Sunday, September 28, 2008

From Doomsday to Luxury

So we left the ashram for Dehra Dun. Oooh boy. Were they ever right. Everyone told us to just pass through Dehra Dun, but we were interested in seeing a few things first. Well... things didn't quite go as planned.

We arrived to the usual, albeit a bit more aggressive rickshaw pullers and eventually settled for a ride to the OTHER bus station (we were at the wrong one for our needs). Rs. 30 later we're there and we decide we aren't really digging all the chemical fumes of Dehra Dun and we don't mind skipping through to Chandigarh, since there would be a train headed there in 45 minutes.

So, I go and get in line at the train reservation office (right adjacent to the bus station) and wait for 30 minutes to find out that goes from Delhi through Dehra Dun to Chandigarh (and beyond) does not allow any people on it in Dehra Dun. Tough luck, but we decide to put a smile on and head to the Forest Research Institute 8km away via rickshaw. We are dropped off at the gate with our heavy backpacks and we begin our hungry, slow walk towards the grand building. Boy oh boy. It must be a kilometer inside the gates.

After expelling some sweat and complaints about the weight and strain we were under, we made it to the main building, but found out everything around is basically closed because it was Saturday. Argh!! We took a short rest and walked around the outside of the building, which was all right. It's a huge building-- larger than Buckingham Palace-- and quite impressive in its construction. I managed to discover a couple of open museums that were pretty hilarious due to the childish sculptures of forests and houses that were within them.

Wondering whether it was worth the initial walk from the gate or not, we headed back the way we came. Hello Mr. Rickshaw, please take us back to the main bus station! On to Chandigarh! Goodbye, Dehra DOOM!!

So we grabbed some grub and hopped on a bus for a not unpleasant 6 hour journey to Chandigarh. Oh, Chandigarh! How (comparatively) lovely you are!

Our hotel, Hotel Satyadeep, is the most luxurious we have stayed at so far. Soft cushions, nice blankets, a shower, and air conditioner (which we don't use), a TV with HBO and a few other movie stations in English. Complete relaxation all for Rs. 700 a night (~$9 each). We didn't plan for such luxury, but it was the cheapest room the had available (regular cheapest is Rs. 500, no AC).

Chandigarh is pretty interesting. We did our little exploration today, but most places are closed because its Sunday. Steph, however, sweet-talked some gentlemen into letting us walk around the Capital Complex (High Court, Open Hand sculpture) without our camera.

We also saw the fantastic rock garden! We took several pictures, but perhaps less than were taken of us! Groups of Indians gathered around with their cell phones dying to have their photos taken with the fabulous foreigners. I took a couple of photos documenting the event. It was pretty interesting. They LOVED it! As for details about the rock garden, well... just wait until we have some photos posted.

Oh boy, this post is getting long, but I suppose I will continue what I have started.

Feeling the beckoning of hunger, we grabbed lunch at the Mermaid Restaurant and Bar, where Steph had a pint of a fantastic Premium Kingfisher beer. Perfect for the occasion. I learned never to order hot and sour soup in India.

Filled up, we spent our calories on a 30-minute paddle boat ride around a huge man-made lake.

Where to next? Well, how about the movie theatre! We hopped on a rickshaw to Neelam Cinema, but it was not going to be showing a movie until 6pm (it was only 3:30), so we began to head into the market to look around when we were greeted by a kind sikh man named Narvinder Singh.

This man was so lovely. He was so friendly and kind and kept teaching us phrases in Hindi. We sat and talked with him for a bit and he showed us this article about him from the newspaper saying how he was the only Indian helping tourists achieve budget travel in Chandigarh. And at no cost! All he wanted was a picture of him giving a bangle and a flyer to Stephanie, which we will send him later (or perhaps Steph already has).

Turns out this kind gentleman knows the owner of the Neelam Cinema and could get us in for a few minutes for free. So he took us in and we enjoyed 5 minutes of a Bollywood movie that had already begun. It was fantastic.

We said goodbye, and returned to our hotel, stopping at a small GROCERY STORE (!!! what!!!?!!) on the way. There we relaxed for a while before heading out to this grungy internet cafe, Cyber-22, we're in now. As luck would have it, just before we left the hotel, Narvinder Singh was there! Oh how happy we make him and he us. He is a real gem. He was there meeting a girl from Greece to escort her to a bus station (not stalking us!). I was very pleased because he thought that I had a great beard :D

If I keep this up, I think I will end up with RSI, so goodbye again.

P.S. We head for Shimla by rickety train tomorrow at 12:10pm, arriving around 5.

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