Travelling comes with its own fair share of risks. Every traveller in their time face situations which scare the living daylight out of them. The courage of the traveller doesn’t lie in not getting scared when faced with such situations, it lies in stepping out again despite of having experienced that. In about a decade and half of travelling, solo and otherwise, there have been occasions when travel was not as pleasant an experience as we want. Some of them were outright scary.
The Invisible Stalker
In the fall of 2004, on an evening I found myself walking down a cattle track in hills close to Kullu. By what I had been told at the last village on the way, I should have been on the highway an hour ago and it was already dark with no road anywhere in sight. I was clearly lost, and in those times didn’t have the luxury of phone & internet. While on my one side, there was deep ravine, the other, was a hill covered of foliage. In the preceding months, I had walked many such tracks up and down multiple times; fear wasn’t really a feeling before, bus this time when a rabbit jumped out of the woods and dashed to other side, all senses started working overtime. I could feel something walking alongside hidden in trees, but my peripheral vision failed to see anything and the courage to turn around to see was just not there. For next hour and so, I walked in a continual anticipation of something pouncing on me. It was a fairly cold evening, but the whole time I could feel every meandering drop of sweat flowing down from my forehead to over my neck. And as the fear had gripped, suddenly it left me, as if somebody has assured that there is nothing there anymore. In about another thirty minutes I had found, not the road I started for, but a dhaba and it was badly needed.
The Nature’s Fury
In February 2012, I found myself on another hill. This time it was a trail between Dharamkot and Triund. The night before I was to leave Mcleodganj, it snowed a little. When I woke up, the sight of clear sky and lightly snow covered mountains was too tempting to not to go on a hike. I had the full day before my bus and weather looked pretty good so a quick morning walk was not a bad idea. From Bhagsu Nag, I started climbing quite a steep trail to get myself on top fast. Having walked these hills a day before extensively, I knew at the least this stretch quite well. Bolstered with confidence, I completely ignored the lingering dense fog covering the other hill top. Almost half way, with change in wind direction, I found myself covered by fog from all sides reducing the visibility to almost zero. The panic which grips when own senses and limbs fail, tops any other kind of fear. After about three hours, when I finally made it down the fill, my mud covered self, had gone numb and had lost any sense of pain. The number of scratches and cuts did not do justification to number of falls I took. From that day onward I started appreciating my Woodland shoes more.
The Flash Mob
In March 2014, on the last leg of my European trip, I had a night to spend in Copenhagen with no accommodation booked. I had a Eurail pass, which gave me free access to trains. So, I decided to bunk in the train for the night. I picked up a station which was about two hours from Copenhagen and had a train coming back the same night from there. It would give me about four hours of sleep before I catch my early morning train to Hamburg. The station I picked was Odense. I arrived in Odense at about midnight and had to wait for forty-five minutes before my train back. I decided to get a nap in that time and headed to the waiting room. The waiting room was eerily quiet with very little light. A bunch of boys were huddled in a corner, while three of them were visibly high the other two were smoking hard on what probably had knocked those three out. To keep as much distance as possible between us I decided to settle down in the front row, close to the door. But even before I could sit, shouting and howling announced the arrival another group of boys. A bottle went flying over my head to crash in the vicinity of the earlier bunch. Those guys, knocked out or not, rushed to the door punching and smashing in to the rival group. As I stood there, bottles flew, punches and kicks were delivered, people crashed in to chair and on the floor. And, then as in a flash the mob had gathered, it left the room. The whole time I stood there, possibly invisible to them by some miracle.
The Subway Mugger
In March 2014, the day before my flight back to India, I arrived in Paris at about 7 PM. My overnight stay was at Love and Peace Hostel at Jaures. With one big suitcase, an airbag, a backpack and a sling bag, as I laboured through the multiple flights of stairs at the subway station, one bear of a man came running towards me just before the last half of the last flight. Before I could understand anything, another tall man joined him and got me cornered. The second guy raised his sweatshirt to flash the gun tucked in there, while the first one went behind to keep a short knife on the nape of my neck. What transpired in next 10 minutes, though now mostly gets used for comic relief, was my first (and thankfully only, till now) ‘held hostage’ situation. They asked me to hand them over all the cash which I had. With all knife and gun, their best case scenario was to get 25 euros from me. I started with a negotiation where I would keep 20 and give them 5 bucks. It turned around quickly when the knife moved to my throat. And the bear sized guy was actually fine with taking 20 and leaving. It was the guy with the gun who insisted on the 5 too. Prudence took over and gave them the money. After 20 minutes while I was having dinner at Mc Donald’s right next to subway station, these two were smoking a joint outside. That was my 25 bucks burning.
The Bus Stoning
In October 2016, for lack of direct commute we had to pick a very convoluted route to arrive in Thrissur. We took a train from Bangalore to Mysore, a bus from Mysore to Coimbatore and then again a train from Coimbatore to Thrissur. The journey was mostly uneventful except for one incident between Mysore and Coimbatore. While we were asleep, the bus was approaching a battle ground for the most viciously fought war of the region, the Cauvery water dispute. Our arrival in Tamil Nadu was announced with grandeur as we were jolted out of our sleep by the sound of stones being pelted on the bus. Shock was followed by fear which was followed by curiosity and we tried to move the curtain a bit, right when a stone clanked off our window. Glass of window few rows ahead broke and windshield took some damage. We sat quietly, not moving a single muscle. The driver revved up and took the bus away from the mob which continued to chase on their motorcycles, pelting stones and hitting the bus with iron rods. The journey went back to being uneventful when we reached a police station and an escorting unit drove with the bus, all the way to Coimbatore.