Monday 1 October 2007


As soon as I woke up, I went for a squatting shower to try and wash off the feeling of sickness and the pain in my throat. It didn't work, but I realized I had got quite good at showering under the tap.

We checked out of Lhasa House and got our ride to the airport. What a ride! The driver annouced that a friend of his would join us for fun. He then drove us to the airport in a way reminiscent of car chasing scenes you would see in those action packed Hollywood blockbusters. All the elements were there: high speed, cutting lights, swerving from side to side, squeezing in between cars, trucks and motor bikes. The only difference is that this car chase also involved blaring Hindi music and dodging cows along the road.

Once at the airport, as soon as I retrieved the luggage from the car boot and paid the driver, IÂ was approached by a boy asking where I was going and whether IÂ needed help. The instictual response to him (ingrained in me by the previous three days in Delhi) was to tell him that we didn't need any help.

Later I realized he was an official Indian Airlines employee, which caused me some embarassment. However, this feeling would soon be replaced by utter dismay and anger, when I realized that I had forgot my camera on the taxi.

What followed was a frantic and panicky attemp to get in touch with Lhasa House, who had ordered the taxi for us, to ask them to instruct the taxi driver to return the camera to us or to them, depending on how far they had got.

This apparently simple task was compilcated by the fact that I could not find a working public phone in the airport and, when I found one, I could not get change in 1 rupie coins needed to operate the phone in any of the shops or booking offices in the terminal.

I searched my pockets and found 2 1 rupie coins. I called Lhasa House and the nice lady that handled our check out and taxi ordering. She instructed me to ring back in ten minutes, and she would try to get in touch with the driver in the meantime.

The slowest ten minutes of my life later, I rang back with the last 1 rupie coin I had. It wasn't just the fear of loosing the camera itself, but mainly the pictures we had so far taken. Thankfully, she said that the driver had my camera and that I could collect from there.

Relief swept over me. I asked if driver could drive back to the airport and return it there and then, but she said that driver was only 20 minutes away from getting back, which meant it would take him about 35 minutes to reach the airport. Our flight wouldn't wait that long.

I just had the time to say that we would be back to Lhasa House to collect the camera when we were cut off. Hopefully we'll get our photoes and camera back in a couple of weeks.

We had a plane to board. We went to the checkin desk, only to be told after a short queue that we had to have our checkedin luggage screened and scanned through the x-ray machine.

Before complying with the request, I remember reading that batteries were not allowed in carry on luggage, to prevent terrorists from detonating their bombs on board. I took the batteries out of my Psion. That achieved nothing but erasing what I had so far written in my travel diary, since batteries were clearly allowed on board.

The flight only took about 40 minutes. We were pampered with snacks and drink by female flight attendants wearing traditional Indian clothing. At Chandigarh airport, we turned to the official tourist information desk for advice on how to get to Shimla.

They recommended hiring a taxi and informed us that the journey would take 4 hours and cost 1700rupies. Outside, the goverment official representative handing out prepaid taxi tickets showed us to our taxi driver. So much easier than trying to fence off the commission hunters in Delhi.

Driving out of the airport we noticed how quieter and more spread out Chandigarh was compared to Delhi. I asked the driver to turn the airconditioning on, at which point he warned us that it woud cost 300 rupies extra and that it would be available in the next car. What next car?

His brother's next car. He'd be driving us the rest of the way to Shimla. I managed to bargain the price of the air-con down to 200. We were off.

The drive up to Shimla went smoothly up until we got around Kalka. There we became stuck in one of worst and longest traffic jams of my life. Everything was choker-blocked. For two hours, we would drive 10 meters, then stop for 10 minutes.

The only consolation was that there was plenty to look at while stopped in the car. The traffic jam began in Kalka, and its bustling roads had lots of hustle and bustle to keep us entertained (or, rather, to prevent us from going mad with boredom).

Of special notice were a bold cow walking up to a desk of a shop, behind which was a man. I wonder whether the man would let the cow do what she wanted, her being sacred and all. But the man was not so reveering of the cow... on the contrary, he drew out a stick and threatened to hit the cow on her nozzle. She sensibly backed off.

Another cow though it amusing to stop right next to our car and relieve herself. The smoking pile fell right in front of the entrace of a shop, whose owner was not too happy about. The owner proceeded to express his feelings about what happened by kicking the cow in the butt a few times.

Having lost about two hours, our driver felt that he should try to make up time by driving even more dangerously. Wala was tensing and grasping the door handles in preparation for a crash at every turn.

To be fair, he drove rather recklessly. By that I mean overtaking while on bends, without being able to see what was coming the other way, or taking turns so fast that the tyres were skidding on the tarmac and producing the typical whistle.

We eventually got to our destination, but the arrival was not a happy one. We hadn't booked a hotel, and our driver didn't know the way to the hotel we intended to stay in. We stopped by the side of the road to decide what to do. In a moment, we were assailed by commission hunters trying to get us to go to their hotel. They were shouting that all other hotels were fully booked and that we would get a discount if we went to theirs.

Even though we knew that the only thing we would get if we went to their hotel was a hefty rip-off to pay for their commission, we were close to giving in.

However, we asked our driver to keep going and stop at the next hotel we saw. This hotel was fully booked out. More commission hunters raced to our car. One of them even started running along with us as we were pulling away in search of another hotel and shouting to our driver in Hindi. Fair play to him for not stopping.

The next hotel we stopped had a room, but it was pricy and positioned on a roof top where a few dozens indians were dancing and shouting around a fire. The other next door was just what we were looking for. 1800 rupies a night and clean nice rooms, with toiler paper in the bathroom.

After seeing the room, IÂ said that I would take it at reception and the driver and I went back to the car where Wala had been sitting. I paid the driver the fare for the ride and gave him a generous tip (300 rupies) for helping us find a hotel, as promised.

A tiny man (our rucksack was bigger than him) with deep black eyes carried our bag up. His eyes filled with gratitude when I gave him 30 rupies tip. It was so nice to see a bed with sheets on and have a bathroom with a working shower.

We were starved. The decision to treat ourselves and order room service was unanimous. Our order of Chicken Masala and Chicken Sashi Korma came in 15 minutes. The waiter came into the room and set the table for us.

Delicious. 20 minutes laterthe waiter came back to clean up and received his tip. He also brought some breath freshening seeds in a bowl.

We watched some TV (yes, this room also had TV) before falling asleep.