Caught in a Flash Flood in McLeod Ganj - A life and death experience
By solo_trekker. Created on Sep 15th, 2012. Last updated on Sep 29th, 2012.
The perils of solo trekking: learning to expect the unexpected, and what not! It’s always an education, and sometimes, even an enlightenment. And one thing is for sure, despite my near-death experience on this trek, I shall always remain as passionate about solo trekking as I always have been.
My Solo Trek – The Beginning
Having roamed around McLeod Ganj for over a day and still not having run into His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and also having already met up with someone I had proposed to meet via the net, I had finally decided to hike up to Triund and Lahesh Cave and as far as I could venture towards the Indrahar Pass. Most of the trekking agencies and people on the net had suggested that I should definitely avoid this stretch in the rains, and surely not even think of attempting it solo. But me being me (read ’crazy’), I just had to carry on.
Day One - McLeod Ganj to Triund
It was His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s 73rd birthday and the entire town was practically shut down. Having fixed up with a trekking agency to rent out a sleeping bag, a mattress and a raincoat the previous night, I woke up as early as around 3.00 a.m. after hearing the rain come lashing down. It kept pouring till early morning and unfortunately, the agency guy who was supposed to be at his shop before 8 wasn’t around even till an hour later. Finally, after being assured that I could pick up the stuff I needed at a tea shop next to a Temple en route, ahead of Dharamkot, I started my trek quite late in the morning around 9.30 a.m. or so.
The trek from McLeod Ganj to Triund was a decent one by itself, 9 km long with the last kilometer being the really steep stretch. From the Town Square, I went along the Mountaineering Institute route which went along some dense forests of Deodhars. From the Dharamkot road crossing, went along the road leading upwards towards the Rakkar village. Very soon, the road turned into a rugged path, and then the path into a trekking route marked by cobbled stones. My first destination was the Galu Temple from where I was supposed to pick up my stuff from some guy there. Galu Temple is the point where various trekking routes via McLeod Ganj, via Bhagsunag Waterfall, and via Dal Lake, all merge. The route from here onwards has dense Oak, Deodhar and Rhododendron trees.
Sadly though, the guy at the tea shop wasn’t even around, so I had no choice but to simply carry on without any equipment. The views on the trek were just great and every once in a while, around a bend along the mountain, one could even see the plains of the Kangra Valley deep down below. The girls treated me to some Korean energy bars, and I offered them dry fruit, and some Glucose powder, which I always carry on treks, for instant energy. And the sweet girls just loved the sweet Glucose. And we carried on. They expressed their desire to see a Hindi movie in a Multiplex in Delhi, which I promised them.
As it had poured right through the previous night, the trekking paths were occasionally slithery. There were just no other trekkers to Triund, owing to the lousy weather probably. We did stop at a tea shop called Magic View Cafe where I helped myself to a cup of hot tea.
By the time I reached Triund, I was totally pooped out. The last kilometer was unrelentingly formidable. Triund had beautiful grassy meadows which were absolutely lush green in the monsoons. The views on either side were also amazing. On one side you had the Dhauladhar peaks covered with snow; and on the other you could see right into the plains of the Kangra Valley even from that height of close to 10,000 feet above sea level. After resting for a while at Triund, and some Hot Chocolate to replenish my sapped energy levels, and having said my Goodbyes to the Korean girls, I carried on. The climb was reasonably alright as I had had the time to rest at Triund.
’Illaqa Got’, my next destination, was another small meadow with large boulders strewn all around and with a Gaddi (Himachal shepherds) shelter also built. For my additional pleasurable viewing, there were close to around 500 sheep of all shapes and sizes just hanging around. There were innumerable of those cute lil’ lambs and also the stern-faced rams just waiting for me to make the wrong move so that they could try and gore me with their horns. I met a few Gaddis there who suggested that I could spend the night in an unused Gaddi shelter close to the glacier. I thanked them and carried on. To my left was the expanse of the glacier, a stretch of over 150 feet, and extending northwards, till as far up as the eye could see. The area was dotted with hundreds of Cobra-lilies with their glaring hoods popping out in bright green and purple; and I kept stopping every now and then to take yet another picture of the rare flowers.
