I spent the next few days relentlessly trying to find people who would join me going to Spiti - Kinnaur. Asking around, I just couldn’t find the right companions. Some had just arrived in Manali and had no plans to leave yet, some wanted to take a shorter trip than the one I was planning, and some just didn’t feel right.
“There’s a group that wants to go, but only to Spiti and only for five days, they look friendly, maybe you should join them?” Tammy asked in an effort to find me a solution.
“I didn’t come here all alone so I would have to compromise for what I want. I’m going to Spiti and Kinnaur for at least two weeks.” I felt so brave at the moment the words popped out of my mouth, and so dumb later that day when my religious friends said their goodbyes and continued on their way to Ladakh.
I stayed alone in the room Tammy and I had taken at the Dragon guesthouse. Now I had it all to myself but I wasn't so happy about it. I’ve heard there was supposed to be a lecture later that evening in the Israeli house. I thought it would be a good way to pass the time and maybe finally find people to come with me to the valleys. But it was still early and I had nothing to do.
The center of Old Manali was quite small and I didn’t felt like taking another meaningless walk along the main street. So I decided to sit outside my room and wait until it was time to go the lecture. A lot of people come to India to just sit outside their guesthouses and relax. Who said I can’t do that as well?
‘Bored. I am so bored. What’s so relaxing about sitting in one place by yourself and doing nothing? How do people manage to do it all day while they're traveling and even enjoy it? Maybe I should read a book or something. Oh my god, What if I don’t find people to join me going to the valleys? What if I’ll find myself alone for the rest of my trip?! I’m such an idiot, I should have joined Tammy and the others and gone to Ladakh.”
“Hey, you want to smoke?” A guy sitting outside the room next to mine interrupted my chaotic stream of consciousness.
“Ok.” I said, hesitatingly, and sat in the chair at the other side of the small wooden table he was using.
I knew what he was smoking. I also knew that smoking it around people you don’t know can make you feel uncomfortable and distressed. I knew that the stuff they smoke in India is a lot more powerful than what I was used to smoking back home. I also knew that at some point or another in my trip someone would offer me a smoke. Knowing all that, I also knew that I would say "yes" immediately and smoke my ass off.
While we were smoking, he told me about his unique travel style. He was an Enfield biker. Royal Enfield is an Indian motorcycle a lot of travelers, usually men, use to travel solo or in groups across India. To be an Enfield biker you really have to know your way around bikes or ride with someone who does. Riding across India, you can easily find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere when the nearest populated place is at best a ten hours' ride away.
This guy had just got back from a couple of weeks ride through Spiti - Kinnaur. Meeting him reminded me that my friend Tom had told me about these riders and even encouraged me to find one and join him for the ride. I was truly considering that option and thought it could be really amazing for me to do Spiti - Kinnaur that way. But then again, I wasn’t sure how much I could trust a guy I just met and disappear with him into the wild.
Also, I kept imagining my mother’s voice every time I spoke to her about getting on a motorcycle in the past: “Over my dead body!” My saucy respond to that always was: “That could be arranged.” But now that she wasn’t around to supervise me it was my conscience that kept yelling at me: “Over my dead body!” and I found that I really didn’t want to make that arrangement yet.
After a while another guy joined us at the table and that’s when I started to feel really tense. I figured it’s a good time to stop smoking and leave the table. But that’s the problem about smoking, at least for me; unlike alcohol that makes you feel confident, smoking cannabis can do the opposite. When I smoke around people I don’t know, especially in foreign places, I tend to get extremely self-aware. Suddenly even the most subtle body movement I make can feel weird and exaggerated. And of course I think that everyone else notices it as well and thinks that I’m the most bizarre person they ever met.
I sat there, trying not to move at all, until I remembered that the lecture in the Israeli house was about to start. So I recruited all the sanity left in me to force myself to get up, thank him for the joint and leave the table without falling. Somehow I managed to do all of that. I think.
On my way to the Israeli house my mind was on the loose. Everything seemed big and scary. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to control my body in public and might act more ridiculous than usual. I was tempted to go back to my room and sleep it off, but I kept telling myself (in my head, I didn’t talk to myself in the street, I’m ninety-five percent sure of that): ‘Calm down, it’s just the weed, you're doing fine. Nobody is looking at you.’
When I got to the Israeli house there were a ton of people there. All happy and talking to each other while I tried desperately to melt into the ground and evaporate. That didn’t work at all, and somehow I found myself sitting in the first row of the crowd that had come to hear the lecture. A really poor choice of a seating arrangement to make when you are having a narcotic panic attack and feel everybody's eyes poking you in the back.
But I didn’t realize the magnitude of the mistake I made by coming there that evening, until the lecturer stepped inside and introduced himself and the topic of the lecture.
This guy was no other than the manager of a holistic village that provides therapeutic treatment to young backpackers that suffer from an experience with hallucinogenic drugs. Or in a more common language, a place that tries to snap back to reality all the stupid ass people who flipped out doing questionable substances, with unknown people, in unfamiliar places.
‘Try not to scream, try not scream, try not to scream.’ Again, me, talking to myself, in my head. Although not so sure it was only in my head this time.