Monday, August 01, 2005

Hiking, the long drive to Amritsar, and a disaster barely averted (Day 23)

As soon as we were all awake, we headed to breakfast at the hotel. It had a reputation for serving great food; it was decent. When we came back to Maria's room, we were surprised to see a monkey reaching his hand inside and trying to get at her food through the gate! Unlike the grey monkeys, which were passive but defensive, this was a red monkey, which we'd heard was aggressive. That indeed appeared to be the case. He hissed at us, he shook the wire grating holding him from entering the room, etc. We fed him some banana chips, and Lee even gave him some pudding he had brought back to the room. Then Lee put some of the pudding on his finger, and the monkey licked it off. Then, we all did it. But that didn't make the monkey go away. We were headed out to go on a hike and see the Bhagsu Devi temple, so we left with him still there. However, Tony (whose room it was also), unlocked the door to go back and get something, and found the monkey had gotten inside the room! Luckily, it crawled back out as soon as Tony came in, so he closed and locked the window, and we left.

We walked out of town and up the hill, with Yovindar telling us about how we were his friends and he was a good driver. He insisted that we go to the Bhagsu Devi temple, and I was interested anyway, so we headed that way. After about 3 km, we arrived. It sits up higher in the hill range than McLeod Ganj, and has a waterfall that flows into a man-made pool. All of this sits right in the temple, but we chose to skip it for now. Instead, we walked up into the hillside to take pictures. The view was amazing, as we were very high up and could see many smaller peaks around us, and the mountain range in front of us. We decided to hike through tall grass on the side of this large hill, which was very dangerous. Eventually, we made it down to a path (that we could have just stayed on from the temple, and saved about half an hour), and followed it onward. We walked up, up, up, with Tony saying he was going to bathe in the Ganjes when we got there. Eventually, we passed a small stream, and everyone washed their hands and feet (if they were wearing sandals). Soon enough, Yovindar made us aware of a leech that was on his foot, which he removed with a stick. We all assumed it was from the water, but we didn't see any on ourselves, so we moved on. Soon, we came to a little covered tea shop. Runoff water was being used to ice a bunch of sodas sitting into a chiseled-out hold in the rock. A tarp had been pulled over a small area that had been cut out, which made for a small dining area. We ordered some tea, and sat watching as it began to rain. Suddenly, Maria screamed as though she had been attacked by an animal. I turned to see what was going on, and found that there was a leech on her foot. When she took off her sandals, she found five more. There were none on me or anyone else, but after Maria's had been removed Lee put one on his skin (because he is slightly insane). The attendant informed us that the leeches were not in the water, but in the grass of the hill we crossed. He put them on a piece of paper and tossed them into the river. Then he brought us our chai, which really hit the spot. It was now pouring rain, and just as it began a Japanese guy came under the tarp with us. We talked to him for a bit and then, realizing it was 11:45, Lee and I began hustling back to the hotel we needed to check out of by noon.

We rushed back, with Lee taking time to shop and me taking time to check out the Bhagsu Devi temple (so, not much hustling). We ended up getting a rickshaw most of the way, since we had come a long distance and it was still raining. When we got back I took my last hot shower, packed up all my wet clothes, and gave away those belongings I would no longer be needing. Then came the goodbyes. Lee and I were headed out, so we took time to dwell on our travels and properly send each other off - Maria and Tony headed to Shimla and on, and Lee and I headed back to Amritsar, then Delhi, then the US.

So we got in the car with Yovindar, and Lee and I both chose to sit in the back. At this point, we both thoroughly disenjoyed Yovindar's company, and also his conversation. We had also become aware, especially when I stated it aloud and heard no rebuttal from him, that "He doesn't really know a lick of English past basic conversation." From that point on, we would regularly direct comments to him in accents, telling him that the music was absolutely terrible, and that we hated him. WWhat did it matter? He didn't understand us. We spent most of the trip reading "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of Life" (which I just finished - enlightening, yet confusing) and a book on Guru Nanak and Sikhism. I held my laundry out the window for a bit just to get it dry (not clean). We listened to the iPod over the blaring of the same 8 Bongra songs he had played all the way up. We stopped at the same restaurant to pee. Lee threw Walnuts at water buffalo. In short, we bided our time, hoping we would make it back to Amritsar for our 9:30 train.

