I specifically asked the owner if the tour company for an English speaking guide. He said “Sure. But you need to pay more. ” I’m like, I’m spending a week with this dude. I don’t need to discuss foreign relations or the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism with him. It’d be nice but I would just like to know a tad about what we are seeing. When we are eating. How far. What time we are starting. The bar is not high. I mean I HAVE to take a guide by law.
I showed up last night and the owner said “I wanted my friend to go but he said no so I am going.” Great. I’ve been waiting four days. Let’s f ing go!
He was supposed to come to my hotel at 9 am the next day. Not there. Finally at ten I walk across the street. He says “I’m sick. Stomach. Dysentery.” I’m like “dude. I told you not to go to KFC! ” HAHA. Seriously. He looked sick.
“But my friend will take you.”
Ah so I’m traveling with the reluctant friend and driver for a week. Can’t wait. He shows up and his name is Rinku Roy. I ask him if he’s was a Bollywood porn star with a name like that. Or a Vegas act. The driver’s name is Manoush. And there English is non existent.
We set off for our five hour drive to Bahlanpong. I’m exhausted as i woke up to pee around 2:30 AM or so (promising myself I wouldn’t set the alarm. But the internal clock….) Maybe I will just check how my hometown Cleveland Indians are doing against the hated Yankees…..
Bad idea. 5 hour game. Watched it all on my IPhone Via gamecast on ESPN. No video. Just pitch by pitch. They won. I’m tired. At one point gamecast was not working right (of course in inning 13) and my friend Rita in Cleveland had to use facebook to comment and give me highlights. While driving.
So off we go to the mountains. Before leaving town we had our obligatory stop at the drive by Ganesh. Ganesh is the elephant looking Hindu god. They have these roadside shrines (one in Kathmandu is actually a drive thru), where you can get a good luck blessing and toss in some rupees. So we pull up and toss some in.
It’s an 18 hour drive but these first five hours were more the traditional India I’m used to. Beautiful green farms along the valley. The Brahmaputra river. Bamboo farmers. Shops. Kids on bikes. Women in traditional saris. Farther up the road some monkeys. And cows.
Tons of them. Man. If you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist and/or believe in some sort of reincarnation, make sure you get it right when you’re ready to come back as a cow. Don’t think Indiana instead if India. You will end up on someone’s plate instead of being allowed to walk around naked overweight and/or pregnant. Sleep wherever you want (especially the middle of the road) and have even the most determined driver/madman slam on his brakes at 60 and nearly swerve into a bicyclist to avoid hitting you.
It’s a crime to kill a cow here if you didn’t know. A person accidentally? Not so much.
The people here are not particularly friendly and can’t speak much English. I was warned via guidebook. My guide and driver are nice. But man it’s hard to get even a smile out of anyone else. I don’t know enough about it. I’ll have to ask neighbor Frank who comes here a lot. Culturally what’s up? I mean in Shillong I thought it was because they were all Christian (seriously they were) so maybe they all had some guilt complex instead of hey, my karma man!
But no. I did get sort of a smirk from the police dude checking my permit. He says “which country?” I said USA. He smiled. I’m sure he’s like “you got THAT dickhead for president? I thought WE we uneducated! ”
So I am finally at the base of the hills. As you slowly move away from the city, the feeling that progress and capitalism are like a large Pacman. Slowly chomping up bits of nature as you move north. The farther away from the city, you feel more like the Pacman has less to fuel him so the the greenery is spared. For now.
I finally got the chance again to experience the living, breathing organism that is India. The madness. The side saddle girls on the back of motorbikes. With the kid in the middle. The fact that nearly every man, woman and child, but especially the women, look like they just came from a photoshoot. Clean beautiful clothes. Hair perfect. No sweat. It’s still 95 degrees! The weaving in and out of traffic. The buses and taxis whizzing by within a hair of people waking in the street. Nobody flinches or shows fear. That’s the ticket. Don’t hesitate. Let the symphony of Indian street life play out. Karma. It’s beautiful to watch. And you get used to it.
Hills finally tomorrow. Back in Buddhist country!