Installment #3 - October 23, 2000
Dehradun and Back
Raj was waiting for us beside his shiny Ambassador car when we left the hotel Friday morning. We loaded our stuff and set off through the crowded Delhi streets on a four-day taxi tour of Dehradun, Mussoorie, Rishikesh, and Haridwar.
Raj, we later learned, is 18 years old, has been driving professionally for six months, and we are his first long-distance tour. His driving philosophy, like that of most other drivers we have seen, seems to be to drive as fast as humanly possible at all times. When danger appears, hit the horn first, flash the headlights if a collision appears highly likely, and hit the brakes only as a last resort.
We left Delhi on a two-lane-in-each-direction divided highway jammed with rush-hour traffic. When traffic was moving, there were at least three vehicles abreast in the two lanes. When traffic stopped, drivers jostled for position until there were four or five vehicles abreast, a vendor on foot weaving between the cars to sell coconut sections or newspapers, and possibly a cow napping on the pavement.
Once we reached the edge of the metropolitan area, the road narrowed to one lane in each direction with no center divider, and usually not even a center line, not that a center line makes any difference.
Its like a video game. Picture this: you are driving along at about 50MPH with no one immediately in front of you. (This almost never happens in the city, but does out in the country.) Approaching in the opposite direction is an oxcart loaded with an enormous stack of hay. As you approach the oxcart, a motorscooter pulls out to pass the oxcart. Hes driving down the center of the road, but no problemyou can clear him easily without altering course. But now a car pulls out to pass the scooter that is passing the oxcart. But no problemthe scooter is almost past the oxcart. The car is on your side of the road, accelerating to pass the scooter, but hes not flashing his lights, so no problemhe is confident hell be able to get back on his sideor at least partly on his sidebefore you meet, and anyway, your car is bigger, so its his problem. Full speed ahead.
Then a bus pulls out to pass the car that is passing the scooter that just passed the oxcart. The bus leans on his horn and comes on full speed ahead. The bus, the car, the scooter, and half the oxcart occupy the entire width of the road, and the bus is on your side. It doesnt look good for you at this point. The bus is bigger, so he has the right of way. Hit the horn, then the brake. If you slow, perhaps the bus will be able to complete enough of the pass to move partially back onto his side of the road and avoid hitting you.
Nope, this isnt going to work. Abandon ship. Brake hard, and hit the dirt. You drop off the pavement, still moving pretty fast. Now the problem is the three-wheeled cargo bicycle piled high with bananas stopped in the dirt not too far ahead while its driver takes a leak in the woods. You swerve back onto the pavement, just clearing the bicycle on one side and the bus on the other. Good, you made that one, whats next?
Now you are approaching a slow-moving truck from behind. There is no oncoming traffic for some distance, so you honk and start to pass. But as you begin to overtake the truck, he starts to pull out to pass a farm tractor which is pulling a trailer loaded with rocks. No problemthere is room for the tractor, the truck, and you with at least three inches to spare. Lean on the horn and charge on.
But now the tractor starts to pull out to pass a bicycle rickshaw loaded with twelve school children and their backpacks. The tractor forces the truck to angle closer to you. It looks like you will run out of pavement before you clear the truck. Hit the horn, but take your foot off the gas. In this case, the tractor is probably going to keep pulling out to pass the rickshaw, and the truck will keep angling over to pass the tractor; there is room for all three of them. But there isnt room for three of them AND you. Hit the brake, time to bail out from this one. Drop back and wait for the truck to finish passing the tractor. But stay all the way on the oncoming side of the road, ready to pass as soon as the truck makes room.
OK, the truck is past the tractor. Hit the horn to get him to move over, full throt... oops, there is a bus coming toward youfast. Hit the brake and pull over. The bus goes by with a blast of exhaust smoke. Horn, throttle, take the truck. Oh-Oh! There is a truck stopped in the road ahead while the driver and several other guys try to fix a broken axle. The truck you are passing must either brake (not likely) or pull over toward you to pass the breakdown. Full horn, downshift, full throttle. Maybe the truck will slow just a little to let you clear him before he pulls over to pass the broken-down truck. Yesss! Hes slowing, you made it, but watch out for the group of cows in the road ahead eating hay that fell off that oxcart.
