I wrote this post last year while writing the Kinnaur Lahaul Spiti travelogue and forgot to post it.
While traveling one has the chance to met a number of different types of people. Some of these interactions are enjoyable, informative and memorable but a few stay in memory for somewhat wrong reasons. I have had my fair share of such interactions with fellow travellers over the years. A few of these meetings were extremely enjoyable which I remember fondly. The people one meets on occasions like this are the kind of who help you see things with a very new perspective, inform you about stuff you didn’t knew and are a joy to talk with. Their words and stories inspire and if nothing else, at least make you feel happy. For example, during my last trip, me and wifey met a bunch of foreigners living in Manali for a few months. They were deeply interested in Indian spirituality, philosophies, scriptures etc. Even though I am not that knowledgeable, we spent more than one hour talking over various topics.
Last year we met a middle aged government officer who took up travel and hiking as he got closer to retirement and had much more enthusiasm and energy than people half his age. There are quite a few such people I have met. There are some people I am still in touch with, even if it is over Facebook. I meet several such people regularly in my line of work.
Then there is the opposite spectrum which is populated with morons of various orders. Like the ones I saw in Manali eating pizza with knife, fork and using “cool” words like “fucking, fuck, amaaayyyzing,” in every sentence. You probably know the type. This post is dedicated to them. Following are some interactions I’ve had with people who make you facepalm or just wonder how they managed to live past the age of 18. Some of the details have been changed a little bit to protect privacy and all that stuff.
1. We were staying in a campsite near Chandra Taal . For those who don’t know, Chandra Taal is a lake at an altitude 4200 meters (13800 feet), 4 hours drive from nearest “big town” Kaza and 11-12 hours from Manali. Transporting stuff is hard and expensive and most people there normally eat vegetarian food which includes rice, daal, vegetables etc and meat is very rare. It is a wilderness area or atleast more or less was at that time.
One day, a SUV with some typical Punjabis rolled in and 4-5 people dressed for Goa rather than cold mountains of Spiti stepped out. They were already shivering but had brought no warm clothes. During dinner time, they all entered kitchen tent and asked for some food. The menu was daal chawal and some potato dish. They looked at the food and all stared in disbelief. Then one of them asked owner of campsite if he had any chicken, which he did not. Then one of them wailed incredulously, “Appa ithein aaloo khaan waaste aaye dein haan ?” (Have we come here to eat potatoes ?). I could do little but stare at them and chuckle.
What made them think that they could have tandoori chicken at Chandra Taal of all the places in the world is still a mystery to me.
2. A woman and her friends got in to a conversation with me about travel options in Lahaul Spiti. She asked me about my travel itinerary and she had no knowledge about most of the places I visited. Our conversation went something like this:
Her: So these places you visited are not on main routes, but further ? Are they worth the visit ?
Me: These villages are a bit off the main route, but worth the effort, in my opinion.
Her: Are there any places to stay in such villages ?
Me: Most of these villages will have small guesthouses and homestays. You can also pitch a tent or spend the night in nearby town.
Her: No no, I want to do it like you did. Stay with the locals, spend time with them, live like they do. Experience the local life in every way like they do.
Her: So will these homestays will have electricity and toilets ?
Me: All of them have electricity as far as I know. But some of them may not have running water and western toilets.
Her: No running water eh… But atleast they will have wifi and tv connection ?
I laughed for a good 3-4 seconds before I realised that she was serious.
3. Me and my local driver made a stop for lunch in a small eatery in Spiti. There were 2 foreigners accompanied by 2 young Indian women having lunch. One of the Indian women in particular seemed to be the typical Coconut Sahib type. Eager to please the white foreigners and doing plenty of stupid stuff in the process. She was almost jumping up and down trying to answer whatever questions the foreigners had but had almost no idea about the stuff she was talking about. She didn’t even knew what “daal” was, but that’s another story.
Anyhow, the person serving at the eatery was a Himachali but evidently from some other part of the state. His looks, accent, mannerisms etc were all different from the locals and that apparently didn’t went unnoticed by our heroine of the story. So she called him over. Conversation was in Hindi :
Her: Bhaiya, you don’t look like a local.
