“All my bags are packed and I am ready to go!” The lines of this song aptly sum up my state of mind when I set out on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the treacherous terrains of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
It was not a routine project for me or STL. We were deploying a secure network for the Defense Forces at the highest of altitudes. Swelling with pride (enabling real time visibility of threats on the borders is big) and raging hormones, accompanied with heavy woollens, some home cooked goodies and necessary medicines, I was ready to brace all odds.
Shelling has been a regular feature at high altitudes and there we were traversing 10,000 kms of rough terrain to survey the areas going right up to the Lines of Control of China and Pakistan.
I had seen such ice bound mighty landscapes only in films, but here I was marching alongside the jawans of our heroic Indian army and rugged Himalayan locals, bracing extreme temperatures, rough terrain and unpredictable challenges that lay ahead of us.
Our first endurance test came when we we got stuck on a road inclined at a 75 degree angle. Leave aside us climbing the slope, moving the machinery seemed an impossible task. It took all our patience and creativity to negotiate the slope and we were left with an experience that made us more resilient and determined. We were like Daenerys from the game of thrones… relentless, not for the iron throne of course!
We did face our own little battle of survival when mother nature decided to wreck havoc. Dragon privileges would have been a bonus here. The weather play truant and heavy snow engulfed everything around us. We were holed up for three whole days in a remote area, the only way to seek assistance was to dare a walk of 10 kms in the snow. Well, didn’t someone once say, “hardships bring out the hero in you”.
Snow fall also brought with it the fear of avalanches, and we had to depend on the sun to melt the snow and then the local authorities to clear the roads for us to progress further. Wait, frustration, anger, helplessness were common emotions we dealt with everyday but as we inched closer to completion, working just 4-5 hours a day, laying volumes of fibre cables in harsh unpalatable conditions, it also gave us immense satisfaction and hope to be able to provide for our jawans and fellow beings who survive these conditions on a regular basis.
Every experience is worth its salt and as a team we learned not to complain. Our camaraderie grew thicker and bonds stronger. The clear starry skies, the ebbing fire place, the refreshing hot tea, and the kindness of our Himalayan hosts kept our spirits high and pace going. On successful completion of the project, we remembered not just the hardships but the comfort and warmth we received at one of the coldest places on earth. I can say with immense “pride” that this project has not only made our borders safe, it has helped us appreciate life in its simplest form.
Do you remember any experience that changed your life too?