Friday, 16 October 2009

Ambala.......Get me outta here!

Now I don’t mean to harp on about this – but seriously. I know that men the world over have that annoyingly penis envy making habit of peeing in public. The ability to whip it out and deposit the last couple of pints consumed down a back alley has always been a great source of frustration to me – or rather – the lack of my ability to do the same (especially since I have the world’s smallest bladder and would probably utilize this ability on a regular basis) – but here in India it would seem that the requirement of the back alley has been foregone and the whipping it out part happens pretty much everywhere and anywhere. Most times it is sort of subtle and almost forgivable – but yesterday – in a place that rivals dear old Kargil as the shit soaked dirty asshole of the earth: Ambala, as I sat waiting over 3 hours for my delayed train (after an almost sleepless night that saw me toss and turn ten million times to the sounds track of an inefficient A/C unit, the reverie of a nearby party going on into the wee hours and the occasional nasal buzz of a mosquito passing by my head; as my skin crawled with the thought of what lovely creatures might be attempting to nestle under my skin, from the mattress I lay on, made of nothing more than layers of burlap sacking tied together) I watched in disbelief as one of my many fellow commuters whipped it out and pissed right there off the edge of the platform onto the tracks below. Now – call me a prude – but in what part of the world is that acceptable behavior, unless it’s 4am, you are pissed drunk out of your skull and absolutely no one sober is watching? Let’s just say we breathed a sigh of relief when our delayed train finally pulled into the station and we were able to get the hell outta dodge. Our departure from Ambala could not have come soon enough. I will certainly be sending an email to the editors of Lonely Planet recommending that they actually add Ambala to their next India edition, because it certainly has taken top spot for us (in places to avoid). Having said that – there was a certain amount of fun to be had in arriving at the central train station of a huge Indian city, after dark, with absolutely no idea where the nearest hotel would be and realizing that, if it’s not even mentioned in the guide book, then the chances of backpackers passing through these parts on a regular basis was slim to none (never mind blonde ones) so there was a good possibility that we might attract all kinds of attention and not necessarily of the good kind! It turned out that we didn’t have to go far (after taking our lives into our own hands crossing the ‘interesting’ intersection that was the railway station entrance) to find ‘The Savoy’. I’d always wanted to stay at the Savoy – but I think that this particular Savoy’s heyday was well and truly in the past. If a hotel had a sell by date I think this one passed some time in the middle of the First World War. There was a quirky little open air lounge area that displayed some incredible black and white photos to prove that this funky little hotel did, once upon a time, live up to it’s name, with some apparently prestigious guests (about a hundred years ago) – but those days were long gone and we were left with the moldy remains!!! Yes – there is a reason that the Lonely Planet neglects to mention Ambala in its lengthy tomes: it could well have been the inspiration for AC/DC’s famous song ‘I’m on a highway to Hell’! And please don’t misunderstand me – it’s not that I’m down on any part of India that doesn’t have a mountain or a majestic man-made wonder of the world like the Taj Mahal in it: Prior to our arrival in Shimla we spent a couple of nights in the town of Mandi
(clearly a place that gets only a fraction of the foreign visitors that other more well known landmark towns in India get), which has no major notable feature to remark upon, but we loved it.
Maybe it was our favorite (and only) fast food joint in town; ‘The Treat’ that served up a delectable array of tasty treats at each meal we munched on for less than the price of a beer back home. Maybe it was the cute and cuddly little munchkin beggar kids that tried to follow us home like little lost puppies in a pestering and yet polite manner.

Or maybe it was the random fireworks set alight in the street to signal the arrival of an impromptu street party that was part of an elaborate wedding celebration with brass band and all (right in the middle of the road) that endeared us to the town. Or maybe it was the day trip we took (only an hour away by bus) to Rewalsar Lake

where we explored the little village streets
and monasteries and marveled at the huge and gloriously painted brand new Buddha still undergoing the final stages of completion on the hill overlooking the lake that towered at least 30 meters above our heads.

Maybe it was the combination of all these things that made Mandi a place well worth the visit and the lack of a single endearing quality that made us distinctly un-enamored with Ambala – but whatever it was – we were glad to be outta there!

Our train journey ended up taking quite a bit longer than we had anticipated, what with the delayed departure and further delays along the way, so by the time we alighted the train in Gorakphur it was already past noon (instead of the scheduled 5.55am arrival). We grabbed street side samosas ‘to go’ and hopped on a bus to the border (3hrs) and by the time we had actually made our way over no mans land by foot to reach the Nepalese side, the sun was already fairly low in the sky so we made the executive decision to postpone Kathmandu, and make a little detour to the birth place of Buddha to complete our 3 days of non-stop travel – but more on that later.
Tomorrow we fly to Lukla to begin the journey I have been dreaming of for years into the heart of the Himalayas. We may already have reached the summit of a Himalayan peak in Ladakh on our trip, but in a few days time I will be standing at the base of the tallest mountain in the world and I simply cannot wait! So – with that thought, and a reminder that I’ll be ‘offline’ for the next few weeks, far far away from the rest of the world I will leave you in peace for a while – but don’t worry: I’ll be back!

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