Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A coach trip to Manali

Original texty by Tanya Datta, executive summary by darmansjah

Air india and Singapore Airlines fly direct from Singapore to Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia X fly direct from kuala lumpur to Manali, surrounded by lush mountain scenery and popular with honeymooners, adventure sports fans and hippies alike, is in Himachal Pradesh province.

When I was 21 I took the coach with my best friend from Delhi to the town of Manali, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was the last week of a six-week trip around India, and we thought of ourselves as hold hands. About six hours into the journey, the coach began to clamber up treacherous valley passes, where only one vehicle could go by at a time, so we’d have to pull in and wait for other vehicles to pass. There were no safety measures there at all – nothing to stop your coach hurtling off the side into the valley. We saw the burnt out shells of so many vehicles along the way. It was really terrifying. I did not sleep for the entire journey, though that might have had something to do with the Bollywood music the driver played at top volume all through the night, the other passengers were loving it, but if you’re not used to it, there’s no way you’ll fall asleep.

Indian coach drivers’ other obsession appears to be with places that look like Switzerland. They have little pictures of mountainous hill stations stuck on the dashboard, as if to say that ‘this is heaven on earth’, alongside icons of deities and gaudy garlands, similar to Christmas decorations.

The coach drivers do the journey back and forth for three days, and then have two days off. The only way they can manage it is by getting really high. So our driver and three of his mates were smoking a chillum, a pipe packed with cannabis resin and a little of whisky. It was petrifying – he was swerving the coach all over the place.

When we got up into the hills, the landscape was so different from what we thought we knew of India. It was full of ravines, valleys and waterfalls, really craggy and mountainous, with roads clinging to the sides of mountain passes. Most of India is so populated that you can’t go anywhere without being surrounded by people but suddenly, as you enter the Himalayan area, there’s no-one to be seen. And the people there wore much warmer, more colourful clothes that were obviously homemade, and far more jewellery-they looked a lot more tribal.

The whole coach journey took about 16 hours, which was pretty much on schedule. That’s the thing about these drivers-they do get you there on time, even if they are off their faces. It felt so fantastic getting off that coach, both because Manali was so beautiful and because I had spent the entire trio convinced I was going to die. But what an experience!

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