We have flee Delhi by night, driving straight out into the countryside. Traffic swells all around us, as along the highway a great, trembling ocean of light forms. Diwali preparations: electricity and oil burning ten thousand tiny tea lights, each attended by busy people, each surrounded by movement and food and tension. We are barely moving and it seems for a time that we will stay in Delhi forever, or perhaps in this new makeshift nation along the roadside, which is warm and bright and bustling, a city made of diyas and coloured powders, beautiful and glowing against the encroaching nightfall.
The cars eventually clear as people break off for evening revelry amongst the lights. We drift farther from the city, and the lights launch upwards, disappear behind clouds, and suddenly reappear as we gain altitude and move away from people, from cars, from buildings. The country reclaims the sky. Homes drift further apart until they are not present at all. Night is no longer balmy, but grows chill, and quiet. Ours is the only vehicle on the road at this hour, and we begin up a steep incline.
Our bus is half-empty on this midnight run into the mountains, and I stretch across two reclining seats, pulling a complimentary blanket around my shoulders. I can’t sleep–maybe I am uncomfortable with this level of silence, with the growing still outside of my window. I’m a city boy, and I’ve been in nothing but cities for some time. Trees are everywhere, and the road is very sloped now. Several times our bus stops as the shepherds of Himchal Pradesh lead cadres of sheep and goats across the road and into wilier, more secretive passes. The road is narrow, and we must make several cautious attempts at each switchback.