“…we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage.”
~ Arthur Conan Doyle, “Adventure V – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”
The sun takes a long time to break over the peaks towering our tent and the wind lets down it’s night howl to a gentle morning breeze. Warm rays and strong tea slowly drive the chills away from our bodies as we break camp. The waterfall behind us crashes in cascading waves and presses home to us the urgent need to move forward, and follow it. Below our camp, massive boulders haphazardly thrown together and smoothened by ages of water over rock stand silent sentinel to the power of the river. The river canyon waits below with the patience of centuries while the impatience of man drive our feet towards it.
Silent pools lay dormant in vertical canyons.
Monsoon waters will turn these benign pools into monstrous thundering demons,
almost blasphemous in their strength.
We sit to rest our tired bodies and listen to the storm behind the silence.
We climb up sketchy goat tracks barely as wide as our shoes and the loose scree stumbles down. At times we have to climb more than 200 meters and the angle of the slope is often 40 degrees or more. Without large trees and shrubs to hold the earth in place, everything crumbles to the touch in these slopes. The views of the winding valley below are worth the effort.
The first kilometer of river canyon took us over 5.5 hours to traverse. Mostly because we idiotically left the packrafts behind so we had to climb up and around every little bit of water we met. Greg didn’t have his stuff in dry bags so swimming was not an option. We then used a sleeping mat to float the bags while swimming, except that that bright idea came only on the second day! We did have a stupid moment of staring at each other when we realised we could have made quicker work of the tight canyon the day before.
When we passed the confluence where the Umiam river meets the steep creek coming from Weilyngkut, the river valley opens out to a gentler gradient and walled in sections are few. We walked past sections where the remaining trickle of water disappears underground leaving sumps with exposed pools.
The caver in Greg had to be reeled in when we saw two caves on the hillside. If we had time, he would have probably done a Gollum and gone underground with glee.
We saw wild goats, a band of monkeys scrambling around at river level, different species of birds and a hawk riding spirals into the sky on thermal winds.
The stretches near and below Nongpiur had chemicals dumped into them by people who probably wanted to exploit the fish. It was heartbreaking to see everything dead in the river at this area.
Timber logging for pine was also present in these areas.
Nature is barely tolerant of a persons restlessness to claim conquests. Always a temperamental accomplice and sometimes a friend. It would be impudent to say that the river canyon was a conquest, only that we were allowed to visit it in it’s gentle season. A small reward is that we were the first to do it. Something special, and something blessed.
Inversely proportional to each other is the body ache after, and the burning desire to do more.
And as always, the people we met along the way were always friendly and helpful.
Sharing what little they had, they exchanged tea and pleasantries for answers about our endeavour which seemed curious to them. They were surprised to know where we started from. We were surprised by their warm generosity.
I quote Andy Leemann, “River people, we immediately connect”.