Finally, we got onto the final bus of our burst up the mountains. This was fun as well. We were tearing along quite nicely, when suddenly the bus driver screams to a halt after a landrover passes us. The guys got out of the landrover, boarded the bus and demanded to see everyone’s tickets. This turned out to be an audit! How about that – you’re most the way up the Himalayas and bureaucracy still manages to find you and wants to check the paperwork. Well, that’s India for ya.
The conductor of the bus told us it was not possible to get to Chitkul (where we were heading) but only to the village before it. But then we stopped at a river where the road had been washed away. The conductor got off, checked to possibility of us getting across it, and once we had made it across he charged us 10 more rupees and said they could take us to Chitkul after all. It seems that the road first has to be passable before they’ll admit to being able to take you there. This had me praying that there would be no monsoon rains for the few days we would be in this village, causing us to become local inhabitants until next summer.
Finally we made it to Chitkul. I had to kind of instruct my body how to get off the bus, because it certainly wasn’t volunteering by itself. I had no idea how tired a body can get until this journey. It was raining and cold and we were now at 3500 metres – the highest I’ve ever been. We’re talking 60 kms from the Tibetan border. Fortunately, there was a Guesthouse a few metres away. Unfortunately, they had decided to use their “summer season” to paint the place. Fortunately, they had an empty room with it’s own bathroom. Unfortunately, they were using enamel paint and this room was freshly painted. Try that after days of busrides and mountain roads coupled with complete exhaustion. We turned that room down and he showed us another one in another part of the building. If it wasn’t for the fact I was busting to go to the toilet, we may have applied a little more discretion to the choosing of our accommodation. As it was, we threw our packs down in the room and I raced off down the hall, down the dodgy steps and into the closet/dungeon they said was a bathroom. Having got that over with, I went back into the room and reeled at the smell of only slightly less fresh paint than the other room.
So we decided to go for a wander and see what other accommodation was available in this little town. Finally we found another place – Raj’s Guesthouse – after wandering up and down goat tracks for a while, and chose to stay there instead. We had the choice between the room with the curly goat horns above the door, or the one with straight goat horns. One of the ‘boys’ came back with us to help with our luggage, and no matter how we tried to explain to the owner of the first place that we just couldn’t live amongst paint fumes without throwing up on the floor of his wonderful and salubrious establishment, he still insisted we pay 100 rupees before he would allow us to book out. We hadn’t even been living there for an hour yet! In the end we paid, because we just had to get away from the fumes, and off we went back up the goat tracks to deposit our belongings in the goats-horn cell we had volunteered for instead.