only for a while. My feet felt ice cold!
The car had no heater, and it was anyway cold outside, so we had given up on our plans for staying warm. I kept asking Abhijit the time occasionally, and believe me when I say, even half an hour felt like ages. I shut my eyes and counted my blessings, hoping that the time would pass sooner than I thought! We felt a little hungry by now as well. It had been 10 hours since we last had our lunch. We munched on the almond cookies, and offered the same to our driver as well. He too was trapped like us, and there was no way in which he cold even contact his family.
02:00 a.m. : I could barely think of anything else other than getting back to Kolkata safe. Or may be Gangtok. Or may be Siliguri. Somewhere where there was no snow! I was there in the car, thinking of worse things that could have happened to us, like a landslide, or a car accident, and started to console my mind thinking this was just a night. This too shall pass! Then I dozed off!
03:30 a.m. : I woke up and stretched out to see the moonlit sky. The sky was crystal clear, and I could literally see the stars shining. It looked beautiful! I could even dedicate a line or two to the sky that I saw. But no, not when I was trapped in a car for over 10 hours now. The sky did not seem beautiful to me anymore. Tears started rolling down my cheeks silently! I had literally lost hope of seeing my family again. All this, when the dawn was about to break. Abhijit was also half awake then. We quickly relieved ourselves, before it was sunrise, and there was light all around us. I now switched on my mobile, and started clicking a few photographs of the snow. The same snow which no longer felt adventurous, no longer felt playful! I had witnessed sunrise after a very long time in my life.
When the sun shone nice and bright, I could see the ice crystals melting from the trees. I remained seated in the car, while I saw people waking up to sunrise and walking by. Few of them walked up to a nearby village for freshening themselves. I did not dare walk on the snow. Every time I stepped out, I felt as if I would slip on the ice. I sat back in the car and clicked a few photographs. I mentally made a note of my next blog post, about my experience of being trapped in the snow.
After waiting till 08:00 a.m., my husband ventured out and could see Sikkim Police approaching our cars. On being asked, they said that bull dozers were required to clear the snow, so that the cars could start moving again! It wouldn’t happen anytime soon. I glanced at the adjoining milestone again. It read “Ravangla 6 kms“. It took only few seconds for my husband to convince me that walking back to Ravangla was a better idea than waiting for the snow/ice to clear. I took my camera bag along. We paid the driver, thanked him for being kind, and set off on foot.
Few people (tourists) even mocked at us and asked us not to walk back. But somehow, we were determined. We were famished and had to check out of the hotel the very same day. We started taking baby steps. My husband taught me to walk on the snow, and not on the ice. At first, it took some time for me to get accustomed, but soon I caught up with his pace. Very carefully, we walked down, little by little. The sun shone nice and bright, and the ice had also started melting on the road. It was one hell of an experience, being surrounded by tall tress on one hand and deep valleys on the other.
Then after a long time, I spotted a milestone, which read “Ravangla 3 kms”. I literally wanted to hug the milestone by now! Surprisingly, very few people trekked down, like we did. When Ravangla was barely a kilometer away, we saw the bulldozer approaching to clear off the roads. A car was kind enough, and dropped us back to the main market. We booked our car to Gangtok at that very moment, and headed back to our hotel, freshened up and checked out as soon as we could. Earlier, we had planned to visit the Ralong Monastery on our way to Gangtok, but by now, all I could care was to head back to the city, safe and sound.
It is only difficult times that teach us the best lesson!
I am happy to be alive today in 2019, so as to share that fateful night with you. The night of 28th December, 2018 when we were trapped in the snow along with hundreds of other cars, on our way back to Ravangla, Sikkim.
This blog post comes after a lot of deliberations, so as to whether I should be recounting the experience or not. I got goosebumps, as I penned down my dreadful journey of that night, that changed my life, for good. That night taught me a lot of lessons! It taught me to have faith in God. It taught me the virtue of patience. It taught me to overcome my fear! The fear of walking through the ice. It taught me that, every night paves its way to dawn. As soon as I saw dawn approaching, I was mentally tired being confined to the four walls of the car, yet I was hopeful that we would make it to the comforts of our hotel.
And it snowed heavily!
For it had not snowed in Sikkim for the past 15 years!
And all this, when we were the least prepared to face the harsh brutality of the snow!
Lesson learnt the hard way!
Tip One : Always be a little more prepared, even if you leave for sightseeing. You can never trust the weather up in the hills, hence, pack a little extra. Carry extra bottles of water, and something to munch on! It could be a packet of biscuits, dry fruit, nuts, etc. that will keep you going in case of an emergency. Also, pack an extra pair of socks and a light shawl. A torch. An umbrella. Wet wipes. I cannot emphasize on how many times I had thought about that pair of socks lying in my hotel, inside my suitcase that night. That one pair could have kept me warm throughout the night, and helped me feel better! Nevertheless, we all learn from our experiences, just that this had been a hell of an experience.
Tip Two : Never underestimate the power of a “monkey-cap”. When I was leaving for the hills, I insisted my father that I carry a monkey cap that was lying in his almirah. Although I looked funny in it, I still carried it to Sikkim and to my surprise, it was sheer co-incidence that I was carrying it in my bag when we left for sightseeing on that day. That monkey-cap kept my ears, head, and neck warm, even though my feet went numb. I cannot imagine what would have happened had I not carried my monkey-cap that day. Forever grateful and indebted to it!
Tip Three : That entire night I prayed. Honestly, I guess my conversation with God had everything to do with the absence of internet, which would otherwise have kept me occupied. I do believe in God, but have never had prayed so much or believed in his powers in my life! I prayed hard, wept, wiped my tears, and thought of every possible way that I could have hurt someone in my life. Although my prayers did not take me to the comfort of my hotel that night, yet it kept me alive! And yes, in the end, I also realised that even crores of money cannot bail you out of such difficult situations.
Also, the localities of the hills are the best. They helped each other in every possible manner in times of despair. When our car would not start, the localities came forward and pushed it, even in the terrible ice-cold weather. They offered their rooms to the old and the kids. They shoved the snow and cleared the ice, so that we could trek down. May God bless them with abundant happiness.
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