Talking about Kulu Manali and the hills, let me get back to the whirlwind tour my cousins braved to make in the summer. It turned out to be quite a trip really. No sooner did they arrive in Delhi after a long train journey, than first my nephew and then one of my cousins swooned and fell. A splash of water and sips of juice brought them back in the reckoning for the long trip ahead. The Delhi heat can be unbearable for the visitor. The tour operator had arranged a non-AC bus to take the forty or so of them (it was one big group) to Agra, Ayodhya, Mathura, Bodh Gaya, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Kulu Manali, and, finally, the Wagah Border. My cousins say they must (between the four of them) have spent more than Rs 3000 on water on the trip.
The puris in Mathura did most of them no good. To add insult to injury, the operator came around to distribute Eldopar capsules. Apparently, this was a yearly occurrence in Mathura and every year he would hope it wouldn’t happen. But this year was no different. In Ayodhya, my cousins and all those in queue were frisked so badly at many places, it was like being molested, they said. At the end of it, all that they could see was a small idol of Lord Rama from several feet away. There were so many policemen and soldiers deployed to guard the site, guns in hand, behind sandbags... like waiting for Godot. Such a waste of human resource! Don’t we see that so often in our cities too?
The worst experience, they recount, was at the Wagah Border. On the Indian side, there were hundreds waiting to see the change of guard. On the Pakistani side, hardly anybody. A senor ranking army officer got (at least tried to) the adrenalin and spirits flowing by talking about the ‘enemy’. After hours of waiting, at the appointed time when the floodgates were opened, the crowd surged forward and the inevitable happened: there was a stampede. My nephew was tossed aside to one side; his uncle to another. My cousins, wise women, decided not to go forward and beat a hasty retreat, sideways, I guess. All this in scorching heat with no head cover whatsoever. Not end of the story. The operator had booked them all by second-class sleeper from Delhi.