It would take something quite significant to displace the journey from Sawtell to Sydney after the 1993/94 SUFM - when bushfires caused us to spend a few unexpected days at Wyong racecourse - from the position of the most frustrating drive of my life. Today’s trip from Delhi to Chandigarh is a serious challenger.
After checking out of the hotel, our minibus transported us to IGL’s state conference, Women with a Mission. We were encouraged to see some 200 women meeting to build one another up in Christ. Pastor Matt introduced our team and shared Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1:15ff. We shook lots of ladies’ hands. Mrs Pratti Stephens, wife of IGL’s president Samuel Stephens, led in prayer as the ladies laid hands on us, entrusting us to the Lord. (I confess I somehow missed out, and hesitated to join hands with neighbour Paul).
After a somewhat torturous drive back to central Delhi, with the minibus’s air-conditioning seemingly ineffective to mitigate Delhi’s heat and humidity, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that boasted it had won the national best butter chicken award in 2013. So of course we sampled the award-winning dish, though my personal favourite was malai kofta.
Exiting the restaurant, we spotted a snake-charmer playing his … er … instrument (pipe?) For 20 rupees, Jane held the basket while the (de-fanged?) cobra did the cobra thing.
En route back to our minibus, several of us were accosted by the most persistent hawkers of Delhi photo books you could imagine. ‘Mate, it’s a lovely book but I’m not interested no matter how cheap’. ‘For you, sir, special price - 200 rupees’. ‘No thanks’. ‘What about book on karma sutra?! - special price’. The minibus was a welcome escape.
But this cramped refuge would prove itself unreliable. On the interminably slow trip out of Delhi, we continued to sweat in our sauna. Opening the window provided a semblance of airflow but also exposed one to a less than pleasant odour, like the smell of fertiliser. Then we pulled over on the side of the highway with gearbox (or some sort of) trouble. Sigh. This, I suppose, was a test of patience, and in this I certainly need to grow. Amy, on the other hand, practised tai chi (not to be confused with chai tea), while veterans of India seemed to take it in their stride. An hour or so later, after assistance from a mechanic, and what must have been quite a lot of paperwork for the driver, we were on our way again.
Fittingly, soon after resumption, we passed a sign for a water theme park saying, ‘Just chill’ - good advice for me. Steve T. lifted the mood as our DJ; REM’s ‘Shiny happy people’ and ‘The end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)’ will be forever associated with this trip.
As the sun was setting we arrived at an oasis-like roadhouse that looked a little like a temple. There we enjoyed Bollywood music, tea and kulfi and the largest, cleanest and coolest (literally) bathroom facilities one could wish for. As (Dr) Steve T. later reflected, a great place for fluids in and out!
I am grateful for the good company on the minibus. We spent about ten hours on the bus together today. Amongst other distractions, this enabled us to develop a taxonomy of honking horns. This practice is encouraged on the rear of several trucks (see photo), but hardly requires such encouragement. It appears to be a national activity in which every driver takes great delight. This is what we have come up with (subject to later refinement): -
- double, short honk = ‘watch out’
- multiple, repeated short honks = ‘don’t you dare’ if the honking vehicle is alongside and concerned at being squeezed into the gutter, or ‘hurry up’ if the honking vehicle is stuck behind the offending vehicle
- single, long honk = ‘you person of disreputable birth’ ie angry, retributive honk
Our driver had no concept of giving way to … well, anyone, really, unless absolutely essential to avoid imminent collision. Roundabouts are regarded as just a bend in the road - never mind the vehicles of all sorts bearing down from the right. As a result we were not infrequently the recipient of single, long blowing of horns. Occasionally we were the victims of such manoeuvres, but our horn was a little too high pitched to be taken seriously. ‘Ha ha, you call yourself a horn. Eat my dust, tourist bus!’
I don’t know if Chandigarh has a river, but when we finally pulled into our hotel at 10.50pm - after a bus breakdown, rather bumpy highways, another delay at a toll booth, and generally curious driving - I felt a little like I did when we finally crossed the Hawkesbury River in January 1994. We had made it in one piece. To Him who hears and answers prayer, thank you for traveling mercies.
It’s exciting to have reached the place hosting the teaching of the first PTC subject. This has been delayed by a day due to a lack of translators. But this will enable us tomorrow to get well set.
As the veterans tell us first-timers, in India you just go with the flow.
Steve Y, India Teaching Team 2013.