The Trip That Wasn't: Part I

September 2011.

Mawii and I had been having a rough couple of months. Things in college hadn't been going all that great, and to be honest, nothing else had either. We'd both lost money because our PG seems to be harbouring a thief who knows exactly when we leave our room, even if it's just for ten minutes, and the exams had been a complete disaster (the only bright spot: we both passed Hindi), and there were a million other things going wrong, and nothing at all going right.

What we needed was a break and accordingly, we decided to give ourselves one.

What sort of break? A mountain getaway. Away from college, away from the city, away from familiar faces, away from the heat, away from it all. Invigorating air, that's what we needed, and lots of trees, and long walks, and maybe the occasional dancing stream and the odd cafe perched at the end of the world.

So, after a lot of deliberating (and googling) we decided on Naukuchiatal: the place with the nine sided lake, or something similar. It looked like something very close to Paradise.

The weekend we planned it though, our department decided to make its annual trip - to Dalhousie.

"Should we cancel Naukuchiatal and go to Dalhousie instead?" said Mawii, as we lay sprawled on our beds one hot afternoon, both staring blankly at the ceiling.

"Well, it is our last year of college." I conceded.

"Last class trip,"

"We probably won't see most of these people again,"

"Naomi's going."

"And Naomi never goes on trips. I'd like to go on a trip with Naomi."

"But then on the other hand, it won't just be Naomi."

"It will be lots of people."

"I'm kind of sick of people."

"Alright then. Where are we going?"

"Naukuchiatal, obviously."

We were proactive. We went to Connaught Place after college one afternoon. I googled Travel-Agencies-in-CP from my iPhone and felt very cool. I even looked at the map.

"Can you read this?" I asked Mawii, as we got out of the metro station.

"Sure. I can read maps."

Mawii looked at the map, a tiny little network of blue and red blurbs on my screen, interrupted by a long crack (one of the many results of my usual ham handedness).

"Where's the travel agency?"

A brief pause.

"Let's just walk around a bit, shall we?"

"Sounds good."

We walked with a purpose though, because Mawii had been to a travel agency in CP before and she vaguely remembered the direction. After a little asking around, and a lot of climbing over rubble, we found ourselves outside a travel agency (not the one she remembered but c'est la vie) and we walked in.

We were the only customers - I should have known. That should have warned me. The walls were plastered with photos of white Ambassadors. That should have been another warning.

"Naukuchiatal?" said the travel agent.

"Should we go by bus or by train?" said Mawii, adopting an efficient business like air, while I sat back and looked at her admiringly.

"Bus. Train. Both."

"Which is quicker?"

"Both quick. Both good." A beatific smile.

"Wouldn't it be quickest if we took a train?"

"Train...yes. Bus...hmm."

We settled on a bus. We booked our tickets, got them printed, handed over the money, got the details of our pick up point, and scarpered.

"This is good," I told Mawii. "This is really good."

"We've had such a bad time, things can only get better from this point on," She agreed.

How wrong we were.

I phoned my mother that night.

"We're going to Naukuchiatal."




"It's a place near Nainital, or in Nainital, in the state of Uttaranchal."




"It has a pretty lake," I added feebly.

"Are you two going alone?"

"Bo might come too."

"I don't like the thought of you girls travelling on your own."

"I have a Swiss knife with me. I can buy pepper spray too, if you want."

"What have I told you about being facetious?"

"Well, we've already got the tickets, and I'm sure it'll be safe. These places are always safe. Anyway it's only white people who get murdered on holiday and that's usually in Goa.We'll find a place to stay, and we'll walk a lot, and we'll visit the lake, and we'll communicate with nature. I've had a difficult term, I need to communicate with nature. It's not like anyone else has been communicating with me."

A disbelieving snort and then a grudging, "Make sure you call Anjali. She's from that area, she'll probably be able to recommend some places you two can stay."

I did call (my aunt) Anjali. The night before we were due to leave.

"Where are you going, love?"






"Haven't you seen the news?"

