We rediscovered the essence of our passion earlier this year while doing reconnaissance for our Aghaaz-e-Junoon culture tour.
The infamous NH-5 is what it is for a reason. All along this highway, which begins somewhere in the fertile fields of Punjab and ironically leads up to the gravelly barrens of Shipki La on the Sino-Indian border, this cautionary signboard can be spotted every now and then. The drivers of that region are uncannily conditioned to survive these roads with professional, practiced deftness, almost like basal instinct…but these roads are not for the unprepared. The terrain along this highway is mostly loose gravel; come rain, it all turns into a loose slurry and starts to flow – which is what causes frequent landslides here. Which goes to say one needs a driver born of the local soil if they are to come out safe and sound.
As Team Junoon was navigating NH-5 (kind help of a local driver), all the cosmic variables decided upon an opportune moment to misalign all at once, and there was a landslide. It was somewhere around a removed hamlet named Kah that we were marooned. Now, Kah is a separate story in itself; a place with only 10-12 makeshift ‘houses’ of sort, this hamlet wasn’t ready for an influx of stranded travellers. There were no hotels, no dhabas, nothing – this place wasn’t even on the map. Not too far away we could still hear land sliding down. There was no way back, and there was no road any further. Kah it was. Team Junoon had officially vanished off the face of the planet for indefinite time.
Landslide work had already begun. JCBs had arrived and BRO jawaans were at it selflessly, trying to clear the road out. All this inflow of new population into Kah meant all the more requirement for provisions – which the hamlet didn’t have. In this situation of emergency, our hero of the story emerged. A middle-aged man running a provision store-cum-chai-point of sorts stepped up to the task. He was a scrawny guy who owned a small room-like shop. We discovered that he had prepared for the apocalypse – packets upon packets of Maggi stowed away in his little room from the floor to the ceiling!
Normally one would expect the locals to just go about minding their own business in such adverse situations but Team Junoon was in for a surprise. The Maggi-man had taken it upon himself to keep the stranded travellers fed, no matter what. As we prepared our roadside bed that night, we saw the Maggi-man working away at his stove, ceaselessly, tirelessly preparing Maggi and Rajma-Chawal for whomever came to his shop hungry. For as long as Team Junoon was stuck in Kah, the Maggi-man kept everyone fed and functioning. The BRO jawaans working away at the landslide, the Maggi-man working away at his cookstove…there was a “junoon” in the air. The Junoon to clear the road, to keep the travellers fed, to help those in need and to keep the wheels of the world turning…
In discovering a little village that wasn’t even on the map, we rediscovered the essence of our passion!