Back on an Indian bus. Nine hours to Dharamshala (245 km) for 274 Rs. ($5.50). And 250 Rs. ($5.00) for the 5 km taxi ride to the bus stand! Ramshackle, rudimentary bus. Glad I didn’t try it at night – no chance of any sleep on this machine. Hair-pinned bumpy mountain roads. You’d pay a fortune for nine hours of a ride like this at the Stampede fairground. Bus half-full to start. Hope it lasts. Departed on time! (Well, within ten minutes of departure time which is pretty close.)
Fifteen minutes out, traffic backed up. Stupid, inexperienced or inconsiderate, private motorist pulls out from our stalled line of traffic into the path of an oncoming bus on a road barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Should be better when we get on to the open road. I hope. Cool morning mountain air and I can stick my head out of the window.
10:00 am. On NH88 now but National Highway appears to mean something else (or maybe nothing at all) in the mountains. Would I really want to cycle here?
Short-haul passengers hop on and off for one or two kilometre rides. Better than walking home uphill from the bazaar. Now we’re full – my seat, a two-seater but narrow for that, has two adults and a serious-looking four-year-old. Not for long. Probably. Maybe.
Steep, inspiring, frightening valley views hanging off the rear tyres. Double rear wheels but only one needs to remain on the road, right? Another momentary stop, another crowd of passengers board. It’s going to be cosy.
A elderly woman at the door, standing in the stairwell immediately in front of me, looks about ready to lose her breakfast and is strategically positioned in front of the small window in the door. I keep a watchful eye on her; I don’t want to close my window before I have to.
Phew, have my two seater back to myself and the nauseous-looking lady has left. Taking her breakfast with her. Open road now, sparse pine forest, still steep and hair-pinned. Spectacular views. Dry, almost desert-like. Road too narrow for two vehicles to pass without taking to the dirt. Which we do almost constantly. Lots of buses, trucks and small private vehicles. Getting quite warm, despite the altitude. Looks like we’re on the Simla-Manali highway, no mention of Dharamshala yet.
On the road for only two hours now, pretty tiring staying upright and on the seat. Hanging on tight. Almost one quarter of the way there now! ;)
Big holdup. They’re resurfacing the road. Don’t they know it’s Saturday?
Almost constant screeching of brakes, with frequent accompaniment from the horn section. The driver is calm, collected and competent. Unruffled. Placid even when confronted with two oncoming trucks on a road built for one. He steers with his elbows while drinking from a water bottle. Squirts water over himself. He laughs at me in the rearview mirror and gives me a thumbs up. Just hold the damned steering wheel!
More room, now, inside the bus. Pine forest giving way to nice eucalyptus along the road side. Fifteen minutes break for lunch around noon. My stomache was uncharacteristically iffy at breakfast so I settle for a couple of cups of tea. No point in risking it.
About halfway now. In the valley bottom now, no big drops outside the window but as many bends.
Hamirpur Bus Stand. Biggish looking town if the activity at the bus stand is any indication.
Nadaun bus stand: getting warmer still, don’t think we’re that high any more. Sucking on a couple of home-made popsicles – hope they’re made with filtered water. Well, the locals seem to like them and they’re not keeling over… Jawalamukhi bus stand: a sign that Dharamshala is 54 kms away.
There is a big IPL (Indian Premier League, limited over cricket) match in Dharamshala tonight. I would have liked to have gone but it’s an afternoon/evening match. And it was already 95% sold out a couple of days ago.
Into the hills again. Nice. But still tight bend after tight bend. More dwellings with slate roofs. Most have the odd tile missing where the rain would come in. Snow-capped mountains on the skyline, just visible through the afternoon haze. A railway line! What’s that doing here? Narrow gauge, too! Ah – it’s the Kangra Valley Railway. From Pathenkot to Joginder Nagar. There is a viaduct high above the river in the valley bottom. I took this train in 1990. And will again in a few days! I’m excited.
Dharamshala! Ten rupees for the shared taxi up to Macleodganj. I’m here.