I hadn't been near a television set since leaving Calcutta in July so the answer was no.

"Thirty six people have been killed in landslides there this week!"

Goodbye Naukuchiatal.

I frantically called Mawii who was at home and told her to check the news. She called me back equally frantic. The news was bad news (like it could be anything else). People were being swept away by landslides left, right, and centre. Swish, swoosh, and the sound of silence.

"We could go anyway," she said unenthusiastically.

"NO." I was adamant. I have no faith in Mawii's survival skills, and I have less faith in mine. The only reason I've made it this far is because of sheer dumb luck and I really wasn't trusting luck to do it for me this time round, at the rate things had been going. (There was an earthquake in Delhi last month and Mawii and I felt it and we both sat up in bed clutching each other and mumbling incoherent things, only gathering the wits to run outside long after the earthquake had stopped.) So no.

"Can we please just go somewhere else?" I asked.

"I'll go to CP tomorrow, cancel our tickets, and we'll go somewhere else," she promised.

But we couldn't go anywhere else. She called me the next morning - I was in class and ran out in the middle telling my professor it was an emergency which it totally was because my mental health was at stake - and she grimly told me that there were landslides in Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, and basically all the nice mountainous areas we wanted to travel to. Rain everywhere.

Except of course in Delhi.

"Rajasthan? What about Rajasthan?" I said, clutching at whatever straws I could. Came up short as usual. We'd discussed the possibility of going to Rajasthan - Pushkar, perhaps? - and though it couldn't match up to the mountains, we comforted ourselves with the thought that we could spend the weekend riding camels. That's something, right? Camels?

"Everything to Rajasthan is already booked."

No camels then.

"AGRA!" I shouted in desperation. "WE'LL GO TO AGRA."

Mawii was not too keen on the idea of Agra, but it was still only Friday, and we could leave for Agra on Saturday evening and then return on Monday and perhaps we could even visit Fatehpur Sikhri. Also, my father had told me about Akbar's tomb which is on the way to Agra, and about how a ray of sunlight always falls on it, no matter what time of the day it is (not after the sun sets. Obviously). That didn't sound too bad. A ray of sunlight on the great Mughal's tomb was better than nothing at all.

But it was Friday and our class was leaving for Dalhousie that evening and we had nothing. Nothing. We could still go to Dalhousie but we didn't really want to.

"Tell you what. We'll dress up tonight, bring out those swishy little skirts and floaty little dresses and put on some lipstick and we'll go somewhere fancy for dinner - and maybe a couple of cocktails. Just the two of us," said Mawii.

I felt just a little less devastated at the sound of that plan.

And so that night, I had nice bath (a bucket bath, obviously, because it's too much to ask for, oh I don't know, a proper working shower in this bloody city) and I dried my hair and I even brushed it, and I'd laid out a little blue skirt, and I was in my towel, putting on one of my contact lenses, when it dropped. The contact lens. One minute it was in my palm, and the next minute, it had vanished. I scrabbled around on the floor, crawled under the bed, made Mawii fetch a torch and explored all the dark corners of our room, hoping against hope that it had bounced its way somewhere. Although contact lenses don't bounce. And then I stood in front of the mirror for twenty minutes, poking at my eyeball just in case it had disappeared up my eyelid. It hadn't - or if it had, it's still there.

That was really more than I could handle. It ended with me bawling on my bed, Mawii's arms around me, both of us feeling weighed down by darkness, despair, de-everything.

"Get into your pyjamas," Mawii told me, finally, "and order a pepperoni pizza. I'm going to go to Mocha to get us some dessert, because we deserve dessert, and then I'm going to come back, and I'm going to roll a joint, and then we're going to get stoned."

I cheered up a little.

And so that's how we spent the first night of the trip that didn't happen, the trip that didn't manifest, the trip that was a complete, er, washout. (Har har.)

Just as we were on the verge of passing out, Mawii got a text from Dhruv. Our class was still on the bus, stuck, stranded, because of - wait for it - landslides.

Perhaps we shouldn't have, but we chortled ourselves to sleep.

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