Rothang Pass. No two words can send my heart in a flurry of panic. I realized I have not known physical fear prior to hearing about this place. Until now the lingering memory of the horror I felt after crossing that treacherous peak is so vivid I still think twice about navigating back there every time an offer comes my way. Even on a four wheel drive and even if what lay beyond is paradise. The dread that grips my heart is a vise severely difficult to pry.
What does fear tastes like? It tastes of bitter sour bile regurgitating on your throat from a deluge in your stomach induced by a rampaging tornado that is your heart. It dries your mouth. It numbs your body. If empties your mind. Zombified by fright, leaving Manali behind, we climbed 13,000 feet of snaking, snowy, slippery, wet and extremely anorexic roads towards Rothang Pass. It was the first mountain pass but the most dangerous one we have to overcome to reach the Himalayas. Dangers from melting snow, crumbling roads, stupid drivers and bad luck.
I felt trapped seated behind my husband. There was no choice but to hang on while I contemplated on the possibility of survival upon falling down those surrealistically vertical cliffs. Not a single tree to break my fall. Braving a peek downwards I concluded that chances were nil. Though once in a while snatches of heaven broke the monotony of anxiety. Here and there snow whipped lush green foliage ornamented the mountain side. Generous spray of water falling, melting snow cascading down the rocks. Breathtaking beauty I could not fully appreciate. My concentration was dedicated to the minimization of my breathing as to not upset the balance of our two wheeled drive. The one controlling the bike was confident as we sped up leaving a trail of SUVs full of tourists, being driven rowdily as if we were on a busy intersection in Chandi Chowk. Without a slight consideration that one wrong turn can send them plummeting into the abyss. Present too was that infernal honking agitating my already jarred senses.
Despite the pandemonium of military trucks, cars, people and herds of sheep I could almost see the top as we continued our ascent. Thinking relief was due I finally relaxed. But I was just about to loosen my grip on my husband’s waist when all of a sudden we found ourselves face to face with frozen solid snow walls after an abrupt turn. My husband lost his balance. We skidded on a sleet blanketing the asphalt. We were pinned under the bike in the middle of the road. I stood up immediately while my husband tried to lift the fallen beast to stop the oil spilling from the tilted fuel tank. I saw him struggling as his feet kept slipping on the icy gravel every time he tried to put upright the muscular motorcyle and climb it. I stilled the panic rising in my throat. The instict to survive surpassed the fear I indulged in throughout the ride. The scene below made my whole body trembled. I dismissed it. Quick thinking was required. Fast approaching was a procession of all the cars we left behind. They saw us but none cared. None would stop for us. They’ll not sacrifice momentum for our safety. I understood. I grasped the rear end of the bike to keep myself from sliding while my right foot checked the road for dry spots. Sans snow, sleet or ice. I made sure the soles of my boots gripped the ground firmly . I suggested to my husband he can straighten the bike over at my side. Agreeing, he pushed and I pulled. In no time we were safely on the side while cars whizzed by us. The drivers looking dumbfounded but not one was sympathetic.
Back on top of the humbled beast, relieved to be alive a nervous laughter escaped from me. Elated that the accident did not result in fatality. My husband patted my thigh and whispered. ” Are you okay honey?” I nodded happily and hugged him from behind. He thanked me for staying calm and clear headed then we rode on to struggle more against huge boulders, water and ice. Once or twice the bike got stuck and I had to pushed, shove and nudge but the apprehension was no longer the same. Once terror was faced and dealt with, one realizes it is not as horrifying as one imagined. Four more passes we had to cross. One higher than the other. Each filled with different tales of horror but similar to anything else in life we could not have reached heaven if we didn’t go through hell.