Three Blind Mice
[In continuation to the previous post : Rishikesh - A Reverie (Part 1)]
As our bus took us higher and higher, we saw the Ganges gain momentum, and obviously got excited about the fact that soon we all were going to raft in it. Even after the gruelling trek upto that pseudo-waterfall, we were as fresh and spirited as the Ganga below us. We didnt have the slighest clue of what this mighty river had in store for us for the rest of the evening.
We reached the starting point from where we were to raft downstream to our camping site - a distance of about 10kms. During the briefing session, the guides warned and informed us of any and every possibility that could arise. Every sentence was tailor-made to thwart our confidence : "In case you fall off the raft...", "In case you start drifting away from the rafts...", "In case the boat flips...", "In case you get caught in a whirlpool..."! And every sentence was suffixed with a suppposedly-condoling phrase : "DON'T PANIC!".
Ha! We won't panic.. If something like that happens, we won't get that much time. Would we?
In no time, we were sitting in our rafts, ready to take on the river. Gauri kneeled down in the middle of the front-portion of the boat, with Ankit and Hitesh sitting on both sides of her. I was right behind Ankit and three more of our friends arranged themselves behind us. We were told that there are in total 6 levels of rafting, and we'll encounter upto Level-3 rapids today.
After a brief practice session and splashing water in attempt to sink others' rafts, we started out for the actual journey. "ALL FORWARD".
It was fun rowing the raft with the paddle. We were enjoying the fascinating surroundings, while singing in unison.. "O maajhi reyyy... Apna kinaara.. Nadiya ki dhaara hai..", with intermittent bursts of "Dum Laga Dum Laga.. Laga re dhakka rey...".
Ahead of us, we could see a patch of briskly flowing water - our first rapid, we thought. "ALL FORWARD" shouted our guide sternly. Water came splashing at us, our raft wobbled, and we paddled with full force out of the quickie in no time. Bubbled with excitement, we all broke into a victorious banter. But as we got to know later, the one which we just 'victoriously' crossed, did'nt even qualify for a Rapid.
After a few minutes, our guide told us to concentrate ahead. We could hear the flow of swiftly flowing water, barely 100mts away from us. "Three Blind Mice - Level 2.5 Rapid", the guide informed us. We got amused at the name, but never lost focus. "ALL FORWARD", came the command, and we all headed towards the speedy flow. The rapid started getting the better of us as soon as we entered it. "FAAASTERR", we heard the guide scream. But paddling wasn't easy. The raft swayed up and down, left and right. We tried to paddle as hard and as synchronously as possible, but all seemed to be going in vain. Half of the times, the paddle didnt even touch the water. We were struggling desperately to steer away from the flow. It seemed as if the waves, and not us, were in full control of the raft. Water splashed at us from all directions. In such circumstances, a slight jerk could easily knock you off the raft into the monstrous waves.
"THUD!", the boat behind hit us amidst all the horror. And before we knew it, we were submerged under the lashing waves. We ducked inside the raft, holding on to whatever came in out hands. Water poured at us from all directions. We shouted helplessly to assure of everyone's safety. We took a sigh of relief as we got back into calm waters. But to our horror, Ankit was missing. We cried out his name, looked frantically everywhere around. "There he is...", shouted a relieved sounding Deepika. He was being held out of the water by another raft. We all thanked our Gods.
But that wasnt the end. In front of us, we saw three of our colleagues, which were in the raft that hit us, in the water, crying for help. At that point, we were left with just 4 paddles to row the raft. Me and hitesh took the front positions and headed for their rescue. Gauri vehemently bucked-me-up : "Go Pranay.. We gotta save them.. Come On!". Our shoulders were crying for rest, but we kept paddling with full thrust. Another boat got closer and threw the rescue bag at them. They were rescued the next minute.
We were acutely fatigued by then. It felt like a miracle to have escaped that anguish. We looked at each other's faces and laughed in disbelief at what we just experienced. The guide told us that he hadnt experienced anything like that since 11 years. "Had the boat behind us not hit us, the water would have torn and blasted up the raft", he concluded.
"Haan bas isiki kasar thi!", our sentiments echoed.
A lot of water had got collected in our raft so we had to stop by on a bank, and turn that thousand ton raft to get the water out of it. With thrashed confidence, and sinking hearts, we again hopped into the raft to cover the rest of the journey home.
We werent singing songs for the rest of the journey. There was a chilling silence and tension all around. Breaking the silence, our guide enthusiastically announced his latest discovery - "I know why this happened. Aaj maine 'khaini' nai khaai na! (I didnt eat betel-powder today!)". We felt like kicking him out of the raft immediately.
Two more rapids came, but none could match the measure and power of those three naughty and wicked blind mice.
We finally reached our campsite expecting delicious pakoras with steaming hot tea to welcome us, only to have teeny-weeny Tiger biscuits served with not-so-great tea. But diversiying the menu, we had Ankit aka Tape Recorder, playing on and on - his horror under-water tales with lots of added sugar and spice. He went on and on, and on and on. "You know what, i fell directly into the whirlpool. The water pulled me down like a magnet. And i was rotating continuously. Round-round-round. And when i got out of the whirlpool, i could see the surface of water above me, but i wasnt moving up!!! I felt as if my safety-jackets werent working! But before i realized, i was on the surface, flowing at bullet-speed with the flow of the river... Swooooosh! And to my horror, i wasnt even able to shout for help, and nobody was heading towards me! But luckily, a rescue-bag came at me, and i grabbed it. The rest, as they say, is history."
The whole night, he was heard reciting the same story to someone or the other; and twice or even thrice over to many poor people like me. Soon, everyone started running away from him... "Here he comes to bore us again... Bhaaaago!!!"
The death-defying yet extremely exciting day came to an end. The next morning, it was rafting again. This time, we were told that there would come Level-4 Rapids, and theres also Cliff Jumping. Despite zero-confidence levels and lots of doubts in our minds, we somehow gathered all the scattered courage and started off from our campsite and headed towards Rishikesh town - a distance of 12kms, on our raft.
But this time, it was all rollicking fun. Adventure, yes; Disaster, thankfully no. We enjoyed every bit of it. The Level-4 Rapid (Roller Coaster) saw our rafts tilting to right angles up-and-down. But we steered past it victoriously in no time.
Cliff-jumping was pure adrenaline rush. It gave us the ultimate high. The feeling of falling from a 25ft cliff and that 4 second interval when you are free-falling under gravity cannot be put into words. You feel that.."Shit man! Why isnt the water coming!". And splash! You hit the water in no time! The ultimate high!!!
I tried swimming after jumping into the river with Namita, who jumped right after me. We got carried away with the flow and started drifting away from the shore. Alarm bells rang in our minds, but soon we got an idea. I held Namita's hand and she kicked me towards the shore, while i tried to grab a rock.
We laughed at the experience throughout the trip back home.
Though its now almost a month since I experienced that thrill, i really feel like going back into the river, everytime the memories of it flash in my mind.