First of all, let me tender my apologies to all of you who have been reading the past few posts and getting increasingly bugged / irritated / frustrated, and waking up in the middle of the night screaming, "Just get on with it already!" and deeply frightening your bedmates. I also apologize for any unplanned pregnancies that may have resulted because of this.
It's 3:30 PM, and I'm in a rattling rickshaw, surrounded by luggage, heading for Bandra terminus station. It's happening. Finally. After years of planning, the Ladakh trip is on.
On the platform is Y & N. Surrounded by what looks like either the contents of the entire luggage coach, or the baggage quota of at least 5 middle-aged aunties from Chandigarh. Closer looks reveal, it's their rucksacks, knapsacks, backpacks, duffelbags, daypacks, camera cases, plastic packets, and one lathi. I suddenly start feeling good about the size of my luggage.
Check the weight on the jukebox weighing machine - 20 kg exact.
We grab the Garib Rath, the Air Deccan of the ground, in coach G10. 2 coaches away from Manmohan Singh. 4:30, on the dot, we're moving.
Almost immediately, we run into Col. Manoj Kumar (retd) of the J&K Light Infantry, who's now started a adventure-sports co. Chat about trekking, Ladakh, life in general, and finally he leaves us with advice to, if ever in trouble, get in touch with the current CO, give his name, and 'take whatever help we need.'
N makes a very professional jhalmuri, and we chat until night, on landrovers, 2-month breaks, extreme-condition trek plans, and preparation, while R sits with a look of steadily growing panic and scribbles away on a ever-growing list of stuff he needs to buy when we hit Delhi.
"Yaad hai last time kya hua tha?" says D. "M___ ne kya kiya?"
Apparently the last trip - Valley of Flowers, one that I missed - M was supposed to catch the train with the rest of the gang. He got late leaving, and for an hour, was on the phone with D, coordinating his position.
"Abhi main nikla hoon"
"Chembur naka cross kiya hoon"
"Sion mein hoon"
"Abe pahuch hi gaya hoon! Ruk!"
"Abe station ke bahar hi hoon!!"
... Train starts moving...
"Abe platform par aa raha hoon!! Chain khheech!!! Fine mein doonga!!"
Please note, this was the Rajdhani.
He misses the train, runs back, buys another ticket for a train leaving in an hour.
And then the conversation continues.
"Haan Kalyan cross kar raha hoon. Tum log kidhar ho?"
Finally D & M realized that being on the same track, he wasn't going to overtake us, so the rest of the journey D ate his share of the Rajdhani food that he'd paid for with the ticket.
And on that note, we go to sleep, resolutely ignoring the extraordinarily high levels of vestibular traffic. Half the train has apparently decided that the best way to treat their insomnia is to grab the largest, heaviest, noisiest piece of luggage they can lay their hands on, and take it for a walk from one end of the train to the other.
Coming Next: Delhi and the Street of Hotels.