This post is written for the ‘Incredible stories’ contest sponsored by Indiblogger and Mahindra XUV 500.
**** 1 ****
It was just passed noon when our Mahindra Scorpio hit Rishikesh. Our destination – Shivpuri – a small town in North India, popular for camping and rafting, was just an hour away.
Shivpuri is a beautiful hilly area with a slanting narrow road and spinning turns, with sacred river Ganga flowing along the green curve. This was our first trip together and that atmosphere was just perfect to give five friends that thrill and excitement. We were playing Aerosmith on full and literally screaming to chat with each other, when suddenly I noticed that raft, struggling far down in the fast whirlpool rapid, and the very next moment, it turned down, throwing all the rafters in the river.
“Ohh F…,” I yelled, scared, without letting that fear show on my face. My sudden scream broke the going conversation. Rish instantly jumped over me, excited to capture those struggling rafters in his Canon D40 through my window.
“INCREDIBLE!” shouted Sid from the driver’s seat. He kept staring down there for four seconds, almost forgetting that our lives on that narrow road were in his hands. “We will also be down there in sometime guys…Wooohooo!” he screamed again giving Neha a high-five, who sitting next to him looked equally excited. I think Sid took those four seconds to settle down his adrenaline rush by that adventurous view.
Ankita who had almost climbed over Rish to peek out of my window shouted in a requesting tone, “Can we stop the car guys? It seems so much fun, giving me goosebumbs though.” Her request was ignored, for I believe, they were in real hurry to get into Ganga rather than viewing it from far top.
**** 2 ****
We were waiting for our rafting instructors outside our rented camp along the river shore in Shivpuri. The sun heat was mild with the pleasant breezes around. The beautiful river was flowing zig-zag from far top to far bottom. The sand was artificially dispersed all along the river shore to produce more attractive ‘beach look’. Lots of rafting lovers were there but the place was still not crowded. It was just a perfect day at a perfect place.
All four of them were shouting, running around, playing handball and splashing river water on each other, when they realised that I was sitting all myself next to the camp entrance.
That raft scene was still running in my head.
“Hey Yash, c’mon man, get up. This time won’t come back,” Rish shouted from distance. I looked at them with a blank face. Neha and Sid were waving to call me. Ankita came running and started pulling me by my hand, but after couple of failed attempts she screamed for others’ help. After exchanging mischievous looks, they all jumped on me and in the next moment I was in the air with all four of them holding me up. After dropping me near the river, they started splashing water on me to make me feel better. But that irked me.
“Stop it guys,” I yelled frustratingly wiping my wet face.
Before they might’ve decided to left me alone again, Neha broke the ice smiling “Even I don’t know swimming but look at me. Do I look scared or tensed?”
“And she is just a girl. You are at least a man my friend,” Sid joked in a husky tone looking at Neha. She gave him a furious look, and he blinked with an apologetic smile.
“Listen, we know it’s because of that incident. But that happened nine years back,” Ankita said sympathetically while sitting down near my knees.
“You were just 14 then, a small kid. You have to get over that incident,” Rish insisted. “This is the time to let go your fear,” he continued. He looked serious.
“That’s the whole purpose you decided to come here, right?” Ankita asked in a convincing tone holding my knee to support me mentally.
I was just nodding expressionless.
Since the time we’d planned for this rafting trip, I was trying to bury down those chasing nightmares of the drowned body of my class mate in the same pool I used to learn swimming. Since then, I wasn’t able to step into any swimming pool, and with passing years, that fear turned into aqua-phobia.
My friends promised me to raft only in slow rapids and I wouldn’t have to go in the water at all. They also convinced me that this is one way to get over my phobia, which I wanted desperately.
But that rafting scene and those rafters in that crazy whirlpool brought back those horrible nightmares, pushing me back.
I could’ve made any excuse for not coming on this trip instead of now sitting here scared, I was thinking embarrassed, when I heard an unfamiliar voice, “Are you excited to raft people?”
The two rafting instructors were standing behind us.
**** 3 ****
After an hour, I was on the most dreaded journey of my life, sitting in the middle of the raft holding tightly to my oar. We had already crossed two out of total six rapids safely without falling into the river, and I was continuously praying to complete the rest just like that.
Suddenly, while entering a smooth and slow river patch, we observed that the rafters ahead of us were getting down in the water and floating around. The look on my friends’ faces watching that gave me jitters. Before I would’ve uttered anything to convince them not stopping the raft there, Sid shouted, “Guys, we should try this, what say?”
“Of course!” said one of the instructors.
“How deep is the river here?” I inquired in a low tone, though I already knew that I am not going to try that at any cost.
“It’s around 15-18 feet here, but with life-jackets it doesn’t matter,” another instructor replied.
Crap! I thought, when Rish said, “This is the time to let go your fear, Yash.”
“Don’t you know any other dialogue,” I frowned.
“You guys do this madness if you want, but please don’t push me for this now. We already had an agreement on this” I demanded.
