Friday, December 03, 2010

Life is an Extreme Sport.

 Meeting my good friends by the Ganges River and laughing carefree with them I would never guess at the dangerous life they lead. Man-eating leopards, rogue elephants, gun-toting bandits and crashing motor-bikes are just background noise for these fellows as they are river-guides, white-water rafters. Shooting the rapids on the Ganges is fairly safe, there are few really scary whirlpools, yet still many tourists drown, like the girl who was OK in her life-jacket after her raft overturned but drowned from swallowing too much water because she couldn’t stop screaming.

If you want death-defying rapids you have to go up to the wild rivers of Ladakh just below Kashmir and Tibet. That’s where my mate Balu and his “Real Challenge Adventures” team worked this year but lost their earnings due to the deadly earthquake that hit, destroying many towns and river camps. Sadly his crew lost a young member when, on a turbulent expedition, their raft flipped, the water being so cold it sapped the boy of his strength and he drowned.

Then Balu told me a story that really made me shiver. They had been hired by a middle-class British family to shoot the wildest rapids of Ladakh, mum, dad and two teenage kids on a jolly adventure to regale the rellies with over the Christmas dinner table. Except the raft flipped in the most inaccessible wilderness, all flung into the freezing torrent, separated and swept away. The crew struggled up onto a rocky beach and caught the family members with throw bags as they were streaming past. Most of the gear was also rescued so they thought all was well until they realized the father was missing, hurtled into oblivion. The rafting guides searched up and down the river, in and out of the icy crags, for hours to no avail, dad was gone and mum and the kids wailed in remorse as they sat bedraggled by the camp-fire.

But one of the Nepali guides refused to give up and kept searching the river environs. Just as night was setting in and all hope for British papa was lost he was suddenly seen whizzing around the bend, rushed uncontrollably along by the wild flow. He was so numb from the freezing waters he could hardly lift an arm to signal to the guide to help him, the quick-thinking guide ran, jumped from a height into his kayak, paddled furiously and reached him just before he hit another nasty turbulence, grabbing him before he would surely have been killed.

The family rejoiced at the return of their father and his tale was inspiring. He’d been swept to the other side of the river and found himself alone on a rock, freezing in the middle of nowhere. He knew that if he stayed there into the night he would die, his only chance at survival would be to jump back into the river and hope that the guides would see him further downstream and rescue him. It was a fifty-fifty gamble that he would be found but he had to take the chance as it was death for sure otherwise, so he leaped back into the freezing waters and luck, and the perseverance of the Nepali guide, was with him.

On hearing this I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do if I found myself in the same predicament: it’s amazing what one would do to survive any disaster but would I have the guts, the brains, the heart? I’d probably be still sitting on that fucking rock, but no, I’m not a passive guy, I’m all for action and decisiveness so I guess I’d have jumped too. Life for most of us is worth a gamble.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.