After twenty days, going from Mercedes SUV to Banglore Taxi to Brother’s Bike to Autorickshaw, it was only fitting that the final adventure ended on foot!
While all the other modes of transportation was by choice, a casual sight seeing visit ended on foot with a right -thigh muscle pull, Left-calf cramp,eerie creaking sounds of bones in unknown places and some great photos at the foothills of Nongrat village at Cherrapunji, Meghalaya.
During the finish-line party that went into wee hours, a fellow team,Half-a-tribe from Australia, invited us to see the “Living Bridges” at Cherrapunji, a few hours drive from Shillong. We said “why not” and promptly woke up at 5.30am only to find just Dianna and Chris at the Van. Half the members of half-the-tribe had caught a bug and luckily couldn’t make it.
We drove through beautiful scenery and had our breakfast in a beautiful resort just a couple of kilometers from the starting point. We had not done any research about this place and had no idea what was in store for us. As the resort owner showed us a map and talked fast about various things to see enroute to the Living bridges, all we got at the end was 13kms hike. Now, under pre-rickshaw run state, I would have asked the taxi guy to take us back to hotel and ordered room service to watch the repeat telecast of previous night’s IPL game after hearing 13kms hike.But in the current state, as the newly crowned kings of the road, hiking 13kms after covering 4146kms, sounded like a piece of cake. We announced bravely that we are in for the longest route and would like to see all the things possible.We have all the time today and in no rush to get back to the room.
I saw a family sitting in front of us in the restaurant with a T-shirt that said “Chennai Trekking Club”. I have not known tamilians to be active outdoor people. So, I struck a conversation with them to find out more as they happily spoke to me in Tamil.When these active, regular trekkers told us this trek was a “bit” difficult for them, the pride-full post rickrun mind refused to heed to the warnings.
We marched on bravely as the board before the climb down the hills stated 3kms. We brushed it apart,thinking we should be back by lunch time.That extra lunch that we packed at the restaurant, must be an overkill. Thus the party of Diana,Chris,two Chungas and the little mountain goat,our guide,Ebenezer,started down the steps, nice and easy.
After about 200steps, Diana, being the most experienced trekker,having climbed mountains in Rwanda and Tanzania, started racing ahead. Chris, the dirt bike expert combined with natural outdoor lifestyle of Aussies, wasn’t far behind. Road General duly overtook me just to keep pace as the big bear,me,started panting already as my legs started to shake on it’s own. Was my sugar low ? Perhaps it was my lack of sleep the night before as i caught only three hours of sleep after the party.When Diana admitted that her legs are also shaking, I thought,”Well,am not as bad as I thought I was!”.
Throughout the rickrun, the sunscreen never left my face but today I felt it wasn’t necessary as this is Meghalaya and we are going to Cherrapunji, the wettest place on the goddamn planet. As luck would have it,the rain gods took the weekend off giving his check-post duty to Mr.Sun as he hit my brown nose and started frying it in earnest.My brown Chilli pepper nose soon became the Red Chilli Pepper nose singing a different tune with each step. As I crawled my way to the last step on the climb down and caught up with others gasping,Ebenezer,who can’t speak English or Hindi, smiled wickedly and told only one and half hours more to the main attraction point as I saw the steps go up real steep. Diana, Chris and Bade(Big) Chunga made their way up as I was looking for a winch somewhere to take me to the other end. They should put somewhere in the brochure that these steps don’t just go down but also up. With every ounce of my pride and reminders of skipping all those invitations to trek in Stone mountain from Chandra&Shinja, I climbed up one step at a time.My orange color t-shirt started changing its color to red as it mixed fully with my full-body sweat.
Suddenly I find bade Chunga sitting on the sides holding his left leg. His muscle had pulled and I could see he was visibly in pain.While i was struggling to walk with a piece of water-bottle,Bade Chunga also had a big back-pack on his back.Just as we were ready to give up,our super-fast little mountain goat showed the beautiful “Single” decker living bridge. It was a nature’s wonder made by the local tribes who figured out a way to weave the roots of the tree to form a bride across the waterfalls.A bio-engineered bridge that is fully functional to navigate inside the forrest.
Considering the physical pains, Bade Chunga said no more and asked us to move forward. Ebenezer insisted that the “double” decker is very close by and even showed a glimpse of it from the middle of “single” decker. The Road General decided to make one final push after some rest as we made another big steep climb to reach the “Double Decker”. It was quite a marvel. Imagine every overhead crossing bridge on I-285 being made of branches from the trees,forming a natural arch for people to cross over. We took several pictures and everyone decided after climbing up and down for two and half hours that it is time to go back.
Now, it is one thing to have come this far but whole other ball(s) game to go back the same route with 70% of your energy fully burnt.This is where you apply all the learnings of past two weeks on the road to test.
“This is not a race”.
“One step at a time”.
As I saw Diana and Chris vanish,Bade Chunga slowly recovered and started pushing forward on sheer willpower. After a while, he too vanished from my sight as my big dehydrated body slowly dragged itself one step at a time. Ebenezer, took extreme pity on me as he decided to make sure that I reach the summit alive else he wouldn’t be paid. My one step at a time turned into ‘rest every four steps’ routine.The water bottles were being emptied faster than the speed of Colorado rapids at Grand Canyon.Energy-meter reached less than 10% with internal red-flashing in brain asking to be plugged into some energy source.Only a palanquin or a stretcher to carry me further with a glucose bottle filled with Red Bull attached to my arms could save me but they were all just dreams to take my mind off from climbing the remaining distance.The left calf gave away and the right thigh started cramping, both at same time.I knew I had to come up with a different strategy to save my pride and show that I can do this.It would be a shame to be carried out in a stretcher for not completing 6kms after surviving over 4000kms in a rickshaw.
I decided to play some music from my 15%-only charge left on my iPhone. As my phone in right pocket was hitting my right thigh, I gave it to Ebenezer.Instead of staying with me so i could hear the music and move,Ebenezer started moving up the steps faster as if to bait me into taking more steps to listen to the music.Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect as after few fast steps, with him being out of sight and my music being out of reach for my ears,I decided to go even slower with no hope.
My heart started beating real fast as I could feel the entire trajectory of my whole breath.This just became a do or die in shame situation.I remembered my favorite movie “Finding Nemo” and the greatest ever one liner ever written in movies-“Just Keep Swimming!”.
I decided that I will not be carried out in a stretcher and gathered all my willpower.My new strategy was to rest every 75 steps unless my muscle pulled,in which case, stretch, wait for the engine to cool down and re-start the count. Few people who passed me got very patriotic as they commented, “If only he was a bit thinner, he would resemble Mahatma Gandhi walking with that stick so slowly”. I had no energy left for a smart retort as I focussed on conquering my next 75 steps,very slowly.
The pace began to pick up as I covered more ground now with my new goal. The pain on left calf didn’t seem to matter, as all my mind was more concerned about the muscle pull in right thigh. I realized how people who live with no choice,have to pick between worser of the two evils.
They said this place had 3000steps to reach double decker(6000 overall).After gasping and panting for three and half hours, I can assure you, that number is absolutely wrong. As the energy-meter reached 1%,with my eyes taking small doses of sleep,only waking to make two more steps,I heard some big screaming and clapping sounds. It was Diana,Chris and Bade Chunga.I made one final push, climbing up the last big mound of steps reaching our Van.I learnt from Bade Chunga that it was a similar story and he arrived just half hour before me.
I laid flat on the front seat in the Van and browsed the pictures on phone with last bit of energy,especially the one with both Chungas on Double decker, as I closed my eyes happily,passing out fully,knowing it was the perfect way to end our adventures in India!