Chamba #1

April, 2009 – I hate buses that leave early in the morning. Those that leave on horrendously winding mountain roads on days when my digestive system is queasing with diarrheac agony are a particular source of sleepless nightmares. I was assured by the staff of my hotel in Mussoorie that the 6.30 a.m. bus was the only way I was going to get to Chamba with public transport. It was a lie as I would discover later. They wanted me to get out as soon as possible because the entire hotel was booked up by 3 families from Delhi for the weekend and no one knew when they were going to arrive and the last thing they needed was some groggy-eyed hippie backpacker holding up one of the rooms.

So I shivered in the wintry chill of dawn and tried getting something to eat before the bus arrived because I did not want to travel on an upset AND empty stomach. The only edible eatables around the bus stop at that time of the morning were a samosa and a cup of watery chai served by an ancient man from his oil blackened shed. Half a morsel in and it became fairly obvious to me that the potatoes inside were rotten. The two eyes peeking out of the million wrinkles on the ancient man’s face were looking at me expectantly as I was eating. I wanted to be a nice guy, so I finished devouring the entire samosa in front of his eyes as quickly as I could, washed it down with the glass of bitter chai and beamed a thankful smile as I handed over a 5 rupee note.

The first 30 minutes of the journey were fine, spectacular even, with the clear early morning weather revealing mighty Himalayan peaks jutting behind the tall mountains of the Shivalik range. This was the first time I had seen snow-capped peaks in my life and the frequency with which the white mountains were being revealed to me made me orgasmic with joy. If my journey had ended calamitously with the bus falling into the mighty gorge below, I would have died a happy man.

But it didn’t, and my joyous musings were interrupted by the lady sitting in front of me as she poked her face outside the window and ejected a projectile of vomit, some of which, because of the forward motion of the bus and the resultant backward motion of the vomit, landed on my jacket and my face.

The odour of the bile that the woman had generously sprayed all around was, needless to say, unpleasant. It had the added advantage of provoking my hitherto peaceful stomach and liver into action to compete with their counterparts within the woman and very soon, I felt violently unwell. But I did not want to embarrass myself and puke away with carefree abandon like the woman did. I tried to keep my body in control till the bus stopped somewhere or reached Chamba. It was only 40 kms away now, which was 2 hours on these treacherous Himalayan roads with their serpentine curves and hairpin bends. I thought I would sleep it off. So I slept.

When I woke up, I felt even more ill than before. I hoped we were somewhere in the vicinity of Chamba, so I looked out of the window for some signs of hope. A milestone gently sauntered by announcing “Chamba – 37 kms”. When I read this, my brain and my nervous system, appeared to have switched sides and allied with the digestive organs in a mutiny against my will. I had no power to resist and the contents gurgling in my intestines gushed out of my mouth with a force 5x times more violent than the woman. It happened every few seconds until the body was assured that it had ejected the samosa, chai and previous night’s oily paneer tikka masala out of its system. This was a demoralizing disaster. Maybe it was time to end my trip and go back home.

I looked around, expecting to be stared at by everyone else in the vehicle. But nobody seemed to have noticed. Half the people were asleep, the other half were detachedly staring into space. The elegantly dressed old man sitting next to me was still awake and was wiping some of the dregs of my violent outburst from the sleeves of his overcoat. He must have seen a pensive expression on my face because he said with a calm, consolatory tone in his voice,“Don’t worry, beta. Ye toh roz hota hai.” (This happens every day.)

I’ve never felt guilty about puking out of a bus on Himalayan roads ever since.

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