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Friday, December 16, 2016

We were in Laya (Part – 4): Khuruthang to Gasa

Oh, my god, I have started picturing what not things. I saw myself running from a monstrous huge guy with an axe in his hand in the middle of a thick jungle. It was raining heavily and blankets of smoke looming just above the ground. A very loud and an angry river flowed down below. Shirts all torn and barefooted. Too tired to run and I was out of breath. He caught me. He held the axe high above my head and just when he was about to wedge it hard into my tiny head, Jigme’s phone rang, “Hello. La Sir, lunn...ch… Lunch? Okay, la.” It was our team leader acho Karma T. telling us to have our lunch in Kuruthang and move ahead. We pulled over for lunch. It was 12.20 pm.

We had a quick lunch, and then went around Khuruthang looking for some umbrellas, because our fat guy hadn’t brought one and the rain showed no sign of ceasing. He bought a “colorful umbrella” that inspired his partner ata Singye to buy a similar one. I bought a string of pre-consecrated colorful Lungta. Asha driver started the engine. We were all settled. But, the fatty in front was busy inspecting eggs, “Aaah, an egg is broken; the road is going to be bad.” He made us laugh like a jackal. When we started heading Gasa, it was exactly 1 O’ clock and an hour ahead of our mates. We informed the team leader and other folks. Forth we went.

Past Phunakha Dzong within a few minutes and Jigme had another story to tell of how he slept under the tree when he came to Punakha, some years ago to participate in the open tailoring competition. He could not afford a hotel room, so he slept under the huge tree. Good news was he stood second, won some cash and returned Thimphu loaded, the next day. I couldn’t believe his story until later when acho Karma T. reconfirmed. I asked his age out of sheer curiosity, he replied, “Twenty six” but his face told a different story. The again I settled with not to judge ones age by looks.

The heaven kept on pouring and farther we drove that much worse road started to become. Dorji started to joke, “That broken egg is making our road bad. Haha.” Singye, the oldest of all was trying to comfort us, “We didn’t pack it well, that’s why it broke. I will do the repacking in Gasa.” “Just an egg and so many things to relate,” I thought to myself. The fatty in front was again inspecting and he found yet another broken egg. “Now the whole road is gone,” Dorji laughed harder, the whole crew joined him shortly, “Hahaahahaha.”

Our laughter was short lived when we crossed the eighth bridge out of twelve bridges to Gasa. The running rain water on the muddy highway ate away a huge chunk of the road. Appeared too dangerous for a heavy pickup truck like ours to pass through, plus boulders were all over. We parked a few meters below, walked up and cleared almost five huge boulders and still the road was too narrow. Asha driver tired crossing but it skidded, that made us scream like a baby. This was scarier than the water burial story of Jigme. He drove back and walked out to judge the road. Dorji went around looking for someone to report to, hoping to contact a bulldozer because; on our way up we came across almost five bulldozers along the way. Asha driver returned to the truck, Dorji came back with no luck. For one moment I thought to myself, “Why, didn’t we take care of the eggs?”

He raced the accelerator several times and then zoomed past the hollow and narrow road at a go. All of us cheered, “Yay…. You did it!” Asha driver spoke after a long sigh, “I knew if I zoomed I can get through. Gosh, this rain!” I tried calling our team leader to caution but, couldn’t get through. Finally I spoke with aue Passu who also informed other guys to drive cautiously. Slowly we started to roll, it was 2.30 PM, and we were 2 hours ahead of our mates. “Jigme, gotham lekpu ani tshung sho na, lam block di du na. Hahaha.” I think Singye said it.

An hour past the first blockade and here we are stopping to clear another road block. Luckily boulders were far too kind for falling in push-able sizes. Five of us pushed them easily into the rapid Mochu a few meters below, which she sunk them like a hungry dog. “Seriously we should stop making fun of broken eggs,” I am not superstitious, but coming across a road block again made me uncomfortable.


The boulders did take some of our time

There we reached a point where we could see Gasa Dzong and all of us sighed, “Finally!” To which Jigme neighed, he knew it was going to dishearten us, because it took almost one and half an hour to actually reach Gasa. Only at 5 O’ clock in the evening did we reach Gasa town, 3,800 meters above the sea level. A good friend of mine Dr. Sonam Wangchuk welcomed us together with the incessant rain of the day. We called our folks to update, but cannot be connected. Tired again twice, got through on third and they haven’t reached Damji. So, we waited for them drinking tea in “Tummy Full Restaurant” in the heart of Gasa town. 
Aue Passu and my friend Dr. Wangchuk, mesmerized  by Dorji

A gust of chilly wind made me sneeze while we started hearing different stories of Gasa to Ponjugang road condition: bad, only four wheel drive (4WD) vehicles can ply and we need to take gumboots. “Gumboots on trekking, are you kidding me?” Dr. Wangchuk replied, “I wear a pair of gumboots too, the trail is covered with mud. I think you better take one?” I said no thank you, but, I saw almost everyone in the restaurant were either going or coming from Laya and they had gumboots in their feet. I have made up my mind, no!

It was dark and still raining heavily. Time was 7.15pm and no sign of our mates reaching any sooner, we had to call and confirm, glad to know they were nearing Tshachu junction which is almost 13 kilometers away before reaching the town. Five of us drove back 3 kilometers to a farmhouse and waited for them. At 8.30pm, in the rain danced the headlight beams, there they came in a queue. Just a few meters, acho Penjor and Sangay Khandu’s cars got stuck in the mud. A little push was suffice though, I was feeling kind of sorry for leaving them behind and the hardship they might have had to go through. They were three and half an hours late.

Inside the Farm house in Gasa all tired, but high spirited 
The chit chat
Waiting for the rain to subside, so the three of us can head to Dr. Wangchuk's quarter
The farm house in Gasa

Aue Passu, Dorji and I wished good luck to our four runners ashim Sither Lhamo, Dr. Tenzin, Tashi and her sister participating in the “Snowman Run,” for me the thought of it gives me a cramp, and came back town to crash at my friend’s quarter. Quarter? No, not so fast, we headed to Tummy Full Restaurant for some whiskey. Just did one or two shots, when our team leader acho Karma T. along with Gem Tshering and fatty came in quite mood off and worried, “Our ten horses are gone - it was all confirmed, he cheated on us.” They drove back all the way to 12th bridge to reconfirm, only to learn the horseman along with his horses had gone to Lunana without informing him. Acho Karma T. made so many calls and after getting some assurances, we decided to leave for Ponjugang early in the morning and from there we will hire any ponies we come across. 

Acho Karma T. discussing the backup plan with us in Tummy Full Restaurant
The famous restaurant in Gasa town

 By then it was already 11 Pm, quite a tiring day for all of us. We bade goodnight and departed. Dr. Wangchuk showed me specks of lights on the top of the far end mountain from his quarter, “That’s Dochula!”

Aue Passu taming, "the leech:
In Dr. Wangchuk's quarter. Guess who is tired?

 It rained the whole night.


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