It was almost dark, and I had carried on along the right side of the glacier for quite some distance. I even went up the mountainside looking for the path to cross the glacier; and also for a cave or a rock under which I could possibly spend the night. Thankfully, better sense prevailed, and grudgingly, I walked my way back to the last Gaddi shelter. I had my sleeping bag, and a roof over my head even next to the blessed glacier at over 11500 feet above sea level. I lit up my candle, had my fill of chocolate, dry fruit, cheese, glucose and juices and just slithered into the bag. Sleep, unlike in the cities, came in just no time at all.
Day 2 - A brush with Death
I never reached the Indrahar Pass. Not even close. I crossed the 150 - 200 feet glacier towards the Lahesh Cave. Initially, I prodded on over the glacier with a flimsy stick quite reluctantly, checking each slab before I set my foot on it. The glacier was like a mass of fish scales stuck to each other in a zig-zag fashion… zillions of them, all around me. It was amazing. Once I reached the half-way point, I dug my boot heals into the ice and clicked away to glory. It took me almost half an hour to cross the blessed glacier.
As there was just no visible trail, I actually climbed up rock faces along the Waterfall going up the ’Nullah’ and just kept going. Soon enough, I knew I was going along the different ’Nullah’, but the innate need of venturing along the unknown path made me simply carry on and on, as far as I could, till the time there was a vertical rockface of the Mountain in front of me.
I first climbed up the rocks and sometimes the sheer mountain surface if the rocks weren’t climbable. I then went past yet another huge glacier, and then crossed a high waterfall, which was falling right into the edge of the glacier and flowing under it… and then another waterfall along the mountain surface. I just carried on and on without a path.
Till the time I just couldn’t go any further as there was an almost 90 degrees rockface in front of me. The fact that I had just about somehow managed to go up even at upto 80 degrees (rest assured, I’m not exaggerating) was definitely something more than major for me, without any technical equipment, and all alone.
And then the inevitable happened.
The weather started turning bad.
It started raining.
First it was just a tolerable drizzle. And then it started pouring. A torrential downpour.
Cats and Dogs, their cousins, and all their blessed country cousins too - all of them decided to come down together, and in a torrential fury, the kind one can only imagine.
Then a sight I can never forget for the rest of my life.
Jesus. It sends shivers down my spine even as I think about, and relive what actually happened.
To escape the stinging rain, I managed to find a huge boulder along the Nullah, which by now was actually a major Waterfall, owing to the downpour. The boulder had a slant edge on one side and I sat on a small rock, slouched under the slanted edge of the boulder, trying to save myself from the biting sting of the pouring rain. But I continued to get wet from the rain coming at me from all angles, but this way was managing to at least avoid most of the sting. The water coming down ferociously was thankfully going mostly under the big boulder.
I was caught in the middle of a flash flood!
The way I had chosen to go up, which was unfortunately the only way, could obviously not be taken on my way down. That route was currently being used by the waterfall to send down all the torrents of water. I was on top of an almost vertical surface with just no way to go down and the rain didn’t seem like it would stop for the next few hours. I had already been under the boulder for over two hours, and I had to make a choice soon. And to make matters worse, I was drenched to the bone. I had been shivering for all that time from the biting cold water with even my teeth chattering away to glory. It was no longer possible to take shelter even for my little toe under the big boulder, and there was no point just standing in the middle of the freezing downpour and come down with pneumonia. The visibility was really bad with the rain, the dense fog and even the blessed clouds, all continuously playing hide and seek. I pondered and pondered, and finally decided to take the risk.
