i thought it was a dream. A fantasy of my mind.
I was in high pass that was completely iced up, snow was thigh deep. The afternoon winds had picked up, and though we were warned not to go to the pass in the afternoon, we were foolhardy boys looking for any challenge that even nature could throw at us.
The wind was so high that it threatened to blow us off our feet. Temperatures dropped dramatically. It started to snow and visiblity was merely two or three feet. We realized that we had challenged nature to our cost and were now panicking. Then mysteriously we saw a hut which we thought first was an illusion. Then as we struggled through the thigh deep snow, every breath made to count, the hut turned from illusion to reality.
Once inside we struggled to keep each other warm. The threat of freezing to death in this hut in the middle of nowhere loomed large in our minds. Darkness was not far away, as exhaustion set in, and we fought the overwhelming desire to sleep by telling each other of fantastical sexual experiences that were complete fabrications of the hormonal fantasies of 16 year old minds.
Then this much older man came in. I do not remember him as a mountain man. He looked like he was from the plains, as he carried something that looked like a briefcase. He sat down and huddled next to us for warmth, and we were happy to have an extra warm body.
The man opened what looked like a brief case and brought out a half bottle of very cheap whiskey. I remember that clearly, for I was surprised it was not rum. In all my fantasies, the drink that somehow turned up magically to save you was not whiskey, but rum. In any case we were happy to share it, the mind being numbed to the fear and the cold. And then I remember the man doing the most extraordinary thing.
He started laugh. A kind of senseless laugh that we had heard was part of mountain sickness. A light headedness that came through the starvation of oxygen in the brain. And as he laughed, the man suddenly opened the creaking and half broken wooden door and ran out. The cold hit us like a hammer as the below freezing wind came howling in. The temperatures below a figure where it ceases to matter. We were not covered or prepared for anything under minus 2 or 3 max. Wind factor must have dropped it to minus 20 at least.
The man ran out laughing and trying to dance in the wind. We looked aghast and shocked. I think bravery only happens when you have no time to think or consider the results of our actions. Foolishly we ran out after him as he ran further and further away from us. Exhausted and our bodies stinging from the cold we finally brought him down in a tackle that even professional Rugby players would be proud of. Dragged him back to the hut, while he kicked out struggling to get away. The laughter giving way to a peculiar wail. The mountain sickness had got him. It could kill him inside an hour.
I do not remember more. I know we must have been rescued. I cannot even remember who the friend was with me. And often thought that this was a “fantasy’ ‘adventure young men often make up about their ‘adventurous’ past.
And then as I went to Rohtang Pass two days ago. To speak live to the UN conference on climate change from the Rohtang, I saw the hut. It struck me like an emotional bolt. It was not a fantasy. The hut now in ruins, was still there. Exactly as I remembered it.
But gone was the ice, the freezing cold. The Glaciers we struggled with, the ice that was an essential part of the landscape. I asked my guide why the hut was in ruins, and he said that there was no longer needed as the thickness of the ice never formed to danger levels. He said that he never saw the Rohtang without glacial ice on it till a few years ago. Now it was bone dry.
He told me that many years ago a man was found frozen to death clutching a brief case. He had apparently been in that position throughout the winter. Had we forsaken him ? Did we walk away from him saving our own lives ? I cannot remember, and maybe somewhere the friend with me will read this and complete the story for me. Did my mind just block out a great act of cowardice that we both committed by leaving a man behind to die ? I cannot tell,
But one thing is certain. The Glaciers are disappearing. We are killing our planet.