We watched from the back seat as Raj played this video game for about six hours to get us to Dehradun. The guide book said that Dehradun was the center of a forest area and we were looking forward to escaping the traffic, noise, and pollution of the big city and finding peace in the country. We were very disappointed to find downtown Dehradun full of traffic, noise, and pollution. We found the Osho resort hotel on the outskirts of town and settled in. The hotel had a drivers dormitory where Raj spent the night while we watched HBO in our room.
On Saturday morning, we headed back into Dehradun to find a hairdresser for Rita. Raj parked, Rita got her hair cut, and I walked around town. The electricity had gone out an hour or so earlier, and the town was full of noise and exhaust from the gas or diesel generators found in front of most shops. I came upon the office of a doctor specializing in fiber optic endoscopy. His sign said he was US educated. I had recent experience with the procedure and the resulting bill (about $800 as I remember) so dropped in to ask the price. Six hundred rupees (about $13.00), I was told, but I would have to come back tomorrow with an empty stomach, and I would be anesthetized for the procedure (not the way it had been done in the US).
At Ritas suggestion, I visited her hairdresser for a shave, haircut, beard & mustache trim, all for about $1.30 including tip. After lunch and some shopping, we found the Forest Research Institute in a quiet wooded setting and relaxed for a while away from traffic.
On Sunday morning, we set out for Mussoorie, a hill station (at an altitude of 2000 meters) that is a popular honeymoon destination. We climbed past some pretty alpine scenery on a road that twisted up the mountains like a snake and arrived to find the town carved into the mountainside and divided into two sections connected by a single street (Mall Road) that is closed to most motorized traffic. Rita and I enjoyed the round trip on Mall Road from the Kulri Bazaar section of town to the Gandhi Chowk section and back on foot and bicycle rickshaw. We found Mussoorie clean and cool. It was the kind of place we had in mind when we escaped from Delhi.
From Mussoorie, we drove back down the hill, and on to Rishikesh, the "Yoga Capital of the World", and the place where the Beatles met their guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. We walked down to the river Ganges at Lakshman Jhula, where Rita removed her shoes and waded in. She sprinkled a little river water on Allens head.
We spent the night at Swiss Cottage, on a hill with a view of the river below, and on Monday morning we again returned to the river bank to collect some river water in small plastic vials, cross the Ganges on a foot bridge, and feed the large, fat fish that swam under the bridge, waiting for the food sold by young vendors, and dropped to them by the tourists.
Our next stop was Haridwar, located at the point where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas and starts across the plains, a particularly holy place. Signs told of a festival coming in November and hundreds of tents were being set up in preparation. We visited Hari ki Pairi Ghat (footstep of God) where a Pujari (Hindu priest) performed Puja for Rita at the waters edge. We watched hundreds of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges before returning to Raj and his car for the long ride back to Delhi. As we approached the city, we noticed the air getting hotter and smellier, the traffic getting denser and noisier and crazier. Yep, its Delhi.
Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, then use your browser's Back button
On the Ganges just upstream
from Rishikesh in Lakshman Jhula
Brahmin pujari performing a
puja for Rita on the bank of
the Ganges in Haridwar
A view of the bathing pilgrims
at Hari ki Pairi (Footstep of Gods)
Ghat at Haridwar
One of the many strange
vehicles seen on the roads.
This one is used as a taxi and
freight hauler. The small engine
sits over the front wheel.
Allen and Raj in Dehradun
with the Forest Research Institute
This ad and at least one other
(for Spy herbal treatment for lovers)
were found on the sides of several
buildings along a 100km stretch of
road outside Delhi
Send me an email letting me know how many tubes of Spy Cream you'll be needing, and we'll place a bulk order with Allen.