What would you do for a shot? What are you willing to sacrifice for a shot? And no, I am not talking about money or discomfort. How about life? Are you willing to put your life on line for a shot that might probably happen? Are you willing to be wounded, injured, and probably dead just to capture a shot? Well, this evening, I was and I did.
Now, this article is written in retrospect and describes an event that happened to me in the past. At the moment this experience happened, whatever I felt was 100 % genuine. The fear of death was a constant reality till the time I reached back safely to my room. If I was to face the same situation now, I probably would have enjoyed the walk back home, but back then I was terrified, petrified.
Maa Nandadevi- The Dream
Nandadevi or Maa Nandadevi as she is called here in Uttarakhand. We revere Maa and she is not just a mountain, she is a deity, a goddess, an incarnation of Maa Gaura, or Parvati. And shooting her in golden light had been a dream of me for a really long time. It was winter and one of my friends invited me to his village. After spending a few days there, I went to Joshimath to another friend’s house and stayed there again for a couple of days. It was here that I got this idea to make my dream a reality.
I still remember, we had finished lunch and suddenly I was struck with the idea of going to Auli. I put this plan in front of my friend and he immediately acknowledged that I should do it that day itself. Now if you go by road, Auli is some 11 km from Joshimath, and being winters there were no public vehicles plying. Also, the trolley that operates between Auli and Joshimath was closed for repairs and I almost had the plan cancelled, when he suggested an old trekking route between Auli and Joshimath.
There was another problem I faced. Hotels in Auli were costly and I could not afford to stay the night there. So the plan that was forming in my head was, that I would trek from Joshimath to Auli and post-sunset trek back to Joshimath. Though the plan seemed simple, there was only one problem.
Between Joshimath and Auli lay an extremely dense forest of Oak, and at that time of the year, it was home to a number of Himalayan Black bears. During winters Himalayan Black bears frequent these forests regularly and coming back through that forest would have been a great risk on my life.
So here I was, stuck in a dilemma and after contemplating it for an hour or so, I decided to go. Now, one has to understand that the risk of facing a Himalayan Black Bear. Especially in Uttarakhand is very real and the danger extremely high. Had I come face to face with a Black Bear, there was no doubt that I would die or be very seriously injured and disfigured. But I wanted to shoot and literally thinking that it doesn’t matter if I die, I am getting that shot, I went.
Now I left around 2:30 in the afternoon and had trekked halfway, when crossing a road, I asked a Motorcycle rider for a lift. He was going to Auli and very happily dropped me off at Auli. So 1 part of the problem sorted.
After reaching Auli, I trekked up to the artificial lake and for the next couple of hours, explored the place for some compositions. Instead of making portraits of Maa Nanda, I used my wide-angle to make different perspectives and was really happy with the shots. Light in winters is an absolute delight, and the sight of the Himalayas shining in absolute gold, contrasting with the deep dark valleys was something, one would just naturally bow down to.
Trekking in the Dark
I shot till the last rays of the sun had left the Himalayan peaks, and finally came the moment, I was dreading to face. But it had to be faced, the time for me to trek back to Joshimath was finally here. If one has ever been to dense Oak and Rhododendron forests alone, one would realize how scaring they appear even in broad daylight. Running down the slopes of Auli, the only thought in the canvas of my mind was that, how tonight is going to be my last here on earth.
Walking down the road and imagining the worst that was going to happen with me that night, I just kept hoping and praying that please someone give me a lift. A dozen or so vehicles passed by, mostly tourists coming from Joshimath and returning back to their hotels, but none stopped.
So walking it would have to be, I put on my torch and entered the portion which was the beginning of the dense forest patch that would now last for kilometers. I had hardly walked on this road for 100 meters when a Bike stopped in front of me. They were locals, going home to a village some 2 kms above Joshimath.
The following conversation ensued
Biker: Where are you going?
Biker : How are you going to Joshimath?
Me: I will walk till Joshimath.
Biker (Surprised and shocked): You will walk all the way to Joshimath, Do you know there are dangerous Bears here?
Me: Yes, I know, but I have to reach Joshimath for the night.
The two looked at each other, thinking that I am mad to be walking like this.
Biker: We can drop you till Sunil (the village they lived in)
Me: But you are already 2, How can I join you?
Biker: Don’t worry, we will adjust.
The relief that washed over me at that moment, I wish I had the words to tell you now. They dropped me till Sunil and from there it was a small trek to Joshimath to my friend’s home.
When I think about that evening, the most profound thing that I remember now is the kindness of those two strangers. They had all perfect reasons for not even considering helping me, but they did and in that, they probably saved my life, because the way I was scared that evening, even a small rustle in the forest was enough to petrify and probably kill me.
Do check out my other Landscape and Wildlife articles here.