The chilly wind in January had failed to keep the city at home. The windy platform was crowded. The Delhi Metro train crept into the station accompanied by warnings over the PA system advising commuters on the patform to step back behind the yellow line. I took a step back, clutched my bag tightly and prepared to push through the crowd into a coach. Delhi Metro fares are reasonable so it is crowded. I managed to squeezed myself into half my body’s volume. The smell of sweat wafted from someone’s armpit against my face. The fourteen year old boy behind me played music on his cellphone’s speakers. The PA system requested people not to play music, announced the names of the stations and informed the passengers that doors would open to the left. I plugged in my ear pieces and turned on the music in my cellphone. Surprising how the same 12 notes played different tunes in the ears and minds of the many passengers in the metro. The music drowned under the din of the announcements, the noise of the metro and the gibberish of the crowd. A girl read the latest Chetan Bhagat novel. I caught a few lines over her shoulder. A couple with a baby and 3 bags stood in a corner waiting for Rajeev Chowk. I guessed they would change the metro there for the New Delhi station. Must have a train to catch. The baby howled because of the crowd and the closed environment. The father and the mother tried to pacify her. A lady with a bundle sat cross-legged in the vestibule between two coaches. At one station the doors refused to close. The train stood at the station for a few minutes. The guard ran frantically back and forth to ensure no one obstructed the doors of any coach. Finally the doors shut and the train moved. I stared out the big windows of the coach. I got a new perspective of the city. The privacy of the big bungalows had been invaded. Their once private life was now rendred public because of the high vantage point the metro provided. I could see the posh colonies merging into the slums. The city seemed to have been invaded by construction equipment. Construction of flyovers, metro lines and facilities for the Commonwealth Games 2010 all seemed to be happening at the same time. The cranes moved across the roads and the cars would zip by under their hooks. Dust hung heavy at many places. The Ramakrishan Mission Ashram station’s platform looked like the waiting lounge of an airport with many foreigners waiting for the next train. In the distance Old Delhi was visible. As I walked through the turnstile at my station I wondered if I would emerge like Superman did everytime he walked through revolving doors!! Maybe someday a metro token would cover that change in the personality too.
The cold and rarefied air at Rohtang Pass was new and unfamiliar to me. The snow covered stark mountain sides were refreshingly alluring at one moment and scarily ominous at another. It clearly wasn’t a place to walk forward while looking back over my shoulder. I did slip a few times even though I walked slowly and placed my feet firmly in the snow. The rubber boots kept my feet dry but did not keep them warm. It was all so different from life back home. Or was it really.
The food stalls at Rohtang Pass rival those at any of the Diwali melas that spring up in the parks in Delhi towards October. Maggi, bhutta, eggs, tea and coffee can be had without worrying about the litter at 13051 ft. There’s no point in driving up the highest motorable road in the world if one can’t carry on with the great Indian tradition of using the road as a dustbin.
The traffic jam at Rohtang Pass resembles the gridlock at Ashram, Indirapuram and Gurgaon. It makes one feel at home. The cold air at the high altitude keeps the car cabin cool as one inches forward at fifteen minute intervals. Some of the drivers are as reckless, careless and probably as drunk as on the roads in Delhi.
Some people try to overtake even if the road is only wide enough for one car to pass through. A bus and a truck jostle for space on a hair pin bend because the drivers are bent upon testing each other’s driving skills to the utmost. The prospect of a 200 m straight fall for either vehicle into the valley below makes the duel more exciting.
The mall at Manali is as crowded as Ghaffar Market, Ajmal Khan Road, Chandni Chowk, Sector-18 in Noida or the malls in Gurgaon. What’s missing are the drivers trying to wade through the pedestrians because the administration has closed the mall to the traffic.
The tiny Maruti Suzuki Alto makes its way along the grinding and winding road up to Rohtang Prass easily. The Tata Indica fumes and lumbers up. The big quasi-SUVs (Chevrolet Tavera, Mahindra Scorpio, Tata Safari) that are poor cousins to the Mitsubishi Pajero and the Toyota Land Rover climb up easily. Some have luggage piled up on the roof because they have been hired for a trip to Leh/Ladakh.
