Climb on board! Each seat comes with a free serving of despair.
“But did you actually like India?” everyone seemed to ask.
It was a fair question. Every time I described India, I usually started with my first impression of the country. The long, circuitous route from the airport into central Delhi, the roadway thick with vehicles diverse in wheels and dimensions, the cow burrowing her head into the flaming pile of garbage while rummaging for some nosh. I relished the grim, gritty details, the number of times I stepped in feces of indeterminate origin, exactly how many times I contracted scientifically-innovative new strains of diarrhea, the many and various attempts to grift me of all of my money and earthly possessions.
The crowning glory in every string of India anecdotes was our journey to Jaipur. The sojourn was a 17-hour ride crammed haphazardly into glass capsules in a rattling deathtrap manned by a driver with an itchy brake-foot. At the terminus of our jaunt was a series of hysterical mishaps involving alleys crawling with braying goats and half-naked children, each of them screaming at us. We climbed into four different rickshaws, each which was trying to rip us for our dwindling supply of rupees, and as we climbed into the last we were sure we knew the face of madness.
I, in fact, really liked India.
Look into my eyes, traveller, and know despair.
Our 4 month trip nearly came crashing down en route to Jaipur. This was no mean feat: the only thing greater than our feeling of being adventurous and spirited travellers was our deep investment in this adventurousness representing our character. We were hardened, we thought: wizened, callused, tough. Our skin was like leather, and we all had our battle scars. We had not-so-idly considered purchasing eye patches, maybe spurs, and sitting in dusty cantinas rhapsodizing about the war. No pitiful “discomfort” could ever so upset us that we would even cringe, never mind head for the hills. Nothing could defeat us. We were Travellers, upper-case t.
We had chartered a bus to get us from Amritsar to our next destination, but were told that our path was a little odd and that few modes of transport plied this particular route. We would have to be a lot more understanding, a lot more accepting, of just about anything we got if we wanted to get to Jaipur cheaply. Our bus to Dharamsala had spoiled us in regards to comfort and pleasantness, and we were made to understand that this ride would not be a picnic. As we arrived at the expansive dirt lot surrounded in rusted chain-link and saw our chariot, this became clear.
Our bus was not so much a bus as a large, dilapidated heap of disintegrating metal and barely-working engine parts. For at least a few minutes after our rickshaw driver pointed us to our mode of conveyance, we wondered if we would be involved in powering the vehicle itself, if perhaps there would be little open slats under each seat so that everyone could Fred Flintstone us through the Rajasthani desert. We also considered that maybe the bus was coal powered, or maybe they would bring the horses to harness to the front bumper, or maybe we had died on the way to the parking lot and this was Chiron’s boat directly to the darkest, saddest, crustiest parts of the afterlife.