Below in this (2) and the next (3) is the Journal I wrote about the entire trip - in 10 short sections, with many of the key photographs I took on the way.
Passage to India
While the most interesting and novel experiences for my first trip to India would normally start when I landed in New Delhi, I can’t resist telling about the novel and illuminating realization I had while flying the very long 15 hour American Airlines flight nonstop from Chicago to Delhi on the other side of the globe.
Used all my life to the Mercator projection of the World, those flat maps that attempt to portray the Earth and all its countries, regions, and relationships - it was a shock to realize how much the world has changed, and the conventional concepts of time, distance, and the location of fabled places of this world are being altered with the advent of long distance air travel. Perhaps the surprise and contrast with the preconception of what bodies of water and countries I thought I was going to pass over getting from Midwest America to the exotic land of India was enhanced by the sharp contrast in the tales of travel I decided to read about during the long flight journey.
I chose a classic collection of travel stories collected and edited in 1942 by one of the legendary Colorado historians, Leroy Hafen into a volume entitled “To the Pikes Peak Gold Fields – 1859” Real diaries by men who struggled for months to travel a thousand miles from Illinois by oxen-pulled covered wagons at perhaps 1 mile an hour through unimaginable hardships, severe western weather, dangers, and the exaggerated opinions of their fellow man – thousands of whom returned the same way, calling the Pikes Peak Gold a humbug.
And here I am for the first time flying, not south and east across the Atlantic but north on the Great Circle Route – over Hudson Bay, Greenland, the Northsea, the very northmost tip of Norway, down past St Petersburg, bypassing Moscow to the east, with the map image put on everyone’s seat back video screen, showing that if one continued in a straight line, one would pass over Tehran. But, for political reasons going closer to Yakaterinburg (???) Russia, Ust-Kamenogorst (???) between the Black Sea and Aral Sea and over Tashkent enroute toward the Himalayas, the Plateau of Tibet to Delhi over Pakistan. Not from the West, but from the North!
How the world, with air travel, is turned upside down for we who learned as school boys that maps were flat. Even though the world is round. And now airplanes, at trivial cost and over 600 miles per hour, go half the way around the world by the most direct route, without refueling.
The ’59 er gold seekers had to follow the route that provided hay for their animals and water for themselves!
The flight from Chicago to New Delhi was very long – 16 hours – and tiring. After zipping across the world at 600 mph 7,000 miles all the way across southern Russia, stormy weather the last 500 miles over the Himalayas and northern India, everything conspired to delay our landing another hour as planes stacked up trying to get into the too-small international airport.
Did have an interesting companion on the flight. A bright 23 year old man from Delhi, India, Rituraj Mathur, who just completed a four year degree on scholarship at Middlebury College, Vermont (?), works for the International Monetary Fund IMF in Washington and was coming home for one of his periodic visits to see his family. Had decided not to pursue a Phd, but rather an MBA and stay in what he started – international finance. Told him he could make a name for himself if he mastered the theory of the Economics of the Internet Age – which nobody has yet. I got answers to two questions that have been bugging me: why “New” Delhi- is there an “Old?” And why is Bombay now Mumbai?
Answer: That when the British located the ‘Capitol’ for the Viceroy of India in the 1800s it built all its new government buildings adjacent to the old Delhi – creating in effect a new city. And that the Indian government renamed – in the 90s matter of fact - many place names from that used by the Brits – Bombay – to their original names and pronounciations. Change.
Getting through Passport Visa check was time consuming only because the lines were long from many landings, hordes of Indians themselves flying in. The Customs check was so perfunctory it was essentially non-existant. They believed everything I wrote down on their forms on the airplane and checked nothing. I could have carried a liquid explosive easily. (while the checkout of me and every scrap of paper and item in my pocket at the Colorado Springs airport was exhaustive. Now you have to take absolutely everything – include handkerchief – out of your pockets for scrutiny.
Nothing, including my DEET Mosquito Repellent ‘liquid’ to prevent me getting Dengue fever or Malaria in India was removed from my big unlocked bag during the back room check luggage before loading. I was worried some of my exotic technical equipment might be missing from my unlocked case. All was well.
A huge babbling, crushing crowd, four deep at least, half holding up signs looking for arrivals were along the indoor gates past the passenger areas. A little guy had his hand lettered sign there, and he saw me before I saw him – because he had been told I would be the only guy with a Stetson. And with another man, got my big bag on rollers to his small car way out in the parking lot.
In the end he had to put that suitcase in the left front seat, because his trunk wouldn’t latch around the big box.
