McConked out in McLeod

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Oct 31, 2007

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

This morning we left Amritsar on the train headed for Pathankot, about 2 1/2 hours away. As it was a short journey there was no choice of class and no reserved seats, so we were a little bit concerned about it, but it was no problem. The train was actually quite quiet most of the way, and the rather posh Indian lady sitting next to us took the liberty of stretching out full length on the bench seat. The train got a bit busier just before departure though and you should have seen the look of daggers she gave the man who came along and had the audacity to ask her to sit up so he could have a seat!

We had decided to get a taxi from Pathankot to McLeod Ganj because I was a bit scared of getting a decrepit state-run bus on a journey which I thought would be mainly winding mountain roads with steep drops off to the side. A taxi sounds a huge extravagance for a 3-hour journey, but it seems less so when you realise the going rate is only about 12 pounds 50. So we found a driver who was happy to take us, and were pleased with ourselves because we negotiated him down in price from his original 1250 Rupees to 1050 Rupees. All was well, until only about 20 minutes into the journey when he stopped at a mechanic's hut and had to change a tyre. Naturally this made us a little worried, but we convinced ourselves it was OK, even when Tim went round and checked the tread on the 3 other tyres and found that they were pretty much bare. Once we got going we were doing fine and we both fell asleep and woke up about an hour later when our driver stopped to pick up a man who he claimed was his brother. We just about believed him as they did look kind of similar, but it does seem that Indians are quite happy to claim that any old person is their brother if they think it will help them. After a while, once we had climbed a bit, the car engine started to make some funny noises and he had to stop and have a look at the engine and get some water from a nearby house to put into it. But he got it going again and off we went again. We were getting quite high up by now and the roads were quite steep, although not with the scary drops to the side as I had expected. Suddenly there was a horrible bang from the engine and it just conked out and clearly wasn't going to get going again without some serious help from a mechanic. So there we were, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, without any transport and with a driver who seemed willing to give us any story in order to get his money. I was a bit worried, but Tim seemed fairly calm. Actually he was right not to be too worried, because actually there were people around - a few houses, and we had recently seen a sign saying it was 8km to Dharamsala so Tim felt confident that if we really had to we could walk, even with our backpacks (at that moment we were very glad of our packing light plan), and we were on a road so surely someone would pick us up... So we hung around the car for a while with the driver repeatedly telling us that we had to go in "other car" and that said "other car" was coming soon, but with no information about how he had arranged this (he hadn't left our sight) or where it was coming from. It was clear to us that what he actually planned to do was flag down a passing car and persuade them to take us. We had got to the point where we told him we would wait 10 more minutes and then we would start to walk, when a car stopped and our driver had a conversation with the occupants and we were then beckoned to get in. We had a slightly unpleasant scene with our driver about how much we should pay him (we were inclined to give him nothing, given that we were left abandoned on the hillside) but we eventually agreed to give him 800, just 250 short of the full price. Then we got in the strangers' car (sorry mums and dads but we had no choice!) and I felt like crying with relief. They were such lovely people - 2 men, perhaps father and son but not sure - Tibetan looking and so kind and helpful. They took us as far as Dharamsala (and took no money for it) and then made sure we got on the right bus to McLeod Ganj. The irony of all this is that we had got the taxi in the first place to avoid travelling the mountain roads by bus, and then ended up doing the last bit (the most winding and mountainous) on that very thing! (R)

Rach is being quite generous to the taxi driver. He also took us out of the way to visit his sister. A family man, I'm sure, but a liberty all the same. It is however some comfort to us (given that he was quite happy to overcharge us for a journey in a car so utterly unroadworthy) that he is very likely still on that grass verge, no doubt waiting for another family member to miraculously appear! (btw, that infinitive was split for literary effect, so no clever-clogs corrections, please :o)

Finding a suitable place to stay was easy as. Hotel Green will be our home from home for the next few days. It's a friendly place, with filtered water refills available for 10 Rupees (so we can take a much needed break from water that tastes of chlorine), and happily near to Yellow Guesthouse and Red Restaurant... We were soon enjoying a glimpse of the rocky pinnacles of the Dhauladhar mountain range (part of the Himalayas) from a roof-top bar, a cold Kingfisher shared between us. Initial reaction to McLeod Ganj (the higher town of Dharamsala and home to the exiled Dalai Lama) is positive, but we're not as impressed as we'd hoped to be. There isn't the perfect panorama of snow capped mountains we'd wanted (someone has had the temerity to suggest we will have to walk - uphill - if we want a better view), and it's not quite as instantly picturesque as we found Rishikesh. However I think part of it is simply that our 'escape' from Delhi was to Rishikesh rather than McLeod Ganj. Rishikesh was such a welcome break that it will always be in our hearts as the perfect antidote to the smoggy, dirty, capital city. Had we come to McLeod Ganj before Rishikesh, I expect things would have been the other way round. Anyway, we're hoping to do a Tibetan cooking course tomorrow which we're both looking forward to immensely. Have we mentioned that we're obsessed with our tummies? Probably. (T)
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