Delhi to Reckong-Peo (06/05/11 – 07/05/11)
I left my friend's house on the evening of the 6th to leave for Kashmere Gate. I had already booked a ticket on the Delhi - Reckong-Peo bus the day before and it was scheduled to leave at 8:10 P.M I initially tried to board the metro to go to Kashmere Gate but the metros were filled to the brim with a rabid crowd. I decided that I couldn't risk the safety of my electronics and would take an auto. The auto cost a 100 bucks from Mayur Vihar phase I; small price to pay to ensure the safety of my laptop. I left at 7:10 P.M very worried that I might not make in time to catch the bus. Both luck and traffic were on my side and I reached Kashmere Gate at 7:35. After I reached, a small amount of time was spent finding an ATM and then I was ready to go. I went to the boarding point to see the DLI-RPEO HRTC bus standing there, already being boarded. It looked as ordinary as they come and I clambered in with a little amount of trepidation. The bus was almost full to the brim and the only 'girls' were at least 50 years old... I sighed heavily and headed towards my seat and discovered it wasn't by the window. I stuffed my bag between my legs and sat down looking fixedly at the window trying to avoid everyone's eye. Eventually, the guy with the prized window seat showed up and he was as devoid of expression and emotion as I was trying to be. The bus started off and so did my hell.
I understand HRTC has to cut corners somewhere when they hand out 'ordinary' class tickets but I don't understand why they've designed buses for smurfs. I couldn't lean back in the seat without my knees pushing up dangerously against the back of the seat in front of me. To move slightly, I had to perform an acrobatic manoeuvre that inevitably disturbed the passengers around me. There was no way an average sized human being could sleep in that bus. The night was a sleepless struggle for me and I spent the night squirming and looking on as we passed through Ambala Cantt, Chandigarh, and Panchkula.
After suffering all manners of torture and fatigue we somehow finally reached Shimla at 5:24 in the morning. There was a mad rush to get off and I realized that most of the traffic consisted of cheapskates who just wanted to take a cheap bus to Shimla. There was a half hour break before the bus departed again for Reckong-Peo. I took that time to go walk around a little bit and found out that my decision not to stop over in Shimla was a good one. It’s stupid to assume that there wasn’t anything interesting in store after such a cursory search but just by the outside look of it, I felt that I wouldn’t have had a great deal to do there except eat and get fatter.
Soon afterwards the departure was announced and the bus started rolling on again. Up and until Shimla the bus at least followed the reservation system. After Shimla though, all bets were off and it just became an ordinary local passenger bus. People got on and off at every single place they bothered to stick a hand out at. The traffic fluctuated slightly but remained constant more or less until after we departed from Narkanda.
From Narkanda to Rampur there was a heavy influx of people who were traveling short distances and kept the bus completely filled. All this while, I was suffering from severe physical fatigue as a result of not having slept the entire night before and I was drifting in and out of consciousness. One moment, I was intently listening to a song on the IPod and the next moment my head was bouncing off of the rod in front of me as I woke up startled realizing that I had fallen under. This happened a great many times, right up until the point we reached Reckong-Peo and everyone was very amused. The bus trip was very uncomfortable until Rampur and I was regretting my decision not to disembark in Shimla, spend the night, and take a bus to Sarahan.
After Rampur, however, the landscape slowly began to change as the valley came into sight in its complete splendor. This was slightly marred by the Hydro-Electric power project work being undertaken, but even that blemish couldn’t take anything away from the magnificence of the mountains. I was spell bound the entire way and I had my head out of the window all the time. The trip was also sheer terror because at many a place the road blocks at the edge had fallen off and all you could see was the edge and the river a few hundred feet downwards. This horror was compounded by the fact that the bus driver was a bipolar disordered person who alternated between sanguine calm and manic frenzy while driving the bus through the valley. There was one instance that almost brought me to my knees in prayer. It happened when we were approaching a particularly sharp turn and the driver decided to showcase his own interpretation of a scene from ‘Tokyo Drift’ and he took the turn at about 35 kmph. The wheel screeched and threw some rocks over the edge but it gripped the road just in time and we were all safe. All in all the driver was a confident guy who knew what he was doing but his erratic swings had my heart in my mouth when I wasn’t banging my head off the seat rods.
I have to spend some time raving about the scenery in sight as you drive to Reckong-Peo. There is a single road carved out of the mountain and you are surrounded by the great mountains as you drive on by. Maybe I’m one of the few people who finds that utterly captivating but I had my head out of the window the entire two and half hours taking in the beauty and feeling the chilly wind on my face. Mother Nature seemed to have her climate control setting on and the temperature was absolutely perfect. It wasn’t too cold or too warm.
There was plenty of bright sunshine and experiencing the sun without the heat was a treat for a hyderabadi guy like me. The mountain sides are dotted with houses here and there and you can’t help but wonder, who got the idea to build a house there and how he had even managed to finish up. The houses, roads, and the basic infrastructure is nothing if not a testament to man’s perseverance and will to endure in any sort of conditions. The roads leading up to Reckong-Peo were absolutely perfect except for places where landslides occurred often. About 80-85% of the roads were clear of potholes, bumps or any hiccups and that is a huge thing. My only regret is that I was in a bus and couldn’t get out where I pleased. The next time I travel to Kinnaur, it’ll be in a cab and I’ll be stopping at a lot of places.
We finally arrived in Reckong-Peo at 4:24 which was 6 minutes ahead of scheduled time. In this particular regard, I’m very impressed with HRTC for sticking diligently to the time tables that they’ve put out. I got out at the bus station, perused the time tables and toyed with the idea of catching a bus to Sangla or Kalpa today itself. I soon slapped the idea out of my mind because had I stepped into the bus again today I would have turned homicidal. I went and bought a battery for my phone and then took up ‘luxury’ accommodation for a princely 350 bucks and scrubbed the pain and fatigue of the last 21 hours out of my mind. My dinner was excellent vegetarian thupka, momos, a cup of tea and a wonderfully fresh cream scone. Having satiated my hunger, I settled down to do the grunt work i.e. transferring the photos from my camera, writing these entries, replying to my facebook notifications et al. Now I’ll finish recharging all my electronic devices and prepare myself to wake up tomorrow bright and early to go to Kalpa or Sangla. I haven’t decided anything except for that I’ll decide by way of a coin toss at the bus station tomorrow. Cheers until tomorrow!
1) Take the DLI-RPEO bus at your own risk. If you have knee or back issues you are sure to be destroyed during the course of the trip. After having suffered through the ordeal myself, I would highly recommend a stopover in Shimla just to insure your health.
2) Regardless of whichever bus you take to Kinnaur, try and get a window seat on the left side of the bus. You’ll get the best views
3) Keep an extra bottle of water and a snickers bar (or some meal replacement bar) handy if possible. You never know what you’re going to get to eat and when, so having one handy is greatly helpful.
4) There are three internet cafes in Reckong-Peo but the lines are unstable so having a GPRS equipped mobile or a USB internet stick is a must if you want to keep in touch. Also bring an extra batter y for your mobile. It will be of great assistance.
5) Always walk around town before deciding on a place to stay or a place to eat. There are some real gems hidden away in alleyways that you wouldn’t find unless you looked hard enough.
6) Reckong-Peo is the last place where you’ll find an ATM if you’re heading deeper into Kinnaur or into Spiti. So make sure you get your finances taken care of before you leave town. There is a State Bank ATM, a Himachal Pradesh Co-Op ATM (I don’t think outside cards work here), and a UCO bank ATM in the market square.