We’d come to the Manali area in the first place because it is a gateway for Ladakh, a high altitude Budhist area tucked into and isolated by the Himalayas. It’s a two day bus trip through some of the world’s highest motorable passes to get
there, and it’s a short season there because once it starts to snow the roads close and the only way in or out is to fly. It was mid-September and the busses weren’t going to be running much longer; it was time to head to Ladakh. We booked a relatively expensive ($80 for the two of us including room and board for one night) “deluxe” government bus for the two day trip to Leh with a one night stopover in Keylong. We chose this over the slightly cheaper private buses because they all stayed the night in Sarchu, which was at a higher elevation than Keylong and we’d heard that many people ended up vomiting and feeling very uncomfortable during the night from symptoms of altitude sickness.
The bus wasn’t all that deluxe, but the driver was fairly cautious which was a huge relief after the trip to Manali, and considering that most of the time we were driving on a winding one and a half lane road with a cliff on one side. The scenery was spectacular, and changed from green and lush to barren high altitude desert mountains. We stopped periodically for pee breaks in the middle of nowhere, and being desert there wasn’t much cover to protect people’s modesty. Privacy for the women meant everyone simply pretending they couldn’t see their shockingly white bare asses.
A few hours in we knew our seat neighbors were going to be trouble. Two Spanish ladies had reclined their seats as far back as they could go, which was way too far, and the poor Indians behind them ended up sitting with their noses a couple inches away from the headrests. They were getting visibly more and more irritated with the reclining Spaniards,
and finally asked them to move the seats forward a little bit. Incredibly they refused, and an argument broke out with the Spanish women yelling for the Indians to recline their seats also, and the Indians saying they didn’t want to and their space was being intruded on. We watched all this happening and tried to stay out of it, but eventually I couldn’t take it and, feeling sorry for the Indians, asked the Spaniards to please put their seats forward out of common politeness. We argued for a bit and it went nowhere, so the day was spent with the Spaniards heads in the Indian’s laps, and every time I looked over to see the smug and self-satisfied smirks on the ladies faces I had to hold myself back from getting into it again.
On the second day of our journey the seat wars erupted almost immediately. This time, one of the Indians who’d had the seat in his face had had enough, and started yelling and pointing his finger only inches from the ladies faces. It went on for quite a while, and we were genuinely worried that there might be some violence. I thought maybe I’d step in and pull the Indians off after they’d had a chance to slap the Spaniards around for a while. Maybe. But it never came to blows.
The bus ride was very, very long and uncomfortable. The scenery was good enough that we could almost ignore the people vomiting out the windows due to altitude sickness, but it was one of those things that you’re happy you did once and don’t really need to do again, so we decided we’d probably be leaving Leh on an airplane.