After measuring both the notional as well as the actual distances in my head, and thinking of the possible angles that I would fall in once I made the decision to go down an almost vertical rock-face which had a mini-stream flowing all over it, I actually slid down the surface, lying back down, hoping against hope that my boots with their heels and their grip, would possibly hold onto against a protrusion in the rock surface that I was eyeing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and I slid past it, down much, much further. But wonder of wonders, I then came to a sudden halt. My old leather boots had saved my life. I was lying down on my back against the smooth rock surface, almost in the vertical position, with my heels dug into the point where the rock surface ended and another one began. And to my side and far below me, were the rocks and the gushing waterfall.
As I look back, I think it was a combination of various factors which helped me. My boots were the life-savers, no doubt. My denims, something I usually avoid wearing on treks but thankfully had on this time around, helped in adding to the friction between the rock surface and my butt, and thus slowed my slide and allowed me to get a grip. My not wearing a rain-coat or poncho also helped as the plastic would have only reduced the friction and I would surely have slid much further down. My flimsy stick also helped in controlling the slide, but not really. The timing of the slide - a bit earlier would have meant that much more water on the rock surface that I was sliding on which could have made it dangerous; and a bit later would have meant continuing to shiver from the biting cold water and possibly encountering a bigger mass of water when I went further down. The belief that I could actually do it definitely helped me attempt something that I otherwise might not have. I remember an occasion when while on top of a mountain ledge, I’ve suddenly been compelled to just stand still and not move at all - I just froze. It happens. But thankfully, it didn’t on this occasion. The fact that I managed to stay cool when the easiest thing to do would be to panic made sure that I remained in my senses and took rational decisions. And finally, plain luck, of course.
With my heart still beating like African Tom-Toms, I found yet another rock which was slightly away from the gush of the waterfall. I managed to slouch under it for more than an hour. Had to crouch at an awkward angle to try and escape the rain. But it was much much better than the awfully scary scene I had just witnessed and was a part off.
After all those hours in the rain, I decided that I just had to keep trying to move down somehow or the other. I again went up the grassy mountainside to avoid a small stretch of the waterfall on the rocks. For my way down, I just sat down and slid down a step at a time while digging my heals into the wet mud to get a foot-hold to keep myself from falling all the way down into the waterfall and onto the rocks. I would dig my boots into the mountainside, make enough place for my heel, slide myself forward, and dig further ahead for my next step, all the time walking sideways and keeping my weight towards the mountainside. And every few steps there would be a tiny rivulet flowing down the mountainside which I had to be careful about. Had several more skids, and would just about manage each time around. By now, thankfully, it was only raining, and not pouring like it had been for all those hours. Mind you, I didn’t say it was only drizzling - I said it was only raining.
I felt like screaming with joy. And I did. I had made it. The main glacier was crossed like I was walking across a flat football ground - in just a couple of minutes, not even one-tenth the time I had taken in the morning. I just breezed through it, like a normal brisk walk. Compared to what I had just been through, this, now seemed a cake-walk.
From there on, it was a celebratory walk, first to the Gaddi shelter, where I had left my things. Then through ’Illaqa Got’, where I walked through the tonnes of shit left by those 500 odd sheep I had crossed the previous day; and I still had a big smile on my face. Returned the sleeping bag to the Snowline Cafe owner and had a cup of tea with him. Hot chocolate at Triund was duly had to refurbish the sapped energy levels. And then, I carried on for the next 9 kilometers without stopping at all. The last stretch of the trek to McLeod Ganj was actually done in pitch darkness.
It was 9.30 p.m. by the time I reached the Town Square, exactly 36 hours after I had last left it, and having traversed over 32 kilometers in that period.
Was I glad to be back.
Alive ‘n Kicking.
And in one piece.
One tiny twist of the foot, and everything could have so easily gotten really nasty. A fall, and I wouldn’t be here writing about the experience. Thankfully, apart from a few minor scratches, I didn’t have any other problems at all. And though I had assumed I would surely be coming down with at least high fever or maybe worse, I didn’t even catch a blessed cold.
Thank God for His divine intervention.
No way was it possible for me or anyone else to have had written the script better. And yes, all the money in the world couldn’t have bought me this sheer high, even if I had actually planned it. Though I would actually rather not have a similar experience, but still, that exhilarating feeling is something I would do anything to experience all over again.
