Part 6: Race to Meet the Srinagar Bus and Start of the Journey

(Wednesday, 27th June, 1990)

Pursuit and boarding the bus, and disturbing advice.

By our return to the ticket office, the bus had left from its terminus. Now to reach it we had to race by Rickshaw to intercept it.

Three of us squeezed into the vehicle as it lurched away at speed. We sighted the bus up ahead, and my co-passenger explained if we didn’t meet it within two stops it would be lost. At the first attempt to intercept, the bus had already pulled away, now we were in close pursuit. Up ahead the bus reached its second stop. Any moment it would resume its journey. But our vehicle pulled up as the driver climbed into his seat.

In moments I had boarded and my pack placed atop the bus. I had a hard seat in a noisy, uncomfortable sweat-box for the next 24 hours.

The man beside me tried to initiate conversation. But I was told to neither leave the bus before the end stop in Srinagar nor reveal the details of the people I was meeting. It was possible to pass that information forward. Someone else would be waiting with my name and details at an earlier stop.

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Part 5: A Change of Plans and New Delhi by Auto Rickshaw

(Wednesday, 27th June, 1990)

A visit to the Bawna tourist office, changing course again, and the whirlwind tour.

The same young man who had directed me to the offices was still waiting. He mentioned a tourist office. It was uncomfortably hot, so it would be an opportunity to obtain shade and information.

I sat down in front of a thin, polite man. He explained that Rajasthan; the area I would be traveling through, was hotter than Delhi. It was still the dry season. My Indirail pass could be amended to stay on a lake Houseboat up in Kashmir where the climate was pleasant. He showed me receipts for tourists that had made the same trip. The houseboat accommodation and costs looked reasonable. It seemed to make sense; go for 3-4 days, come back to visit Agra, and then fly to Bangkok.

It’s hard not to feel like a commodity in Delhi. While the arrangements were made I was whisked off to book a hotel for my last night, change money, and sight see. The schedule was hectic, and my recollections a blur; I vaguely remember seeing the impossibly old Iron column that is said to bring good luck if you can reach around and touch each hand. No luck today.

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Part 4: Conversation with the Owner and Plans to Travel

(Wednesday, 27th June, 1990)

I learn more about the taxi driver from the owner, and experience an Indian metropolis.

Recalling the night before left me depressed and upset. Until the pack was on my back did I dare unbolt my door. I moved quickly down the stairs. Mr Khanna; owner of the New Royal York Hotel stood in the foyer.  He had also been duped. Neither of us would be seeing the taxi driver again.

I needed to

  • confirm my flight to Bangkok, and
  • my 3-day train itinerary through Rajasthan.

Traffic was noisy, chaotic, and fumy. A Sikh driver was selling me deals in gridlock. A beggar girl perhaps 8 years old appeared beside me, her skin almost black, face and eyes those of an old lady. For a moment I managed two conversations. I fished a coin from my pocket for her. She signed a blessing, and was gone.

New Delhi Railway Station was awash with humanity; squatting, lying and milling around the building. I ploughed through this confusion in search of the first floor offices. In the stairwell asleep on his back was a boy no more than 5; somebody’s son. The train would be leaving Delhi Junction at 18:00 that evening and it was now 13:00.

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Part 3: Menaced in a Hotel Room

(Tuesday, 26th June, 1990; 02:00)

Dealing with the taxi driver and his young friend.

We arrived at the forecourt of a small hotel. I claimed my pack before the younger man could move. Entering the hotel the driver conversed with the on duty clerk.

They were not leaving my room and full of questions; did I have

  • whiskey,
  • cassette recorder,
  • shirts.

I said no repeatedly, asked them to leave. It was 02:30. The younger fellow opened pockets on my pack, while saying “it’s okay”. He felt the chain and lock and asked me to open it. I faced them in silence, my pack lying between us; the decisive moment. I repeated firmly “please leave”.

The older man wanted a ridiculous 550 Rupees for the fare and was emphatic. I gave him the money; anything to hasten their leaving. Now the younger man wanted payment. I offered him a token amount which reignited his anger. Finally, at the older guy’s insistence, they left.

I bolted the door immediately. Stifling hot, even with A/C working hard, I was shaking. At 03:30 I just could not rest. What if they came back? How much was the hotel involved? Where had they brought me? I had to leave as soon as I awoke.

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Part 2: Flight and Arrival at Indira Gandi Airport, New Delhi

(Tuesday, 26th June, 1990; 00:45)

I meet Swati, arrive in India and deal with my first order of business.

Swati Dutt, 15 and a westernized Indian was on her way to a new life. We looked at her year book. She wistfully described friends. Her future promised; rules, chaperones, and arranged marriage. No complaints, just a “sisterly” concern for me. Swati slept, head on my shoulder for the flight remainder. Upon debarkation, we promised to write, wished each other well while close by Auntie hovered.

Thick, humid air greeted us. Currency and a 30 rupee bus ticket posed no difficulty. Philip had described the hostel location to be at Connaught Circus, Colonial style hub of radiating avenues.

A porter loaded my back pack onto his trolley; I trailed as he headed for the bus. An older, thicker-set man approached and said something to him I couldn’t discern, and the porter received something. The older man turned to me and beamed his standard line; “Welcome to India”. I surrendered my ticket to him.

He drove a taxi. A younger man appeared from the shadows insisting on taking my pack. Tiredness clouded my thinking. The younger man settled in front with the driver. We weren’t going to my destination, the driver had a better place and he knew best.

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Part 1: Desire to Travel

(Monday, 25th June, 1990; 08:25)

The preparation and start of my journey, and the reasons for making it.

London’s Heathrow Airport; I patiently waited at a departure gate for my flight to New Delhi, India. My first long-haul trip alone. Arrival would now be 23:45 local time. No place to stay but it was too late to worry.

This was my “rite of passage”. Phillip; my oldest friend had soloed a couple of years before. He’d traversed India in a rough circuit; crowded Delhi, spiritual Varanasi, medieval Katmandu, the beaches of Goa, filthy Bombay, and other intriguing places. Another friend, Jim was a regular lone traveler; but his were more hedonistic adventures to Crete; the bars and beaches. These back-packing adventures separated me from my friends, at least in my own mind.

Trailfinders put together budget itineraries for the solo adventurer. To circumnavigate the globe was my objective; jet east and return from the west. An hour with a booking agent and I was heading home with tickets in hand. I needed vaccinations and equipment.

Phillip advised me about pack details and security;

  • tall,
  • lightweight and
  • compartmentalized.

His suggestion included: a chain for the neck of the pack. “Punch and grommet evenly spaced holes, thread the chain and secure with a padlock.

Categories: Around the World, Back Packing, Circumnavigation, Solo Travel, Travel, Travel Safety | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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