They were climbing down the side of the mountain – the entire family. There was a young boy, a young girl, several teenagers, and many adults. In India, it was not uncommon to see an extended family taking a trip together, and this mountain, atop which lay a sacred temple, was no exception. But this particular day, right in the middle of monsoon season, could prove to be more dangerous than they could handle. The family was hard pressed for time, as they had to make it back down to the base of the mountain with enough time to pick up their bags from the dingy hotel room and get onto the train which would take them to their next destination. But still, the light, misty rain, and the breathtaking view so high up was worth the rush. The little girl, in particular, was taking a lot of pictures. She wanted to document every second of her trip here.
And the view was, indeed, spectacular. There were snow-capped mountains in the distance, so close to the bottom of the swollen stormy clouds that it seemed to her that they were perpetually kissing one another. The green trees were crisply outlined against the misty fog that otherwise surrounded their view. The visibility, though low, was precious, and the scenes the young one saw were priceless and invaluable – they shaped her view of the continent for years to come.
But her experience was not at all pleasant. The mist developed into a storm, and the waning hours resulted in a significantly more ominous sky. What was once peaceful and serene became tempestuous and stormy. The family, huddled together in leaky ponchos they’d bought for just 10 rupees each off some vendor on the side of the mountain, did not find much shelter in the wooden constructs which were supposed to provide patches of dry land upon where to rest. Not that resting was an option – the family had to huddle to beat many obstacles: the storm, the flooding that was already beginning to creep up their legs, and the rock slides that were soon to follow.
The bad drainage and risky mountain terrain made for hard travel – the family was soon bogged down by the weight of their sodden clothes, and overcome with fatigue as the water level continued to rise higher and higher. The night was periodically interrupted by brilliant flashes of lightning, and great claps of thunder sounded directly overhead. The mountain seemed to be the very source of the storm, and the young girl, who, at that time, was not very religious, prayed to whatever higher being there was in her world – “please let us get down off this mountain safely please God.”
She even apologized for having defiled the sacred passageway in the temple – at this point, the young girl was convinced the storm was her fault. Why else would the lights have gone out in the tunnel as soon as she entered it? She was full of sin, and God knew it. She was doomed.
And indeed, it did look that way. At this point, the road ahead was becoming more and more treacherous by the second. A piece of railing had fallen off half a mile ahead, and the narrow winding trail was flooding severely – the dirty brown water streaked with flip flops and the occasional sock.
The family saw crowds gathered and was advised not to continue ahead. But what could they do? They had tickets for a train that left in six hours, and they had to make sure they made it to the bottom of that mountain before then. Paired up, they decided that the best way to escape the storm was by charging full-speed ahead. The girl was paired up with her favorite cousin – a feat which, I’m sure, she had a hand in – and the two of them picked their way through the stones under their feet while simultaneously rushing to get past the small pebbles and rocks falling from above.
“This isn’t rain. This is my punishment. I’m going to die!” – that is what was running through the little girl’s head at that time. The rain beat down upon her spirits, and she walked dismally forward, promising the world that she would never do a bad thing again. And if she could wash the grime off of her new outfit, she wouldn’t even think bad thoughts anymore. She wouldn’t be annoyed when her relatives kissed her, or roll her eyes when she was told to finish her vegetables.
Her younger brother, the only other child in the group, did not seem to be faring as well. He stumbled over the pebbles, and felt as though he definitely had one stuck in his shoe. Each step was painful, and he clutched tightly onto another cousin as he was pelted by both rain and rocks. His sister definitely did not have it that bad – it seemed like every pebble that should hit her was instead being deflected onto him.
The girl looked back and thought she saw glasses floating by her – she’d definitely felt something scrape past her leg, and as she watched, she saw her brother’s eyeglasses flow slowly down the rail-less ledge.
PANIC. Fear. Complete loss of control. Her vision was obscured, and the monstrous rain prevented her from the reassurance she so desperately needed.
She made it across the section of road that appeared to be crumbling before her very eyes – for now, she was safe. Looking back, she waited anxiously for her brother’s figure to emerge.