I had three obsessions as a teenager: 1. Jon Bon Jovi (judge me I know) 2. Cross Country Skiing 3. The Himalayas. With regards to the latter, I read every possible book I could get my hands on about original expeditions to the world’s most lofty peaks, I did physiology papers on altitude sickness and when it came my turn to dream a class trip – I thought that an Everest base camp expedition was perfectly reasonable (in the end we opted for the White Mountains in New Hampshire).
When I found out that we were moving to hot and hectic Delhi I reasoned that a weekend trip to the Himalayas (only 330 km away) would be no different than a trip up to cottage country – heck we could escape the city for fresh mountain air any time we wanted. I could drive to the snow to go cross-country skiing of course, while listening to some JBJ. All of my past obsessions would be happily realized on these weekly roadtrips. But then I arrived in India. I lived in India. I realized that, well, this is India (T.I.I), and that everything I knew, or thought I knew no longer applied.
Right hand drive, standard driving is challenging. Right hand drive, standard driving with two toddlers in the back seat is even more challenging. Right hand drive, standard driving with two toddlers on crazy mountain roads, some covered with snow and ice, is well…crazy. But really, it sounded like the dream Christmas vacation. We’ll have snow! We’ll have fresh air! Maybe we can go skiing! We’ll build snowmen and drink hot chocolate. We won’t have to deal with airport delays or airport lines. I convinced my husband who wanted a beach vacation in Thailand. Off we went. And this is what I learned.
I have to go peeEEE – Hello! Your amazing, incredible toddler has been toilet trained for a week. Shutting her up in a car seat for 10 hours is torture, especially when you need to consider that their ain’t no roadside pit stops. Amazing how adaptable an almost 2 year old can be when faced with adversity. Squat toilets. Check. No toilets. Check. Except when she gets sassy and realizes that saying “I need to go pee” whether or not it is infact true, is the quickest ticket out of her car seat. Don’t think I didn’t catch on after 7 hours.
The GPS is wrong. Always. The quickest way out of New Delhi is not via Old Delhi. I don’t care if it is the shortest distance. Dodging rickshaws and donkeys, goats and barbers slows you to a crawl no matter the day or time.
When we left Chandigarh for Manali at 9AM, the GPS showed us getting there at 2PM. We’ll get in by 3 I exclaimed with glee, thinking that my hour of extra time was more than sufficient. At 3PM we were a little over half way. At 6:30 we had 5 km left. We arrived at 730 and no we didn’t make a wrong turn. Of course on our return when the GPS said the same thing I told myself that it would be much faster “going downhill” and not hitting Manali traffic at “tourist rush hour”. Whaddya know. It still took almost 10 hours.
The Roadside Dhabas serve two flavours spicy and too spicy. Indian food is delicious and if it weren’t for the copious amounts of weight I’d gain, I’d eat it all the time! Our kids are troopers and can handle quite a bit of spice. We stopped at “Raja’s” for lunch. The place was hopping and a waiter hurried about serving up steaming plates of dhal and naan dripping with ghee. He had one look at the kids and offered helpfully “Dal Makini and something like a Paneer Korma” – “perfect for the kids. Not spicy”. I was about to offer helpfully that our kids could handle a little spice, and thought better of it. The plates arrived and we were hungry. I dove in. Rob dove in. The kids had their spoons inches from their mouths before they started writhing in too much spiciness. According to their refined palates event the naan was too spicy. Luckily Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips are easy to find, filling, and provide 30 full minutes of driving entertainment value.
You can never be quite sure whether you are on a 2, 3 or 4 lane highway – or even what way traffic is supposed to go. When I hear of a national highway, I think of multilanes traveling at 100km an hour plus. Moving a diverse population across an even more diverse country takes tremendous patience, drive and creativity. Spread across what would be a two way highway in Canada would be an Orange-Walla selling from a roadside stand, a man driving a donkey kart, a tuk tuk, a tractor, a Mercedes and a few Maurtis and Mahindras. Perhaps if all traffic was going in the same direction it wouldn’t be too bad. But – this is India! You’ve got to get to where you want to go, even if it means pulling a “u-ee” or going in the opposite direction. It’s slow, but there is no denying it works!
You can spend hours contemplating truck art. After 30 hours of driving, I still hadn’t figured out what “use your dipper at night means”. Luckily, this fabulous blog helped me decipher all the clues I’d spent the ride contemplating (between praying to arrive home safe, and yelling at Rob to avoid a tuk-tuk, donkey or rickshaw). According to: http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/horn-ok-please.html using your horn isn’t enough, and you need to flash you “dipper” aka high beams before passing. The blog goes onto explain: “First, you flash your dipper at the truck. When the truck turns on his left or right turn signal that means it’s safe to pass on that side.” That brings me to my next point.
Forget everything you learned at driving school (or in my case from my dad). T.I.I. As a diligent and polite Canuck driver, I use my turning signal even when no one is behind me. Sometime, I’ll even signal when I’m just at a bend in the road (don’t believe me?…ask my dad who watched me drive away one night only to call me 5 minutes later and ask what the hell I was doing signaling at a bend in the road”) and I’d never leave my driveway without signaling. As night fell in the Himalayas, and my driving stress level rose I peered anxiously into oncoming traffic. After spending enough time at 20KM an hour contemplating the truck art, and when the honking from the row of cars behind me was enough, I’d get the courage to make a pass. Carefully I’d put my signal on, and pull out into the half lane, conscious of the cliff and the icy rivers below, and wondering how much time I had before the kids had an ultimate melt-down. It wasn’t until a day later, after realizing that the only time i saw someone use their turning signal was to indicate the coast was clear for passing, that I realized I’d been sending the wrong messages.
Next time, I think we’ll take the train.