NEWS

The Power of Words or On the Road to Himalayas

The rainy season mostly comes to an end mid-September, giving way to the fine spell. But that year, it took longer: it was already September 25 and it was raining cats and dogs in India, with no prospects of good weather. We got stuck in Haridwar on our way to the Himalayas. There were three of us—me, Ramdas and his 15-year-old son. Ramdas, a handicapped Indian sat in a wheelchair and could barely stand up—he would usually fail to take a step forward and fall back down instantly. His son was taking care of him, moving him around.

The two of them joined me after learning that I was planning to travel to Badrinath, a tiny village near the Chinese border—the very endpoint of Himalaya. I had decided to visit a 5000-year-old cathedral 3 kilometers away from there, located in the village of Mana. I am not going to deny that traveling with a father and son was certainly not a part of my plan. I was initially against it, until Ramdas shared a secret about a local river with me. River Sarasvati had its origin from a depth of a mountain at 3500 meters above sea level, flowing only 500 meters above the surface of the earth before disappearing completely, as it merged with another river. Ramdas claimed that he would definitely be able to walk if he got a chance to bathe in that river. I was captivated by the story and instantly agreed to take him with.

And so, we reached Haridwar, only to discover that we had fallen captive to high waters. It was a total paradox—we had been admiring the Indian sun, but the fog here was so heavy that we could barely tell a cow 3 meters away and a bent over biker apart. The fog took over our minds as well. I lost hope and wanted to go back to Georgia, only ten days into the trip.

The sun came out on the third day, but it was impossible to restore the collapsed road to Badrinath in such short time. Bored to death from having to sit at home for several days, we decided to wander around the city and entered a Hindu cathedral at the time of worship. We received a warm welcome and were even invited to have a meal together. I was sitting on the floor, soaking rice in my split pea soup, as a stranger sat down next to me.

“Your friend Ramdas told me that you are headed towards Badrinath,” he said. He was a local, 40-50 years old. His name was Arjuna—the name of a central character of the Indian epic Mahabharata.

“No,” I responded, “there is no more plan—the road have been destroyed, I heard a bus fell off yesterday. Soon, it will snow in the mountains. Ramdas will have to find another river to bathe in.”

“Look at me!” said Arjuna with such vigor that I looked straight into his eyes, “it takes nothing to get there. What you’ve been told is just rumors. As I look at you, I realize that you are a strong, resilient person. You have come this far—there is no time for fear now!”

“No,” I responded, “if I get stuck, I won’t be able to make it back and will miss my flight.”

“You won’t get stuck,” he said, “The road will open up after Devprayag. It’s not raining as much in the mountains. I am sure you will manage to hike up. Do you think it was a mere accident that Ramdas followed you? No. You seem like a brave guy—he feels safe with you. Do not disappoint a sick man and his son-—he trusts you. Listen to me carefully: tomorrow, a bus will leave right before sunrise. Get on it and take the father and son with you. You can be sure that you will reach your destination the next day.”

I did not sleep much that night. Not sure what I can say about my bravery, but I certainly felt the need to exist after talking to Arjuna—the goal had now gained vital importance. After all, wasn’t it truly bizarre that Ramdas had chosen me over millions of Indians?

We left the house at 4 am. We pushed Ramdas in his wheelchair forward and followed him. We walked half an hour and finally found the bus that would take us to the Himalayas. It was an ordinary, crooked local bus with The Flying Dutchman written on its side.

And so, the squeaky journey began.

Arjuna turned out to be right—after Devprayag, the road really did open up. 3 hours later, another driver took charge of the steering wheel and did not take his foot off the gas pedal until dark. The previous driver was hanging over the open door on the left the entire time, helping his counterpart navigate the complex turns and explaining how not to fall off the cliff. Ramdas got motion sickness. His son did not leave his side throughout the way. “Dad, be patient just a little bit more, we are almost there,” said the boy over and over again, petting his father on his forehead for consolation.

We were denied passage past Joshimath. “You shall not pass!” yelled the military with a moustache, as Gandalf would.

“But didn’t Arjuna say that there wouldn’t be an issue,” I kept yelling, “he wouldn’t be wrong—we are almost there. We are not going back now!”

Every passenger on the bus expressed support.

However, we were told to take responsibility for everything.

“Isn’t it like that anyway in life?!” I answered.

We traveled for a total of 20 hours and reached Badrinath the next day. I could not believe it: the sun was shining throughout the 5 days of being there, Nilakantha’s golden neck was glistening and the Sarasvati was flowing from the heart of the mountain auspiciously. We even witnessed an earthquake. Locals said that the earth had not moved for over 50 years, so we took that as lucky omen as well.

Before getting Ramdas into the water, we tied him to the wheelchair to make sure that the current would not take him away. As we rolled him into the river, he started crying…

At least 10 years have passed since. I had totally forgotten about this experience until I received an e-mail just a few months ago. It was from Ramdas’ son: “Mister Alex, I wanted to write earlier. I would like to thank you for everything. It’s already been a year since dad managed to get up and walk independently. It feels like he was reborn. God bless you, Mister Alex.”

I would gladly write back and tell him that it is that stranger from the Haridwar cathedral that we should all thank—not me. It was his words that encouraged us—his support and unconditional kindness that paved the way.

No, I’m not going to write back just yet. I am planning to return to the mountains soon—this time, with my kids. And I shall keep this overstated bravery of mine and faith in my ability to be kind for our brotherhood.