There were ponies everywhere. A few saddling up, some with loads on their backs waiting for the master’s, “Let’s move,” command, and most of the ponies getting loads tied up. They looked so small comparatively to their parents and relatives but, each carries minimum of 30 to maximum of 70 kgs. I was amazed by their enormous strength. I was more amazed to learn, out of so many ponies there was not even one for us. All booked. Just imagine the number of trekkers who went up and still going. “You will have to wait for the next group of ponies to arrive,” our team leader was informed by the pony coordinator of Ponjugang, appointed by the organizer. I wished later, “If we only knew, waiting could be 30 minutes, one hour, four hours, or even the whole day and night. We would have prepared ourselves mentally, at least.” That time all I did was kept saying this to myself time and again, “Everything will be fine, you just need to be positive. It will take some time to get hang of it,” as I looked at an ocean full of mud -all pounded- stretched from the threshold of a temporarily made stall to military tents at the far end.
|Pony getting ready|
It started to drizzle. Our team leader planned, “After having an early lunch we will start trekking at 11 am. Carry your small backpacks and walking sticks. But, Gem Tshering, Sonam Dolma, Singye and Dorji Phuntsho will stay back, wait for the ponies, bring the goods and come along. It won’t be that long, you will catch us all up; we will camp at Thongchodrak.” We all were positive.
|The lunch at Ponjugang. Guess whose is it?|
|The famous fatty : Jigme, downloading a mountain into his tummy|
Stacked all our would-be-ten-ponies loads, covered with a huge blue plastic and went to lunch. Eight of us were the invitees and meal was provided for free till and in Laya too (only lunch), upon producing the tag given to us by the organizer or will have to inform the meal coordinator of the stall. For the rest we bought. Bade good bye to the four of them and off we went. A few steps ahead and I forgot something (which I don’t know also what I have forgotten exactly, till now) back I walked. Upon returning I realized four of them don’t talk much, rather until you become friends, plus they need some company too, my instinct said I should stay. So, I stayed back, “Now, let’s wait!”
|Our loads were meant to be only for 10 ponies|
Two, three and four hours passed by, it was 3 pm. Drizzle turned to downpour already. Temperature dropped drastically and the wind picked up too. It started to get cold. No means of communication at all with anyone, no sign of ponies coming either. We started to worry, the planned campsite is four hours hike we won’t be able to catch them. They might have crossed Koina (first campsite, there is a house and fire we were told) now no food, no light, no tents, no sleeping bags, no warm cloths and Menda!
How do we call them back to Koina? Food and pony coordinators have a walkie-talkie each but don’t work here: no repeaters. Requested the military captain and messaged the army base at Koina, “Please call our folks back to Koina by any means, there is a little girl too and let them stay down for the night. Don’t let them go up any farther, I repeat, don’t let them go. We are still waiting for ponies.” In a way I felt like we were in the John Rambo movie and often like reading an auto biography of Ernesto Che Guevara. We were so relieved when the Koina army base radioed back, “The team Sabah Bhutan, BTO and trekkers 360 are all here safe and sound, little girl too. They are staying here for the night and they have sent 15 ponies. Over and out!” Thank goodness, they haven’t gone any farther from Koina indeed, so wise of them.
Drank tea and hot water like coca cola on a sunny day and peed like the rain. Sometimes stooping by the fireplace and most of the time sitting on four little red chairs facing north until our bottoms hurt, hoping mules would show up anytime soon midst fogs. Our necks were going stiff now. It was 5 pm, after six hours of waiting Gem and I decided to go down following the trail filled with knee length deep mud, expecting our ponies coming up, and met fifteen mules on the way. We nearly broke down, because it was not ours. Head low, but spirits still high we walked back. At 6pm, there came another group of ponies, but we kept our expectations low. Yet looked for opportunities to trade with the pony guys, it is jungle and the survival. It was already dark. Just then saw our two guys with them, “These 15 ponies are ours!” “Ahhh. Finallllly!” They volunteered to fetch sleeping bags and warm clothes for our folks in Koina. Singye had to go with them too.
Three of them were long gone, we set 7am of 14th October as the loading time with pony guy reminding him repeatedly to keep all 15 ponies, we might need all. And just before he went to crash he handed us a letter, it read:
Pls bring all the sleeping bags and
come here to sleep at Koina.
We are here!
It was from our team leader we were touched, but can’t go. Firstly, it was way too late and secondly we didn’t want to risk losing our much-awaited-ponies to others. Everyone was desperate for ponies. Four of us hopped around looking for an empty and dry military tents to sleep. All wet and muddy, so were our sleeping bags and mats. It was still raining heavily outside. Choose one finally, but a guy showed us a warmer tent full of other tents and plastics as well. We decided on it.
The rain didn’t bother us anymore, we slept like logs!