Amritsar or Bussed
1 easy bus ride. I'd heard that before. I knew leaving Mcleod Ganj i'd have to change buses back at Pathankot so was prepared for chaos to rear its head again. It did. Bus Number 1 got me from McLeod Ganj down to Dharamsala where Bus Number 2 was ready to make the journey to Pathankot. Bus Number 2 made me nervous but struggled gamely along to the constant beat of disintegrating rubber on metal and against the odds, rolled into Pathankot some time later. Arriving in Pathankot I repeated my now familiar announcement of "Amritsar?" and was again met with a bus load of nodding heads. I boarded Bus Number 3 only to find out 15 minutes later that everybody was wrong... making assumptions based on an overwhelming group verdict from random bystanders, I thought would be acceptable, another mistake . Bus Number 3 was in fact heading to Nowheresville for the next couple of hours. I paid my ticket and waited. We arrived in Nowheresville and again I announced loudly "Amritsar?" to everyone who could hear. Again, a crowd of nodding heads and I sat down on Bus Number 4, lacking confidence. And rightly so, as Bus Number 4 would now spend 2 hours heading to Craptown. By this point I had given up on ever reaching the fabled town of Amritsar and concentrated merely on trying to get a little closer than I had been an hour earlier, whilst not straying more than a day's travel from Delhi. This at least reduced my stress levels. Bus Number 4 eventually stopped in Craptown and I raised a tired "Amritsar...?". By now I couldn't get the Churchill Insurance nodding dog out of my head and another bus load of locals promptly gave me their impression as well. Astonishingly, Bus Number 5 actually did go to Amritsar and suddenly i'd made it, although confusingly, during the course of my 5 bus journeys, I'd acquired 14 tickets...
Amritsar then, the only place i've ever shaken the hand of a 6 fingered man. More well known of course for being the site of the Golden Temple, the holiest temple and centre for the Sikh religion. I decided to stay in the free accommodation for religious pilgrims at the temple, partly for the ambience, but mostly because it was free. I shared a room with a converted American and a friendly Japanese lad who had defied the laws of India and made it from McLeod Ganj in only 2 bus journeys. Neither of us knew how. Pretty quickly I was approached by an imposingly large man who strode purposefully towads me. I was by now, exremely tired and knew I didn't have the energy left but prepared for one more battle of wills nonetheless. Nothing could surprise me anymore and I braced myself.
"Oroyt mate, where am yo from?"
beamed Nirmal, a Sikh BNP supporting Birmingham City fan from Moseley. I was surprised. I was immensely cheered though, to hear that even Nirmal after 10 days in his native India, was desperate to get back home to Brum. In this, the most holy of sites for his religion, we promptly snuck off for a beer to discuss away days at Stockport County with the Zulu hooligans and Dele Adebola.
The next day I headed for the Wagga Border parade and a chance to watch some more of Monty Python's influence, as India's finest soldiers strutted their stuff in front of their Pakistani equivalents in order to close a gate and pull down a flag. The home end was packed to the rafters and I squeezed in amongst the masses. Morale seemed low in the Pakistan camp as the away end contained only a small, yet voiciferous group of travelling support. The referee got proceedings underway and promptly spent half an hour asking everyone to sit down. Eventually, and to his great satisfaction, he finally achieved this as the crowd calmed down. It was about then that the monsoon hit. Total, utter chaos then ensued in the form of a mass pitch invasion, impromptu dancing and much gesticulating from our frantic referee. Flash floods and torrential rains lashed the crowds and a postponement seemed inevitable, before the clouds suddenly cleared, the heat returned, and within half an hour, everyone was dry and sweating again. The now somewhat dazed referee again began his thankless task of getting everyone seated, and after another lengthy delay, finally got everyone settled. He was then ready for his big moment, his brief flirt with fame and celebrity status as he announced kick off. Hilariously, and after well over an hour of his battles, this consisted of one line in Hindi, which clearly translated as "Stand up!"...
After a couple of days enjoying the impressive Golden Temple and mingling with extremely friendly locals, it was time for my final journey back to Delhi. With impeccable timing then, some local chap offended the entire Sikh religion and a Bund was called across the Punjab. Remembering back to my time in Nepal of course, this meant all roads were blocked for the day as everyone took to the streets to protest and burn more tyres. This would no doubt have worried me greatly had I realised it was happening. Fortunately, I only found out about it once I was on the train reading the newspaper, and just kept my fingers crossed. Reading on I noticed a few more interesting and occasionally concerning headlines:
"3 Indian soldiers shot dead in Kashmir"
"Rajasthan announces Prevention of Witch Practices Bill"
"Britain declares independence from the US"
Every time a good read, but no-one ever seems to die in Indian news stories, merely "Expire", "Succumb to injuries", or "Breathe their last". I sat back and waited for Delhi by reading clearly the biggest news story sweeping the globe - Rahul Dravid's injured nose before the Indian cricket tour of Bangladesh.