6.21.2011

The Story of How I Should've Lost my Life in Cherrapunjee.

Which could also be titled "How I almost lost my life in Cherrapunjee five times over" or "How I almost became a Dateline NBC Special."

If you watched my recent vlog then you might recall how excited I was to be taking a trip down to the village Cherrapunjee this past weekend. I couldn't even sleep Thursday night as if it was Christmas Eve and I was four years old. I woke bright and early, ate a nice breakfast and finished packing my bags. I headed out around 9:45am and took a shared vehicle called a sumo to the next nearest city of Shillong. This was my first sumo experience and it was nothing short of impressive. Eleven people in the car, no a/c, one really good driver. My right shoulder is bruised from bouncing around but an did I enjoy the ride. We arrived in Shillong a few hours later and I got out of the sumo to take a private taxi the 85km to Cherrapunjee.

This is where the almost dying starts. I was swarmed with taxi drivers all wanting my business. As they were circled around me, I could smell alcohol. I walked away from the swarm and decided to go with one gentlemen. I got right in his face to talk to him and determined that he wasn't the one who reeked of beer. We got in the taxi, agreed on a price and were on our way. About half of the trip elapsed when he pulled over at a shop to buy something. I assumed he needed more cigarettes or betel leaf and I proceeded to dote on the village children by the car. He came back and we were on our way again. A few km later, he holds up an unopened 40oz beer and asks if he can drink it. I was horrified. This drive involved mountain roads, hair pin turns, fog and rain. I explicitly told him he absolutely could not drink the beer while he was driving me. I emphasized that he knew it's against the law and explained that he had two choices. He could not drink the beer, continue taking me to my destination and get paid or he could try and drink it and lose me as a customer and not get paid. I was shaking. He said he wouldn't drink it and put it down, unopened. A bit later I got out to look at a viewpoint and then again further down the mountain I got out again. Each time I came back to the car he was talking to other drivers and smoking a cigarette.  We were 2km away from my destination when he took a turn too quickly. In the midst of getting the car back on the right track, I heard the beer bottle fall over and immediately smelled spilt alcohol. I started to lose my mind when the driver chose to pick up the beer, chug the rest and toss it out the window. I absolutely went crazy, I was yelling and crying and demanded he pull over. I got out of the car with my backpack and told him he could turn around, I was done with him and he wasn't getting his payment. I told him again he knew this was against the law, and that he is so lucky that he didn't get in an accident. He clearly had been drinking the beer when I had gotten out of the car at the viewpoints. I was trembling with anger and he followed me in the car for about 1km before he finally gave up.



{I was too busy taping this to notice the 40 in his hand}

I should've gotten in a horrid accident, but somehow didn't. Every day driving/being driven in India is a huge risk. Add alcohol to this equation and you're essentially asking to kill someone or be killed. It is, in all seriousness, by the grace of God that nothing happened during that drive. I still can not wrap my mind around his choices and his blatant disregard for human life. I don't take drinking lightly, let alone drinking and driving. Reflecting on this situation stirs up many different emotions and I'm trying not to be angry at myself, but I am. I feel disappointed that I didn't get out of the car when I discovered that he bought the beer. I considered it, but I was in the middle of nowhere and wouldn't have had any ride down the mountain. I am disappointed that I didn't pick up on the fact that he was drinking when I was not in the car and most of all I am disappointed at the anger I displayed.

The almost dying doesn't stop there, my friends. I walked to the one and only resort/hotel in the area where I had arranged to get a map and advice on trekking down to the village Nangriat. My plan was to trek there Friday and stay for two nights at the village guesthouse. It was 5 pm with just a little less than 2 hours of day light left. In Cherrapunjee it monsoons year round but strangely this really only occurs at night. Day time rain is relatively light and rare for some reason. The hike down usually takes 1 1/2 hours so I had just enough time. I was dropped at the hike entry point and went on my way. I was BOUNCING down the thousands of steps. I was so grateful to have made that drive safely and felt ecstatic that I was starting the hike. My happiness lasted for less than one hour. The monsoon clouds rolled in early and as I was almost done descending the thousands of steps, it started pouring rain. I have never experienced a downfall like this. Sheets of rain were falling off my body and immediately the area started flooding. The water was to my calves as it ran in rivers down the steps. I broke down; it was getting dark and I was by myself and I wasn't sure what to do. The area is prone to flash floods and I was about to start crossing rivers over wire bridges. Nothing felt right or safe, and all of the emotions from the drunken taxi driver experience hit me about as hard as the rainfall. Defeated, I turned around and decided it was safer to go back out of the valley and to the resort to find somewhere to sleep. I trekked up thousands of steps, sopping wet with the rain still coming and it was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. It required me forcing myself to ascend 100 steps at a time before stopping to take a breather. I came out of the valley I different way I went in and had no idea where I was. I saw village lights and walked through the ankle deep mud to get there. I tried to talk to about 10 different villagers but no one spoke English and I knew about five Khasi phrases. I walked farther, certain I was going to end up on Dateline at this point. Nothing felt right.

{Those grey clouds to the left are the monsoon clouds rolling in.} 

That's when I saw two headlights down in a village. I went dashing to the stationary vehicle but when I got about 100 yards away, it started to leave. I was literally running, yelling and waving my arms like a crazy person chasing this car down a muddy road. Villagers were coming out of their homes, I was yelling so loud. I finally chased down the car and, again by the grace of God one of the men spoke English. I explained I was lost and needed help getting to the resort. This is where I took another risk and made a decision I wouldn't usually make. I got in the car with two men I don't know, without a phone, clearly by myself with all of my possessions and with no means or way of really protecting myself if needed. I was 100 percent vulnerable. One thing I have learned in India and especially in this town is that Indian people are, as a whole, very good people with good intentions. I never would have gotten in a car in a similar situation in California. I had to trust these men and I prayed the whole time I was in the car.

They dropped me at the resort where I was able to get a bed for the night. The owners had no expectation of ever seeing me again and were a little shocked when I came through the doors sopping wet, muddy and defeated. They invited me to eat dinner with them and gave me warm tea and we talked about my day. I went to bed that night but couldn't sleep despite my body being exhausted from the hike.  So many unimaginable things should have happened to me that day. That is the reality of getting in taxis, hiking by yourself and getting in cars with strangers. I was pretty upset with myself. The next morning I sat outside and looked over the valley into Bangladesh, I read some of Gandhi's writing and this passage hit me like a brick in the chest:

He (God) tries you through and through. And when you find your faith is failing, or your body is failing and you are sinking, He comes to your assistance somehow or other and proves to you that you must not lose your faith and that he is always at your beck and call, but on His terms. So I have found. I cannot recall a single instance when at the eleventh hour, He has forsaken me. 

I cried tears of thankfulness and got myself ready for another day.



4 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness! I had goosebumps just reading about your journey. God is amazing! I am so glad that you found a safe place to stay for the night. You are very brave to be traveling by yourself. I will be praying for you while you are on your travels.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm so glad you're safe. You must have been so frightened, you really are brave x

    ReplyDelete
  3. oh my stars! this story is crazy. happy you are safe and sound. i think its super important to give thanks for each new day...they are all blessings. life is about the experience and i think its safe to say you have come out a little stronger on this one. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. It sounds like you did the right thing to me - you seem to have a smart head on your shoulders and have found the right balance between being adventurous and getting out there and seeing the world...and not getting yourself killed! Don't beat yourself up about it too much - I would proabably have done the same in your situation. Sometimes you do just have to trust in the kindness of strangers. And as for that drunk driver? You absolutely did the right thing!

    ReplyDelete