BUNGEE JUMP­ING

Up in the air, down in the Ganges.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Devyani

Ihung up­side down, at a height of 88 me­tres, my legs tied to­gether with weights on each an­kle. My hands hung down straight, loose and flail­ing, and my body swayed in rhyth­mic fash­ion as I tried to come back to my senses from this su­per thrilling state of trance that I felt. Not to for­get the feel­ing of ev­ery neg­a­tive ounce in my body flow­ing out and away from me! Ah, that feel­ing is in­ex­pli­ca­ble but nev­er­the­less one that doesn't es­cape my heart ev­ery time I think about it.

No, I had not been pushed nor had I been forced. It was a bungee jump, done out of my own free will, to quiet my quest for some heroic es­capade. Hav­ing been on the lower side of my san­ity since some months, with a preg­nancy and birth of my sec­ond baby, in a new city, that I never grew to like or get ac­cus­tomed to, and hence mov­ing back to Mum­bai and set­tling down again, low on en­ergy and spirit, when the op­por­tu­nity for a two-day break came as a sug­ges­tion from my friend and turned into an ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time. Never to be for­got­ten, and al­ways cher­ished.

So, well, noth­ing comes easy in life. Not even hol­i­days. In the midst of raised eye­brows and some petty judge­ments, I de­cided to take the break with my friend. My daugh­ter be­ing five at the time and my son was eight months pre­cisely. "Oh how can you leave them and go?” The best one came from my mother-in-law "Beta, how and when did you be­come so strong, so as to leave your chil­dren be­hind?” But who was to ex­plain to any­one that it wasn't the strength that drove me but the de­sire to sal­vage the last bit of san­ity that was re­main­ing in me. I had to go for my­self and be by my­self. So with my chil­dren set­tled and com­fort­able with

my par­ents, I took off, with noth­ing but one bag­pack on my back and a spring in my step. The rugged jeans and old t-shirt I wore had never felt bet­ter, giv­ing me a cer­tain sense of free­dom and youth that was lost some­where along the way.

Our cho­sen des­ti­na­tion was Rishikesh. The thought of a bungee jump had kept us awake and ex­cited all through our jour­ney to Delhi, from where we were to be joined by a friend who would drive us to our camp site at Rishikesh. After beat­ing the un­bear­able Delhi traf­fic we hit NH 58, as clear skies and open fields en­thralled the hori­zon ahead. With win­ter just set­ting in, there was a slight nip in the air, and a com­fort­able en­joy­able breeze beck­oned. The drive was to last a good 7-8 hours and, though tired, the eyes re­fused to blink let alone rest in a nap.

THE ETHEREAL WAY

A non­stop ban­ter con­tin­ued in the car as we were briefed about the small towns we passed through, the myr­iad plan­ta­tions of the area and its peo­ple. The sight of hoards of guava ven­dors tit­il­lated our taste buds and Ba­hadur Singh, our driver, pulled over on a side street, ran across and grabbed the freshly cut fruit sprin­kled with salt and handed it to us quickly over the rolled down win­dow. Also, with a warn­ing that we were not to stop any more as dusk had al­ready fallen and we had quite a few miles to cover for Rishikesh. Upon touch­ing Harid­war, which is about an hour be­fore Rishikesh, a sense of calm had gripped us all. With thick jun­gles on ei­ther side of the road, our car ma­noeu­vred ahead at full speed, fi­nally halt­ing in front of Camp Sa­haja Re­treat, Rishikesh.

Nes­tled in the heart of scenic land­scape, Camp Sa­haja Re­treat in the wood­lands of Rishikesh seemed to me the per­fect abode for the next two days. A back­drop of high-peaked moun­tains with chang­ing hues ev­ery hour, the gush of the river flow with its sooth­ing sound and chirpy birds tattling their own tales were a few of the many things that were go­ing to rest and heal my mind in my counted hours of stay there. Cosy tents on the banks of the river, and a bright bon­fire sat await­ing our ar­rival, as my friend and I bounced back and forth in girl­ish de­light cross­ing the small wooden plank over a river that sep­a­rated the camp from the road. Famished as we were after a long jour­ney, we sat hav­ing the sump­tu­ous meal laid out for us around the fire, warm­ing up a lit­tle and ex­chang­ing pleas­antries with our fel­low camp com­pan­ions. The look of sur­prise and amaze­ment on peo­ple there when they re­alised two lone moth­ers had reached half way across the coun­try in search of some ad­ven­ture was price­less. No deny­ing that it felt good. It felt good hav­ing a meal far away in the moun­tains in peace. The quiet felt good. The lack of pres­sure on the mind con­stantly that some­thing needed to be done felt good. I felt happy. I felt peace. The feel­ing is so pal­pa­ble, clear and vivid, it felt like I could lit­er­ally touch that ab­stract feel­ing. The night pulled along and we fi­nally sunk into bed in­side our tent with noth­ing but a flash­light and an old fash­ioned lantern. The next morn­ing was to be a big day. Our big jump of life peered at us through the other side of the night.

