Tuesday, 11 October 2011

From land of thunderbolt - to face of thunderbolt!

After our enjoyable encounter with the Darjeeling Tea Train, we left the Land of the Thunderbolt for Gangtok in the state of Sikkim. Three jeeps would take us on the first leg of the trip, the road being too difficult for our truck to negotiate. Then we would reunite with Snowly, assume our familiar seats and travel on through difficult roads to our destination.

The scenery was spectacular. It seems like overuse of superlatives but there you are. It was spectacular. We paused at the State border and showed our permits (Sikkim is particularly sensitive about who it lets in - our Guide's wife, Bing, was not allowed entry on account of being a Chinese national and had stayed in Darjeeling to reunite with us in a few days. Don't you love international disputes). There were shops and a petrol station there but we did not delay - there was a long road ahead and darkness was falling.

The journey progressed with the usual bumps and thumps. The road had been badly affected by the earthquake-induced landslides. it was pitch dark outside but there was still a steady stream of headlights illuminating the road ahead.

We started on a steeper gradient and I heard Ben shift down gears to get the traction he needed. Then he stopped. I didn't make anything of it at first. When I saw him getting out of the cab and coming around to open the door of the passenger section I felt a shiver. Normally Ben would use e wallow talkie. Something was wrong.

The door swung open and Ben swung the steps down before climbing up to us. Then I saw it. The face of the thunderbolt. Dark, Threatening. Danger written all over his usually "No worries" unflappable face.

"Look, , ,", he began but then turned away. "This has never happened me before." Bynow everyone was holding their breath. "We've run out of fuel!"

You can't stop a part of your brain answering the question "So what?". It says "Ok, where are we? In the middle of the mountains, at least 50k from our destination. no obvious signs of life anywhere. We do have our nice 11 ton truck but it's not much good on the heating front with no fuel. Water but no food. A bunch of westerners in troublesome Sikkim State - a potential target?"

At this stage (1.5 seconds into the speculation) the "Hang on a second!" voice of reason steps in. Have we a reserve tank? No. Do we have backup jerry cans? Don't know. Are we anywhere close to civilisation? Yes, says our Indian guide, "it's only a few kms up the road, I can walk and get fuel". Yeah, right.

Type As leap into action and follow Ben out of the truck. Keys are retrieved and padlocks opened to reveal two jerry cans. The first is pulled out and is heavy to handle. A good sign. On opening and sniffing it turns out to be full of oil. Bad break. The second one is also heavy and, mirabile dictu, it's diesel.

More questions: how do we get it into the tank? (not at all obvious) and even if we do, will it be enough?

One step at a time lads.

First solution is to locate a water bottle to see if we can convert it with a sharp knife into a funnel. When that does not look promising, Ben remembers he has spare tubing and reaches deep into the bowels of a side compartment to retrieve it. After cutting a suitable length, two of us hoist the jerry can high enough and Ben sucks hard on the free end of the tubing to start the siphoning process (getting a mouthful of diesel for his trouble).

Next we have to tilt the entire cab forward to get at the engine. The trick is to manually pump the saviour-diesel into the engine before trying to start it.

The engine turns but does not fire. the tension in the air is palpable. We try again. After an apologetic cough the engine obliging roars into life.

We did find a fuel station before our supply ran out. As the man says "No worries". Beer is on you tonight Ben.

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