Most bikers announce their presence with the thud-thud of the Bullet echoing off the mountains. The smaller bikes keep you company noiselessly. Neither weaves through the traffic unless there is a traffic jam when a biker’s natural flair for streaking through traffic comes to the fore.
What else did we do in Manali?
Day 0 we boarded the overnight Volvo for Manali from HPTDC’s office in Delhi
Day 1 arrived in Manali and spent it on Mall road and the garden at the bottom by Beas river.
Day 2 was spent driving from Manali to Rohtang Pass, having fun at Rohtang Pass and a stop at Solang Valley on the way back to Manali
Day 3 we drove to Kullu, Manikaran and boarded the overnight Volvo from Kullu for journey back to Delhi
Ever after: Remember the refreshing Manali air, the rejuvenating holiday, the simple and relaxed life, tough uphill walks, hot tea in cold weather, shopping for trinkets
Be well prepared for the fickle Rohtang Pass weather. Light woollens required for the cold Manali weather. Pack a synthetic down jacket to keep you warm in Manali. Do not fly to Manali. The drive to Manali is full of twisting turns and enchanting mountain views. Take the bus. The Volvo bus is very popular. Or, drive your own car. Flying economy class to Manali is not possible since there is no airport there. You can fly to Kullu which is nearby. Best to stay in a hotel close to the mall. This way one is assured of a chemist near the hotel in case of an emergency.
Deforestation in Manali is seen on the hills since many trees have been felled. Wonder if there has been a rise in temperature in Manali over the years as a result. I regret not having chai pakoda in Manali. I did have fresh sweet lime juice in Manali which tasted great. Mobile signal was strong in Manali. Didn’t see any Ola or Uber in Manali. Didn’t see any radio taxis in Manali.
Slept in the coach with my sunglasses on. Trying to make up for the lost sleep on board the airplane. Had spent the time chatting with colleagues.
At the hotel stood in the queue to check-in with the group and headed straight for breakfast. No time for a visit to the loo because they were wrapping up the breakfast buffet.
Pattaya beach is great. I went water scootering there. No, that is not me on the right.
Later on we all went by boat to the Coral Island. En-route we stopped at a rig for parasailing and a deep dive into the water. Prasailing was great fun!!
We went deep into the water to look at the coral formations and the sea creatures. Had to wear an oxygen mask on the head .
The sky was clear blue at the Coral Island. Tried water skiing there and fell over in the water at quite some distance from the beach. The water scooter driver didn’t speak English, stopped when I yelled, saw me floundering in the water and started again. It is difficult to get back on those skis once you’ve fallen off. Somehow, I convinced the driver to haul me up behind him on the water scooter and rode back drenched to the bone. The water dried off in a few minutes.
On the way back bought myself a neat little Sony Cybershot digital compact camera. Takes great pictures. Still. Shoots videos too. I have bought four rechargeable cells and carry this with me on my travels for quick and easy photos. I use a Vivitar 3800N manual, film based SLR also. These photos were taken using negative film and then scanned. Someday, I will buy a DSLR. Maybe Vivitar will launch a cheap one!!
P.S.: Light clothing recommended for the pleasant Pattaya weather
I headed back homewards with dark clouds looming ahead. Soon it started to rain. Gently first and then harder. Ghazipur crossing was flooded when I crossed it. I had to crawl in the traffic at the traffic signal for 30 minutes. Nizamuddin bridge seemed to pass by quickly till I hit the water logged on the bridge a few meters before the T-point. Outer Ring Road was free and fast but the Bhairon Road turn was jammed up. I drove straight towards the DDA Building. Then the fun began. It took another 30 mintues to reach the traffic signal the end of Barakhamba Road. From there I headed towards India Gate. Couldn’t enter Ashoka Road because of the traffic. Tried Raisina Road. For some reason they were turning traffic back at Shastri Bhawan. The next day I learnt the Metro site at the Rafi Marg-Raisina Road roundabout had sunk. I spend the rest of the evening just wandering around the broad avenues of the New Delhi area. Traffic at all roundabouts had stopped. In the evening many Air force Gypsies and Esteems were also stranded. The senior officers returning home were stuck in the traffic. The stars on their light blue vehicles reminded me of the lines form the song Starry Starry Nights. Strangely I didn’t feel as tired or irritated as I thought I should have. Maybe because it was Friday. After about 4 hours on the road I looked around for a tea stall. None was to be found. I drifted to Barista in Khan Market. Hot Coffee and Baked Potato Chips fueled the rest of my drive home. The next day I read all about it in the newspapers. On Monday I reminded everyone in office of the photographs in the newspapers and with glee said, ‘I was there!’
