We headed out of Leh on a plane bound for Delhi at 7 in the morning. The view from the plane was the most amazing Andy and I had ever seen; we could clearly see a huge portion of the Himalayan range for at least half the flight before we descended into Delhi’s smog screen. From the air the Himalayas looked like meringue, each mountain peak seemed perfectly formed, about the same height, and covered with a white dusting of snow. We invented a new game called “Who can spot the glacier?”.
In Delhi we decided to get a prepaid taxi to the train station to try and avoid some of the hassle that usually comes with the Delhi airport. Instead of less hassle we wound up waiting for the taxi driver to crawl through a long line at the gas station to fill his tank, listened to him talk about how he doesn’t like women to wear modern clothes like jeans and skirts, and got into a minor accident with an auto rickshaw. He asked if we liked his service and I nodded and lied, “Yes it was great! Very nice taxi!” I probably would have said anything to get the heck on out of that car before any more traffic offenses occurred.
Delhi was scorching hot in comparison to Leh, and Andy and I weren’t feeling too great so it felt like forever that we were in the train station battling crowds to get our tickets. The men seemed a little more hesitant to shove me so I ended up getting our train tickets to Chandigarh and we left that afternoon.
We only spent one night in Chandigarh and we didn’t much like the city itself. It is a fully planned city, designed by a
French architect and built after India’s independence along an orderly grid pattern. We had talked to a lot of Indians who were very proud of it being the only planned city in India and very modern, but that is exactly what we disliked about it. It was very difficult to walk anywhere because it was so sprawled out, the hotels were twice as expensive as anywhere else we’ve been in India, and their main market was like an American strip mall. That was really our main complaint with the town; it was like an Indian version of America, and while that is not a bad thing it certainly isn’t what we came to see. We did enjoy the Nek Chand rock garden which is what drew us to Chandigarh in the first place. It was huge park filled with sculptures made out of recycled stone, concrete, and trash interspersed with waterfalls, trees, and swings. The park’s creator, Nek Chand, started making his sculptures several decades ago in his spare time, using whatever materials and junk he could find. When government workers discovered what he was doing they were so impressed that they gave him a salary and employees, and he built a park that is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in India.
Our last day in Chandigarh we met three Indian guys down by the man-made lake who offered to take us back to their apartment and cook us dinner. We ate some delicious home-cooked paneer (unfermented cheese, similar texture of tofu) and chapati (Indian flat bread) then taught each other card games. It was interesting to get the bachelor’s perspective on Indian dating and I think they thought it was pretty interesting to get an American’s perspective on relationships. After hanging out for four hours or so Andy and I somehow squeezed onto the back of one of our hosts motorcycles, backpacks and all, and got a ride to the bus station to catch our night bus to Dharamsala. Thanks again Harjeet and Gurpreet!
If you want to ride a second class night bus in India you had better be comfortable with strangers sleeping on you. We almost missed our bus and an attendant had to kick people out of our reserved seats. We didn’t have time to put our bags on top of the bus so we spent an 8 hour ride with them on our laps. The aisle was full of people standing and eventually they all sank to the floor asleep, or half laying on people who were sitting in seats. A man put his bag on our bags, which were on our laps, and I woke up once with someone sleeping against my leg and someone else sharing my headrest while half standing somehow. Surprisingly the night passed pretty quickly and we made it to Dharamsala early the next morning where we took a cab to the nearby McLeod Ganj.
No matter how long, uncomfortable, or ridiculous some of the traveling in India may be, all it ever takes to forget about the ordeal you went through is a little street food, a shower, and nap. Which is exactly what we did.