They agreed and one by one started sliding down into water. Neha, who was hesitating a bit in the beginning, also went in and with little support from Sid started floating comfortably.
Apart from the instructors, I was the only one left on the raft. Though I was keeping an artificial i-don’t-care smile, the grin on the instructors’ faces was raising my temper. Suddenly Sid shouted “Let’s turn the raft”, shaking the raft with both hands.
“NO,” I screamed aloud, gripping both ends of the rafts tightly. Everyone started laughing.
Their laughs and stares were making me angry and embarrassed. I was trying hard to get into the river, but before I could’ve gathered enough courage to actually do that, instructors called everyone back to the raft. Water was dropping from their clothes. Sid commented sarcastically, “you should have tried at least; even a ten-year boy doesn’t feel scared wearing a life jacket.” Everybody started laughing again. I also grinned to cover up my temper and embarrassment.
**** 4 ****
After crossing the last rapid and confirming with instructor that it was actually the last rapid of our rafting journey, I excitedly, lifting both hands in the air, thanked my friends to persuade me for this else I would have missed this incredible fun.
“I told you, this is the way to let go your fear,” commented Rish putting his hand around my shoulder. I nodded, smiling.
“So it’s decided, we are going to come back again next summer, and then you are coming down in water with us,” screamed Neha.
I looked at everyone and replied what they wanted to hear. “Of course, I will!” I actually did enjoy the rafting but I was not yet sure about going down in the water.
We were again laughing like before. Suddenly our instructors pointed towards a mountain, “Here comes the best part.”
I looked around to see a young guy jumping into the river from around 20 feet cliff. My mouth was dead open. Fear had instantly flooded me again.
“Are you ready for CLIFF JUMPING?” instructor shouted stretching last two words, though his tone sounded like he was giving us a challenge – do you dare to cliff jump?
Instructors parked our raft on the river side below one of the cliffs, along with other rafts. We all climbed the cliff. I was expecting Rish’s favorite dialogue and Sid’s sarcastic comment but none of them said a word. We all knew that it’s not the same as rafting with two trained rafters in slow rapids or floating in a slow river wearing life jackets. It was jumping into a deep, fast flowing river, ALONE.
We all joined the line to jump. Far behind the town, at the opposite end of the river, I could see the sun just above the Horizon. It was a capturing view. One by one people ahead of us in the line, including middle-aged women, were jumping, shouting aloud. I overheard that a few people are non-swimmers just like me but were daring to jump. Looking at them gave me some courage to at least think about giving it an attempt.
“I am going to jump,” I said rubbing my hands together. “That’s the spirit man,” they all screamed giving me high-five. Sid, the experienced cliff jumper, decided to go first to help others to swim back to the shore. I decided to go last after Rish. He looked at me and his eyes said his favorite dialogue. But this time that motivated me. I made my mind, took a deep breath, closed my eyes all set to jump but suddenly that nightmare came back haunting. I felt shivered from top to toe. Rish jumped and I backed out. They all came back, excited than ever to jump again. No one asked anything, but their looks said it all, forcing me think.
When we all will go back home and everybody will talk about these moments, I would always be discussed as a weak person. They would know that the promise I’ve done with them a few minutes ago to come back next summer and float around with them was a lie. How will I face my best friends? How will I face myself in the mirror? Am I really a weak person? Does this mean that I always have to live with this nightmare whole of my life? – NO, I am not a weak person. I am strong. And I don’t want to be stuck with this nightmare all my life. I can’t. I JUST CAN’T.
And I started walking towards my friends. They had almost reached the jumping point.
“Promise me, you will save me,” I said in a courageous tone.
“I promise,” Sid replied looking straight into my eyes and keeping his hand on my shoulder. First time I felt genuine seriousness in his tone.
“Then jump. I am coming after you.” My heart was pumping so fast that I could hear my heart beats in that noise. Cats and dogs were playing around in my stomach. My legs were shivering badly.
And, I JUMPED.
In those 3-4 seconds, with closed eyes, I saw that nightmare fading away and I went deep under water. I opened my eyes. It was all green water with some bushes. I wasn’t able to believe that I was still calm underwater. I started moving my hand in random directions to float up towards the surface, when Sid came down to hold me as he promised. He would tell me later that he saw me smiling while going down in water. I came out to my friends and instructors, and I cried – PROUDLY.
After coming back from that trip, I learned swimming.
It’s been six years. We didn’t get a single chance to go to Shivpuri again, but we still discuss about that trip and I do take part excitedly in that discussion.
Last month, with my wife I went to Key West, the southernmost island of US famous for water sports, and we enjoyed snorkeling in the middle of the ocean. I jumped from the top of the yatch, which was around same height as that cliff. That nightmare doesn’t haunt me anymore and I do look myself in the mirror – with proud.
That incredible rafting voyage with my amazing friends changed my life forever. This post is dedicated to them and their belief in me.