Newsflash: Reliable sources inform us that backpacking badger has survived yet another 'most uncomfortable journey ever'... But now for the list:
Random Indian signposting:
- Outside a village medical centre: 'Department of Health Frozen Semen Centre'
- On the road skirting the border with Pakistan: 'CAUTION You are being watched by your enemy'
- Another classic roadsign: 'Love your neighbour but not while driving'
- Some words of wisdom courtesy of the Border Roads Organisation: 'Reach for the stars even if you have to stand on a cactus.'
So, I'm currently in Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan government in exile. Because he knew I would be rocking up at some point, the Dalai Lama himself decided to put in an appearance here, just as a sort of welcoming party... Going to see him this afternoon, along with scores of Tibetan pilgrims who have come from all over to see the big guy himself. I'll be sure to pass on any words of wisdom he might have...
I am going to stop banging on about uncomfortable overnight journeys I promise, and I swear this will be the last one I ever mention- but Leh to Srinagar really does take the biscuit. So half an hour in we encounter an accident, where a bus slid off a hairpin bend from above and crashed down the side of the mountain. Armed with my frankly pitiful first aid kid we ran to see if we could help. Miraculously everyone was fine and we continued on the journey, but not before our driver said a very, very long prayer... We arrive at Drass, allegedly the second coldest inhabited place in the world after Oymyakon in Siberia. It turns out the mountain pass we are about to cross in closed, so we spend 3 hours, from 2am to 5am, waiting in the car deperately trying to stop our eyelids from freezing together. It was a night to remember, let's put it that way.
I read that Srinagar in troubled Kashmir used to be a holiday destination for the British when they ruled India. I was looking forward to seeing snowy mountains reflected in placid Lake Dal where hundreds of houseboats calmly bob up and down. I learnt my lesson - Don't believe the hype. The lake was filthy, touts and trinket vendors accost you at every given opportunity and it was so smoggy there was not even an inch of a mountain to be seen (ok - that last one was a slight exaggeration for dramatic effect...). Understandably, there is a huge military presence in Kashmir and it was pretty depressing to see so many people whose livelihoods depended on tourism for so many years so unbelievably desperate for any business whatsoever. I left Srinagar pretty quickly and escaped into the mountains and stayed in some quaint villages where I experienced genuine Kashmiri hospitality first hand, and I loved it.
Over and out for another missive: Next stop - Sikhism's holiest temple and yoga in Rishikesh...