Sunday, June 12, 2011

leaving Shimla, May 14th

It's a conspiracy!

This trip it has seemed as if something has conspired against me to prevent my arrival in Pin. Last time I came it was a long journey but nothing insurmountable, this time I seem to meet with delays at every turn.

On leaving Shimla

I mentioned previously that I moved from the YMCA to a much nicer room at the Ashoka Hotel. The room was twice as much, but was bug free, had a private bath with plenty of hot water, and very nice and helpful staff (all quite the opposite at the YMCA). I mentioned to one of the folks working there that I had gone to the bus station and the guy at the ticket counter told me there were no weekend buses to Reckong Peo. He said he was pretty sure there were buses and that he didn't know why the ticket seller said that. He suggested I go to the Tourist Information Center office in the middle of town, which I did. They were also quite helpful and said that there was in fact a weekend bus to RP, but that there was only one and it was an overnight bus, leaving Shimla at 6:30 and arriving in RP at 4am. It was then Saturday the 14th. As I had already checked into the Ashoka Hotel and wasn't sure that the Inner Line Permit office in RP would be open on a Sunday, I went ahead and bought a ticket for Sunday night to arrive early Monday the 16th, and stayed in Shimla.

Next step was to find a hotel in Reckong Peo for Monday and find out the bus schedule from RP to Kaza. The latter part was easy as I was pretty sure the same bus I would be on from Shimla to RP would continue to Kaza, so I could just hop on the same bus the next day after getting the permit. The first part proved to be impossible. I had the Lonely Planet guide to North India that lists half a dozen hotels in RP as well as a number of travel websites and a travel agent at my disposal, however in spite of all of this, I could not get in touch with a single hotel in RP. Of the dozen or so numbers I called, either no one answered (for hours), the number was disconnected, or it was a wrong number. The travel agent was completely useless because tourists generally don't stay in RP, they go to Kalpa, a more scenic town farther up the mountain from RP. He kept telling me about all of these nice hotels with amazing views and good restaurants he could set me up with in Kalpa even though I told him that I didn't care about the view or the food, I wanted a simple room close to the bus station and permit office, which meant staying in RP not Kalpa. I generally wouldn't have spent so much time trying to pre-book a room (it's usually fairly easy to just show up and find one) but the bus was scheduled to get in at 4am and I didn't want to have to sit at the bus stop until 7 or 8 when folks actually woke up and would answer the door. Unfortunately, it seemed like that would be my fate.

I spent most of the following Sunday in Shimla hanging out at the Indian Coffee House reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk, which I had picked up in Shimla after deciding that Dialectic of Enlightenment by Horkheimer and Adorno required a little more concentration than I could muster at the moment. I read My Name is Red by Pamuk a couple of years ago and it quickly moved to the top of my list of favorite books, but I hadn't had any time since to read anything else by him. Snow is just as good as My Name is Red, although they are quite different books, and would prove an oddly apt choice of book for my upcoming travels (the protagonist is trapped by inclement weather on a long journey).

One amusing little anecdote; while I was reading a man came up to me smiling really big and said hello and reached out to shake my hand. I get a lot of different reactions and interruptions from Indians on vacation in Shimla, more on that later perhaps, but he seemed nice so I stood and shook his hand. Still holding my hand he said, “My wife thinks you look just like the actor who plays Peter Parker in Spiderman, so I wanted to say hello”. I laughed and said thank you, maybe it was the glasses, while he continued to shake my hand and grin and look hard at my face. I didn't realize at first that he actually thought I might be Tobey Maguire (whose name I had to look up) and had come over to check; I thought he was just remarking on a resemblance. This might be the first time I've ever been confused for someone famous, and I must say that of all the actors in the world, I don't know that I would have guessed it would have been Tobey Maguire. I did sort of have my hair styled like he does here and I have glasses, but that might be about it. Amusing nonetheless.

