Delhi to McLeod Ganj

Of all the things to excite you in Delhi there is one ‘must do’. At around 5pm take a taxi across the breadth of the city, a journey of about an hour and then get a tuk tuk back and in that 2 hours, apart from having what may well be the most thrilling journey you will ever take and, if you survive, you will know Delhi.

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Our crazy ride let us off at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) at Kashmiri Gate and our coach to McLeod Ganj, a trip of 12 hours, was due to depart at 8.06pm. You simply have to trust that your bus will come in at the stand that it is supposed to come in on and that you will board it at the time printed on the ticket, but for all the world, until two minutes before it arrives, you are convinced, along with the other westerners that have gathered with faces of stark confusion that there is no bus for you. The chaos and noise and organised insanity teaches one to either lie on the floor kicking and screaming or to let go. It was a toss up for a while which one I’d end up doing.

The overnight Deluxe Volvo AC coach had seats that virtually recline horizontally, but on the downside there is no toilet on board so you’re in trouble if you’ve been keeping up your water levels and not thought to wear a diaper. They do stop though approximately every 3 hours at a remote chai stand with a loo. And these loos are the stuff of museums as you likely have never seen loos like these before. And it befuddled me that the dirtiest, most grotesque toilets have a guy outside demanding a payment for using it. I’m not sure what it is he does but evidence suggested that after every so many customers have relieved themselves, he goes in with a brush and spreads shit everywhere.

Another downside is that these deluxe coaches are so air conditioned that Eskimos refuse to use them as they are not used to such low temperatures. At one stop, the driver was forced to open the luggage hold so that passengers could don all of the clothing they’d brought for their whole trip, including bobble hats.

On top of this, when getting on the bus, all the seats have been thoughtfully reclined ready and all the lights are off or dimmed to encourage sleep and relaxation on the dark 12 hour sojourn, but then, once moving and as drowsiness sets in the driver puts a film onto the one blurry TV and at full volume to the point that it distorted, and as it was a coach full of westerners the film he chose was in very loud Hindi – which had enough machine gun firing and door bells ringing and shrieking and sirens that thoughts of hijacking the bus rumbled down the aisle.

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As dawn broke, we saw the first enticing glimpses of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and the coach began it’s ascent on roads, the like of those that Ice Road Truckers would refuse to navigate. The coach made a quick stop at Dharamsala bus station to drop off people who thought Dharmasala was where the Dalai Lama lived, before continuing higher into the mountains, another 10km, to the town where the Dalai Lama actually lives – McLeod Ganj (which we instantly re-named Heaven)

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

How to Avoid Delhi Belly

The qualification for daring to write such a blog is that we recently spent three weeks travelling through Southern India on dirty, sardine packed buses, on trains that were so unclean that even the flies got off at each stop, to cafes without adequate sanitation such as running water from the one tap in the loo with no paper with the one toilet which might flush if your luck was in.

We ate and drank well, we didn’t wear plague suits and none of us got even slightly ill.

We could have just been very, very lucky as over 70% of all visitors to India succumb to the DB or it could be because we had a disciplined regime that we adhered to, what Buddhists might refer to as mindfulness – and that is the first thing you must have – especially in India.  If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys every five minutes then go to Disneyland or Center Parcs instead.

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I was given lots of advice about the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ for months before the trip. None of it however was how to actually avoid it but what to do when you inevitably get it which included, ‘take lots of Immodium’ and  ‘if you’re not better within 48 hours go and see a doctor’ – the latter advice has to be noted. We met a frantic girl whose boyfriend had been losing weight at an accelerating weight she said for over three days and she needed to go to Goa. We said that he needed to go to a doctor and not the Dr Pepper sort she was buying to hydrate him.

The best bit of really bad advice I was given was, ‘you’re going to get it whatever you do, so you may as well, as soon as you get there, drink a few pints of water straight from the taps and get it over with’ – DO NOT DO THIS. The favourite tip I collected and one I did put in to my top pocket was, ‘don’t travel on buses with it, as they don’t have toilets and they don’t stop’ – a combination, I admit, that I wouldn’t like to put to the test.

So, here is a list I complied mentally in the quieter moments on the long train rides;

Don’t expect immunity by staying or more particularly eating in 4 and 5 star hotels or restaurants. Eating at a 5 star and expecting to stay DB free is like buying a Volvo for safety reasons and then constantly pulling out at junctions in front of oncoming traffic thinking the side impact bars are made of armoured iron. We all know those Volvo drivers.

The rules are not necessarily about where you eat but what you eat and how it is cooked and whether all the staff who handle your food and that you may never see have washed their hands.  It is far, far safer to eat from a street vendor wearing disposable gloves (a lot do) who has just cooked your food right in front of you than it is to put literal blind faith into an unseen chef in the sealed off kitchen.

