Spontaneous travel plans are the best plans, that’s what my experience says. My trip to Vaishno Devi, J&K is one of those memorable trips which was decided in a spur-of-the-moment, and the experience, it was fantastic. Entire trip was full of interesting incidents; however, I will be sharing one of those events here.
My school time friend had generally come to my house, and while leaving he casually mentioned that he and his wife are planning to visit Mata Vaishno Devi in the next month. I took a pause and then a minute later I asked if we all (me and my wife also) can travel together. To which he said “yes of-course, it’ll be fun”. I immediately switched-on my laptop and plugged-in my internet dongle. Yes, dongle; it was 2009 and we didn’t have WiFi and not even high-speed internet. Anyway, I immediately checked the availability of tickets and completed the reservation. Within flat 15 minutes, the plan was made and the tickets were booked. While I was booking tickets, two thoughts instantly popped – 1. It is going to be a super-fun trip as I’ll get to relive those carefree schooldays again. 2. It can be quite risky, as school friends know too much about each other, but then this “each other” in the thought gave me the solution.
We boarded the train at around 8pm from Saharanpur. I just love train travel. It is so exciting. It gives you the “time” to experience and enjoy the journey. Our berths were precisely at the entrance of the coach. It was like, you open the door to the sitting area and you arrive at our seats. While travelling alone, I hate this kind of seat, because of the hubble-bubble caused by people boarding/deboarding the train or people going to the washroom; however, since we all were together, it did not bother me at all.
The train moved on and reached Ambala Cantt. around 9:30pm. While all four of us were busy chitchatting and laughing, one tall guy entered the coach. A moment later we realized that he was saying something to us. By the time I paid attention to him, he was already done. The only thing that I could hear was, “I’ll be back” and even before I or anyone of us could respond, he was gone. He went so fast that it felt like he got vanished somewhere. He disappeared and left behind a huge bag. It looked like a gunny sack, probably made of Jute. We looked at each other wondering about what that bag contained. Anxiety started taking over when the train was about to leave the station with no clue about that guy. My friend and I went to see him at the door but he was nowhere to be seen. I got down and tried to look for a policeman, which was also not around. The train whistled and started moving, I immediately got into the train. Fortunately, I saw ticket examiner coming towards our coach. I ran towards him and informed about the bag. He instructed me to immediately pull the chain so that the train can be stopped. I always used to wonder about those emergency brakes that come into action when you pull that chain, but never got a chance to use it. I wanted to enjoy that moment of stopping the train but couldn’t, as I was terrified. It was only after pulling that chain, I got to know that it not easy to stop a train. One has to pull it several times to stop the train. Finally, after 3-4 people joined us, we could manage to stop the train.
Meanwhile, the ticket examiner had called the police through his walky-talky and reported about the unattended sack. Entire coach was waiting for the police to come and open that mysterious sack. After about 5 minutes, somebody spotted the policemen approaching. They were 3 of them. One of them stopped outside the train, remaining two moved towards the sack. They tried to lift it but since it was quite heavy, they had to drag it. They brought it close to the exit. After they placed the sack there, we assumed that the next step would be the opening of the bag, however, suddenly, one of the cops started interrogating us (me and my friend).
“Why did you let him keep this bag here?”
“You should be very careful these days.”
“Do you remember how did he look like?”
Even before we could respond, we were bombarded with the next set of questions. We realized he was not interested in listening, so we waited for him to finish.
“We could not see him properly. He came, put his bag and vanished even before we could say anything to him.” my friend said.
He stared at us for a moment and frowned. He took a deep breath, murmured something and then went to join his partner who was looking at the bag as if he could scan the contents of the bag with his eyes and wouldn’t need to open it. After scrutinizing the bag with his eyes for almost 3-4 minutes, he went ahead to open it. All the pair of eyes were now focused on the bag and his hands. He bent towards the sack and picked up the knot on the top of the sack. But, before he could open it, he took a pause and chose to announce a disclaimer, “I am not responsible, if this bag has some personal belongings. These two (pointing towards me and my friend) would be responsible.” We both were dumbfounded to hear this. Until then we were very proud of us that we had done our duty as a responsible citizen, however, the statement forced us to reconsider our notion. He pronounced his disclaimer and went ahead to finish the task. Now the sack was open and the mystery was about to be uncovered. He put his hand in the sack and we heard a “clank”. After a moment his hand came out with what looked like a pan. He tried again with some more clinking this time and came out with a metallic casserole. All that the sack contained was “Utensils”. So, all the ado about “nothing”. All four of us felt quite embarrassed. The policemen gave us a stern look and left.
One problem was solved, but another one was still there. If the bag did not have anything suspicious, why would he leave the bag there? Not having anything questionable in the bag meant that the guy perhaps would come back and question about his bag being kept at the door. And yes, he did. Approximately twenty minutes after the train left station, he came back and started looking for his bag. Sensing that he would ask us about the bag, my friend promptly quipped, “With great difficulty we managed to save your bag. Since there was nobody to claim it, police were throwing it out, but we requested them to….” While he was still continuing, the guy went out, picked his bag and took it to another coach. We all were quite surprised to observe his behavior. He was so indifferent as if nothing had happened. I am not sure who/what was more mysterious, the bag or that guy. Anyway, we all slept after everything got settled and woke up when train reached Jammu Tawi station around 5:30 am. Though we all were excited about that trip, none of us had imagined that kind of adventure.