Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ladakh Trip: Day Two. Delhi

The delhi stopover begins with Sharmaji and his Tempo. We've asked for a large-ish car with a roof rack to pick us up from the station; the organizer, with considerably more foresight and experience in people who rashly order undersized cars and carry oversized luggage, has sent a 20-person tempo with luggage space that could have been classified as a studio apartment in Mumbai.

Sharmaji's Tempo has been to more places in India than SBI or the Indian Railways. He rattles off a litany, mantra, chant, list of places that it's traveled in India that sounded like a random reading of the Frank School Atlas for Class X index. It lasts close to ten minutes, with no pauses, repetitions, or break for thought.

Stay at the Raunak International in Karol Bagh, in an area comprised exclusively of hotels in various grades of shadiness. The rooms are electric blue, with disturbingly gold and faded gilt fittings and accouterments, dim lighting, and consist exclusively of a giant bed with satiny covers. Walk into the room and you can sense the history of a million illicit encounters emanate from the air. The lobby doesn't help; it's crammed full of extremely panicked-looking teenage girls. No clue offered on who they are or why they're there.

The street of hotels has electric poles that appear to be supplying half of Karol Bagh, individually; the snarl of stolen-electricity wires are a black hole, preventing any light from escaping at all. That's okay though; the the stolen current lights up the street through a million neon signs, bulbs, decorative lights, and insectkiller UV brighter than the noonday sun.

Lunch at Roshan di Kulfi, an eatery with a giant metal sculpture of a semi-naked woman in DDLJ pose with metal dupatta flying in the breeze, suspended on it's facade. Couldn't quite figure out it's significance to kulfis.

In the evening, we pack up and pile into the tempo again, heading for Himachal Bhavan and the bus pickup point.

The Neo-Kalapaani Theory: As proposed by Sharmaji. "A hundred years ago, The brits used to deport criminals to remote islands. Today, they are the antisocials who've been chucked out of their country, and have washed up in India to pass the rest of their lives in a dope daze in the hills." This is accompanied by a virulent sneer at a group of foreigners waiting patiently on the kerb for their Manali bus.

Our co-passengers are the standard set you'll find on any long-distance journey.

1 bong couple, consisting of a harassed-looking wife and an even more harassed-looking husband being bossed around.

2 South Indian college girls, solemn and serious.

Three newly married couples, probably Punju, surrounded by a gaggle of overweight female relatives and much jewelery, shedding copious tears.

An elderly couple, sitting rigidly in seats 30 minutes before the start.

A group of guys, apparently already quite alcoholically happy, spewing violent anti-boss abuse and raucous laughter.

An elderly gent frantically selling neckpillows.

A young guy with a giant backpack and shorts, being earnestly wished goodbye by full family.

Two bored, indolent youths strolling around selling bisleri and making a killing.

A driver who looks exactly like Kabir Bedi doing a round up and down the aisle, glowering ferociously at everyone and telling them to keep the AC blowers free (Teri maa ki, or I'll kill you all and chop you up and feed you to my kutte!!)

The bus leaves exactly at 6:30, on the dot. Very impressive.

One of the things that I love about the scenery from a bus - the high-tension electric-supply pylons. I always associate them with travel, their having been a part of the scenery since I remember traveling. The eye jumps from one to the other along the wires, to the next, the next, the next, and suddenly you're lost in the distance, and the entire horizon stretches out before you... they're like the guardians of journeys. Always standing rigidly at attention, unmoving, yet everywhere - get on a cable, and you could leap across the world.

Dinner is at a typical roadside dhaba - inevitably, the Sher-e-Punjab Dhaba - a fairly popular one, filled with 5-6 buses and a vast gang of travelers. The young man we'd seen earlier turns out to be a very interesting person. His name is Siddharth, ex-Citibank, and he's going to walk from Manali to Leh. Alone. He's planned to do it in around 28 days. It's a harsh, punishing terrain, empty, deserted, lonely, with food and rest stops spaced far apart. People doing this on motorized transport find it a challenge; I can't even begin to think of doing this on foot.

Hats off to you, man - and all the best!

Weird dreams, brought on by the excitement of the trip, change in weather and food, and maybe a side effect of diamox - I'm being followed around by a giant irridiscent black beetle, nearly 5 feet long, and a crying bulldog made out of scrambled eggs. No idea what it means.

In the middle of the night we make another rest halt - I don't when it is, but it's a brightly lit, lonely dhaba-hotel in the middle of a vast black cold silence - where we charge up on tea, and on the spur of the moment, also finish off the next morning's biz in an extremely gross dhaba loo. N and A prefer the fields, beside the sign that says that open air defecation is now a punishable offence.

This is just as well; because the next morning brings an unanticipated, sudden adventure.

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