My time in India is like this weird Monty Python, Fawlty Towers hybrid where things continually happen and I am left thinking that can’t be right.
Needing to leave my Mumbai hotel at 3:30am I had spent the night before checking and double checking that someone would be there to hail me a taxi as I was told I could not just book one for that time. So, at 3:20 I rocked up to the front desk and there was absolutely no on around, I went to exit the hotel to try and get a cab for myself only to discover that a grate door had been pulled across the entrance and I was locked in. About to go upstairs and yell until someone came and assisted me I heard the thumping of feet coming down the stairs with a shirtless man yelling “Mam, Mam, excuse me Mam”. His jiggling belly nearly collided with my face as he started explaining in very broken English that he had fallen asleep behind the counter and his alarm hadn’t gone off and he was so, so sorry. Telling him it was fine, and wanting to add it would be better if he were fully clothed, I was escorted out to the street to witness one shirtless man wake up another shirtless man in his taxi. The taxi driver saw me and at least had the good sense to quickly put a singlet on before approaching me about the fare. The taxi driver and I quickly settled on a price and off we went, with the shirtless hotel worker yelling apologies after me. Driving through Mumbai at 3:30 in the morning was a very stinky experience – I don’t think it smelled that bad during the day time but my god early in the morning the place just reeked. Unable/unwilling to wind the windows up (I feared the taxi driver may be generously contributing to the odour) I held my scarf to my face and hoped the drive would be short.PICTURE
Arriving at the airport I approached screening #1 (at Indian airports you have to present your ticket about 8 times before you get on the place – the first is before you even enter the airport) only to be told that my print out of my ticket confirmation was insufficient to gain me entry into the airport and that I should have checked in online. Having used flight confirmation for my other flights in India as opposed to a ticket I was confused – moreover, I had been unable to check in online as I had paid for the ticket with an international credit card. Attempting to explain this to the guard he proceeded to ignore my pleas and let everyone else through. I was thankfully saved by a guard coming to relieve the initial guard who knew what I was talking about and let me in. At 4:00am I was already exhausted from the stress of the morning. The flights through to Delhi and then on to Dharamsala were unremarkable. Arriving at Dharamsala my pre booked taxi failed to appear, after 10 minutes I asked a couple to call my hostel the owner said they were 20 minutes away. Passing time I chatted to two Indians who were separately travelling the country, they were very nice and one even invited me to a vegan buffet dinner that night (I did intend to attend but it didn’t start till 8pm and at 5:30 I was already ravenous and ate in town). 45 minutes later two young guys rocked up with a hand written sign to collect “Any Montgomery” – as a Montgomery I fitted the bill and off we went.
The road to McLeodganj is not what I would describe as wide or well maintained. The winding mountainous road has little more than enough room for a Toyota Corolla, yet you are sharing the road with trucks, cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians and of course cows.
Deciding it was easier to focus on something other than the road I looked out the window – it was amazing! For the first time since landing in India there were wide open spaces, masses of greenery, and pitched roofed houses (that might seem like an odd observation but seriously everywhere else has a flat roof). It was beautiful and felt just ever so slightly closer to home than anywhere else I had been. The two young men after 45 minutes suddenly declared we were at my hostel and pointed to a steep upward set of stairs saying “just up there ask for Ganesh”. There was absolutely no sign of a hostel.
Walking up the dirt path and stairs I started yelling Ganesh to see what sort of response I got. An Indian man suddenly popped round a corner saying “ahhh AnnieI am so, so sorry about the taxi here I will show you to your room” – maybe the two young guys did know what they were talking about. My room was spacious and all seemed well until I discovered I had no running water, at all (or loo paper for that matter). When I went up to ask Ganesh why this was so he just did his wee Indian head wobble and said it would be resolved soon – he would not however specify how soon. Giving up on that conversation I sat down on the rooftop (at Ganesh’s invitation) to use the Internet and phone mum and dad – about 4 minutes into my conversation Ganesh interrupted me to tell me I couldn’t sit there. I nearly screamed… This guy could give Basil Fawlty a run for his money. Meanwhile Mum and Dad were laughing their heads off down the phone listening to me try and understand why I couldn’t sit there (yet another unresolved issue). Repositioning myself on the rooftop I sat and enjoyed the spectacular view all the way up to the Himalayas (I think… A snow frosted mountain at least).
Returning to my room to discover the water issue was not yet resolved I decided to wander into the town. McLeodganj is the home of the Dalai Lama and has a very large Tibetan population. Walking around the town (which would probably take 15-20minutes max if done in one go) there was a huge number of robed Monks wandering the streets wearing Nikes and using iPhones – I found the whole situation hilarious!
The town is small and picturesque and while there is a lot less poverty than other places I have been there is still a notable presence of beggars in the street. Walking around for 2 hours and enjoying a meal in town I decided that this definitely isn’t the worst place to be spending my last week-ish in India. While it’s unlikely I will stay just here I have definitely found a very nice part of India to be in at this time of year – on that note, it is only 22-29 degrees each day… BLISS!!