PART 3 – COMMUNAL SIGHS
We had nearly given up the idea of reaching Jammu & Kashmir, despite it only being 120km away. A bus hadn’t left for 2 days and rumour spread around the town of Keylong that no one was game to head north in such dangerous conditions. Obviously the town hadn’t met our driver Shyambabu. With a laugh wilder than a Hyena and a motto of “Adventure Adventure” he was our answer to ticking off state number 6.
Mid afternoon approached and the unfamiliar sound of a bus engine running was the beginning of an adventure we will never forget. The bus was jam-packed and only heading 40km north, dropping a few locals back to their villages. In a heartbeat we had packed our bags, grabbed the surfboard and were climbing onto the roof of the bus. Shyambabu didn’t even regret the inconvenience of no spare seats but rather got us psyched up for the journey ahead.
Jonno and I grabbed front row roof, sitting on a yellow tarp that I soon learnt was full of frozen meat. Smriti and Campbell sat about 2m behind us, capturing the adventure on camera and gasping at the scenic brilliance. Over the next 45 minutes we ignored the freezing wind and stench of meat, winding around the tightest corners at 3,500m altitude in awe of the marvellous Himalayas. This is why I came to India, this is why I knew we could surf in all 28 states.
Only 80km from the border the last passenger was dropped off and only 6 remained. Shyambabu, his friend, and our crew of 4. With our fingers crossed we asked the question that would determine whether or not we would reach the most northern state of India. The sun had just crept past the peak and the weather dropped, making this momentous occasion all the more epic. Thumbs up on one hand and a bottle of whisky in the other, Shyambabu (who was slightly intoxicated and luckily not driving) gave the go ahead, and we embarked with high spirits towards the north. As the sky turned charcoal and the roads became icier doubt crept into the camp and an eerie silence filled the bus as I thought to myself “Am I the only one who is freaking out right now?”
The driver let out a gasp, we jumped from our seats and looked out the window to see an oil truck, flipped upside down on the bank of a river. The heartbeat went from a jack johnson tempo to rave status, realising the danger that lay ahead. Just 60km from the border we entered the movie set like Indian army base. A soldier approached our bus and demanded we turn around, informing us that the roads are fatal and there is no chance we’re making it to Jammu and Kashmir alive. A communal sigh confirmed that none of us wanted to continue this journey, but the look on Jonno’s face and the feeling in my gut reminded me that we’d just failed our challenge of surfing in 28 states of India. The driver completed his 3 point turn and we drove on an all to familiar road back to Keylong, devastated about our challenge but thankful for our life.