Since late February I toyed with the idea of a backpacking trip. Various destinations and countries were seriously debated within and dropped. A month long trip to cover the variety of Indonesia was among the first. When friends asked “why Indonesia”, my answer was simple and straightforward – “M0unt Bromo (the volcano) and the Komodo dragon are my curiosities to understand if they are scarier than what I experience at home!” Seriously, people didn’t see much humor in the honest statement, particularly members of the fairer sex (soon this usage may come to mean men, SRK included, with all the advertisements for fairness creams for men). Indonesia was abandoned in favor of a lengthier holiday in Europe. The anticipated costs for the trip didn’t quite match the savings I had set aside for the joy ride.
All the while I stayed focused on the record breaking solo trip I intend to undertake in July this year. The North-West trip from Leh to Kanyakumari is listed by Limca Records as having been done in 149 hours by an individual in 2010. The route of nearly 4000 kms has to be completed in lesser time and certified at 31 locations to qualify for a new entry. Aware that Manali to Leh will pose the greatest challenge in the entire trip I thought it prudent to do a reconnaissance of the Manali-Keylong sector. I have drafted appeals to Maruti, Hyundai and Ford to ‘sponsor’ the trip.
It struck me a week ago that I had not availed the post retirement railway passes in the past few years and that I had not undertaken a long distance train journey since 2005. Addressing both the issues I quickly made out a three week plan to travel by train to New Delhi and thereafter by bus to Manali, Shimla and Kinnaur; Manali to check out the route condition and possibly do some paragliding, Shimla as an Easter destination and Kinnaur to appreciate the environs known as the land of fairy tales and fantasies. The decision then was to decide on what should go into the backpack. A few years back I would have packed much more than what I did this time – for the shoulders did not have the ‘dum’ to carry more than the bare essentials.
I reached the Ernakulam South station an hour ahead of the expected arrival of the train at 2220 hours. I found it strange that very few passengers had occupied the seats provided on the platform. I was, in fact, happy that I would not have to put my bags on the unclean floor. However, soon I realized why there were more people walking around than sitting on the chairs. Swarms of Bat-sized mosquitoes made drone like sounds before they made a meal of any inactive limb. I left my bags to at the mercy of the mozzies and sauntered around till the train arrived. I was not entirely happy with the side lower berth for two reasons. The uneven halves of the side berth did not lend itself to comfortable sleep. Secondly, every time the high speed train negotiated a curve one had to clutch the railings to keep from sliding off the berth. Thirdly, every passerby nonchalantly disturbs the curtains and your sleep. Fourthly, the security of your luggage and footwear is compromised. And lastly, there is no charging point for the side berths and hence, one is at the mercy of the occupants of the ‘inside’ berths.
I lay awake for a while waiting for the Ticket Examiner. After some time sleep got the better of me despite the discomforts mentioned above.