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Did Kalinchok Bhagwati save us?

Ravi M Singh

Ravi M Singh

Did Kalinchok Bhagwati save us?

I took a deep breath and asked Khashing if he was okay. He nodded. I was, too—not a scratch

For three years in a row, an old friend, Khashing Rai, and I planned to cycle to Kalinchok, Dolakha, but something would always come up, and our long-coveted tour would be scrapped. Our trip finally saw the light of day in 2014. I couldn’t wait to get started.

The first leg of our journey included a drive to the hill-town Dolakha, Charikot, some 183km from Kathmandu—a six-hour drive with frequent stops for tea, refreshment, dal-bhat, and the breathtaking landscapes.

Next day, our epic cycling on the Makaibari to Kuri route kicked off, in what was a 17km dirt road uphill climb to 3,450m. It was the most grueling off-roading of my life—with about 60 percent shoving.

Khashing, close to half my age (I was 61 then), took it in his stride but soon followed suit when the near-vertical inclines seemed impossible. It took almost seven hours to get to Kuri by sundown.

Early the next day, we hit the trail on foot to Kalinchok (3,842m), a knee-buckling climb on winding fieldstone steps. Today, a cable car whisks you to the temple in 10 minutes.

After paying homage to Goddess Kalinchok Bhagwati, we took a brief respite, marveling at the chain of parading snow-clad mountains. The iconic Gauri Shankar (7,134 m) stole the show—and my heart. Absolute bliss!

After dal-bhat at Kuri, we made it to Makaibari by 4 pm, and after stowing the bikes in my car, we left for Kathmandu. Darkness closed in as we sped past the town of Thulo Pakhar; the highway appeared near-deserted. As we cruised down a gradient, we could see distant lights way down. A milestone read Khadi Chaur, 7-km.

I stayed alert behind the wheels as we navigated the dark, tricky highway past a maze of twists, loops, and hairpins followed by wooded hills down a steep slope—the time past eight pm.

What tarnation! Unawares, a motorbike appeared out of the blue with a blazing headlight. In the wrong lane, the bike was headed straight towards our car. A headlong collision seemed inevitable.

In a flash, I swerved to the right, missing the incoming bike by a hair’s breadth, and swung the steering wheel on the double to my left, hitting hard on the brake pedal as the right had a sheer drop. The rear tires skidded with an ear-splitting squeal.

With a sinking heart, I realized the right rear tire had veered off and overshot the road perimeter, and within seconds, the car started sliding rearward down the ridge. Next followed a loud bang from the front, and before Khashing and I could gather our wits, the car lurched to a stop.

Horrified, I watched the windshield crack and crackle in slow motion, but it held on. For several seconds we stayed put in pitch darkness—shell-shocked.

I took a deep breath and asked Khashing if he was okay. He nodded. I was, too—not a scratch.

The car, propped at a 45-degree angle, rested on a tree and what appeared like a stump.

Still reeling under trauma, Khashing held on to the grab-handle lest he topple over me; I lay pinned down to the right car door, facing the steep drop.

We stayed glued to our seats for several minutes without flinching a muscle, fearing so much as a slight commotion might trigger a slide down the drop. Khashing looked at me questioningly as my mind raced what to do next.

Khashing got off first, cautiously avoiding any jerky motion. As my side was a no-go, he next helped me get out by pulling my hand. That was the scariest moment for us.

We had no choice but to lock the car and leave. A passing-by truck gave us a lift to Khadi Chaur. We checked into a lodge as no help was possible at that late hour.

We visited the crash site early the following day. Whatever vague pictures, imagery, and chaos of the previous night fell into place, and the gravity of the crash stood out a mile. When I peered down the precipice, I turned white and shook like a leaf. It steeply fell some 250 meters below.

What made Khashing and my jaws drop was the dramatic way the car with a smashed right fender came to rest on a solitary tree and a stump with both left-side tires suspended in mid-air.

No other trees flanked the ridge for quite some distance.

A coincidence? A fluke? Our destiny? Or was it the grace of Kalinchok Bhagwati that saved our lives?

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