the commute


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i spent my last days in Leh soaking up every last bit of Himalaya i could before moving onto my next epic commute.  this commute would involve three bus rides, each longer than fifteen hours.  the first one was by far the worst of the three and potentially the worst ever of my life.

i stepped onto the van full of tourists just after midnight where i was promptly placed in the front seat and thrust up against the front windshield with a seatbelt that stretched only halfway across my chest to a non-existent buckle.

instead of leaving right on time, the driver decided it would be a better use of our time to drive aimlessly around the city, through alleyways, backing in and out of just about every compact driveway he could, even knocking on random doors while searching for locals he could accept bribes from to bring them along for the ride.  after many failed attempts at meeting his price point, he did eventually find his clients.  he packed them three to a seat and stacked them high in the aisle.  several tourists tried to voice their concerns throughout this process as if actually believing it would do any good but the driver paid them no mind whatsoever.

as soon as his payload of tourists and locals were intact, we set off on our eighteen hour journey though the high desert mountains back to Manali in Himachal Pradesh.  the driver gripped the wheel with purpose as we sped stupidly fast along the many cliffs and curves of the unpaved highway.  a thin layer of glass only inches from my face was the only thing between me and perhaps death.

to top it all off, as chance would have it i was also experiencing the worst flatulence induced abdominal pains i have ever had.  its origin was unknown and its onset was sudden.  as we hurtled haphazardly down the road, piercing pains shot through me and became more pronounced with every bump and dip.  my stomach quite simply was a war-zone and it took all the strength i had not to let loose the mayhem into the van where the other innocent passengers were clung to each other for warmth and pretending to sleep.  they had their own demons to work through i’m sure.

we did stop a few times where i attempted to remedy the situation by any means necessary.  this only gave me temporary relief and restarted the clock of the ticking time bomb that was the civil war inside Roark’s guts.

on and on we went as night turned into morning and morning turned into day.  finally, my pain subsided enough to allow me the luxury of passing out from the exhaustion i felt.

i awoke conveniently several kilometers shy of Manali at the town of Vashisht and begged the driver to let me out.  there, i teamed up with two cheerful Spaniards i had met a few days prior in Leh.  they had also just endured the same commute.  we found accommodation in the tallest building in town and got some much needed sleep.  i awoke the next morning feeling almost like myself again.  whatever that means.

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these Spaniards were the first travelers i had met who had brought along their own climbing equipment as well as a slackline.  i met up with them after their morning climb to do a bit of slacklining.  we managed to find a prime spot in a half-built building between two concrete columns with a roof that sheltered us from the rain.

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Vashisht is one place i could get happily stuck in for a very long time but the truth of the matter was that i had an elsewhere to be as well as a time window to get there in.  so instead of growing happily complacent in that blissful village in the hills, i got right back on another bus.

…to Delhi!

this time, a VIP air conditioned luxury coach with seats that recline and Bollywood films that blare.  we finally arrived fifteen hours later outside the hot and filthy Delhi bus terminal that i have come to know so well.  i couldn’t possibly have braced myself enough for the barrage of tuktuk drivers that attached themselves to my face immediately upon exiting the bus.  i’m sure it was no accident that the bus driver let us off two kilometers from the actual bus station so we would actually need to rely on these vultures.  like leading lambs to a slaughter, we each got surrounded and consumed.

i have been in this situation enough times to know that there is absolutely nothing i could say to get them to leave me alone.  words will only indicate to them that you recognize their existence, thus further fueling their fires.  so instead i let my actions do my talking for me.  i immediately unslung Escapo (my trusty guitar) and held him straight out in front of me with the body facing directly ahead.  then i simply walked forward with purpose letting Escapo pave the way.  each person i struck met me with looks of confusion and disgust until the crowd opened up to let me breath.

when i first purchased Escapo almost eighteen months ago, i imagined i’d be using him to serenade attractive girls in parks on cool afternoons.  i never imagined i’d also be using him as a weapon to for example: fight off angry dogs in an alleyway.  Escapo has become an extension of my arm.  a tool for any circumstance with the scars and scratches to prove it.  he is my one and only true sidekick.

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i only needed to spend less than an hour at my favorite bus station before my next bus departed.  this time a public bus headed due west to Rajasthan and deep into the Thar Desert.  this was the most pleasant fifteen hours of my commute.  the driver was nice enough to let me ride the entire way up in the cockpit for a front row view of the endless flat landscape with the occasional torrential downpour that inflicted flash floods on the small towns we passed.

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it was a long haul to my final destination but the bus driver made good and sure i was comfortable the entire way, keeping me fed and quenched when appropriate.

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the hour was late when i finally reached the city of Bikaner in northwest Rajasthan where i promptly made my way to Vijay Guest House run by the notorious Camelman.  i couldn’t know it at the time, but the bustling town of Bikaner would soon become one of my favorite destinations in India.

  1. #1 by dj on October 27, 2014 - 10:57 pm

    Escapo! Was wondering where he was :)

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