Knowing I was about to be punched was not, and still is not, something I’m used to. As far as I could remember, I had never gotten into a fight in my life. I had no idea what I would do if that guy actually did hit me. Would I instinctively hit him back? Start to cry? Wet myself? Or maybe I would just faint?
His face was so close to mine that I could feel his heavy breathing on my skin. I was completely frozen, waiting for him to make his move and for that terrifying moment to end.
“Jane,” said a soft voice.
I was so paralyzed it took me a few seconds to turn my head and understand who was talking to me.
“Jane, let’s just drop it. Let’s just pay him and leave,” Tammy said, almost whispering.
I don’t know how all this would have ended if Tammy hadn’t been there to calm us down. I can get so stubborn sometimes that from some point it’s hard for me to back down. Even if I know for a fact that I’m going to lose.
We took out our wallets, paid him the 600 rupees, and walked away wallowing in shame and anger. We were so mad about those 600 rupees, and so caught up in our emotions, that we managed to forget one small fact - It wasn’t that much money.
Because, when you stop for a second, and give it some thought, you realize you were almost fighting to the death for an amount of money you’d consider to be small change back home. And it’s not that I’m lowering the value of money, I would be the first person to say that every penny counts. But seriously, I almost got bitchslapped for a couple of coins that barely buy me a cup of coffee back home.
Perspective - It’s a really good thing to have in life.
You think that I would learn something from such an experience, produce some lessons. But nope, I didn’t, and it got worse later on, way worse. But we have some time before I’ll get to that part of the story.
Disturbed and confused from the “enchanting” incident we just had, Tammy and I started to walk by foot from Old Manali to New Manali in order to meet the others. After a while, we reckoned it was probably not a good idea to walk so far on an empty stomach while our hearts were still pumping like maniacs from all our latest excitement.
So we hitchhiked with this Indian guy who thought he was at a moon party and kept playing really loud trance music the entire ride, when all I really wanted was to just relax for a few seconds.
When we got to New Manali, we were both starving. So we went into the lobby of a fancy hotel just to get some breakfast and ended up paying double the amount we had for the guest house ripoff. But we assumed we were entitled to a really expensive meal (in Indian terms) after what we had just gone through. There’s nothing like a good excuse to voluntarily throw away some more of your hard earned cash to celebrate getting cheated!
Afterward we met up with the rest of the guys at one of the local shops. I helped Orlin choose a fake Northface coat, which apparently is very popular with the backpacker crowd in India. The day before that, Orlin had helped me bargain for a beautiful beige, Manali-style, handmade coat which was probably one of my smartest purchases of the entire trip.
From there we took two rickshaws to a delightful little village called Vashisht. Since we were afraid that it would be hard to find a ride back, we paid the two drivers 400 rupees for them to wait for us until four o’clock that afternoon.
We went up the narrow main road. Along the way there were small local shops that I couldn't wait to pay a visit. I had also heard that there are amazing waterfalls in the village where you can do rappelling. Four years later, I’m still considering doing that.
We reached Vashisht Temple, a beautiful structure with hot spring baths inside. There are separate bathing arrangements for men and women. Michael went to the men’s side while Tammy, Orlin, Daria and I went to the women’s side. We quickly realized that the only women bathing in that hot watered pool were very old Indian women. Needless to say, there was a lot of skin in that pool. I decided to skip this pleasure and chose a much more relaxing activity - shopping.
I left the girls there and went to cruise through the colorful shops. When it started to rain I bought myself an umbrella. After some decent bargaining, of course, because I didn’t wanted to disappoint the seller (Yeah, sure, that’s why!)
I was going from store to store in the rain. Most of them were fabric, jewelry and souvenir stores. I went inside a ‘jewelry salon’, or at least that's what the owner called it, and spotted three beautiful pendants: a sandstone, a small white pearl on a decorated silver setting, and a shiny red stone. On the last one I had to give up on my haggling frenzy, but I was pretty satisfied with what I got (even though all the jewels were most likely to be fake).
I didn’t have a watch but I thought it would be a good time to call it a day and go back to the group. As I was walking on the road the sights off the authentic local life really amazed me. Their colorful clothing, easy lifestyle, women with giant bunnies. Wait —what?! I even saw that guy Joel again walking on his own. Weird fellow.
When I got back to the temple, I didn’t see the rickshaws.
‘That’s odd,’ I thought to myself as I walked inside the temple again to look for the girls. They were nowhere to be seen and there was no sign of Michael either.
‘Is it possible they went back to Manali without me? How the hell am I going to get a ride back? There are no rickshaws or taxis anywhere.’
‘Good god, can I have one hour without a crisis in this country?!’