on journey: chandigarh > to delhi (???) > to rishikesh…14 grueling hours

This is a continuation of the story of our challenging time traveling from Varanasi to Rishikesh, started in the post: varanasi, india: of ghats & gurus.

We went to feel the spiritual pulse of India. Our quest took us through the frenzied streets and ghats of Varanasi, over dangerously chaotic Indian roads, and finally, sweet relief, to Rishikesh, the land of serenity and ohm. Never could we have imagined how different two of India’s most spiritual places could be. And never could we have imagined the future of our lives, as told to us by gurus at either end.

Monday: Sanjay, our driver in Varanasi, picks us up at our hotel at around noon to take us to the airport. He drives like a maniac, jamming his wrist onto the horn at every opportunity, shattering the otherwise quiet drive for no good reason. At one point we ask him to please slow down as the car he has brought today has no seat belts. He grudgingly slows down just a wisp. Surprisingly, we arrive in one piece at the airport, where we catch our 1:40 flight back to Delhi. It’s obvious that Sanjay is happy to be rid of us, as we are of him!


me with Sanjay in Varanasi, looking like we might be friends

We spend most of our day in transit, flying from Varanasi to Delhi, waiting quite a long time between flights, and arriving in Chandigarh at 6:30 p.m.

Our new driver, Singh, is a little late meeting us at the Chandigarh airport. He lumbers up to us, looking more than a little disheveled, as we walk out of the airport hauling our suitcases behind us. Singh is an older heavyset man with streaks of red dye in his dark hair and an earring in one ear. His hair is standing on end. He wears a sweater vest over an untucked shirt and a pair of frayed pants.

When Singh tells us he just arrived from Delhi, after a 5-hour drive, Jayne and I look at each other. We just spent our whole day in transit, and could have met him in Delhi. This is our first inkling that something is amiss, but we don’t realize the full error of our ways until Tuesday, which turns out to be the most harrowing day of our 3-week trip through India.

Our plan had been to fly to Chandigarh via Delhi, where it seemed on the map that the distance was short to our ultimate destination of Rishikesh.  Rishikesh has no airport of its own.

Tuesday: Our day began with a sprinkle of promise.  We cruised along in the back seat of Singh’s car with the windows open and dust flying into our faces.  The air-conditioner in Singh’s car had two speeds, either full-blast freezing or off.  We alternated between the two.

About 95 km outside of Chandigarh, suddenly the engine of our Maruti Suzuki Esteem LX started hissing and spitting out steam. Singh pulled the car over and opened the hood, poking into the engine.  We sat alongside the two-lane road as trucks, tractors, donkey carts, auto-rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and motorbikes whizzed past.  Singh took our water bottles and emptied them into the radiator.


Singh and his broken-down car


the view from our unexpected roadside stop


traffic on the road


traffic on the road



Two filthy but very sweet boys ride up on one shared bicycle, and Singh gives them our now-empty water bottles to take somewhere to fill up. They zip off and return back quickly, although it seems we are out in the middle of nowhere, and I give them a 100 rupee note for their troubles.


The boys who helped us out

An auto-rickshaw driver pulled over to help.  There was apparently nothing to be done with the car on the side of this far-flung road, so the driver pulled out a frayed rope and he and Singh tied the bumpers of the two vehicles together.  We started down the road, Jayne and I in the auto-rickshaw and Singh driving the car, only to have the rope come untied after a short distance.  They re-tied the rope and we were off again.

Finally, after what seemed like 10 miles but was probably less than 5, we stopped at an auto repair shop in some small town.   The auto-repair guys brought Jayne and me two plastic chairs and we sat out on the red dirt and waited for them to resolve the problem. Two hours later, we had a new radiator and were on our way.


traffic around us


the rickshaw


the garage


a not-very-happy camper

We were finally cruising along again, if you can call driving in India cruising.  The potholed and decrepit roads in India are choked with every kind of vehicle and animal imaginable.  On this particular route, there were all two-lane roads, and since a myriad of slower vehicles were always blocking the road, constant passing was required.

