"I like travelling, I just hate travel."
Trip Start Apr 11, 2009
40Trip End Aug 06, 2009
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Kate an I left Rishikesh about 30 hours ago now, traveling by tuk-tuk down to the bus stand. Because season doesn't officially open for another two days (what a tease!) there were only the government operated busses running. I never, in my life, thought I would be so nostalgic for Greyhound. On the upside, we got a 225k trip (I can never remember the kl to mile ratio, but I am told that is somewhat along the lines of the distance from DC to Philly) for the equivalent of $4. On the other hand, the trip took almost nine hours, without a/c, on rock-hard seats. Around hour six, its hard to distinguish heat exhaustion from just plain old achy bones. Also around this time, the boys who had been running up to the bus every time it slowed to sell mineral water disappeared. Who knows where they went, but after leaving just as our water ran dry, in the sweltering late-afternoon heat (no longer mitigated by wind, since this was during the period of the two-and-a-half hour unexplained traffic jam) they failed to reappear again until we were at the station.
We went on to have the pleasant experience of being astoundingly ripped off by a rickshaw driver (as a westerner, you are always being overcharged, not only by hotels and rickshaws, but also by the government standards charging sometimes as much as 50x more for a westerner to enter a site than for a domestic tourist, but this driver was beyond the pale.) We arrived just in time to hop on our overnight train to Pathankot, which was something I was actually looking forward to. I really like the overnight trains here. Not only do they relieve your aching tail-bone, but in second-class a/c they're cool, with relatively comfortable beds. Not to mention, I could barely stand from some combination of travel-sickness and heat-exhaustion. So I was not, exactly speaking, overjoyed to find that I was right next to the air conditioner. With another blanket or two, the experience would have been pretty delicious, but as it was I shivered more than slept. But better that than to be Kate, who awoke at 4am to discover that her bag, which she was securely sleeping in front of, had disappeared. A short panic followed until a conductor discovered her purse - minus its iPod, camera and about $20 in rupees - in the bathroom. All in all, it wouldn't have been that bad of a robbery - Kate had all her important documents with her, the computer was safely under my head, and the robber didn't even discover some of her hidden cash - except that all of Kate's memory cards - three months of photos from a fairly extraordinary camera - went with it. Somehow you know that in this many months on the road, this is bound to happen, but after two months in India unharmed, as well as time in Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia, it came as a shock.
Our train came in two hours late, and we staggered around the corner to the bus stop. My habitual queasiness that comes with travel meant that I had hardly noticed that we had now hit 24 hours without food, but Kate's healthier stomach wasn't too happy. We climbed onto a state bus (after, rather excitingly, tying our bags to the roof - if you ever want to test out your arm strength, try hoisting yourself up a steep ladder with a heavy bag on after hours and hours of travel. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with myself.) Three hours later, after befriending some of our fellow-travelers, many of whom have spent time here before (some years here) we finally stumbled into the streets of McLeod Ganj, the place you're really going when you say you're going to Dharamsala, and found our way, exhausted, to the first guest-house we could. I have now (mysteriously, really, since I've had nothing but bottled water and a few crackers in the last two days) come down with a fun little disease that presents by making me feel like I am absolutely ready to do anything and then, the second I slip on my flip-flops and take the handle of the door, crippling me with what feels like nothing so much as a wrench being turned in my intestines.
But I have made it to Dharamsala safe and sound, or at least marginally sound, and from all early indications it looks like its worth it. Merely the half hour spent staring at food I couldn't bring myself to eat on a stunning balcony overlooking the huts that tumble down the sides of the mighty Himalayas, basking in sun that was, for once, not too hot and breathing in the cool, clean air, convinced me that I think I like this place. Also, about 50 monks carrying candles and chanting just passed my window. Hard to beat.
Still, I'll take a walk in the marshes any day.