Wak­ing up to a beau­ti­ful morn­ing in the moun­tains, we set about pre­par­ing our­selves, men­tally more than any­thing else for the bungee jump. Our smiles be­tray­ing the traces of ner­vous­ness felt in­side. We had come a long way for this. We were brave and strong. And we had to live up to that. With a deep breath and sneak­ers in place, we boarded the "Van of Jumpers"! Ev­ery­one sat with som­bre faces and I won­dered why ! I wanted to shout at them, like guys

A BACK­DROP OF HIGH-PEAKED MOUN­TAINS WITH CHANG­ING HUES EV­ERY HOUR, THE GUSH OF THE RIVER FLOW WITH ITS SOOTH­ING SOUND AND CHIRPY BIRDS TATTLING THEIR OWN TALES WERE A FEW OF THE MANY THINGS THAT WERE GO­ING TO REST AND HEAL MY MIND IN MY COUNTED HOURS OF STAY THERE.

please at least smile, for the sake of your im­pend­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, who knows what's it go­ing to teach you and how it's go­ing to make you feel!”

But any­way, with my ex­cite­ment in my pocket I sat down wait­ing to reach the cliff. We stood in a queue watch­ing the huge hoard­ings and pic­tures of the cliff and those dis­play­ing pho­tographs of var­i­ous bungee-jump­ing episodes. A live video of the fall played on a huge screen nearby. A chill ran through my spine re­ally. With my acro­pho­bia hid­den in­side my belly, I calmed my­self chant­ing the " I can do it" mantra all along. Mak­ing your emo­tions pub­lic, and that too fear? No way, I couldn't let that hap­pen. I pulled my­self to­gether and signed the in­dem­nity form that my friend handed over to me. We looked at each other, each giv­ing a re­as­sur­ing smile to the other. With all the for­mal­i­ties done, we were on our way to the cliff edge, where the en­tire bungee set-up was main­tained.

As luck would have it, I hap­pened to be the first woman jumper of the day! I smiled and waved at my friend, dis­play­ing a con­fi­dence that I didn't re­ally feel in­side. With ev­ery step I took to­wards the plank from where I was to jump, I felt my knees go­ing weaker and giv­ing way. And then, I heard a "Hello there", not a fa­mil­iar ac­cent for sure. I looked up fac­ing a for­eigner who was in charge that day. In no time, he made me feel at ease, ask­ing me silly ques­tions and adding hu­mour to the sit­u­a­tion. I was made to sit down there for a lit­tle brief­ing and then wear the har­ness and the weights on my an­kles with feet tied to­gether. All set now, the men there cheered and thumbs upped at me. With drag­ging feet I was taken on the edge, and made to stand with my hands on the side like the wings on a bird. The man next to me said, "I will count till three, madam, and I will not push you, you have to take the plunge your­self.” Now, there was no time to back off even if I wanted to. I licked my lips and sim­ply looked ahead in­stead of down, just the way I was in­structed to. And then, A One, A Two and A Three, they shouted, “JUMMPPPP!”

In no time it was over. I took the plunge and flew like a bird, shout­ing half in de­light and some in fear, as I went into the air turn­ing up­side down fi­nally and hang­ing in loose, face down, my arms no more like a bird's but free flow­ing. My eyes flew open as I felt my body sway­ing pen­du­lum style and I looked up from where it had all started. Muf­fled voices of ev­ery­one who stood there cheer­ing and shout­ing filled my ears. For a while, I was in a dif­fer­ent world, I didn't want to look at any­one or hear any­thing. I wanted the feel­ing of numb­ness that had come over me to re­main for­ever.

