With only two weekends left and a strong desire for fresh air, we knew it was time for a much needed vacation out of Delhi. However, because of our lack of an Indian credit card, general knowledge about travel in India, and inability to speak Hindi, we had to rely on the assistance of many kind people to make this happen. As for our destination, we picked Mussoorie, a beautiful place nestled in the lap of the Himalayas. It had everything we needed: less pollution and cooler weather.
After a lot of back and forth, we got our tickets booked. We would take an overnight train Friday to get to Dehradun and from there take a 1.5 hour “shared taxi” to Mussoorie where we would stay for one night and then turn around the next afternoon and take another 1.5 hour shared taxi back to Dehradun and an evening train to Delhi just in time to sleep a few hours before work Monday morning. Basically, it was going to be a long weekend.
Finally, vacation day arrives. We prepare by going to the market and picking up some snacks and a light dinner. Then, off to the train station. As neither of us has navigated an Indian train station before, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get there and wander around. Once we get to the right platform we see an old, crowded looking train and think, “This cannot be ours…. Right?” We start asking people if this is our train and get many different answers. After about thirty minutes a handful of “No, your train is coming” and a couple “I have no idea” we decided to just get on the train and ask a passenger (especially since if it was our train, it was likely leaving soon). Final verdict: Yes, it was our train. After a moment of celebrating the fact that we got on the right train, reality set in. We were to climb into one of these little cots strung up on the wall, stacked three high on either side, and sleep for seven hours. Initially, this seemed impossible. There were too many people (all staring at the foreigners, of course), too many lights, and a man going up and down the “aisle” yelling “Chai? Chai? Chai?” Oh, no.
Seven hours later, after some (restless) sleep, waiting in line for a shared taxi, and some bargaining on price and location we are finally on our beautiful drive up the hills to Mussoorie. Well, until our taxi pulls over at a random chai stand directly adjacent to the road. He promptly gets out, motions to the Chaiwalla to get him a large rock that he can place behind his back tire to prevent the car from rolling down the hill, begins pouring cold water on the engine to stop it from overheating, and announces to the passengers that it is time for tea. Huh, well, okay. Luckily it was a beautiful view and great chai. Now, back to the car and off we go.
As we finish the trip, it begins to rain. When we had first entered the taxi, the driver told us that if we wanted to be dropped off at our hotel we would have to pay Rs. 300 (approximately 4.50 USD) or we could be dropped off at the taxi station and walk about 5 kilometers. We told him that the purpose of our trip was to hike, so we were fine walking. Now that it was raining, he asked the question again. Wanting to save some money and enjoy the outdoors, we again declined to pay the Rs. 300 to be taken to the hotel. By the time we arrived at the taxi stand, it was a downpour. Again, he asked and foolishly we declined thinking we could buy an umbrella along the way and all would be fine. We were wrong.
We began our trek in the direction we were told the hotel was in, keeping our eyes peeled for an umbrella. However, after about two minutes we realized we severely underestimated the rain. Already practically drenched, we took to shelter under a building (where all of the smart people were standing). We then asked another kind stranger for the directions to Doma’s Inn and were told it was a little further in the direction we were headed. Then, we asked where we could find an umbrella in which we got a very non-committal “that way” response.
It was officially game time. We were going to have to sprint in small bursts up the streets of Mussoorie (practically all at a 70-degree incline) and take shelter under buildings when we needed to rest. Removing our shoes (not our brightest idea), we then took off. After about 3-4 sprints we stopped at a bookstore to ask one last time where Doma’s Inn was and where we could find an umbrella. The lovely shop owner informed us that not only were all the umbrella shops closed for at least another hour, but that our hotel was at least 30 minutes in the direction we had come. As we let reality soak in for a minute we noticed a large “Dominoes” across the street. It appeared that our accents had made it sound as if we were looking for a “Dominoes” (in the monsoon, mind you) and not our hotel “Doma’s Inn.”
Realizing we had no other choice but to turn back, we headed toward where we were dropped off. About 300ft from the taxi stand we found an open umbrella shop, where we purchased a Rs. 300 umbrella and then found a taxi that would take us to our hotel (still another 30 minute walk) for, drum roll: Rs. 300.
Once at the hotel, looking as if we had just gone swimming with all our belongings, the man behind the counter informed us that our room would not be ready until 12:00pm. It was 9:00am. However, he was kind enough to suggest we take care of formalities AFTER we go to the bathroom and change. Unfortunately for us we had only wet clothes in our bags to change into, but at least they were a less wet than what we were wearing.
After changing we sat in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a nice breakfast and waited for our room to be ready. All the while we contemplated how simple life would have been had we just taken the taxi in the first place. But where’s the fun in that?