Jul 2, 2009
Thank you for keeping abreast of our adventures. Now that you've finally learned how to live without us, we're coming back. Pretend to be excited. At least a little. For us.
In less than 24 hours, we'll be back in a garbagey Toronto. At first I was angry (about the garbage strike) but then I realized it will help ease our culture shock, since India has been on garbage strike since forever.
Seriously though, go to India. Though it mostly smells like poo, sometimes it smells really good, like garam masala. That brings me to the first, and last, Linen Club Contest! The first person to reply to this final message will receive a stainless steel container of garam masala that we ground from whole Indian spices today.
Hope to see you all on the other side of the pond.
The Linen Club
Haute couture yay, but unaffordable nay. A "snow dress" can be hired out for the reasonable price of 300 Rs a day. The suits are popular with domestic tourists who have never seen snow. They rent a one-piece and skis from one of many rental shops, drive up the Rohtang pass, find a patch of snow and pose for amazing pictures. Then they tell everyone back in Delhi or Punjab that they went skiing over the holidays.
They totally have the right idea. Who likes actually skiing anyway? It's really just an excuse to eat fondue and wear fluorescent. Enjoy these rare glimpses of a real jewel of a ski town. These photos are just a taste...I plan to put on a proper show of Indian Ski Fashion at Steven Bulger gallery if I can ever afford to develop the film.
The drivers who do this route are of a special breed. Their schedule is to leave one location at 2am, arrive at the other end in the early evening, sleep for a few hours, and then depart at 2am again traveling back to Point A with a new group of passengers. They have one day off a week.
Our troubles began at the first passport check. When we left Leh we were in a convoy of three mini buses. Apparently, these guys look out for one another - therefore, one bus' problems become our problems. At this stop, one of the passengers in the bus ahead of us refused to show her passport, so the army would not let her pass through the checkpoint. Nobody knew why she wouldn't show her passport because she doesn't speak. It's not that she couldn't speak, it's that she chooses not to. This young lady is very much a typical "hippie" India backpacker. She floats around with a smile plastered on her face, shoeless, hugging everyone in sight, while playing a thumb piano. We had first spotted her the week before at a temple festival where she fell asleep on stage amidst dozens of dancing monks. Eventually, her driver gave up and threw her bag off the roof of her bus. An hour later, and we were back on the move.
Susie is mad
The next obstacle occurred about an hour later when a bus in our convoy broke down. We all had to stop on the side of the road while the drivers tried to figure out the problem - this mostly involved a lot of standing around and shrugging of shoulders. Honey stood there with a wrench in his hand looking particularly useless. We tried to convince him that he didn't know how to help so we should leave anyway, but he insisted that his services were of value. Two hours later, after some tinkering and kicking of tires, the bus miraculously started.
We stopped for lunch mid-afternoon three hours off schedule. A fellow passenger on our bus insisted that we needed a treat and bought a couple of rounds of rum and mango juice. The following six hours went by relatively smoothly, aided by our boozy haze.
By 10pm, we were just 30 kms away from Manali. Having just crossed over our final and highest pass, Rhotang, we anticipated that the rest of our journey would be a breeze. How wrong we were. We were suddenly stopped behind a lineup of trucks. Honey went out to investigate and came back with some bad news: two trucks had simultaneously broken down on the same curve and were blocking traffic in both directions. A group of drivers got together and tried to push the trucks out of the way, but they weren't going anywhere. We were forced to spend another night sleeping in the mini bus. The water supply was limited, and we hadn't eaten since our late lunch. Also, the gas fumes from all the idling trucks were making us all dizzy. Morale was, to say the very least, extremely low.
The next morning we woke up around 5am and the two trucks were as stuck as ever. We made a group decision to jump ship, and the six of us set out on foot, leaving Honey behind. It took us over five kms to walk to the end of the blocked traffic, and even then more and more cars kept arriving and getting stuck. We assumed it would be no problem to hitchhike to Manali, but the stubborn drivers refused to turn around, even when we explained to them that the road was blocked and would be for hours.
A couple of hours later Andrew and I managed to catch a ride with a family from Delhi. It took us another four hours from there to work our way through all the cars headed up to the Rhotang pass, despite warnings about the two broken down trucks. As we soon learned, Rhotang is a major attraction for Indian tourists who have never seen snow before. Apparently, no traffic jam is going to stand in the way of this once in a lifetime photo opportunity.
We made it to Manali at 11am, 17 hours late. We were filthy, hungry, and belligerent. From now on, I think we'll take the plane.
Jul 1, 2009
Furthermore, our seats were in the unfortunate position where the windows in front and behind us met, so we were shielded from any breeze. As such, I thought it was only fair that the little ceiling fan be pointed on us. But, as soon as I would fall asleep, the father would reach over my head and move the fan back on his wife and children. This went on for hours, until eventually I fell into a sweaty sleep, having conceded the fight over the fan.
When I woke up in the morning I noticed that my glasses had fallen onto the floor, right by the feet of the protective father, and the left lens was completely cracked. Whether he stepped on my glasses on purpose or by accident I will never know, but regardless he had ultimately reigned triumphant in ruining my 16 hour journey.
Leading up to the vote, we tried to engage many Indians in political dialogue, including taxi drivers, waiters, transit passengers, youth, etc. but nobody really wanted to talk about it. With dozens of federal parties and a confusing network of coalitions between the different groups, it seems that most people are weary of the country's political happenings. Furthermore, there is widespread doubt as to the legitimacy of the voting process. We surmised that it is generally accepted that many votes are bought with Rupees, or a meal, or even a couple of bottles of beer. Also, almost a third of the elected MPs currently face criminal charges, including murder!
Still, there is much trumpeting in the press of the exercising of of "The World's Largest Democracy" going to the polls, which, really, is an impressive ordeal, and despite its many flaws, surely the best choice of many imperfect options.
However, on the ground, I believe what is most impressive is that India has to have to the world's worst campaign posters. My favourite campaign photo of all is of the candidate in the bottom right corner of this poster. Believe me, his quadruple chin is not an optical allusion. His scrunched up face was plastered all over the state of Himachal Pradesh. The worst part is, I have seen other pictures of him in BJP party campaign posters, and he is actually a jolly looking guy with a big smile. How this photo was approved as as his official campaign shot is a mystery.