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Worldwide Ace » Everything’s More Fun With Trouble

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Everything’s More Fun With Trouble

5 September, 2008 (22:21) | Travelogue


Welcome to India! It’s just what you expected, right?
For more perturbed photos of India, click here.

Have you ever read a book in which everything goes right? The hero or heroine wakes up, has a wonderful breakfast with his or her perfect family, has an excellent day, comes home for a lovely dinner, and goes to sleep? It would be absolutely perfect.

The answer, of course, is no, you haven’t. Every story has adversity. Every story has something to overcome, whether it’s a physical barrier, a mental hitch, or an opponent, villainous or not. It’s the mark of a quality story that things rarely go right. And we like it that way. Even the most dominant victories in the Olympics (Michael Phelps anyone?) have years of training, a high level competition, and at least 1 close race. If it were easy to be victorious, it wouldn’t be worth trying. Every good story has some difficulty, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The bus sweeps past precarious cliffs, its rickety rattling frame unnerving the tourists. The locals don’t seem to notice. I have a front row seat, a perfect view of the road-what little of it there is-and a tailbone bruised from the incessant bouncing. A baby cries every time we rattle over a pothole, of which there sometimes seem to be more than there is road. I don’t blame the child, the thunderous roar of the shaking bus far louder than the petulant crashes echoing out of the sky as the storm roils around us.

“Everything is more fun with trouble,” I had exclaimed not half a day ago.

“Can you say that again?” Gina said, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

“I said everything is more fun with trouble.”

“I’m going to quote you on that.”

“Bring it up at Avidyne?” chimed Matt, their common employ (former in Matt’s case) a frequent guest in our conversations.

“More likely she’ll quote it later today when things have gone wrong and I’m pissed and annoyed,” I had said with a smile, an ominous predictor of problems to come.

With the storm roiling around us, the mountaintop cliffs hanging beside us, the rain dowsing our luggage on the roof of the bus so no dry clothes would be waiting for us at our destination, this was Gina’s chance. I carefully composed my wickedest grin and turned slowly back to her. I could feel her hand darting back and forth from my seatback with every harrowing turn.

“Are you having fun yet?” I ask, determined to keep my spirits up and avoid eating crow, a delicacy more readily available now than ever before. She laughs, but I can’t tell if its nervous fear that causes the wavering or angry sarcasm. It might even be genuine for all I know.

As I turn around, I feel the bus lurch forward, my body contorting into an awkward position that only yoga lovers would perform voluntarily. Another bus is staring at us, our windshields mere inches apart. We’re no longer moving, each driver glaring at the other, horns screaming that we have the right of way! No, we have the right of way! The conductor begins to blow his whistle, and like that, we’ve given in and are backing up.

When we resume driving, the sun is setting behind us. I grab my camera and try to catch it, but the clouds are still thick and the angle difficult. Suddenly, I want to capture that look of pure fear that Gina has been exhibiting. Unfortunately, it’s dark. On my first attempt, she reaches out to cover the lens, slamming the camera into my nose. For a few moments, I’m dazed.

“Ouch,” I say. “I wasn’t expecting that.” A little pain isn’t enough to discourage me. I slide more towards the front, out of her reach, and pop the flash. Her look of fear has turned into an annoyed smirk, but I grab the picture at the same. Others on the bus are laughing, and I suddenly feel a little bad. “Don’t worry, I won’t do that again,” I tell her, but I suspect I’ve already made my bed.

We come tooling down a steep bank towards a bridge over a river. It appears that the river is actually reasonably empty, but as we get close, I realize it’s just that big. Despite sand bars and sections of dirt appearing through the waters with regularity, where there are rapids, it’s evidently deep and raging.

I notice, at the near end of the bridge, two trucks and tow truck in a strange triangular pattern. It seems one of them has slipped off the edge of the road. I guess it was bound to happen. After all, we’ve already passed trees downed by winds, flooded portions of roads, a mountaintop diversion, and b ridges that warn that they’re not safe for more than 1 vehicle at a time-not to mention not wide enough for more than 1.

“That could’ve been us,” exclaims Gina, her voice twittering in nervous laughter as we come to a stop in front of the rescue mission.

“I trust our driver,” says Matt. There are horns blaring from vehicles behind us. I don’t think they’ve realized the situation yet, the path blocked until it’s clear or they’ve given up.

“That could still be us soon,” replies Gina.

A number of people are getting out checking on their luggage and standing around watching. The tow truck is connected to a pulley on the base of the teetering truck. The other truck appears to be tied on to the other end, creating an intelligent pulley system to double their power. As the truck drives forward, I can see the front edge of the tow truck lift off the ground slightly. The precariously perched truck barely moves.

For nearly thirty minutes, they try and try again, yelling at each other in Punjab, Hindi, and the occasional smattering of English curse words, eliciting laughter from their captive audience. Eventually, the line of cars is too long. They begin to unhook the cables to let people pass. Watching one man crawl beneath the truck, I realize the cables were attached separately rather than through the pulley. It’s slightly disappointing. I expected more.

We careen up the opposite side of the valley, stopping every once in a while to pick up or drop of a local. The bus, at this point, is brimming. I feel lucky that I moved up front when I did. It’s tinged with guilt that my seat is comfortable while Matt is still trapped between people on a tightly packed three seat row. I had offered to switch, but by the time I was ready, the bus was thick with passengers and luggage.

I begin to imagine us pouring off a cliff, tumbling down a ravine, my body crushed against the front of the glass under people and luggage. I imagine I’m able to survive the fall, only to find the engine getting ready to blow and barely enough room to maneuver. In my head, I kick out the poorly designed plastic windows and stand, my back to the engine, flames licking my skin, melting me into the dash as I shovel people out. My martyrdom is epic and heroic.

I shake myself out of it as my stomach gurgles, shrinking from lack of food. Since a small mid-morning breakfast of a tiny grilled cheese sandwich and some tea, I’ve had two bottles Limca (a delicious local Coca Cola made variation on Sprite), some water, and a bite of a fried dough concoction that Emilie had picked up at our stop in Pathankot. I haven’t been hungry this entire time.

During the stop, while Matt and I waited by the bus and watched the luggage and seats, I had explained that I was feeling strange. “I don’t know if I need to go to the bathroom, or if I’m hungry, or if I want to be sick. I feel like I’m a piece of fruit in a blender. Probably watermelon. I suspect it’s merely the rattling of the bus.” I smiled as I said this, but it belied my worry.

We pull into a little mountain stop, a chai stand and a few tiki tiki stalls lining the road. By now, I’m certain I’m running a fever. I’ve been coughing intermittently, but nothing substantial has come of it. With the cloud cover and high altitude, I’m shivering from the cold, clutching my arms to my body. My attire of a T-shirt and shorts won’t be replaced thanks to the rain-soaked luggage containing my other clothes. And I ditched my hoodie in Delhi because of how bulky it was and how hot India had been. The last thing I want is to be sick on this trip.

I would write or read, but the bus is too bumpy. I wish my CD player were here. Then again, my CD case is in my luggage sitting in the rain on the top of the bus. I begin to sing songs quietly, trapping myself in endless loops of “I Will survive,” “Hotel California,” and, strangely, “Ballroom Blitz,” among the dozen or so worthwhile songs I actually know the lyrics to.

I can hear Matt chatting with some of the locals in the background. “I’m from Canada,” I hear him say, perpetrating his favorite lie.

There’s a certain distaste I have for lying like this, though I did bust out some French in the Bangkok bus station when he claimed we were from Montreal. I may not be proud of what America has done, but I’m not ashamed to be an American. Matt once told me he does this not out of shame, but because it’s a fun and challenging game. Can he pull it off? Does he know more about Canada than the average Indian (the answer is yes, since his mom’s from there)? Will the person question that his “No hablo ingles” Spanish accent is ripped directly from Cheech Marin? I can understand the allure. I’d simply rather not end up lying to a nice person who might become a friend and temporary traveling companion; at the same time the majority of our targets are obviously only going to be passing acquaintances (tout-ers, beggars, train station officials, tuktuk drivers, etc).

We’re well over an hour late at this point. The driver seems to be stopping arbitrarily to trade with locals along the road. I see him trade several bauble for what looks like a flask. At one point, he stashes a bottle of wine in his luggage. As long as he’s not actively drinking, I tell myself, it’s not an issue. I’m having trouble believing this.

It’s nearly 9 PM when we pull into the Dharmasala bus station. I feel drained, wiped, and sick. Matt’s and my luggage are soaked through. We chat with a very nice Korean gentleman by the name of P.H. Lee. He’s a journalist, though he’s seeking a second career. His wife is a professor at Ball State in good old Muncie, Indiana, and his daughter is attending college in Japan. He, as well as a Slovenian couple named Tomaz and Moitza, decide to band together with us in our search for lodging. We’re obviously well planned. I’m grateful for P.H.’s help, as I don’t feel like I have the energy to push our group toward a safe place to sleep.

The local bus from Dharmasala to McClod Ganj, the true gem of the region, takes another 30 minutes. We’re dropped off on a pitch black road, the glow of a candle and the headlights of the bus the only light nearby. There’s water trickling down the road, but I figure my suitcase is already soaked so it can’t hurt to drag it through the puddles. Just before leaving Delhi, I had converted it to a backpack, but given the wetness, I’m not about to soak my only dry set of clothes.

It takes 15 minutes to get to the hotel, the Kungra House. Nick’s Italian Café is situated neatly in the lobby. Emilie is immediately excited, but they’re closing very soon. They have three doubles open: One for 600 rupees, complete with an upstairs view and a big spider prominently situated on the floor. Gina is not excited. The other two are 400 rupees and 250 rupees respectively. They’re located in the back, downstairs, via an alley. I’m happy with the accommodation, but the girls are tepid at best. They decide to take the expensive room, but by the time they get back upstairs to do so, Thomas and Moitza have booked it.

The seven of us wander down the street in search of food. We end up at a little restaurant which explains that they were Pierce Brosnan’s choice of eatery. Prices are reasonable and the conversation is good. I get Tomato Egg Drop Soup. It’s the first soup I’ve even seen on a menu in India. Emilie tells me the soup here is usually awful.

By the time we finish eating, I’m feeling much better. I’m still cold, but that’s no surprise. We head back to the guest house and call it a night. The beds are warm and softer than the cot I had in Amritsar, which is good enough for me. Our room has a TV and Matt and I watch the BBC for a little before bed while we try and hang our gear up to dry.

Today, we overcame a rickety bus ride, a monsoon storm, soaked luggage, a lack of a plan, and the beginning of an illness to arrive in Dharmasala, make a few new friends, and bunker down for the night. I’m smiling as I drift off to sleep.

“Are you having fun yet?” I whisper to no one in particular. “Cause I am.”


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  • srraaaaak

    I have plenty of 100% joy adventures. They are not lacking for their lack of trouble.

  • I have plenty of 100% joy adventures. They are not lacking for their lack of trouble.