Him: Yes, I am from Mandi.
Her: You are from Mandi ? That is so far away in Uttarakhand (entirely different state). What are you doing here ?
My driver chuckled and I choked on my rice a little bit. I couldn’t see server’s expression, but he waited 2-3 seconds before informing her that Mandi is in Himachal.
4. Another person was asking me about camping near Chandra Taal but for some reason, bonfires were really important to her.
Her: I want a bonfire there. (Chandra taal campsite).
Me: Wood is kind of expensive and very hard to get, due to high altitude and no trees. Also wind is usually strong enough to uproot even tied up tents. So not really a great idea.
Her: But if we really want it, the camp owner will arrange it.
(I don’t know what gave her this idea)
Me: It is not safe or generally possible to have open bonfires in a place like that.
Her: But it can be done, no ?
Jokes aside, I normally don’t care if the tourists are just ignorant or well meaning naive people. But a vast majority of Indian tourists are the worst people a beautiful place can have. Over the years, a number of amazing places in many corners across India have turned in to concrete jungles full of rubbish, plastic and various kind of annoying touristy dumpyards. When I first visited Lahaul Spiti in 2011, there was only 2, maybe 3 campsites near Chandrataal and the whole place was mostly clean and pristine. Now there are probably a dozen people setting up camps with dozens of tents in each and there is rubbish and shit everywhere. There are some regulations and it seems like that they are never implemented. When I visited in 2015, I kept awake for most of the night due to some retards playing loud stupid music for most of nights, shouting, singing after getting drunk and driving in mud. It was even worse in 2017. Campsite owners had brought excavators to dig pits and had even dug up hills, which is illegal. Instead of disposing of trash properly, all the waste plastic, ceramic was just being dumped in pits and covered up. Toilets were just connected to hastily dug open pits covered with plastic sheets and whole place stank. Everyone likes to use bottled water, soft drinks etc and all the plastic bottles, snacks packaging etc was just being thrown carelessly everywhere. Tourists are stupid and camp owners will just bury the rubbish instead of disposing properly, just to save a hundred rupees every month. At best, they’d just gather the rubbish and burn it. Instead of a scenic campsite in wilderness, it now looks like a stinking refugee slum.
It is not even like these campsite owners are well meaning people with no facilities. A majority of them just care about making money in anyway possible. Dozens of vehicles ply on this route and it’s just takes a little work and money to gather this trash and send it away. But it’s done once in a blue moon, if at all. They are also not immune to lying to tourists and fraud. I met 2 foreigner tourists who were mislead in to staying in to one campsite after the owner lied to them about route, facilities provided and they were stuck there with no option than to wait till they could get transport.
Local shepherds bitterly complained how tourists scare away their animals, destroy vegetation and don’t stop their activities even after dark. Additionally, the animals will eat up plastic and get sick, just like it happens in cities. Most of campsite owners use water from some nearby streams and even those had all type of waste in them. Earlier, the annoying tourist in these kind of places would be the one playing some dumb punjabi, bollywood bjohpuri type song on a mobile phone. There are still quite a few of them, but now there are a lot more of pretentious instagram snapchat type of crowd playing hipster songs on portable speakers which is even more disturbing to people looking for a quite place to relax and enjoy nature.
There are idiots on their extremely loud, smoky motorcycles who’d like to drag the annoying piece of crap everywhere, paste a sticker on every inch of available space and just be a pretentious annoying ass.
A vast majority of them are some lame biker groups with a badly designed logo and a very generic name which includes following words in different combinations:
Riders, Bulls, Tigers, Lions, , Bullet, Night, Knight, Royal, Bikers, and so on.
Just throw a dice a few times with these words and you will have the name for a “biker group” from every corner of the country. Their usual claim of fame are trips to Laddakh, Rajasthan and these days Lahaul Spiti. Earlier, you could see their stickers on some rest stops, restaurants, hotels etc. But these days, you can see such stupidity even on rocks by the roadside.
It seems that I end up ranting like this everytime I go on a trip. We need a zombie apocalypse, maybe.