Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Journey from Hell

I now realize that many of my problems on this trip have been due to one thing: I've forgotten my travel-skills, yet think that I still have them.

Case in point: Eating nothing but street food on day one of the trip - assuming that my stomach was ready to deal with things, just as it was when I'd been here for 6 months on my last trip.

And so yesterday - two major mistakes were made. When the travel agent handed me my Leh->Manali mini-bus ticket, which clearly showed that I was in the back-row - I should have protested and arranged to leave a day later. It didn't occur to me.

Likewise, when getting ready for 22 hour bus-trip on the 2nd-highest highway in the world - it should have perhaps occured to me that it would be cold.. and thus maybe I should have worn more than a couple layers.

In the end.... I was in the back seat, in a non-reclining chair, freezing my ass off. There were 4 of us in the back row. 2 brits, a french tunisian, and me. The bus bumped non stop, to the point that I had to constantly keep adjusting my pants due to the non-stop wedgie inducing aspect of the seating arrangement. The Tunisian seemed to have some kind of bowel problems, and so at approximately 5 minute intervals, would release stomach-churning farts, which would very quickly make their way up my nose, upon which they would wreak havoc upon my senses.

The sad thing is - is that for the first 3-4 hours, as I was shivering away, curled up and trying to stay as warm as possible - with a cold window on one side, and a flattulent frenchman on the otehr side - I was in some way strangely glad each time one of his horrible gas attacks arrived. Sure, it was probably doing untold damage to the cells of my nose - but each of his farts also provided some small increase in heat.

Once the sun rose, I ceased to feel as positive about his contribution to the air-quality of the car.

And so, we bumped along, for approx 18 hours. The views were beautiful. Leh is a dry desert mountain area, but 10 hours in, as we started to get closer to HP, trees and bushes started to appear, with rivers, valleys, and birds... It really is much nicer in HP.

One very funny, and typically Indian thing happened along the way - at about 4PM into the journey. Our driver chatted with a truck-driver who slowed down as he passed us, and found out that the local magistrate had setup a checkpoint down the road. Neither our driver, or the other 2 driving the two other vans/jeeps in our semi-convoy seemed to have whatever paperwork the magistrate was after - and so our driver stopped, and announced that we were going to have a break.

Most of the other tourists in the bus didn't quite realize what was happening, and so they stood by the bus, waiting for us to get going again. The french guy and I realized what was happening, and so we followed the driver up to a chai-shop just up the hill, where we could wait in the shade.

30-40 minutes passed. The frenchman and I played cards, the bus-drivers sat around smoking bidi cigarettes, until, suddenly, the magistrate drives past us. All hell breaks loose, and our previously lazy drivers suddenly haul ass down the hill, to the vehicles and we zoom off. They later tell us that they needed to have uniforms or something like that. Rather than pay the 500 rupee bribe to the magistrate for not having the necessary items, they instead opted to wait him out - knowing that he;d knock off eventually.

We ended up arriving in Manalai at around 9PM, in darkness. The driver hauled ass the entire way - which is damn scary when you realize he hasn't slept for 24 hours, and that he's taking you around tight mountain turns, with fog everywhere and zero visibility.

I split a hotel room with an israeli lawyer - the two of us in one bed, each trying to get as far away from the other as possible - to the point that I nearly fell off the bed in the middle of the night.

I'm up now - it's 10AM. I'm off to Bhuntar - about 3 hours by local bus, and then to the Parvati Valley.

No comments: