Six weeks on a bus traveling from London, England to New Delhi, India.
Why was I on that bus?
My general plan was to fly on to Malaysia, final destination Australia.
Malaysia came into play because as a German I did not need a visa. This allowed me to purchase the return ticket required by Australia to somewhere that would accept me. It being November there was also a time pressure since Australia was tightening immigration requirements come January. Half the people on the bus were on a hurry-up schedule because of that. Including myself.
I bought my tickets to Malaysia and on to Australia and back to Malaysia, and then revisited my budget. I had just enough left to see me through maybe a month in Australia. If I was not turned down flat right on entry. In which case I would be short on the needed cash to get back to Europe. Being stuck in Malaysia and having to go begging at my parents was not my idea of being a “responsible hippie”.
I sold the tickets and decided to lump it for now. Go back, work some more, try it again later. (Which I did. This time the other direction. But then I got stuck on a good man in the USA. So I still have not been to Australia.) The friendly airline people handed me my money back in the form of Indian Rupees. Rupees at the time were spendable in India and India only due to their lack of value. But boy did I have a lot of them!
So touring India seemed like a good second plan. I was there, I had the cash. Besides as a kid I had always dreamed of India. May parents had been offered teaching positions at a German school in Jamshedpur. I was so ready to go. They were not.
The big thing to see in India is of course the Taj Mahal. I had read everything about it. Dreamed of it for years. But now that I was so close I decided not to go see it. I could not bridge the disconnect between every day life in the streets in front of me and the big white marble edifice built by some super rich Shah for his wife.
It was time to start making travel plans. A hotel in the city is a good start. The driver recommends several budget hotels with a night guard which heightens your chances of not getting robbed in your sleep. Some of the hotels are even so safe you can leave you clothes and sleeping bag there during the day with the expectation of them still being there when you return.
These were the deluxe digs we picked. The names escapes me.
Mostly when you are on the road you really have no detailed travel plans. You talk to other travelers and listen to their stories. Then you make plans to go see _____. (That’s how Belize got on my to-do list.)
Manali in Himachal Pradesh was THE in place to go. You took that bus to there and that bus to the next place, and when you got there your went that that certain tea house, and there you would find connections to set you up with places to stay. That was a pretty tightly laid out plan.
I had picked up an Australian on the bus as my travel companion. He was in no rush to get back home, and we set off for Manali.
It was in many ways one of the more memorable trips. The scenery reaching the Himalayas is in my mind today as clear as 40 years ago. The adventure along the way is the reason for the story.
Manali turned out to be a two day trip by bus. First night stop in Chandigarh, second night in Shimla.
Picking a hotel involves the same sophisticated planning as picking your travel destinations. You ask around once you know where you will be that night. If a fellow traveler recommends a place, and he seems to still posses most of his travel gear, that is the acid test for how upscale the place really is.
The first day was getting on a bit and we asked around on the bus for a recommendations for a budget hotel. Two Indian fellow in the row in front of us hopped to with the helpful information that their sister-in-laws third cousin or some such owned a hotel. Just what we were looking for. Conveniently Uncle Raj owned a rickshaw and would be right by the bus station ready to take us. No better offers were made so we took them up on theirs.
It was dark by the time we arrived at the “budget hotel” that turned out to be Pinjore Gardens. We gently declined but were told the hotel room was empty and the sister-in-laws third cousin was the care taker and we could stay for free. No problem!
Uh-mm, yeah right.
We went up and surveyed the plush acreage with a bathroom bigger than some of my previous living quarters. Then I espied Indira Gandhi as a prior occupant in the guest register.
Free! Really?! My bullshit meter was pegging up steadily.
Right about then one of the fellows popped his head in and said to come down and eat with his family. Thinking Dhal and Chapaties sounded good we headed on down.
There in a rather plush eatery with velvety cushions on the floor and silk tablecloths was laid a feast Indira would surely have approved.
As previous we gently declined but again were told we were honored guest of the family and it was all free. No problem!
Tick, tick, tick went the BS meter.
Alcohol was not just offered but pushed. Not be be stereotyping someone but an Australian very rarely will pass up a drink, and my companion was shortly three sheets to the wind. I on the other hand, since declining drinks was not an option, went to the bathroom and purged at regular intervals.
I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. Were we in for a mugging and robbery? Worse?
Eventually I was able to drag my Australian back to our lush quarters were we both passed out. He more so than myself.
I don’t know what woke me up but I suddenly noticed a sheet of paper had been slid under the doors.
And there was the answer to my worries. The bill had arrived.
For the hotel, the food, the booze. I don’t honestly remember the amount. But it was outrageous. They must have anticipated negotiations and planned it so that if they got a third of the asking price they still would make out like the bandits they were.
I had had a long day on the bus with some fellow rubbing his privates on my knee. I had eaten too much and drank too much. I had slept poorly. In short – I was not in the mood to play games.
I decided to peek out and get the lay of the land for an early morning exit.
Surprise – we were locked into the room.
We were in the upstairs penthouse which opens to the deck. The door was a French door without the fortification of a street side door.
I rattled my Australian till he was awake enough to comprehend the situation, and we went to work. We packed up and then ever so quietly removed the hinges of the door with my trusty Swiss Army knife.
Apparently this tactic had not been anticipated by our rip-off artists or they also were still in an alcoholic stupor, in any event – nothing barred our escape.
We tip-toed out of there into the early dawn hour, caught a rickshaw and had him take us to the bus station and got on the next bus out of town. To anywhere at all. Just as long as it was far away.
Should you ever find yourself in at time warp and end up back in 74 on a bus heading into Chandigarh, don’t take the two Indian guys in the row in front of you up on their offer to help you find a “budget hotel”.