Night Terror and a Welcome Midnight Snack - Part I

I feel that I’m ready to say goodbye to McLeod and Dharamasala, and still have a few days spare before my return to Tel Aviv, I have two options: either make a flying visit to the Punjab, to visit the Golden Temple (I’ve been dying to do this for years) or journey straight to Delhi, and spend 72 hours hanging out with my new friends from Manali, who’ve generously offered not just to put me up but also show me around the city.

I weigh up my options.  Whilst visiting Amritsar is truly tempting, the logistics are a nightmare.  There’s only one bus a day, which leaves at 5 am, and takes 8 hours.  Even worse, it’s local (translate, wooden benches, no assigned seating, and livestock/wailing children in abundance).  The clincher, though, is that it’s currently a cool 44 degrees in the Punjab, which means that any power cut in the Golden Temple, will leave me roasting like a chicken in a tandoori oven…

It’s been a long few weeks.  I don’t need any more aggravation.   Option B it is!

All that remains is to book my transport back.  And since I can’t fly (no airport in the vicinity) and can’t take a train (we’re way too high for tracks to have been built) it seems I’m looking at another bus journey.  Sigh.  Well, I’ve made so many in the last five weeks, what’s one more, right?  How bad can it be?  (The answer, I discover, 48 hours later, is this: truly, truly horrendous).

I end up booked on the 19.30 “de luxe” service.  

I look everywhere for a day bus, so at least I can look out the window, but there is none.  And before I even clamber aboard, I'm feeling anxious.  Night journeys are exhausting at the best of times, but this one is gonna be particularly arduous – 12 straight hours of narrow, winding roads, high high up in the hills and in pitch black.  Sat next to me is a Tibetan monk, who seems pleasant enough but doesn’t speak a word of English, I’m already gripping the side of the seat as we pull out.  I have a bad, bad feeling and my feelings usually serve me well…

The first 90 minutes are a breeze – if you can call being stuck in bumper-to- traffic, from McLeod to Dharamasala a breeze.  The sun has already set when I peer out the bus and see from a tiny street lamp that we’ve finally left the villages behind and are now high, high up, looking down, down, down. 

You’d expect a little caution but, on the contrary, he revs the engine and suddenly puts his foot down.  The bus lurches forward, throwing us all out of our seats. 

I feel the color draining from my face.   If I could turn back now, and find an alternative route (at any cost), I would.  But that’s not an option now.  I’m on this bus for the duration...