But ob­vi­ously, that was not meant to be! Down be­low an­other gang of re­ceivers waited. As my rope went lower and lower I saw the riverbed and a long stick com­ing to­wards me ask­ing me to hold it. I stretched out my hand for it and got pulled down be­low and made to lie flat on my back to re­gain my lost senses and the worldly bal­ance. A small batch with a "I've Got Guts" painted on it was primly pinned on my T-shirt. I was ex­u­ber­ant. I mean I had guts all right!

Next after me was a girl who I could see was tak­ing a lot of time and coax­ing from the in­struc­tors. How­ever, I saw her shak­ing her head and giv­ing up and walk­ing back. My heart sank. For my friend was still up and I had no idea what was go­ing to hap­pen. But in the next two min­utes I saw her jump and sway in the air too, all my anx­i­ety fad­ing away now. Our mis­sion was ac­com­plished.

EN­CHANT­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Yes, we were two lone moth­ers, far from home, and happy after a soul­stir­ring ex­pe­ri­ence. The way back, we de­cided to walk down­hill in­stead of the bus ride. We had the en­tire day to our­selves be­fore head­ing back to Mum­bai the next day. Our minds were rac­ing. What next to do to fill up the hours? First and fore­most, we had to fill our empty stom­achs which were kept empty in prepa­ra­tion and an­tic­i­pa­tion of the fall. At a hum­ble tea shop, we saw a black­board chalked with a meal of dal- rice and some “pa­hadi pickle" at ` 50 per plate. On the road­side, we sat on a wooden bench and en­joyed a hearty de­li­cious home-cooked meal and then walked along.

We were in Rishikesh, a holy place, thronged with tourists who come from all over for pil­grim­age. Nei­ther of us be­ing overtly re­li­gious de­cided to skip the tem­ple bit. But with­out a dip in the Ganges, our trip would re­main in­com­plete, said our camp man­ager. That's where our raft­ing

IN NO TIME IT WAS OVER. I TOOK THE PLUNGE AND FLEW LIKE A BIRD, SHOUT­ING HALF IN DE­LIGHT AND SOME IN FEAR, AS I WENT INTO THE AIR TURN­ING UP­SIDE DOWN FI­NALLY AND HANG­ING IN LOOSE, FACE DOWN, MY ARMS NO MORE LIKE A BIRD'S BUT FREE FLOW­ING.

en­counter took place. We didn't have a lot of time and hence opted for a short-dis­tance raft­ing which would take us about 45 min­utes into the rip­ples of the Ganges. Two of us along with a young boy who was to be our raft­ing guide em­bod­ied our tiny raft. With oars in hand we fol­lowed him, as he gave us in­struc­tions on what to do when and what not to do.

The cur­rent not be­ing too strong, we moved on com­fort­ably, our oars mov­ing to and fro, try­ing to keep pace with the boy and match­ing his move­ments. Ev­ery now and then he stopped the raft and let it fol­low the river’s cur­rents, and al­lowed us to get out into the chilly wa­ter hold­ing onto a rope at­tached to the raft, so as to pre­vent us from flow­ing away with the rip­ples !

Not to for­get that there are "noo­dle joints" ev­ery few me­tres along the Ganges, where rafters can take a halt for a quick bite of noo­dles and re­gain their lost en­er­gies. Raft­ing in the Ganges is, by far, one of a kind ex­pe­ri­ence. If not raft­ing, just to be by the Ganges and en­joy its peace­ful am­bi­ence, es­pe­cially once dusk sets in and the priests come out to chant mantras and light holy fires, is a sight to be­hold.

Calm and sated, we had given some mean­ing to the say­ing "All in a Day's Work". With all our en­er­gies cou­pled with the lim­ited time we had, we ex­plored what we could in this lit­tle city. It was past seven in the evening and we had to rush back to the camp to pack our few things and get some rest be­fore trav­el­ling for the next day. The last few hours of our ad­ven­ture were left, and we had be­come sud­denly quiet. In the rush of all our ac­tiv­i­ties, there had not been a mo­ment to sit and ponder over our ex­pe­ri­ences of the last few hours.

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