Life after Kashmir changed rapidly as we crossed the border into the next state. The Muslim culture changed into a Hindi culture, the military left the scene and best of all I was again connected to the outside world. Since it is impossible in Kashmir to connect to the local network with a prepaid Indian SIM and Wi-Fi is fairly impossible to find, I was cut off from the world for 6 consecutive days.
Traveling over land in Kashmir
As soon as we crossed the state border Vodafone sent me a text wherein they welcomed me in Himachal Pradesh and at the same time warned me to not swim in lakes and rivers. Bit of a random message from a telecom provider, but probably worth keeping in mind! My phone exploded and crashed a couple times, but being connected to the internet made me deal with the horrible trip I was taking.
Kashmir in wintertime is not really well connected to the rest of India. The Ladakh region for example is only reachable by plane, since roads close from the beginning of November due to heavy snowfall. Srinagar is still connected by road to Jammu, which again is connected to the rest of India. I did a lot of trips that are definitely not worth remembering, due to the inconvenient journey. But unfortunately this one is going to make it to that list as well. An 11h jeep ride through the mountains transferred me from Srinagar to Jammu over 290km. In Srinagar there were people that told us the trip would be either 5 or 12 hours depending on traffic. I somehow have a clue what they were talking about now: the traffic was horrific, something I have never seen before! Winding mountain roads were leading us from valley to valley. It was dreadful to see that this beautiful landscape was screwed up by an endless queue of trucks as far as my sight reached. Due to the numerous trucks that either broke down or were part of an accident it took hours to get through this scenic mountainous region.
On top of that I didn’t make friends with my fellow passengers, since it was a bit of a fight to get me a window seat in the jeep. Of course they were trying to rip me off and charge me extra, but I did not give in. I got the seat and paid just as much as the locals. Don’t ask me how, but I survived the trip.
That means I made it to Jammu the winter capital of Kashmir, which was not my final destination for today. My plan was to get to McLeod-Ganj as soon as possible. Here the Dalai Lama was giving a lecture the next day. It was Melissa that got me stoked about attending this rare event.
In the meantime it was already dark and we were running around at the bus station to find out how to get to Dharamsala, the city 4km away from McLeod-Gansj, a Tibetan refuge town and the mountain village where the Dalai Lama temple is located. Somehow we ended up in a night bus that was scheduled for Manali and so crossed the Kashmiri border into Himachal Pradesh. Somewhere in the middle (of the night) we would be dropped in a place called Gaggle, which supposed to be only 9 km from Dharamsala. We were happy that at least we were travelling onwards rather than getting stuck in Jammu, which did not really look that appealing!
We had a nice dinner at the bus station for only 60 Rs ($1) before we headed off. It was here where I had my first real Indian experiences. It started with peeing on the side of a busy street and later I threw a plastic bag out of the bus window. I felt like a kid that knew it was doing something bad. The big smile gave me probably away to my fellow Aussie, but the Indians didn’t even flinch!
On my way to McLeod-Gansj
Although I was connected to the internet again I did not check our location that often and I was relying on the bus crew that was about to drop us in the right place. Finally they woke us up and said it was time to get our stuff: ‘we are in Gaggle’! I found myself back in a tiny little ghost town standing in the middle of the road with my suitcase. Still half asleep I thought to myself what the hell am I going to do now!? A bit later we found a taxi with some sleeping people in it. It appeared to be the driver and his family who was willing to bring us to our final destination. It was 3.00 am and of course he was going to ask a ridiculous price, but we needed to go somewhere it was freezing cold! When he mentioned 1,200Rs ($20) I got angry for asking such an insane price for only 9km. A minute later I felt sorry for the guy, cause apparently the bus crew lied to us and we were not in Gaggle at all. At the moment we were about to close the deal for 1,000Rs ($17) there was a local bus approaching us. I put my life on the line by standing in the middle of the road to make this bus stop. Something not really recommended in India, but I was lucky the driver caught my attention and stopped. It was a long shot by asking where this guy was going, but out of all places he said Dharamsala! For 45Rs ($0.75) we almost reached our destination, cause from here it was only a 10-minute cab ride uphill to the mountain village of McLeod-Gansj.
Finding accommodation was obviously not easy coming in at 4.15 am. There were some options, but I was not looking for a bargain. After travelling in Kashmir and a horrible trip of almost 24 hours I wanted to have a nice hotel room and I was dying to have good Wi-Fi. A nice hot shower was still far away though cause in a couple hours the Dalai Lama was starting his lecture.
End good, all good we made it to his lecture and after 3 painful hours sitting on my bum listening to this sophisticated Buddhist leader I found a place to stay and I was delightedI I could finally have a long hot shower and fall asleep on a fresh bed!