The ride from Manali to Leh was as pleasant as receiving sticky stretchable body parts for an eighteenth birthday instead of the precisely requested digital camera.
For a month and a half before her eighteenth birthday one of my friends had explicitly entreated her parents for a digital camera. At soccer practice the day before her birthday she proclaimed to the twenty-two players and three coaches her delight at receiving a camera. The following day, we inquired after the camera model. She reported that her parents had given her colorful, stretchable body parts instead. A sticky orange hand, a blue foot, a yellow ear.
Conversely, the return drive from Leh to Manali was as effortless as passing my high school French final: the entire exam was in English. This is why, after three years of high school French, I know as much of the language as an English toad.
The bus to Manali was warm with triple-capacity bodies. Three passengers had been assigned the same seat. The driver seated foreigners in chairs and Indians in the aisle. The bus farted a lethal diesel cloud and jostled and jolted through the mountain roads as crooked as Quasimodo's back. Body heat radiated from the aisle as effectively as a radiator. My jacket, yak wool socks, knit beanie and fur-lined mittens were as beneficial as genital warts.
The bus arrived in Manali past one o'clock in the morning. This was as inconvenient as camel sex. Much of northern India ceases activity at ten at night.
Three Brits, a Dane, a Sweed and I located the sole taxi willing to drive us two kilometers up a hill as curveceous as Jennifer Lopez. Taxi Man demanded three hundred rupees. Three hundred rupees, about six US dollars, can purchase half a bicycle. It can also buy a bottle of rum and two hundred cigarettes. Naturally we refused and offered one hundred and fifty. He slurred, "Three hundred only."
Laden with backpacker's packs, backpacks and guitars, we shuffled away with the speed of a bear in two sets of handcuffs. This usually results in the driver/shop salesperson/hotel receptionist ambling after and dropping the price. Taxi Man rotated his bloodshot eyes and continued conversation with a circus of Indian men.
We looked back as hopeful as Bambi, realized three hundred was his price, and conceded.
We bulldozed bags onto the roof, and the two guitars and six foreigners jostled into the jeep. I had harnessed the waist strap around the roof rack but knew my pack was as secure as a closet homosexual.
We corraled in the car for seven minutes before Taxi Man finished holding his male friend's hand and climbed in with the pace of a drunk snail. Before he reversed, a policeman stopped Taxi Man and questioned him. They shrieked at each other. I felt like I witnessed a bar fight.
When we questioned the officer if there was a problem, our driver turned around and said, "Friend, friend." They seemed as close to friendship as Paris Hilton and the Pope. Taxi Man's initial reluctance at driving had evidently altered to die-hard determination.
As Policeman probed him, Dale Earnhardt accelerated away towards anything that could kill us. We narrowly circumvented collisions with a metal pole, fifteen hundred trees, a house, three stores, and a metal fence. As we hurled around a hook in the road, my pack kangaroo-bounced from the roof and whacked the window. Five accented voices roared for the driver to stop, that a bag had fallen from the roof. I laughed. Dale Earnhardt hastened forward. Upon my assurances that the bag was bound, the foreign screams ceased echoing. Dale spittingly screeched that we were bad foreigners and shouldn't yell. He removed his hands from the wheel to masturbate his forehead.
We should have known that he was drunk.