Monday, April 28, 2008

From hell on earth to the top of the world

Delhi was hotter than a son of a bitch. We arrived early in the morning, went through the bizarre experience that is booking an overnight train ticket to Dharamsala (or in that general direction) and left our luggage for the day at the hotel where we plan to stay when we return to Delhi from Dharamsala.

Then what? It was too hot, and we were too tired. We'd reached the point in the trip when navigating India's world just seemed too hard. Lying on the couch with the dog seemed awfully appealing.

But refusing to crack (OK, I'll admit I started to cry in a Kentucky Fried Chicken at the air-conditioned mall. We went there to get a bottle of water. I didn't come to India to smell chicken!), we hailed an autorickshaw to take us to a fancy hotel in the center of town where we could just sit in a bar. Naturally, the driver had a better idea and suggested the revolving restaurant Parikrama.

Let me tell you, this revolving restaurant saved the day. It had signs pointing out to the sights out in the distance, and I spent two hours looking stuff up in my book and squinting out the window to figure out what stuff was. Rob drank 3 beers, Coronas (imported), which wound up costing $20, I had two sodas, palak paneer (spinach with cubes of Indian cheese) and lychees with ice cream. And a bottle of water, totaling $16. We were pretty surprised when the bill came. Rob hadn't checked out the price of the beer, and says he should have suspected something when the waiters kept showing him the beer bottles as though they contained fine vintage wine. Still, it was fun and I got to feel like I saw some of Delhi.

When we got back to our waiting rickshaw driver (they never just want to take your money and leave), he told us about a lovely shopping emporium...

Rob: No.
Driver: But it's a lovely emporium. They have many nice things.
Rob: No.
Driver: Why not?
Rob: Absolutely not. If you mention it again, we will get out right here.
Driver: (silence)

Heading for the hills

We paid more to be in a sleeper car with two-bunk stacks 'sted of 3, but we were put on the side, so we were parallel to the "aisle." There was a family of 8 in the "compartment" across from us. We had drapes, which we didn't have before, but altogether, I was less comfortable than I had been on the previous overnight trains.

An online forum had a suggestion of training to Chakki Bank, going 3 km to the Pathankot station and taking a scenic narrow-gauge train 3 hours to Dharamsala. The cabbie who nabbed us as soon as we got off the train at 5 am really wanted to take us all the way to Dharamsala for 700 rs, which actually didn't seem like much, but I had my heart set on this scenic train ride. The cabbie AND the guy at the "enquiry" counter at Pathankot discouraged this method to get to Dharamsala, but I held firm.

We got tickets for a 7:10 train (35 Rs total vs. 700), and waited for it on this huge platform that was practically deserted compared to the other India stations we've been to. Several dozen saddhus (those yellow-robed dudes) were scattered on the pavement and a couple of grungy looking girls and old women approached us for money. We were unmoved, as we had seen the most pathetic beggar last night, and if we didn't give him money, we're too hard-hearted to give to the destitute.

This was at New Delhi station. He had all his limbs, but one shin was bloodied, the other was bandaged and he scooted around on his butt. He had a bloody bandage around his head practically covering his eyes. But he could see well enough to get close to us. First time on this trip I have been disturbed/horrified/frightened. I really didn't want him to touch me.

Rob, being Rob, spoke to him a few minutes before the guy scooted away. That was a few minutes too long as far as I was concerned, but they don't tend to leave any sooner if you completely ignore them. At the Varanasi station (I think it was), kids actually poked me.

Anywho...we took this little train, the Kangra Valley Railway. It was pretty breezy and nice out, it being 7 am and all. At a stop about 20 minutes later, tons of people piled on and it ceased being comfortable. The view was wonderful. We saw fields of wheat and people harvesting them, and people carrying big jars or bundles on their heads, and little colorful temples in the middle of nowhere and cliffs and rocks and valleys. Also, cows, dogs and saris, but they're everywhere.

It was very entertaining for about 3 hours. It was even fun that it was so crowded because there were some girls singing in our compartment. And dudes hanging off the side of the train. I eventually took my camera out, thinking I was missing all these fantastic shots...but really couldn't get very many good ones.

Unfortunately, the train ride was not 3 hours but 5, which we hadn't realized...so it got a bit unpleasant and sweltering.

FINALLY we got to our destination, Kangra, as this train didn't actually go to Dharamsala. Getting off the train in a podunk village, I doubted my abilities as a travel agent for the first time. Maybe I should have listened to that cab driver in Chakki Bank.

We walked along a long, very not-touristy path, astonished that several minutes went by without someone offering to take us to Dharamsala.

We got to some auto rickshaws, and I was almost afraid to ask how to get to Dharamsala, because what if I had steered us completely out of the way? But the rickshaw driver referred us to a cab driver, who for 500 rs careened up the mountain the Upper Dharamsala (aka Mcleod Ganj). We talked him down from 600. We're getting better. There was a whole crowd of them, insisting that it be 600. So I found another driver, and as soon as I started talking to him, one of the original dudes told Rob he'd do it for 500.

In Mcleod Ganj, we got a room for a third of what we've been paying, which, get this...has a computer in it. In the room. I'm on it now. A little slow for my comfort, but it's enabling me to practice Zenlike patience.

There are mountains outside our window and it looks like we're on top of the world. Now that we've showered and changed clothes for the first time since Bombay (35 hours, if you were wondering), maybe we'll actually get out and look around in a while. Or else we'll spend the next two days reading in our room and writing emails.

No comments: