Mountain drives are exhilarating. But they can get a little too adventurous, and tricky, at times.
Imagine it is raining and clouds at road level are limiting visibility. And then a falling stone misses your windscreen by the proverbial whisker. Before you know, you are being showered not just with water from the skies but rocks, stones and pebbles from the surrounding mountains. If these pranks by the powers above were not enough, a series of landslides halt your progress.
These are the conditions I drove through on the way back from Kibithu, the eastern-most motorable point in India in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh on the Chinese border. I may have been trying to dodge the falling stoneswhile driving but one really can’t since they had the twin advantages of surprise and velocity. I was lucky none fell on my windscreen – I was at least a four day drive away from the nearest workshop if it needed fixing.
Progress became a game, and for once I was not too pleased being in the mountains. The road was strewn with stones of all sizes, and I had to zig-zag around them. At times, we had to get off and try move bigger pieces to clear the way; I had to be careful not to compound my problems with a sprained back or shoulder. It was more troublesome when the sides of mountains slid onto the road – everyone around was chipping in with any available tools, and even bare hands, to clear the way. The real bummer would have been if we had got trapped between two landslides – spending the night in the car in those high altitude, cold, wet conditions was not my idea of adventure.
While the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), a division of the Indian Army responsible for maintaining mountain roads along international borders, was trying its best to keep the paths clear, there was only so much progress that they could make. We reached a dead-end a little ahead of Walong – there was no way of clearing the mudslide without many hands and possibly machines.
We went back to Walong to hire some workers to clear the road, but they refused to for any price. They were content sitting around a fire consuming alcohol – in the early hours of the morning! It was time to calls quits; thankfully, we were allowed to stay the night in the Government Inspection Bungalow with relatively comfortable rooms and hot food.
We embarked on our journey optimistically the following morning; despite similar conditions, we made better progress. BRO crews had also been working hard while we were cooling our heels. Our destination was Hayuliang, and our spirits soared when milestones indicated we were only half an hour away. Just when I was stepping on the accelerator, the biggest landslide of the journey created a mountain of mud and rock on the road. My emotions were the same as those of a balloon when someone pricks it.
I was not ready to sleep in the car or in a village hut. I needed to get into the fixer mode. I reversed to the nearest village to find help at any price. Wonder of wonders, I spotted a JCBearthmover. I requested the contractor to clear the landslide; he was not supposed to take the machine out but I persuaded him to for five hundred rupees. They cleared the blockage in minutes much to the joy of all those stranded on either side; we should have passed my soaked hat around for contributions but I just wanted to press escape.
The rest of the drive was uneventful, even if the check in at Hayuliang was not. You must read my post on that. Stay tuned.
This is a set of three posts best read in the following order:
1. Kibithu, Arunachal Pradesh: Take a U-Turn or Drive Into Chinese Army
2. Kibithu, Arunachal Pradesh: Dodging Falling Rocks and Landslides
3. A Night of Fear in Hayuliang, Arunachal Pradesh