20.07.2007 - 02.08.2007
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Hell on earth is how I would describe it. Hot, dirty, a constant hassle with a smell that makes you gag with every humid breath you take. You are constantly wet with sweat, even the daily down pour brings no relief, you just feel stickier. The rain brings flooding, which in turn, results in you walking through human waste. Rats, that would give your cat a fair fight, swim for their lives. Rubbish lines the street in higher proportions than your local dump. Out of that rubbish the poorest people you have ever set your eyes on build their shelter from the rain, in vain. They are everywhere, malnourished, dirty, with their hands out and such pleading eyes it gives you a sudden overwhelming feeling that you are powerless to help. Welcome to Delhi in the Monsoon!
I managed to watch a whole episode of “Friends” before Karolina walked into the hotel room, in my book this means that I had made it with plenty of time to spare. The 10 hour trip from the Pakistan border had been better than a feature length movie, I was trapped with my face pressed up against the window of the non air conditioned bus…. this was all I could afford with the few rupees I had in my pocket. Every few seconds something new and amusing would appear and the best thing was there were no ads.
Karolina was over for a two week stint, so our first challenge was to book a train ticket up North towards the Kashmir region. After sitting sweating on the platform for an hour our second class sleeper train finally departed. We arrived 12 hours later at the station. We had to change trains. Karolina had woken in the middle of the night to find a man trying to steal her money belt. Tired and groggy we jumped on the first train we saw, an hour later we realised we were heading back to Delhi. This resulted in a four hour wait at some random station and then five more hours sitting on hard seats as the smaller metre gauge train climbed through the forest to Shimla our final destination which took 20 hours rather than the 13 we had planned. Shimla was spread out on a forested ridge and plunged all the way down to the valley floor. There was no flat ground, you had to climb up or down to access any point you had to go. However this place was a breath of fresh air after Delhi, with the only real hassle coming from the monkeys who were a little too big for their boots.
After two attempts we finally got a bus ticket to Manali, this would have to be one of the scariest bus trips of my life. The road plummeted for hundreds of metres with nothing stopping you from flying off the edge at any moment. The driver would get a run on, going down the hills and then brake heavily at the last minute. He would blindly overtake at any moment which often ended with the bus skidding to a halt and narrowly missing a head on with a truck coming the other way. To my disgust Karolina managed to sleep for most of the journey while I sat white knuckled holding the seat in front of me.
It was a harmless suggestion I made to Marco, a Brazilian guy, that we had gone hiking with. "If you want a photo in the current just swim out and then swim back to shore, you'll be fine mate".
Before I knew it Marco was being swept down river at an alarming rate in frigid glacier melt water. I was running after him try to get in a position to throw my backpack, that conveniently had two empty drink bottles that would have to do as an improvised floatation device. His girl friend Racal was happily taking photos of Marco getting swept away, still not realising the danger. Before I could get close enough Marco saved himself by clinging onto a boulder and get across to calmer water. This was about ten metres before the rapids started properly and went for a few hundred metres. Relieved smiles all round and a good story to tell at the pub resulted.
The drive up to the pass was slow due to the monsoon washing out the road and overturned and stuck trucks blocking the way. The army frantically worked to fix the road. Soldiers man handled rocks in typical Indian fashion as a bulldozer sat lifeless 20m away. The delays were not a problem though with the climb into the Himalayan foot hills providing some of most beautiful scenery of the trip so far. Then off to the Rohtang pass, at 4000m but still, as we drove through Rohtang a game of cricket was well in progress. Having come from 2000m the short climb to the top of the pass left me breathing like I had just ran up the hill and not slowly walked. The wind caught the blessings from the prayer flags on the summit and blew into the distant snow capped Himalaya.
Manali was a break from "India proper" but before too long it was back on an overnight bus to Delhi and then a train to Agra. The only tickets that were available was in the 3rd class carriage, and, not wanting to be in Delhi a second longer than we had to, we bought them. I knew I was trouble when a police officer stopped me with one foot in the door and asked to see my ticket, when he saw that I was actually getting on the right wagon he rolled his eyes as if to say “well, be it on your own head,” and waved good bye.
Already there was no room in the main section of the carriage so Karolina and I camped in the doorway by the toilets. Soon we were joined by about twenty others in the small area. Sitting waiting for the train to leave I watched the rats darting around outside a shack where a railway worker was cooking. We were surrounded by a family, from grandparents down to a five year old son. Karolina took turns with the rest of the group to use the fan to ward off the mid-day heat. Two tribesmen stood by the opposite door dressed in purple, with long white beards and turbans. The turbans were set with a red stone in the middle and they were holding spears with sharp metal ends that were as tall as the owner. The four hour trip turned into a test of endurance in these cramped hot conditions. I had the Grandmother of the family resting her head on my knees and coughing her lungs out. I truly believed that she was going to die on that train right there in front of me. Now in a country as populated as India it is hard to find any privacy even for the most personal things such as going for a shit and it's not uncommon to see people on the side of the railway tracks going for gold in front of whole train load of people and thinking nothing of it.
Agra was another traveller's hell hole, but hey, you don't come to India and not see the Taj Mahal now do you! A day of being tourist was in order, seeing the impressive mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, that is made of a Mooney white Marble.
The next day the monsoon had caught up with us, it was 5am and we were trying to get to the train station in the down pour. As usual the first Rickshaw wants way too much because his mate is whispering in his ear, wanting his cut. Another bloke turns up and takes us for our asking price. As we drive off the other two can't get their rickshaw to start in the rain. I can't help but grin at them and mouth some unprintable word at these scammers.
Before I could bask in my own glory too long, a minute down the road our rickshaw drove through a puddle and also cut out. I helped push the three wheeled contraption out of the ankle deep water. Before I knew it, two guys from the hotel are demanding money from us, thinking that we were doing a runner without paying. After explaining that there is only one back pack and that there is no way in hell that I am handing over 2000 rupees to a couple of doughnuts on a bike at 5 in the morning another rickshaw appeared and once again we were gunning along to the station. This is the magic of Asia, you never have to look too hard to find what you want.
A quick good bye to Ina and I turn back into the rain and continued my trip once again to face the sub continent by myself.