Forget all about meat in India. You don’t need it and the risk from illness is high. The Hindu diet is vegetarian and rather than having to endure the token Vegetable Biryani at your local curry house which always tastes like a meat dish with the meat removed, the quantity of vegetarian dishes to be enjoyed in India are incalculable and all the ones I tried were astonishingly gorgeous, particularly Pea and Cashew Nut Curry and of course any non-meat Dosa. If you think you can’t live without meat, visit a local market and that should sort you out, possibly for good.

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Do not eat the skin of fruit such as apples, pears, plums, peaches etc as these may have been washed in DB causing water or had flies land and play footsie on them, and/or been handled by many hands. Rubbing fruit up and down your arm mimicking a Cricket bowler simply will not cut it.  Stick to bananas and oranges or peel everything carefully yourself.

Bananas, however, are everywhere!

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Otherwise eat only cooked food, ideally vegetables and always try to be able to view the cooking of it.  There are plenty of Pizza Huts and international corporate chains with their pre prepared fayre that we tried occasionally in the bigger towns and they have Air Con! Do not eat salads as they are nearly always washed in water.

Chai Tea. If you go to India and don’t have a Chai Tea from a street stall at least once a day, you should be sent home. It truly is the taste of India (and Glastonbury Festival as it happens) and it costs only 5 to 10p a cup (In India that is, more like £3 a cup at Glastonbury) and each vendor uses a slightly different recipe so every time it’s a slightly new experience. We must have had 10 cups a day each and each time they were served in small polystyrene or plastic – used only once, bad for the environment, but good for your intestine, cups. We were served in glasses only a couple of times and in those instances we tipped the scorching tea around the edges of the glass where our lips were to go as a form of crude albeit risky sterilisation.

Water. Don’t allow water from any tap or dispenser into any bodily orifice so avoid home-made colonics and keep you mouth shut whilst in the shower as it really doesn’t take much. Travellers are advised to always check the seal on bottled water as they can be tampered with and then filled with tap water for more profit. We checked every time but never discovered a broken seal. Before going back to your lodgings, buy an extra bottle of water to use to clean your teeth. Loads of people, it seems, come a cropper here by using the sink taps and thinking that not swallowing will save them. That is extremely high risk. Use the bottles.

Ice Cream and ice in drinks. Don’t touch. When ordering drinks that would normally come with ice such as shorts and soft drinks, always and firmly say ‘no ice’. It’s of no benefit to fish the ice out once in as the damage is already done.

Alcohol. And here lies a problem. The bonus is that drinking out in bars in India would probably turn you tee total as they are always darkened to the point that you’d think there was a power cut, women are not forbidden but I wouldn’t dream of taking a woman into one as the men seemed far more pissed than they do in any bar I’ve ever been in, they re all in a state of total squalor and the smell of urine is nostril ticklingly overwhelming – so if you find yourself in a typical back street, hidden away Indian bar – as they all seem to be, you can assure yourself that you are definitely an alcoholic. I did put my head into quite a few in different towns for reasons of research for this very blog but was careful not to touch anything. God knows what the toilets were like or even if anyone bothers to leave their seat to go one!

However, towns that attract a lot of westerners have more approachable bars, and hotels often have bars for non residents and here lies another risk and that risk is getting drunk, because once drunk you forget about the ice and may miss the not perfectly clean glass rim and may end up eating anything. Kebab houses only exist in the UK for this very reason.

There is a golden elixir that each person must carry a vial of at all times – and that is alcohol hand gel. I can’t emphasise enough how essential this is. Every time you’ve been to the loo and had to open the door or  touch any surface in there really, have a squeeze of hand gel.  Do not touch a surface and allow you hand to get to your face before first stopping at the hand gel.

I’m not advertising for Dettol – there are many brands to choose from – but the picture does say a 1000 words

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But the item that we thought was the ‘be all and end all’ was a homeopathy travel kit that we purchased for this very trip. In fact it may well have been the use of its contents that was the only reason we didn’t fall ill. There is really no way to know other than going again and not taking one of these kits – and we won’t be doing that!
The one we used and would certainly suggest checking out was from
http://suzyparkerhomeopath.com/

I’ll add-on to this list as I think of others but if it all goes wrong and you find yourself stuck in a bedroom and toilet for two days, be sure that you have the sort of room and loo that makes that time more comfortable and if you must travel whilst ill then either breakfast on Immodium or dress in Pampers.

see also ‘North India, Glastonbury to Delhi’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/12/north-india-in-23-days-day-1-glastonbury-to-delhi/

and ‘North India. In Search of Gandhi (Part 2) at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/