Friday, August 26, 2011

India Part 4: Worst Bus Ride EVER and Paragliding in the Himalayas

India was all about things that go. Through our travels we took almost every kind of transportation the country had to offer: cars, busses, boats, rickshaws, cabs, and pedi-rickshaws. And with all this going, clearly it was only a matter of time before something went horribly ridiculously horrendously wrong.

We boarded an overnight semi-sleeper bus on India’s Independence Day and drove out of Delhi with the backdrop of hundreds of kites flying over the poorest neighborhoods (it’s just like the Kite Runner! On Independence Day they do kite battles!).

The ride to Manali started off smoothly. Mountains relax me, though I’d never seen any quite like India’s: super-steep and bright green all the way up. Even at low elevation the steep edges reminded me of sharp contours of the Eastern Sierras. Power lines sweep across the hills like a giant network of spider webs – Himachal Pradesh (the state) is the main source of hydroelectric power in India. At the bottom of it all ran the rushing brown river, full of recent rains and dirtied by the mud slides that succeeded in making our 15-hour bus ride turn into a 30 hour ordeal.

That’s right – 30 hours. The bus stopped around midnight and we slept unmoving as the monsoon rains poured down outside. Two rockslides blocked the 1-lane road, and a chain of cars, busses, and trucks backed up for miles, snaking around the hills. The next morning we continued to wait, getting out of the bus on occasion to walk around, Bridget desperately searching for a potato-chip vendor (breakfast of champions?). By 3pm, 7 hours after we were supposed to arrive in Manali, we started moving. We passed car-sized boulders on the side of the road – oof, I would not want to be in the way of that slide!

The bus careened around corners and switchbacks, just inches from the edge of the cliffs. I’ve learned that my best line of defense is to look sideways out the window and trust the driver knows what he’s doing.

Around 5pm we stopped again. The road to Manali was blocked by its own series of slides. What are we supposed to do??? The 10 or so bus passengers consulted (bonding through shared adversity?), and decided to hire two cabs to take us on the back roads to our destination. 

The back roads were terrifying but beautiful, even snakier and sketchier than our earlier driving experiences. That part of the trip took 6 hours. Mostly because we stopped all the time for no good reason. We don’t need snacks! Why are we stopping again? What could you possibly be talking about? Get back in the $%&^$* car! I raged quietly in the back seat as Bridget tried to convince me that completely losing it would not be productive.

Finally at 11pm we arrived in Manali, found an over-priced hotel, showered the road-dirt off of ourselves, and went to bed.

The next morning we awoke to fresh mountain air, a small town, and hungry bellies. (We're not sure why there were huge piles of rocks in the middle of the main street.) I wouldn’t want to spend that much time in a bus again…but maybe it was worth it? I want an omelet and a chocolate pancake. And then I want to go paragliding, Bridget insisted. Agreed. After breakfast we were leery of getting into any kind of transportation ever again, but the only way to get to the paragliding was an 18k cab ride up higher into the Himalayas. 

Touristic zeal overtook us and we agreed to yet again get in a car. It was totally worth it. We arrived at one of the few ski resorts in India and were told to walk up the ski hill to do the “short” paraglide (we’re too cheap for the “long” one). So we trudged up the bunny slope and waited our turn at the top. 

Bridget went first, strapping into a harness and then running and jumping off the slope with a guide attached to her back.

Next was my turn. As he fitted my helmet, the guide explained, “You have to run. Don’t just sit. Run and jump, ok?”

No problem! Running and jumping I can do! Though it’s a bit awkward to do so with a weighted sack and another person attached to your back…

We took off  (Nice! Very nice! Nice!” my guide cheered) and floated on the breeze for a couple minutes, freely flying through the mountains. Awesome!


Catch up with my previous India posts:

India Part 1: From the Streets of Bangalore to the Beaches of Goa