As long as I come out of it alive, and am there to write about it, that is.
I guess, as they say, All’s well that ends well.
Note: There’s just one regret that I have. Unfortunately, while I was having this life-threatening experience, I was too shell-shocked, continuously shivering away to glory as I was downright drenched, more than a vee bit scared, and my mind was working overtime planning my next move in the survival plan, so I could obviously not even think of taking a single photograph. If I had a television air crew following my each and every move, am sure this would have more than qualified for one of those ’Man v/s Wild’ episodes on Discovery Channel. Well, that wasn’t the case; and so, those five torturous hours can and shall remain only etched in my memory for the rest of my life.
Latest comments for Caught in a Flash Flood in McLeod Ganj - A life and death experience
- Join Date:
- Jun 2007
- around delhi
I sure have been back for a while now...!
In fact, have been on a few more crazy trips since then...
But definitely not a fraction as crazy and daunting as this one to Triund was...!
And thanks Penelope Gan, RamP!, Trina1911 & Krishnamohan1010 for the nice comments...!
It takes a lot to not lose your calm and think rationally during such situations. So hats off for that. Eventually it's these (life changing?) experiences that traveller's live for.
I know how sacred this experience must be to you. While rafting in Rishikesh 2 years back, our raft capsized in the 'Golf Course' rapid, if you've heard about it. It's a very dangerous one. And unlike everyone who got to the surface in no time, I was stuck under the raft itself for easily 30 seconds. And they felt like forever, having a whole bloody raft over your head made me panic. I will only know if have recovered from it, when I raft that stretch again.
I think you should trek the same stretch again. I'm pretty sure you'll find plenty reasons to do so.
I also love how it's written like T.V show script. The build makes gets you in the mood. Which reminds me, did you take the Korean girls for a hindi movie?
A roller-coaster of a trek!
- Join Date:
- Jun 2007
- around delhi
Nostalgia... In Tragic Circumstances...
The news about the death of Ravi Nibhanapudi, an NDTV employee missing for over three months, sent a shiver down my spine...
I was left stunned and speechless thinking about how close I myself had actually come to death, while doing the same thing, in the same place, a few winters earlier...
Nostalgia, though our national past-time, doesn't always bring back pleasant memories...
I was in McLeod Ganj for the first time since that life-threatening episode four years earlier...
It was a sheer coincidence that I happened to be in McLeod Ganj the very same day Ravi was last seen there - he went missing soon after that...
Ravi died while solo-trekking somewhere close to Triund...
His body was discovered in a gorge more than three months after he went missing...
And only after the winters got over...
These are the perils of solo-trekking that one has to be aware off...
It is not to say that one should not venture into solo treks in the higher altitudes...
But one has to constantly educate oneself, keep one's limitations in mind, be perpetually prepared for even the least potential accidents, and, always realize the immense power that mother nature possesses and can unleash at her own sweet will...
I do not know the circumstances that led to Ravi's death...
Nobody ever will...
And this is one case that has gotten highlighted as he happened to be in the media...
Most cases nobody even hears about...
And cases like these, do happen, more frequently than one would like them to...
All over The Himalayas...
Fear is a good emotion...
Not because it scares you...
But because it makes you ponder over each step you take...
So that you take the right step, each time...
Fear makes you cautious...
And being cautious could help you...
In letting you live another day...
So, be cautious...
It is not just the best solution...
It is the only solution...
My heart-felt condolences to Ravi's and the NDTV family...
I salute Ravi's spirit of solo-trekking...
It will always live on...
glad your back and i must say that you added a great experience to your life
Well I am also planning to travel triund.
Can you suggest me the routes and places their explore.
Actually we are a group of 5-6 people and we want to travel alone (without tour guides). We are planning to go their in last week of june to 1st week of july, 2013.
It would be great help from your side.
I really appreciate your gutts and presence of mind at the time you were struck in the rain.
Thank you in advance and Regards