This is a sequel to the Divine Comedy: Inferno which was published last week. Click on the link and read from the beginning. Here the journey to discover Bumthang has begun. Tighten the belt friends.
Tshewang Chang driving. Throating soulful Bhutanese songs in full pitch. Laughing madly at our screams every time a lorry laden with cement appears suddenly from the concrete mist just ahead of our car and bears down on us.
A break, a turn, a skid, a swerve – our wafer-thin alto car skirts yet another date with death.
JEDDA! Chang yells and laughs hysterically at his own folly.
“Chang, stop the car! You’ll kill us all!” we yelp from the back seat as we pitch from side to side, door to door. White concrete fog ahead. Mad Chang. More lorries emerge out of the mist at the last moment and rumble past us as if this is a video game turned crazy without any moderators. Am I dreaming or am I truly on the road? The smell of doma hangs in the air.
Here another lorry emerges from the mist. We let out the customary scream. Mad Chang laughs aloud.
“Ha ha ha…ARE YOU NOT COOOOL?” He screams at us.
“Chang! Slow down. You are taking us to our grave!” screams Utpal, our friend from Assam.
“Don’t worry. When Chang drives, no accident, why?” asks Chang. “Why?”
Another sharp turns hurtles us towards the right door. My fingers dig into the upholstery to get a grip.
“Chang drives, no accident, WHY?” Chang repeats his question and turns back to check whether we listen to him or not..
“WHY?” We scream to get his bloody eyes back on the unattended road.
On the left the road is dotted with big boulders loosened from the jagged cliffs. On our right the deep gorge is filled to the brim with fog or clouds or plain vanilla sky. The car is wobbling along the razor thin road between the gorge and boulders with its driver’s head turned towards the rear seat.
Chang smiles smugly and turns his eyes back just in time to avoid another lorry.
“Ha ha…Why? Because Chang is the greatest driver in Bhutan. You’re lucky.” Great time to learn that! We curse under our breath.
The car climbs stiff hills, sputters, pitches, tosses, hurtles forward, halts suddenly, jolts forward again, and sails down like a sedate kite whenever the road dips. I don’t remember where exactly I begin to fall in tune with the mad rush, the crazy songs, the smell of doma (Chang has the Bhutanese habit of chewing betelnut all day. They call it doma) that hangs inside the car, the wild pitches and rolls at the back seat. Chang’s mad laughter soon grows infectious in the closed space of the alto.
I don’t know whether people laugh like us madly just before their death.
But amidst the guffaws Chang is so sure about the winding road, his opponent. Like a grandmaster in a game of chess, he seems to know all the possible moves, the sudden turns and subtle angles of camber, shrewd strategies and wild cards a road can throw up to unsettle the casual rider. Jedda! He curses and breaks once again into helpless fits of laughter.
I sprawl back on the cushion to watch the duel from the gallery. Like a king.
“Chang!” Jijo calls.
“What is waiting for us at Bumthang?”
“Yes. Bumthang is a paradise, why?”
“BUM, BUM, BUM…ha ha ha you don’t know what BUM in Bumthang is?” Each time Chang utters BUM, the window glass judders slightly, resonating with his booming voice.
We look at each other and shake our heads.
“Why?” He turns back once again to check whether we listen to him.
“WHY?” We yell with all our lungs to get Chang back on the road. A black land cruiser whizzes past us, almost kissing our body.
Silence. Everyone measuring up everyone else in the car with moral scales. Only the sound of the alto in third gear climbing up yet another cliff remains.
Soon a beautiful patch of emerald green paddy field emerges deep down the valley on our right. It seems like an airstrip painted in different shades of green but for the gentle zephyrs making ripples on the surface.
“Aren’t you married, Chang?” I ask in order to prick his conscience.
“Ha ha ha…”