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More terrifying than the Blair Witch Project

By on September 8, 2013 in India with No Comments

Shillong to Goalpara

To the amusement of about fifty thousand Indians we were off like a rocket at about noon on Sunday. Well, a North Korean rocket. We wound our way through the streets of Shillong, school children in hysterics, adults saying “WTF…?” and taking photos of us all.  Finally the free road – escape!

Well that lasted all of about five miles.  Remember your high school car and that sinking feeling you got as you hear the acceleration slow, putt-putt-putter, and die? That was us up the first big hill out of town. Could it be, have we won the dubious honor of being the first team to break down? To their credit pretty much all of the others stopped and asked us if we needed help. Well we did, but as no one knew anything about fixing rickshaws that wasn’t exactly help. Finally our friends from SF rolled up and suggested putting the tank on reserve and driving with the choke out. Yippee! This brilliant combination worked and we were off again. And yes, we’ve been driving with the choke out for the last 550 kilometers. No worries, better than driving with the handbrake on for 550 kilometers, which I’ve been known to do.

Ah, but this brings us to the driving.  Think video games, starts off easy and then one, two, a thousand space ships appear out of nowhere and blow you to smithereens.
Level 1: Avoid ten million potholes the size of Venus
Level 2: Cow crosses your path slam on brakes
Level 3: Cow and goat come charging at you
Level 4: Swerve around two sleeping cows, four goats, and twelve school girls dressed in blue and white pinafores
Level 10: Dodge one cow, two cow, red cow, blue cow, a pile of sacks, another sleeping  cow, two goats playing, lame boy, lame dog, pregnant lady, old woman with cane carrying fish,  man with buckets of water, police a flip flop a pile of sticks a pile of rocks, posts, fighting goats, speed bump OWWWW motherf@@@ker boys with straw, cute baby goat, children shoveling piles of sand HUGE oncoming trucks on wrong side of road another sleeping cow pile of hay a nun (just kidding, no nuns), man sleeping in pedal rickshaw, cow chasing dog giant pile of poo man riding two bikes, ducks, ducks on motorbike, bulldozer on truck, more cowsmoregoatsdogsdogsdogsmorecowsmoregoatsmoreducksmoref**kingdogsbicyclestractor horseandcartconcretemixercowscowscowscowscowscowscowscowscowscowscowscowscows cowscowscowscowscowscowscowscows
So that was the fun part.
Now imagine that four hours later: in pitch black.
I have never been so terrified in my entire life. I now know the literal meaning of white knuckles. Seriously, even my toes were white from clenching them. I’m bent double as my back has seized up.  My heart stopped several times, I’ve developed a new scream that sounds like “Arghkkk!” but really means “We’regonnadiewere’regonnadiewe’regonnadie”, and I think I wet my pants (then, not while typing this).
Why so hard you ask? Simple as staying on the left side of the road right? Yes…besides the fact that, in addition to everything above:
  • Oncoming traffic either use no lights or their high beams
  • Oncoming traffic are dodging cows, dogs, goats, people, bikes, potholes just like you are
  • Our windscreen was so dirty we couldn’t see through it
  • We couldn’t switch off the disco inferno light show we thought we were so clever installing
  • Vehicles don’t have brake lights
  • Bicycles don’t have reflectors
  • Dogs don’t have reflectors
  • Goats don’t have reflectors
  • Cows don’t have reflectors
  • Pedal rickshaws decide to park for the night on the edge of our lane, also no reflectors
  • Broken down trucks parked in the middle of the road, no reflectors
  • There are thousands of people wandering on the side of the road who don’t seem to realize how close they are to death
  • Our headlight was about as illuminative as holding a match
  • Street lights – hahahahaha, not
  • Every time we slowed down our rickshaw stalled so we had to keep the speed up
We were told, by both every Indian person we know and every guidebook on the planet, above all, Don’t Drive At Night. Now we know why. And lest you think I am exaggerating, the next morning we saw one man prone in the middle of the road trying to claw himself off to the side with his fingertips and another person that was just dead. Dead, dead, dead. Presumably hit by a car in the night (no one seemed concerned).
We finally rolled in after two hours of abject terror. The rickshaw gave a dramatic shudder and made a final stall right before the hotel. It refused to start, so with all my glory I did the walk of shame and pushed it into the hotel parking lot.
Wait wait. Let me rephrase. I did the walk of shame and TRIED to push the rickshaw into the parking lot, at which point the flag pole (aka mop handle) of our New Canada flag which had been so stunning blowing in the wind all day got caught on the parking lot entrance ceiling. The rickshaw had to be stopped, the flag dismantled (no easy task given the umpteen tie-wraps and two rolls of duct tape we’d used to fasten it on) and only then could the walk of shame be brought to its humiliating end (because yes, of course there was an audience).

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