The beginning of the fourth and last leg of our trip – the foothills of the Himalayas turned out be more of an ordeal than we imagined. What originally seemed a relatively short train ride journey turned into a 36 hour ordeal, starting with our train from Varanasi being delayed more than 4 hours which resulted in our arrival in Bareilly after midnight. Little did we know the town was still under a curfew from 10 pm to 5am because of communal rioting Hindu/Muslim) two weeks before. We had no choice but to sit on the station platform till we could get another train heading north towards Almorra our next destination. Of course, that train was also late. We squeezed on to a bench beside an elderly Indian gentleman who drifted in and out of sleep, his head resting on bicycle handlebars – until he could go to work. India continues to teach me a lesson in patience.
Our wait was not only tedious but we were engulfed in clouds of mosquitoes….but because of the curfew, the station was even more crowded than usual, which made for some visual entertainment! Then out of the darkness a bright light appeared… the Sachkhand Expresss pulls in bound for Amritsar (for the Sikhs, Sachkhand is the fifth and final inner plane to enlightenment)…. Our train finally arrived and took us to the end of the line, an industrial wasteland, a far cry from either Sach Khand, or even the fresh mountain air and green pastures that I was anticipating. The tour guide caught hell…as Hardie would say to Laurel, “This is another fine mess you’ve got us into!” But we had one more leg of the journey to go.
We were talked into taking a shared taxi, but we needed more riders. Little did we know it would take another two hours of circling around a busy intersection. “Almorra…morra..,morra” our driver called incessantly, trying to fill the taxi. I had kept my cool all through the previous day and long night of train travel. But now I was losing it. “ We cannot keep circling like this for ever! You promised we would leave in 5 minutes…” “But Madam, this is a shared taxi.” Gerard pointed out to me that if we abandoned him now, we would only have to begin the process all over again with another shared taxi. We left the industrial plain quite quickly and started our ascent to Almorra up a very narrow windy road. The driver drove like a maniac with a death wish. It was the scariest ride I have ever taken and I was unable to enjoy the scenery while trying desperately to hold on to the contents in my stomach.