Beau and I make it to Delhi just in time to pick up Lija from the airport, who had enough Starwood points to get us into one of the most posh hotels in Delhi...the Sheraton! I promised Lija I would plan the most amazing vacation for us. Once she arrives, I can tell she's suspicious of the fact I've done next to no planning and have nothing booked. Despite that, I manage to get us to the Taj Mahal pretty comfortably. After a minor temper tantrum at the front gate because they won't let us bring in Lija's nut mix, we are slipping on our little white booties over our shoes and feasting our eyes on one of the 7 wonders of the world and the symbol of love. Slightly ruined by the fact that Beau & I are bickering and the stone inlay on the building is supposed to glow at sunrise (which is why we woke up at 5am) but it is too overcast so we are all a little bummed. Once we leave the Taj, my lack of planning really sets in when we realize our only way back to Delhi at a reasonable hour is sitting in the lowest class on the train. We're squeezing into this cattle car, with a million people already inside, all telling us we're in the wrong section. "Only for locals!" I try to assure them that yes, unfortunately we are in the right section. Beau & Lija have to climb up and sit in what appears to be the luggage rack, while I am stuck down below, sharing a bench that is meant for 3 people with literally 10 people, one of which is sleeping on me. We finally arrive in Delhi about 4 hours later than I was hoping, which makes our connection onto Manali (which I haven't yet booked) next to impossible. Especially considering we have another friend (my friend Michelle from Seattle) waiting for us at the Smyle Inn in Delhi.
To top it all off, Delhi is literally a sauna. Even the breezes feel like a hot engine blowing your skin off. And when carrying a 50 lb. backpack down Pahar Ganj main bazaar, with people up in your face trying to sell cheap sunglasses, searching for the Smyle Inn, any opportunity to get the hell out of Delhi ASAP sounds like a good one. So when the smylie man at the front desk of Michelle's hostel told us we could easily hop on the next luxury bus to Manali, leaving in just an hour, we were so relieved, we threw our money at him and followed his lackey all the way to the Old Delhi railway station, where we sat down in the middle next to a "spiderman", crusty homeless guys laying in their own piss and other such company, waiting for the lackey to fetch us our tix for the 6pm bus. And when he hasn't returned by 5:55, we all look at eachother and realize what a bunch of fools we are! At 6:10 or so, lackey actually shows up and tells us just wait 5 more minutes, the bus is late. This time, Beau follows him around like a hawk and he finally motions us over to our bus...a piece of shit, dilapidated government bus. No air conditioning, seats falling apart, petty theft practically a given.
Up until this point, I've been the psycho stress ball on the trip, flipping my shit every time a taxi driver tries to overcharge us by 50 cents. This time, its Beau's turn. He corners the lackey on the bus so he can't run away, and yells in his face "This is bullshit! We each paid 900 rupees for a luxury bus with air conditioning!" Beau grabs the tickets out of his hand and finds out the bus we're about to ride only cost 350 rupees each, and the luxury bus left 30 minutes ago. Lackey won't refund us our money, but Beau won't give up and forces him to give up his cell phone. Shitty bus engine revs up and we reluctantly take our seats, waving the cell phone at the lackey, who is standing on the curb claiming he doesn't have the money to refund us and begging for at least his sim card back. Shitty bus takes off and we depart with the lackey's phone, clutching our luggage and popping Ambien for the 16 hour bus ride from hell. I can tell at this point everyone is steaming at my lack of planning. Lija is visibly miserable. Lackey's phone keeps ringing. I literally shove the bus conductor guy for trying to make me move Beau's huge backpack out of the center aisle.
We finally get to Manali and its pouring rain. But don't worry, it starts to get better...