Before flying out to Delhi I stopped by home in Sweden, and visited my brothers who are studying far up north in Umeå..was thinking that wading around in a meter of snow one degree south of the arctic circle must be a great way to prepare for the Indian sun. The difficulty of getting there seemed a nice way to ease into Indian public transport anyway – had a convenient bus-plane-bus-train-train-bus combination booked all the way from Galway, but it turned into bus-plane-bus-train-train-bus-subway-train-bus and 22 hours in total thanks to the Swedish train service. That’ll teach me for ever complaining about the Irish public transport system!
Here’s a photo of Mikael dishing up a nice picnic by a road-side resting spot in the forest outside Umeå. Mikael makes great potato soup.
On April 1st I met up with Edel again in London to fly out to Delhi to start our trip. I usually sleep the whole way on every flight I take, which is pretty boring for Edel, but managed to stay awake on this. Landed around midnight with 28 degrees in the air. We had a hostel booked for the first couple nights, and an airport pickup booked which the guidebook strongly recommends in order to avoid all the touts and scammers hanging around the airport. Anyhow, the pickup wasn’t there. And not only were they not there, they were also completely uncontactable! ..the latter of course since both of us had forgotten to take down their address and phone number…you can’t think of everything! After wandering around in arrivals a short while, dodging the touts that traced our footsteps, we picked a new hostel in the guide and went to get a ticket for a prepaid taxi which seemed at least a slightly more reliable option. A couple touts are standing around by the queue, the shorter one with stoned-looking eyes takes a quick break from scratching his crotch and waves towards the ticket queue for us to re-inforce his official status. When it’s our turn he moves in next to us about 10 cm from the glass counter..I use the map in the guidebook to point so that he can’t hear where we’re going. The guy behind the counter gives us a ticket and tells us to go to #80 outside for the taxi. The crotch-scratcher indicates he’s our driver – Edel asks the guy behind the counter if this is true and he does a gesture meaning he couldn’t care less, while attempting to short-change me twice the amount I was paying. We go outside into the dark hot smog-filled chaos of people and cars. Most of the cars are using the horn at any one second, and most of the people are trying to get us into different taxi’s…let’s see..number #80. Once I stop being naive enough to think there’s a system we hop into what is hopefully an official taxi. The taxi stops a moment later behind the airport and another random guy jumps in next to the driver – he’s function seems to be casual small-talk “this your first time in Delhi?”. I think Edel was first to notice something wrong, I was generally feeling pretty good at this point – finally away from the airport and we never really had problems with this particular part of our travels (apart from that one time in Iquitos, Peru when we were in a car-chase with an over-eager convicted jungle-tour sales-man). Anyhow, after zig-zagging between the lorries into Delhi the taxi proceeded to drive to three different dead-ends/blocked roads claiming that all the roads leading to the hostel we had picked seemed to be blocked (one of the more common scams is pretending the place your going to is full/burned down/closed for a festival/etc., so they can drive you to somewhere bad they have a special deal with). He points to a statue (permanent and with no special decorations) by the roadside and explains the roads might be closed for festival. “Do you know this god?” ..have to admit i don’t – there’s roughly 20 million of them. After he turns onto a long dimly lit road with no other cars and Edel whispers “David, where the hell are we?” I actually loose my temper with him and demand they turn around and just drop us by any major landmark. This actually seems to have worked (apart from the turn-around bit, seeing how we were on a one-way street..) – two turns later we are somewhere we can actually recognize on the map and then a short while by the hostel. To give them the benefit of the doubt I apologize for bursting out and give them a hefty tip..possibly I needn’t have to though – checking the map in the more relaxed setting of the hotel room later on the one roadname we had managed to spot was some kilometers north-west of our destination while the airport we came from was to the south. The hotel in turn had just one room free, at 60 euro per night which seemed a lot for a YMCA in India – particularly as noon check-out was now less than 10 hours away. A cheaper room did materialize the second we considered checking elsewhere though..
We decided to head out from Delhi the next day, so tried to find a bus to Dharamsala. Once we found the correct tourist office (ignoring all the touts on the streets trying to direct us to their “tourist office”) it turned out there were no tourist-bus tickets left for Dharamsala this day. The other option is state-run buses, described in the guide-book as “ramshackle” – we know we’ll be on buses with live chicken and a wheel missing again eventually, had just hoped to save this pleasure a little longer. We made our way to the bus-station and got a ticket for the 12-hour over-night trip. The state-run buses came in two options, “luxury-class bus” and “Volvo”; luxury-class was also sold out. Their volvo-class was actually not too bad though (couldn’t complain about the Swedish stuff could I – it had a bit of airco and even a TV, though only the color green worked. I missed out on the green-tinted Bollywoods though as the gentleman in front of me sported a gigantic turban.
We arrived in Dharamsala early next morning – the driver had managed to shave an hour off the trip by aggressively overtaking any better looking buses along the road. It had also, somewhat worryingly, been the same driver the whole way.