Helicopters, Trains and Auto Rickshaws

January 31, 2007 Andy 0 Comments

From one of the best journeys to one of the worst?

How much would you expect to pay for a helicopter ride out of the Himalayas? 25 quid can’t be bad can it? I didn’t think so either and despite a lot of worrying as to whether the chopper would leave or not due to the mist we found ourselves strapped into the back of a 5 seater, single engined… something. Sorry not enough of a nerd to name helicopters on sight.

The journey was absolutely amazing from the moment we gracefully took off, all the while flying along valleys lower than the mountains surrounding us. Even when we reached the plains near Siliguri (where I though it would be boring) we flew lower and had a true birds eye view of all the activity going on below. To top it all off we landed in a military airport base just in time to see three fighter jets roar off into the sky. Words cannot express how impressive this all was too me… Which is possibly why I love Tom Clancy’s writing so much. Full on techno nerd stuff. I only mention this as I’m in the middle of “Every Man a Tiger”. The first non fiction of his books I’ve read, but none the less fascinating. (While on the subject of books, check out Orwell’s “Burmese Days” for an interesting yet hard hitting insight into colonel life in India).

Out of the airport we were crowded by the usual taxi drivers, but this all turned into interesting banter when they found out that we were two of the crazy westerners who’d completed the
Rickshaw Run. Celebrities.

Once at the train station we were relieved to see that the waiting list gamble had paid off and that we had seats. We didn’t remain up beat for long though, as it turned out we were going to be crammed in again. This time in our compartment of eight we had fourteen. A family of five crammed into two seats is bad enough, but four burly army soldiers on two seats with masses of luggage and riffles really takes the biscuit.

I was initially really stressed, but it is amazing what a forty pence curry and a cup of chai can do. A bit later on into the journey I got chatting to the guy next to me (policeman, with wife and 3 kids occupying “two seats”) and it turned out he had also heard about the Rickshaw Run via television. True celebrities.

The fame continued when we arrived in Varanasi. After agreeing a “special price” with the rickshaw wallah (as we too were rickshaw wallahs) they guy stepped aside and let me drive his rickshaw half the distance.

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