Our learnings about rescuing a car stuck in marshy land - A story about how our car got stuck in slippery muddy (clay) wetlands of Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh

Road trips are special because they bring unexpected events into your life and some of those events can be  worrisome, but become highlight of the trip. During our recent trip to Pong Dam wetlands, we had something similar. We spent 2 days around Pong Dam wetlands in Himachal Pradesh. There is kilometres of open land around the lake where you walk to see different kinds of birds. On second day morning, we reached there and we were finding an appropriate place to park the car and then walk around. This blogpost shares what happened, how our car got stuck, what all we tried and finally how we got out of that situation :).

Road trips are special because they bring unexpected events into your life and some of those events can be  worrisome, but become highlights of the trip. During our recent trip to Pong Dam wetlands, we experienced something similar. We spent 2 days around Pong Dam wetlands in Himachal Pradesh. There is kilometers of open land around the lake where you walk to see different kinds of birds. On the second morning, we reached there early and were searching for an appropriate place to park the car and then walk around. This blogpost shares what happened next, how our car got stuck, what all we tried and finally how we got out of that situation :). 

When you enter the wetland area, you see green meadows and when you cross these green meadows you reach the land with brown grass. You have to drive through these patches and there are no roads. That's easier and no issues at all. As you go closer to the water suddenly this brown coloured land changes to black and while driving I didn't realise that I have entered this black soil area. Car was going fine. As I stopped the car and stepped down, I realised that I have parked the car in clay. Above photograph shows my shoe after I just got down from the car. Suddenly my leg went into the muddy land. It didn't give me a good signal, so I immediately got into the car to park somewhere else. and the car didn't move at all. front tyres were just moving at the same place.

When you enter the wetland area, you first see green meadows, and then after driving for a few minutes, these green meadows turn brown, and then slowly they become almost black. How dark the ground is indicates the level of moisture in the soil. You have to drive through green and brown patches and there are no roads. That's easy and we didn't face any issues at all.  However while driving I didn't realize that I have entered the black soil area. Car was going fine. But as soon as I stopped the car and stepped down, I realized that I have parked the car in wet clay. Above photograph shows my shoe right after I got out of the car. Suddenly my foot sank into the soil. This wasn't a good signal, so I immediately got into the car and tried to drive it out of that place. However, the car didn't move at all. The front tires were just kept rotating at the same place. 


Now I was worried as there was absolutely no one else around us. I couldn't see any human being for many kilometers. Now that the car was sort of stuck, we decided to just walk and figure out later what to do with the car. We took out the camera and binoculars and started walking. While walking and watching birds, I was thinking that may be harsh sun may dry up the land and car may come out easily from that area. But my subconscious mind was constantly ignoring the fact that the land around car has been wet for many months and that part had been under water in monsoons. So one day of sharp sunlight was not going to change anything significant. 

After walking for 3-4 hours, we started walking back towards the car to have something to eat. That's when we started making attempts to take out the car.   When making these attempts, tyres had no friction as clay was stuck in tyres and tyres were simply moving. Here are few things we tried :  1. Vibha and I thought of putting some stones under the tyres on one side and then try. It didn't work. Tyre was still rotating on these stones. We also tried giving some friction by putting small stones on both sides of the tyre but not change. We also tried variations of accelerations like slow, very slow, quick and full acceleration.

After walking for 3-4 hours, we started walking back towards the car to have something to eat. That's when we started making attempts to take out the car. 

When making these attempts, tires had no friction as clay was stuck in tires and tires simply kept rotating freely. Here are a few things we tried :

1. Vibha and I thought of putting some stones under the tires on one side and then try. It didn't work. The tire was still rotating on these stones. We also tried giving some friction by putting small stones on both sides of the tires but that too did not work. We also tried variations of accelerations like slow, very slow, quick and full acceleration. 

2. We called our friend Nandan, who has done a lot of road trips and loves driving. Certainly he is someone who has experienced different situations during his trips. He suggested us few things and one of the trick was to put car mats under the tyre and try slowly. We attempted that in both direction and multiple times but didn't work. After a few minutes of trying this, the mat had so much wet mud on it that it started rotating with the tire.  

By now, we had driven the tires deeper into the mud. Though if you look at the photograph below you will wonder whether this car was actually stuck. It does not seem too bad in the photograph, but it was the chikni mitti that made the situation tricky.  

Now it was time to find people who can help us. We were suggested to find people who can help in pushing the car. While in my mind I was thinking of arranging rescue vehicle now. Both Vibha and I had spent lot of time but we were not successful. By this time, we were also frustrated that may be we are not able to follow instructions shared by our friends over the call.

Now it was time to find people who could help us push the car. In my mind I was thinking of  the eventuality of having to arrange a rescue vehicle now. Both Vibha and I had a spent lot of time but hadn't been successful. By this time, we were also frustrated that may be we are not able to follow instructions shared by our friends over the call. 

I called Ankush, who works there in forest department and explained him the situation. He understood what we had done and it seems that a lot of visitors who do not understand the geology of the area, make this this silly mistake. The simple principle is to park the car in a green patch of land and not go to Brown or black. And we were in the last one (black) which was very close to the water. 

After some time Ankush came on his bike with another friend. That also gave us a morale boost. 

3. Now again we started placing stones under the tires but the difference was that 3 of us were now pushing the car and the tire was on stones on one side, we would ask Vibha to press the brakes at that point. And then put stones on the other side. So idea was to fill the hole with stones and create enough friction for the tires. But even this did not seem to be working. 

We kept pushing the car but the tires were still freely rotating. By now we were about to accept that we may not be able to take the car out so started discussing other options. However, Ankush's friend refused to give up. He again asked us to put more stones on both sides of the tire and we started pushing. Now we decided to take the car in back direction so pushed from the front. As we pushed, we were constantly putting more stones on the front side of the tire, so that there is more friction and the tire doesn't slide back into the mud. 

Finally the car moved and now the 3 of us were shouting about not stopping the car and keep going backwards as there was good chunk of land with clay soil. Vibha kept going backwards and reached the green patch. 

In total we spent around 3 hours to rescue the car and we were relaxed now. We grabbed some snacks as we didn't have lunch. After having some snacks and water, I decided to wash mats in the lake. It was decent break after all the efforts and at least car was not as dirty from inside :).   So presence of people and ability to push the car helped the most. Otherwise it would have been almost impossible for both of us to rescue the car from that wetland with thick clay.

In total we spent around 3 hours to rescue the car and we were relaxed now. We had some snacks that we had packed along. After that, I decided to wash the mats in the lake. It was a decent break after all the efforts and at least car was not as dirty from inside :). 

So the presence of people and ability to push the car helped the most. Otherwise it would have been almost impossible for both of us to rescue the car from that wetland with thick clay. 

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