So Sunday the 15th I checked out of the hotel, left my bags at the hotel, and killed time until the bus left at 6:30. Bored of waiting in the coffee house and incapable of suppressing my American urge to be on time for things, I left for the bus station way too early and had to sit around in the chaos and wait until the bus arrived at 6:25. Finding the right bus was rather stressful first of all because there are two bus stations in Shimla and I had been given conflicting suggestions as to which one to go to, and second, because the bus was supposed to arrive at “platform 9”, which didn't really exist; the numbers stopped at 6. The ticket booth guy had gestured toward a crowd of buses that all said HRTC (Himachal Road Transportation Co) so I milled about around them asking folks if they knew where the bus to Peo was. Just as I was beginning to sweat, a bus pulled up that said Reckong Peo on the side. I showed the driver my ticket, confirmed it was the right bus, climbed up on top of the bus to load my larger bag, then found my seat with my smaller backpack. I shared the three person seat with two men, one on his way to Kinnaur and the other to Spiti. I had a window seat and the guy to my left was an absolutely awful travel companion. When I got on, there was a bag on the floor in front of my seat and when I asked him to move it he just looked at me and said I could put my bag under the seat. I said no, I was going to put my bag on the floor at my feet and needed him to move his bag. This stand off continued for a few minutes until I picked his bag up, but it on the floor at his feet, and put my bag down. Off to a great start.

The bus left a little late and, after everyone who had a reserved ticket and seat was accounted for, it became a local route, meaning that it would stop along the way to pick up and drop off other passengers who stood in the aisle, which meant that the whole bus packed front to back with people.

Leaving Shimla the dense evergreen forests slowly thin out, but Kinnaur is on the whole still a pretty green place. We stopped for dinner around 9 at a roadside dhaba. I wasn't really hungry but had a Cliff bar anyway. Who knows when the next stop would be? When we got back on the bus everyone started to fall asleep. This is when I became a very grumpy passenger. The older guy sitting next to me had been taking up more than his share of space the entire ride. The three seats are joined together like a bench; there isn't an arm rest in between but the individual seats are clearly differentiated. He had his arm and leg on my seat, pushing me up against the window. This happens all the time to me on planes and things, perhaps because I'm small, but whatever. I didn't mind so much until he decided that sleeping meant he got to put his feet on my side/on my bag and completely lean on me. I kept pushing him back over on his side as much as possible, but it was difficult, again because he was much bigger/heavier than me. Every time the bus bumped or turned, he would slouch over again. As much as I felt bad about shoving someone's head off my shoulder, keeping him from crushing me against the wall was becoming rather painful. At the next bathroom/food stop, I tried to explain to him in as articulate of Hindi as I could muster, that this was my seat and that was his seat and that he was pushing me against the wall. He seemed completely unconcerned. When we got back on the bus I was a little less gentle/polite and planted my feet and held my arms at my side as best as I could to keep him from squashing me. It worked only slightly and I spent most of the ride feeling like I was in a mosh pit, becoming increasingly bruised while he slept. Oh, India. Good times.

Some time around 3am the bus stopped again. At first I figured it was another pit stop for the driver, but then another bus pulled up next to us. I couldn't see anything out the windows and wasn't really sure where we were. More and more buses pulled up and the clock ticked past 4am, our scheduled arrival time. Most of the other passengers were sleeping and the few that were awake seemed unconcerned. As the sky started to lighten I saw the river to our left, the mountain to our right, about 10 buses hustled together, and a large rock slide in front of us completely blocking the road. Everyone woke up and we all milled about on and off the bus until 6:30, when everyone grabbed their things, climbed over the rock slide, and waited on the other side for another bus to come get us. When the bus did arrive, there was a confusing scramble for seats and a lot of arguments between the bus driver and passengers from other buses who had tried to board “our” bus. Eventually we were on our way. This time, I offered to swap the window for the aisle seat, hoping to save my aching shoulder. The older man took full advantage of this, again taking up more than one seat, so that I had only about half of my body actually on the seat. Despite this, it was much more comfortable on the end.

The next sign post indicated that we were still about 45km from RP. I wasn't too concerned because the permit office didn't open until 10am anyway and the upside of the rock slide was that I didn't have to sit at the bus station from 4-7am. With the slightly more comfortable seat, the prospect of a permit to Spiti, and having bypassed the 4am arrival time, I was feeling pretty optimistic. When the snow capped mountains slid into view, I began to feel more upbeat, even smiling at the older fellow who had caused me so much discomfort over the past 12 hours. That's when the tire blew. I take full responsibility for the misfortune my happiness brought upon my fellow travelers. The nuisance of changing a tire was compounded by the fact that this wasn't the driver's original bus, so he had no idea where all of the requisite tools were located. It took the better part of half an hour just to get everything assembled to be able to begin to change the tire. An hourish later, with the bus newly tread, we were back on the road to RP.

1 comment:

  1. I think you could write a book about this trip. You've already been through so much, and you still have 2 more months to go!

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