Then of course the mad dash through honking traffic and night traffic jams every way two hours to get me to my ‘centrally located’ Hotel The Connaught. Rated first class, it wouldn’t pass for 3d class in any large US city. And $165 a night to bit, even in India. Clean, but with rooms and beds so small I barely fit in. Yet with an elaborate bathroom with frosted glass doors, twice as much room as anyone would need, chinzy on towels, and a toilet that takes half the Bay of Bengal to flush it. Lighting switches so complicated I had to get the consigner to come to my room and teach me how to operate their odd dual switching.
|The Connaught Hotel, New Delhi|
At least 100 television channels – 99.9% dull as hell. Late night ‘business’ CNN and the best, but still British-looking, and dull, BBC. Turbaned Hindu clerics with elaborate religious designs as backdrops, on a dozen channels at least. Focus in the Family, India, in spades.
Rolled out early because I was still 11 hours off. Sprayed the mosquito repellent on myself before leaving the room. (never met a mosquito) The Continental breakfast downstairs ok, but Indians are SO obsessed with cute food designs, the point of it all – to eat – is half lost in the desire to present the food cutely as an art form. More attention to appearance than taste. And very small portions for very small people from India.
Dutifully checked out paying 120 rupees for the water bottle and a cookie from I bought, from the hidden refrigerator. The arranged car arrived on time – 9AM for an 11:00 flight departure to Jammu, an hour north, at a ‘Domestic’ Delhi airport, and Air Jet airways on a smaller Boeing 737 plane. Pressing crowds in the waiting rooms in the airport, half the women in diaphanous shawls and much jewelry, a third of the men bearded and turbaned, the rest looking like they were from the citadel mall in their jeans and open shirts. With a huge din of babble, all announcements in unintelligible accented voices in Indian and English on poor quality loudspeakers, confusing directions, badly designed departure monitors – alternating between Indian language script, and English, with half the important information – like gate numbers – missing. Everything in modern India emulating America, but all poorly designed. Form more than function.
Everybody staring at my Stetson. I began to realized my favorite silver and turquoise bolo with bear claws David gave me one birthday long ago – was drawing even more attention. To design conscious folk from India, it looked as ornate as their favorite Indian-looking icons! They liked it! Lots of comments, in accents so thick I didn’t understand what they were saying. So I just smiled and nodded yes. Everybody thinks they can speak intelligible English. Only some can. But all smiling and friendlier than I remember Asians – most of who have frowns and worried looks all the time.
Then hurry up under repeated warnings everyone has to go out on the tarmac and ‘identify’ the bag that they own, get it and your boarding pass stamped, and then wait for the plane to be called. Which was a half hour late. And thus it took from 9AM to 12:30 to just get off the ground for a relatively short flight to Jammu on Jet Airways.
With a lunch, also fancy, and filling (with a curry) but the seats so damned close together, the stewardesses have to ask everyone to raise their seat backs as they go through, so the tray on the tray table in front of you won’t jam into your stomach and make eating impossible. Seats spacing for small Indians. Sat with Irishman Dr. Downing and his Irish wife, from Limerik University of Dublin. A non-tech speaker making the keynote speech at the Conference.
Still too cloudy to see the ground, so spent more time reading my Pikes Peak ‘59ers book, with my computer bag under the seat in front of me. Small space, big case. Barely fits, but all papers accessible.
Jammu is close to the Pakistan border. Plenty of Muslims about (a terrorist shooting last week at the airport), plenty of Indian Army guys in uniforms with AK-47s all around the air terminal.
I started innocently to take a picture of the picturesque Jammu Airport sign that was in Indian and English as I walked from the plane to the terminal and I was quickly ordered not to take that picture.
The Ordeal to Dharmsala
|Dharmsala in Northern India, close to China, and Pakistan and the disputed region of Kashmir|
Well I was dutifully met at Jammu airport by another small Indian and his hustler assistant that insisted on carrying both my big, 50 lb suitcase AND heavy computer/camera case all the way to the car outside, bracketed by more armed Indian Army types. A bigger and official looking white Tourist Van this time. The hustler, which, as soon as I was in the car, hit me up for a fee for carrying my bags. I gave him two dollar bills – 90 rupees worth – and he complained, so gave him three. Clearly not part of the prepaid car cost. Just a helpful airport hustler. I could have carried and rollered everything.
Downing and his wife got in a second, identical car. And yet a third conference attendee supposed to be on the flight was being looked for to occupy yet a third car. All three cars going to the same place over the rated 5 hour trip. The concept of doubling up where there was room was obviously disregarded. Much less chatting with fellow travelers the long ride. Anything for a buck – including the travel agent’s commission for arranging those separate cars.