We arrived in Amritsar with about an hour to spare. Lee and I decided, on Yovindar's sugestion, that we would go and get some beer. Yovindar wanted to go to a sit-down establishment, but Lee very explicitly stated he wanted to go to a Godfather (a streetside liquor store). After we passed two of them, Lee said, in a wild voice, "You better go to the next one, I'M WARNING YOU!" It was hilarious, because we both knew he didn't understand. Eventually, we pointed frantically and he pulled over. He of course expected us to buy him a beer, but we refused. At this point, he had asked us "You like my driving" (No, he was terrible) about 67 times. We realized that appeasing him by saying yes throughout the course of the trip made him feel a tip was warranted. We told him we'd pay and tip him once we made it to the train station. We still had 40 minutes to spare, but we told him to head to the train station because we still had to find our particular train, and didn't want to risk it. On the way, we saw a Ferris wheel. Yovindar kept driving, and soon pulled into a sit-down drinking establishment. Instead of acquiescing, I started LOUDLY SCREAMING, from the back seat, "Ferris Wheel! Ferris Wheel!" Lee joined in on the chanting, and soon enough Yovindar gave up and turned around. Lee started to laugh in this high-pitched, insane style of laughter, and I just busted up. We were slap-happy, it was late, and we figured out that we had the time (the station was close by).

We arrived near the fairgrounds, and rushed in. We found a bunch of kids playing on playground equipment, a bunch of junky, unsafe carnival equipment, and the Ferris wheel, which was somewhat different from the ones I'm used to. For starters, the booths seat passengers toward each other, not next to each other. Instead of sitting facing outward along the track of the wheel, you sit perpendicular to it. Last and most important, it goes way faster and the booths swing way more. Before we got on, however, Lee had an idea. We pooled our money, and then went and got every kid in the entire park. We told them we were going to pay for a Ferris wheel ride for everyone - that it was completely on us. After getting this across, about 35 kids came with us to the Ferris wheel. We were seated, and the thing started up. Against our wishes, they sat Lee and I together, but we still got to talk to the people in the carts ahead of and behind us a little bit as we circled around. The kids were ecstatic, and audibly pleased. As soon as the ride ended (we were the first ones off), we realized that we had to go immediate. So we left, and the kids never really knew why we had decided to be so charitable. It was the perfect setting though, because it just made us both feel really good.

Then we headed to the train stop. We arrived with about 15 minutes left and found, much to our dismay, that our train had been CANCELLED. There was no alternate route. Our only option would be to catch the Golden Temple train on the next day, and that would cause us to miss our flight home. I was in a state of near-panic, and Yovindar wasn't helping. We had already paid him, but he lingered on (presumably because he has no friends). By coincidence or fate, I ran into a Punjabi named Nafdeep who was very rational, had full control of the English language, and who was on the same train as us. He was also Sikh, and in that selfless manner that I have come to find characteristic of Sikhs, Nafdeep helped us through the process. He said he was actually glad to have found two white guys, as it would better his chances of getting his own arrangements fixed. I told him I felt like it was fate, because Lee and I had been reading about Guru Nanak the whole ride there. Unfortunately, fate didn't have it in the cards. Nafdeep decided he would just travel another day, and the bus authority refused to exchange our tickets for a train that would be passing through Delhi and leaving in an hour. They would, however, bargain for our tickets, and then go and trade them in on their own time. We didn't have the time for this, so we had to accept. Luckily, Nafdeep made sure we got the price of our tickets. Then Yovindar butted in again. His friend (also his uncle (but who isn't?)) owned the bus line in town, and could get us seats if we hurried, and of course bought him a beer. So we went to a Godfather, and bought him, and when he started whining like a bitch, Rintu beers. Just to trump it up, Lee and I each got two beers for ourselves. We also stopped by a streetside food vendor, and got a fried mutton fritter. It was absolutely delicious. We slammed the first of our two beers while eating it, and then, when Yovindar showed no urgency in making it to the bus, we got out and started walking back. We made it, and Yovindar soon pulled up. Our bags were already packed, so we were just waiting to get on the road. In that bit of time, Yovindar's friend, happy to have gotten his beer, gave us a shot of Indian rum (good!). He also rolled up a hash cigarette, which was worthless, as I found most Indian hash to be. We came to discover, but not be surprised by the fact, that Rintu's "Uncle" had no affiliation with the bus line whatsoever, outside of knowing it existed. But whatever. We got on the bus, trying hard as we might not to have to say bye to Yovindar.

We went from being on a second-class AC sleeper cab, which would take 8 hours to get to Delhi, to riding back on an non-AC bus on bad roads that would take 10 hours. This was impetus enough to slam our second 40, in the hopes of passing out. It would have worked well, but that Lee had no urinated for a while. Somehow, almost immediately having pulled out of the station, all the Indian passengers were sound asleep. Lee walked down the entry steps, pissed into his bottle (at the time, I thought he was pissing on the floor), and chucked it out the window. I waited until the first stop, which was just alongside some field. Everyone got out, even women, and urinated in this field. We got back on the bus, and soon after I was finally able to pass out (though I was awaked repeatedly).

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