Total time taken from office to home – 6.5 hours, only!!
The delegation was to inspect the venues for the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi. Heavy preparations were made to ensure the visit would be successful. Roads were closed for public use to ensure a speedy commute for the delegates. Policemen stood at the corners of major roads. Banners of the construction company sprung up overnight at the Games Village. An excavator stood outside the Games Village with its bucket flat on the ground as if prostrating before the delegation.
Newspapers were full of travel advisories. I read the news with apprehension. Would I ever reach office today? I decided to chance it. Traffic was lighter than usual. At 8 AM there was no sign of the delegates on the roads. Had they gone for their morning swim? The policemen stood by idly. Maybe they felt cheated too. They had been promised so much traffic to manage and people had stayed home.
There seems to be a thick smog in the air ever since the delegation left. Is it because it has turned nippy or because the construction work has picked up pace?
Rickshaws form a shabbily neat line opposite the gate of my office every evening. Some pullers perch on the back seat with their feet on the handle. Some stand by the side. A few move about talking to each other or at times bend down to check the tyres. One coughs, another smokes and a third one spits out tobacco spittle. They wear open shirts and torn pajamas in the summers. In winters sweaters with gaping holes and torn shoes protect their bodies from the chilly winds. Breakfast is a small plastic cup of tea and a fan. Lunch comprises roties wrapped in newspaper and chole from the roadside vendor. I’ve never witnessed dinner.
They form the missing link between home, public transport and the workplace. The bus stops at the bus stop which is not always close to the home or the office. The metro stops at the metro station which suffers from the same problem. Mostly public transport is far away from home or office.
I step out and hear cries of ‘Rickshaw!’
The three wheeled flimsy contraption, the rickshaw, provides a cheap and effective means of tranportation over short distances. In its current form it is unstable and puts considerable strain on the rickshaw puller.
A battery powered rickshaw, called the pedicab, can be an effective solution. It would be inexpensive when mass produced. With a top speed of 10 kph.the pedicab seems to be The Solution we so badly need in our public transport.
Here are links to a few interesting designs of pedicabs:
Auto Expo 2010 was held in Delhi. Every Indian knows that Pragati Maidan is the venue of an event of this kind in Delhi. Every Delhiite knows that such an event throws traffic out of gear, disrupts the already unreliable public tranport, and turns a stressed out city into a chaotic traffic island. Cars fight duels at traffic intersections with their bonnets, each driver trying to gain an extra inch of road space. The winner gets to breathe the exhaust of the car in the front without any dilution by fresh air. Scooters and bikes clamber onto the pavements and the pedestrians walk on dividers betwen the lanes. The traffic policemen take control of the major intersections where they flail their arms and blow their whistles. They can do with the much needed exercise but certainly not at the overly polluted traffic intersections. Hawkers sell magazines, dusters, peanuts and sundry other trifles. Beggars continue with business as usual.
A new scenario in which traffic doesn’t pile up, the Metro doesn’t get over-crowded with the people going to Pragati Maidan and I don’t spend four hours on the road is possible. If we had these events not just in Pragati Maidan but at other spots in different corners of the city. Dwarka and Rohini could be prime contenders for this. Imagine, smooth traffic while the Auto Expo goes on. Someday, for sure.