Day 60: Delhi to Rishikesh
A loud fart permeates my dreamworld. It’s ten thirty in the morning and the lack of upper wall between my bathroom and the next allows the graphic sounds of some hungover dude’s wretching make it sound like he’s vomiting all over my bathroom. I pack my bag. I salute Param at the front desk and go to the travel agency to buy a bus ticket. It’s doubled in price since yesterday. Never mind, then.
I sit for chai and curry at a teeny café and observe India in it’s glorious curiosity. A tingle of relaxation saunters down my spine, and with it, a prickle of confidence. I will take the local bus today. After yesterday, my patience with travel agencies is overdrawn. I’m up for a challenge. If I become hopelessly lost on the way to Rishikesh, then I’ll just, you know, figure it out.
At the metro station I wait for my token in the endless line, put my bag through security check and get the mandatory pat down.
An hour later, I arrive at Kashmiri Gate bus station and the 2:30pm bus to Rishikesh is just pulling out. The drivers assistant pulls me aboard and I slide into the last brown leather bench at the back.
The view through the unscrubbed windows flashes by like a film on fast-forward, changing faster than my brain can process the millions of sari-clad women and limbless men, the neighbourhood slums built up against exquisite palaces, Royal Enfield’s disappearing into alleyways and ten person families flying by in rickshaws.
How long is the road to Rishikesh? I’ve been told six hours; I’ve been told eighteen. At least the bus makes bathroom stops! I wolf down a ‘thali’ from the restaurant before jumping back onto the moving bus.
Dark falls around six, and the road becomes skateboarders paradise, with potholes like half-pipes. My butt is a foot above the seat more than it’s seated. Apparently the back of the bus bears the brunt of the bumps.
When we pull into Rishikesh town after a seven and a half hour journey, I nearly kiss the man selling steaming cups of chai. North India is COLD. Rickshaw drivers flock to me. I shake my head. It’s an hour walk to my hotel, but money. Unemployed and traveling, “a penny saved is a penny earned” is my job.
Heading down the street, a young man yells hello from behind me. I say hello; continue walking. His footsteps quicken and he banters nonsensically. This dirt road is nearly empty, and the goosebumps on my arms are no longer from the cold. Then he sprints across the street towards me.
“Hello hello! Sorry. Sorry sorry sorry.”
His pores emit the stench of sweat and whiskey.
For ten minutes he follows me, hello-ing and sorry-ing while I continually ask him to leave me alone, please, until it appears that this man is not content to give up. I turn to him and bellow “NO” so that the couple people in the vicinity look over. It must have summoned the rickshaw that suddenly pulls up beside me.
I jump in, but my stalker breaks for the rickshaw and bounds in next to the driver.
“NO! He’s not coming.”
The two of them scream at each other in Hindi until I jump out and continue walking. A minute later, the driver pulls up, sans weirdo, who is now twenty paces back. I chuck my pack on the seat and scramble in after it.
“GO GO GO!” My voice punctuates the quiet night as the rickshaw roars off through the town.
Up a hill and around a switchback, the driver drops me at the foot of a breakneck road and points up. Heart pounding in the pitch black, I come around a bend and see the sign for my guesthouse like a beacon of success. I made it. The guy at reception shows me a room and tells me the restaurant next door is still open.
A little fire smoulders in the middle of the dining room, and the owner invites me to sit and warm my hands. He brings me soup and chai, and I chat with the Nepali staff, who’s kindness warms me more than the tea or the flames. At midnight, I scald myself in the shower and crawl into bed. Sleep comes, but the northern chill nudges me awake every hour until sunrise.