There are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the 'Hare-Rama' alley. And no stories or advice can ever prepare you for the 'Main Bazaar' road. Until you see it with your own eyes, you can't really imagine it.
Flies, sewerage, and muddy rain water everywhere. Naked children and toothless people peeing in the streets. I was following Lara, trying not to stare too hard, though I think my eyeballing made me look like a zombie.
When we finally reached the entrance of the "desirable" 'Hare-Rama', I decided to follow a friend's advice and look for some other suitable accommodations. So, with my huge backpack on my back, another small bag on one of my shoulders, a pouch around my waist, the duty-free snack bag in my hand, and, underneath it all, wearing the warmest sweatshirt you've ever seen, I went to check the guest house across the street. It was hot and sticky and I was sweating like a pig.
In this other guest house, I refused to trust the Indians that worked at the reception and leave my large backpack with them while I was investigating to see if the place was suitable for living creatures. As a result, I found myself running up and down the staircase with all of my baggage – a situation just this side of clinical death.
After seeing a glimpse of the guest house, the receptionist told me it would cost me about 1400 rupees to stay there. Quite cheap in Western terms – a total rip-off in India. In India, for that amount of money per night, you can live like a Saudi sheikh.
The famous ‘Hare-Rama’ guest-house. Bewarof copycats!
I was exhausted and felt like there was a swimming pool in my sweatshirt. My back hurt from all the weight I was carrying. There was no way I was going to check another place. So I caved, and went back to the 'Hare-Rama'. Once again, I ran up and down the stairs with all of my belongings, to check out the place and choose a room. This time my hectic scampering earned some decent laughter from the Indians working there, and a look of complete shock from Lara.
Realizing I was making a fool out of myself, I was finally ready to put down my enormous backpack and relax for a moment. Then it hit me – my backpack wasn't on me. Taking the biggest gasp of air I ever took, I started running up the stairs again like a mad person, hearing the Indians rolling over on the floor and banging on the reception counter, laughing their asses of, as I was panicking for the gazillionth time.
My backpack was waiting untouched on the floor of the room I'd just checked out. I took it down with me to the lobby and finally put it on the reception floor as we paid for the room. The staff still looked highly amused. I had certainly made their day.
The lobby was surprisingly empty. I was so overwhelmed by everything and hadn’t realized what time it was.
"Let's go look for other people that want to go to Manali." I told Lara.
Manali was the "escape to the mountains" plan I had prepared for. I didn't know exactly where or what this place was, but I knew that this was the place to go to after being struck with the "shock of Delhi".
"Maybe we should get some sleep first," Lara said. "After all, it’s five a.m."
I was clearly in need of a few hours’ sleep, and a proper shower, too. But first, I had to call my anxious parents as I’d promised. So after settling in our room, I went down to the internet room. (That's right, no Wi-Fi – an actual internet room). As I was opening Skype on the extremely old computer they had, and probably still have, I saw a familiar face. There was a girl sitting there, looking even more fatigued and shell-shocked than I was, as hard as it is to imagine.
She recognized me and knew my name. Apparently, she worked as a waitress at the same bar I bartended at (for like a second) during the school year. What are the chances of meeting her here? Her name was Sharon – still is as far as I know– and she just went through a common swindle, which I was lucky enough not to experience.
As it turns out, since the 'Hare-Rama' was such a place of pilgrimage for backpackers, some of the other local lodges that have suffered from its supremacy had come up with a scam. The scam (involving those Indian taxi drivers!) was to take those who wish to get to the 'Hare-Rama' to the scammer's less known guest house and present it as the popular 'Hare-Rama'. Then, if the poor sap had the "brains" to double-check, or, perhaps, he had been in the 'Hare-Rama' before, knows what it looks like, and for some unknown reason actually wants to go their again, then, and only then, the scammer would pull out the big guns.
Plan B of this elaborate "'Hare-Rama' scam" was to make a bogus phone call to the 'Hare-Rama' and tell the confused backpacker that the 'Hara-Rama' was unfortunately closed. Dumb as this trick might sound, you would believe anything while handling sleep deprivation, heat of 110 degrees F, and humidity of at least 50%.
Sharon was sharp enough to see the gyp for what it was, and forced the cabbie to take her to the real 'Hare-Rama.' Unfortunately, she successfully fell into the trap of another scammer on the way to the legit 'Hare-Rama,' which resulted in her being left with no money at all. Or something like that.
To tell you the truth I was so tired by the end of her story, I could see my reflection in the window nodding repeatedly like a dashboard bobblehead. I woke up from my daydreaming as soon as she mentioned the word Manali. Turns out she was also planning to run away from Delhi to Manali.
We decided that we would buy the bus tickets together right after we get some rest. I didn’t know how she was going to get money after that awful scam, but at this point I was willing to buy anyone who wanted one a ticket as long as they would help me get out of Delhi.
One phone call later to some paranoid parents, I went back to mine and Lara's room. The room’s shower looked like a solitary confinement and there was no drain, so as soon as we turned on the water the entire room was flooded. But that didn’t stop me and Lara from each taking a shower twice, due to the extreme heat that made Delhi feel like a living hell.
I'm sorry to disappoint you all. Nope. it's not me in the picture.
The water was ice cold, of course, because the only hot water you could find in India is in hot springs . At least there was an air conditioning in the room, a thing I didn’t see again in India. When we turned it on, it sounded like there were rats running inside it. We were so tired we didn’t care about anything anymore. We fainted on the beds.
As I was drifting into sleep, I only had one thought in my head, repeating itself again and again: “It's going to get better, it’s going to get better, it’s going to get better.”