Years ago, I would have been terrified by this road trip, since every minute we are passing someone, and hurling head-on toward other vehicles.  I kept reminding myself that the guru in Varanasi told me I would live till 87 or 88 and die a quiet death in my bed.  Even though I was skeptical of the guru’s predictions, his words soothed my fears on this torturous day.

We entered a road blocked off by gates.  We seemed to have no trouble getting through the gate, but a little way down the road, a guy alongside the road waved us down.  He didn’t look like anyone official, just some random-looking guy.  But Singh pulled over, pulled some papers out of his glove compartment, and got out of the car to talk to the guy.

After a half-hour, Singh returned, frowning, saying he didn’t have the proper permit to take this road, so we’d have to turn around and take an alternate route to Rishikesh.  For the second time today, he made myriad excuses about how this wasn’t his car, how his car had all the proper permits, how it wasn’t his fault that this car wasn’t properly documented!  We argued that he should have known what permits were required, and he should have checked this car before he brought it from Delhi.  He was unabashedly unapologetic, and just kept making excuses as we turned around and got on another overcrowded road going in some other unknown direction.

At this point, we were under the impression that we were taking some parallel road toward Rishikesh, and we figured it could take at most 4 more hours.  After quite a long time, I pulled out my India map and asked Singh what town we were in.  He told me Karnal.  I said, “What??? You’ve got to be kidding!  We’re heading toward Delhi!”  He explained that we were heading to Panipat, another 34 miles south, where some people would bring his car and we would exchange vehicles.  Another argument ensued where we expressed our disbelief that we were heading back toward Delhi!!  He continued to make excuses and to say, again, it wasn’t his fault because this wasn’t his car and he didn’t know it didn’t have the proper permits.  We made our way slowly to Panipat, over an hour to travel the 34 miles.

As we finally got to Panipat, which was 85 miles north of Delhi, Singh told us it was better for us to go all the way to Delhi to meet his friends with the car because if we stopped in Panipat, we’d have to wait 2 hours for them to meet us!!

We plod along another 3 hours or so to go the 85 miles to Delhi.  My blood is boiling, but there is no solution to the problem other than to sit and take it.  We are hot and uncomfortable in this small car.  Our legs are cramped, our backs are hurting.  There is nowhere to stretch out.  Pure misery.

Finally, in Delhi, Singh’s friends come with his car and we move our luggage and ourselves to Singh’s car.  It turns out that his car only has one seat belt in the backseat, so Jayne and I alternate wearing this seat belt in hopes we can reduce our odds of getting killed in a head-on collision.  We get on the road toward Rishikesh, which means we head southeast (we’re supposed to be going north!) to Ghaziabad, then we head north to Meerut.  Once we are northbound at least I begin to feel some relief that we are finally heading in the right direction.


a common sight on India’s roads

We crawl along the long route, passing through Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Hadiwar, then to Rishikesh.  This trip from Delhi to Rishikesh takes another 5 hours. In every town, we’re caught up in a thick mixture of people who squish their faces against our window, gesturing from hand to mouth, signaling they want money for food.  When we arrive at 10 p.m. in Rishikesh, to the Divine Hotel, the place seems truly divine to us despite its notably un-divine appearance.  We are irritated beyond what any words can describe because we have just spent 14 hours in a cramped car traveling a route that should have taken no more than 3 hours. Our relationship with Singh has started out very badly and we have 6 more days to spend with him!  The tension between all of us is thick and sticky and uncomfortable.  It’s as if we’re all stuck in a huge spider web made of taut metal threads.  It’s safe to say we all want to kill each other.

*Monday & Tuesday, March 7-8, 2011*

The story of our time in Rishikesh will follow on Tuesday, September 25.


“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

While I’m in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago from August 31 – October 25, and then in Portugal from October 26 – November 6, I kindly request that if you write a post about a journey you’d like to share, please simply link it to the appropriate post, this one or my next one as soon as it publishes.  I will try my best to read your posts while I’m on my journey, but I won’t have a computer or the time or ability to add links to my posts.

My next scheduled “on journey” post will be on October 17, 2018.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time.

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!  See below in comments for any additional links.

  • Suzanne, of Being in Nature, wrote a short but thought-provoking post about how we lose parts of ourselves as we journey through life.

Thanks to all of you who wrote “on journey” posts following intentions you set for yourself.