Now the fee for the car to take me to Dharmasala – rated at 5 hours up the mountain roads for the last third of it – was $100 US.
Good madman driver (they all are, and horns and switching light dimmers are a universal language of their own) started out at 2:30 PM at breakneck speed through incredible crowded honking Jammu city streets and ‘avanues.’ Jam packed. EVERY road is occupied by at least as many large honking high body trucks, ornately decorated with Indian motifs, as modern smaller cars, AND by three wheel jouncy gas engine vehicles, AND by bicylists, AND by walking pedestrians in the roadway, who dash across the road during traffic. (I thought I saw one light signal the whole way) AND by both slowly driven field tractors, AND by one horse pulled flat bed with the owner standing up driving the reins. Cars AND trucks darting in and out of traffic, cutting each other off, getting three abreast in one direction while the very, very bad, rough roadway is just two lane, with appropriate horn blowing, dashing around trucks in the face of oncoming traffic. Often as not, the Trucks, Busses have a sign on their back that says “Honk me!” I’m not kidding. Its INVITED. And doing that right into the black of night
But with a large, endless road upgrade project, there were so many traffic jams, traffic going one way stopping for up to 30 minutes, not because it is well directed by soldiers or police, but because the roadway gets jammed and trucks just press through on narrow bridges so the other direction has to stop – for 20 or more minutes! Drivers jumping out of their cars joking ahead and muttering to themselves. With NO helpful signs of any time except big green ones “Diversions” meaning detours. All India is a roadway detour, I concluded.
Bedlam. Cars whizzing past each other with their car mirrors only inches from each other routinely. Only one accident spotted. A big high piled truck tipped over when it got too high on work-dirt piled high beside the road. (All construction dirt piled up is put right in the roadway, constricting the road to one operating lane. Nobody cares. Driver’s problem.
It took 3 hours to get out of the city of Jammu! And it was black dark by 6, while we then hit stretches of good paving but still very narrow, while all the OTHERS were still in the roadway – without lights of course. Asian cattle in the road just doing their own thing, untended, one herd of tended sheep but no lights. Speeds up to 60 mph for stretches. Big dips in the road with fast stops. Broken macadam 75% of all the way. Evidence of ‘modernizing’ the larger roads, with divided highways – but taking, I am sure, years to get done. No Cosmix or CDOT efforts during contruction in Colorado Springs to keep the traffic moving. Catch as catch can.
Billion people India.
I actually lay down and slept on the rear seat, using a blanket the driver had for over two hours total. Bending my glasses of course. And bending them back later with my heart in my mouth that they would not snap off. Without breaking.
One piss break at outdoor urinals in an outdoor,, many boothed marketplace, all lighted with small yellow bulbs, at a toll road (into the next ‘state’) stop. Haggling over the toll.
I couldn’t see the signs well but the roadway itself got, for at least half the distance for 3 hours, well maintained, good signs. I THINK it was in Punjab State. They have their roadway act together comparatively to the state which surrounds Jammu.
Over rivers, few running with much water, but obviously flood plain. And ALL piled high with water borne disgusting trash. Nobody cleans up riverbanks.
Then we started climbing up from perhaps 200 feet elevation – which I thought all India was, toward Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills, over roads with washouts, construction sites with equipment parked willy-nilly all night long. Unguarded. Rough dirt stretches, some pavement stretches, mad men driving scores of steep upgrade hair pin turns, not a one of which would meet US highway mountain driving standards. But all crowded. Honking and getting past each other as fast as possible. With incessant shifting of gears. Which is why European made cars are so small but sporty. Le Mans all the way. There are NO slow or cautious drivers in India!
Some Japanese cars, many Indian made ‘TaTa’ their big GM, dominating, both trucks and cars, a very few European like Mercedes, and just a sprinkling of American. One in 100 what I would could ‘luxury.’
Long tortuous way up, bumpy, madcap, potholed, washed out, all the way. A thousand 90 degree or greater turns. Didn’t arrive until 9:40 PM, when we were scheduled to be there by 7:30 PM. Seven incredible hours. But, like most drivers in India, not reckless, just fast pressing like a road rally race. And no dents in the car.
So except for twinkling lights on the ridges, I saw little while getting there after dark. Not until morning did I see we were in mountains most like the ones around Central City, Black Hawk and the ‘Oh My God Road.’ Near Route 6.
|From one 'main' road||My hotel close up. Not TOO far from Dharmsala|