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/

Holi !

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following on from In Search of Gandhi (Part 2)
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/

Sitting down for breakfast we were joined by a Swiss couple who looked like they’d been in a road accident – and indeed they had. The night before, the tuk tuk they’d been riding in had been hit, side on by a car throwing both of them from the rickshaw and subsequently being ambulanced to hospital. They checked themselves out though because the amount of ‘carnage’ that was coming in to the A&E from road accidents made their injuries seem trivial (gashed forehead on him, possible dislocated shoulder on her). Despite what the taxi, coach and tuk drivers tell you, India has the highest road death rates in the world. In fact it is safer to base jump.

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It was then that Ashwari, the hotel owner, came in to the dining room brandishing pink paint powder and so it was that we were all facially colored before even leaving the breakfast table so my holi festival avoidance tactics had hiccuped at not even the sight of a first hurdle.

Holi is a spring festival also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival that has become popular with non-Hindus as well. It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations with people of Indian origin. Recently, the fesitval spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love and colors.

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We left the hotel to walk to the one open shop that sold water and was immediately in a movie scene from Black Hawk Down. In that film the US soldiers had to run a guantlet of bullets through the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu whilst we, it very quickly transpired had to walk a gauntlet of paint bombs through the streets of a quiet neighbourhood suburb of Delhi. They were coming at us from all angles from rooftops, from the windows of every floor on every house, from passing motorbikes where one bike with three people on it all managed a synchronized bombing whilst moving.

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All the time random people from age 2 to 90 were running up to us, smearing, pouring and covering us with the rainbow of paints – all the time and without exception smiling and laughing and saying ‘HAPPY HOLI!’

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By the time we had reached the end of this one, quiet mind, street we looked like we’d survived an explosion at a Dulux factory. My Holi avoidance tactics had clearly failed. The next street and the one after that was no different. It had obviously gone along the wires that they’re were westerners coming and we were met at every nook and crannie.

We happened upon a park where the locals of Saket were having a community Holi party – big buffet, DJ’s and bollywood dancing and we were invited in and it was insisted that we ate and danced. Indians definitely dance differently. They make all westerners who dance, regardless of any past Ibiza credentiials, look like your father in law after five pints at a bad disco.

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Then there was a sort of undercover finale where lots of little plastic bottles, full of vodka were handed out and we were also encouraged to take part. It was a lovely time and after the vodka, it felt like we lived in this suburb of Delhi as we’d got to know so many of the residents and them us.  One Love.

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One set of kids had earlier covered James in a bucket of water which inadvertently soaked his smartphone which later on returning to the hotel he decided to dry – on the 3rd floor balcony rail of his room. I had truly forgotten he’d told us that he had done t this and when going on to the balcony to watch the clean up below, I only slightly felt my finger brush something before hearing the smashing sound that is a smartphone hitting solid concrete three floors below.  :0

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

Glastonbury to Delhi

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After our last trip to India in 2012 we decided not to ever again sleep overnight on chairs at Gatwick or any other airport and so we booked in at a nearby Gatwick Hotel which is a 10 minute shuttle from the hotel door to the North Terminal.
The staff here were lovely but for all its neon promise of decadence the room was, in a word, shit. The bed, when one sat up straight in it with one’s back against the wall (there was no headboard besides it being London in the 21st century), rolled away towards the door. The one pillow seemed to be stuffed with itching powder and, as the walls were no thicker than white washed kleenex, it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the thoughts of our young neighbours – neighbours, it turned out, that were on a school trip from Brookside, just 2 miles from Glastonbury.

All flights were on time and once again Emirates proved to be real value for money. Their economy class would match business class on many other airlines. The seats are spaced so that in the event of a crash you would actually be able to get your head on to your knees rather than up against the head rest of the seat in front of you and as I practice Yoga I knew I’d have no trouble in going as far to be able to kiss my arse goodbye if the moment called for it.  This leg of the journey took 6 hours which the three of us whiled away watching movies. There was an hour to kill at Dubai airport which we did in a Costa before getting the connection to Delhi, a trip of 3 hours.

Arriving in Delhi at 2am to the amazing Mudra walled arrivals building everything was going swimmingly until we met the queue for passport control

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We stood in line watching the queue we’d thought about joining diminish at least, I had time to work out, five times faster than ours. After a whole hour and having only 5 people in front of us, we swapped queues. This was a silent protest at the imbecilic official that had converted mild mannered travellers in front of us into potential terrorists. I was particularly anxious as I’d mislaid (turns out, lost) the phone number and address of the small hotel down a side-street that we’d booked and there was supposed to be a driver waiting. Had he gone home, all I knew was the small hotel down a side-street’s name and in the biggest city in India, I knew we could be in trouble and at 3am. We were in 20th position in our new queue but still we went through passport stamping before one other person had moved in the other.

Suffice to say our backpacks were just being loaded onto the Delhi lost persons presumed dead trolley when we arrived and thankfully the wonderful driver from our booked hotel had waited all this time who by now was nonchalantly waving a board with ‘OLLIER’ across it to anyone who would listen. I’d use the word ‘relieved’ to describe his reaction but I might have been mistaken as I think he also had given us up for or wishing we were dead.

At 4am he delivered us to ‘The Tree of Life’ and our second India adventure had begun, this one with our adult son along for the ride – and what a time was about to be had………

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