‘Stop’! ‘Stop’! ‘Stop’!
Thundered the ten Indian Army soldiers. Their guns were pointed at us. But, they were the only ones who could help us. The place was desolate with not even a dog in view. And it was only 8 in the evening.
We, I mean my husband, my 18-year-old daughter, my 12-year-old son, my husband and I were making our pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi. We landed at Jammu and reached our hotel in the afternoon. Jammu is colder than Mumbai and we were feeling the chills.
Since we had to leave for Vaishno Devi early next day, we decided to visit the local places. Some of our neighbors in Mumbai had suggested a visit to the Nehru Market for souvenirs. Therefore, after lunch we decided to rest a bit and leave at 6 pm. However, by the time we left, it was 6:30 pm and it was dark. There were hardly any people on the road. Unlike Mumbai, the road was devoid of traffic. We did not think twice and took a bus to Nehru place. We reached at 7 pm, only to find that most of the shops had closed by then. Few that were still open were also in the process of closing; they were not interested in attending us. It was a mistake to assume that everything would be like Mumbai where the market is full of people till midnight and there is twenty-four-hour traffic on roads. We had no other option but to go back to the hotel, have dinner and sleep early.
Oh No! We did not know where to go!
We forgot to carry the business card of the hotel and did not know its exact location. We did not have the numbers. We thought of asking the locals. It was 8 pm and everyone seem to have vanished in thin air. Not a single shop was open, not a human being in sight, not a single car or two-wheeler to be seen. Only the Four of us standing in the midst of nowhere. We could hear our hearts beating. Our throats were parched in spite of the cold. With all our faith on the Goddess, we started walking with a hope that we will meet someone. The purpose of walking was never to reach the hotel as we did not even know the way.
After walking for 10-12 minutes we suddenly found ourselves standing parallel to a boundary wall. With a leap of joy, we hastened to find the main gate. We were jolted out of our excitement. ‘Stop’! ‘Stop’! ‘Stop’!
The words or the roar seemed to stop us dead on our tracks. We found ourselves staring at a group of soldiers. I was unnerved as the guns were pointed at us. I was sure that we would be shot if we batted an eyelid. What if these soldiers thought of us as terrorists? What if the triggers were pulled accidentally?
My husband who works for the Military Engineering Services had the courage to speak first and then asked for permission to show his ID card. The Army men took fifteen minutes to be convinced. They offered us drinking water, tea, biscuits. In the meantime, they also traced the location of the hotel. And then they dropped us off to the hotel in the Army Jeep. It was 11 pm.
We did learn a few lessons for life. Research is absolutely necessary, carry the local stay coordinates while traveling and believe in The Indian Army’s Motto – ‘Service Before Self’.
Storyteller : Amita
As narrated to Coena Mukherjee