Monday, October 11, 2010

"Rescued"

The walk to Tshokha took 4 hours. Anju cast a last look at Tinchinkhang, through the clouds.
She was covering the distance, a lot better than me. The pain in my right knee was worse and I limped using my ski poles.
The route from Kokchurang to Tshokha was through dense vegetation, mostly Rhododendron bushes and it was nice to be back at the tree line. I munched on the Apple that Daman had given me for the short trek. There were other trek groups at Bakhim where the track merged into our old route to Thansing.

The sunburn gave us away as the members of Tinchinkhang expedition and there were more questions from the porters. We had enough on our plate and were getting more impatient, as people dug into details that we wanted to erase from our mind.

A Mountaineer from Siliguri mentioned of a massive avalanche from Tinchinkhang when he was doing some research on the mountain. We agreed that this was not a easy trekking peak as mentioned by the Sikkim Government. There was no way to know till one gets closer to the crux of the climb and there is need to increase awareness.

My knee was giving me bad time as the descent steepened. I could see the monastery where the four of us had splendid time.My spirit was low. I was anxious to learn from Shantanu on further communication, including Ang's fate.

The clang of the Yak bells could be heard. We were close to civilization. We stepped inside the chalet where we were supposed to meet Shantanu.
My immediate thought was to buy a sprain liniment. We sat outside, sipping tea. There were too many questions inside the chalet. The atmosphere was too stuffy.

Shantanu approached me with a serious face. He mentioned that Ang and Mingma were put on the helicopter and shifted to Siliguri hospital, placed in I.C.U.
He also mentioned that Our L.O. was airlifted with some serious charges of mishandling the expedition. I was agitated and felt that we would do everything we could to clear him. Considering his age, he had been good at his duties and supportive.

Then Shantanu said,"There is a gochi.(Problem!) I want you to listen carefully and patiently. Somehow, your name was conveyed in the list of the deceased in place of Sada"

Hell broke loose as I thought of the consequences of this miscommunication. I wept. What would Ila have gone through for last two days.My kids, Family.

When I mourned for Mangesh and Sada, I had never realized consequences to my family.

Shantanu: The news is about an avalanche that hit us. There is a different story in every newspaper and on websites.
Though none spell your name, it is obvious that Mangesh and you would have gone for summit attempt. Your family was reached.

During our call the static and wind has changed "Sadaa" to read as "Parag". This had confused Rinzing.
I recovered slowly as I understood the means of the confusion and the logical fallouts well. I asked for a phone to call my wife.

We discussed and we thought it was better that we reach ground zero, before making any communication to outer world.

We were still in the mountains and the rumors were aplenty. We needed to get to Tshokha as fast as we could and prove that we were "phyisically intact".

Shantanu: Are you ok to walk? We may reach Tshokha by 9PM.

Without this extra piece of news, I had planned a good rest to relax my knee. I knew that the only choice was to climb down without further delay. It was near sunset.

Roger Payne (Switzerland) was on an expedition to Mt. Jopuno. He had heard of the tragedy, and he having made a successful ascent on Tinchinkhang, was better aware of the situation. As we talked we found common acquaintances like Paul Prichard and Johnny Dawes. I mentioned of the Meru Shark fin Expedition.

With my expedition sack on a Dzo, I carried my light sack with some food. My Head torch was with Mingma. Anju and I walked back with few Policemen, who were sent to "rescue" us. Shantanu was following our pack.

Shantanu had mentioned that few people from Chakram were already at Yuksom, including my old friend Rajesh Gadgil.
I remembered the night at Meade's col on Kamet.It was almost 16 years that we had met last on 19 Oct 1994, the day of my marriage.

I was overwhelmed by the quick reaction from Chakram Hikers. Most of the members had left in the midst of the Diwali. I limped like Long John Silver in the night trying to catch pace with others. I forgot about the accident, more keen to meet the people from Mumbai and to talk with Ila.

The lights of Yuksom could be seen. They seemed so bright. There were flashes of torch on the way below..perhaps people expecting us.

We decided among ourselves that we would not say anything to the press. Our Club would send a response.

As we approached the village the spotlights dazzled us. We were back on a tar road after weeks. A lady police escorted Aju and me to a Jeep.
We sat waiting for Shantanu to join.

A guy started talking to Anju. I guessed, he was from the club. As I looked into his eyes, there was a flicker of recognition and lo! It was none other than Rajesh Gadgil in person.

Both of us were not the same old lanky climbers anymore. We embraced and I wept again.
I mentioned our night at Meade's col @ 23000 feet in the storm. We had shared a very rough patch. We talked of Prasad.
Rajesh mentioned that Prasad had kept calling in from Australia, trying to get abreast with the situation.

I thought of Moreshwar, Girish, Milind and almost, all buddies I had climbed with.
Neelam, my sister in law was on line (early morning in USA). There were too many people who wanted me to be safe.
Rajesh was handling the situation magnificently. He must have faced numerous calls. A friend that I could count on.

I made the only call I wanted to. I talked to Ila and told her that I was intact. That she should not worry any more. I would be back only after the necessary police work was through.

The police wanted to do some medical examination from the party they had rescued.
Anju wanted to get through it  fast ; she had a hell of a day.
I got my Blood pressure checked. The result was normal.

The three of us joined Bhau Padhye (a veteran Climberfrom Mumbai) and Rajesh for dinner.

Although I was tired from the long march, a two day descent that we managed in a day, the anxiety kept me awake.
We were to meet with the police officials. The Superintendent of police was at Yuksom to meet us.

Our thought was focused on clearing Rinzing.
 
I dreamed of an explorer making way back to his home.