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Bending Bureaucracy

9th July 2010

The road to Manali is still broken, and likely to remain that way for a day or two at least. From what I can gather, 50 metres of road is currently unusable due to a landslide, plus a foot of snow fell on the high passes when we had the recent rainy spell. As I was in two minds as to whether to retrace my steps back to Manali, or loop round via Rekong Peo and the Kinnaur Valley, I figured fate was giving me a nudge in the direction of the latter. Admittedly it's described as India's Scariest Road, particularly on a bus, but the views are meant to be great. To travel this road however I needed to get an Inner Line Permit, as the route passes near to the sensitive border with Tibet. The permits are free; it's just a case of taking your passport, plus photocopies of the photo page and visa page, and two passport photos to the correct government office.

The first hurdle was getting the photocopies, as the power was off again, but I soon found a photocopy shop with a generator. My guidebook told me I needed two copies, so that's what I got. The next step was finding the office to get the permits. I knew it was in New Kaza, and my book advised me to "look for the green roofed building behind the hospital". What it failed to mention was that the majority of the buildings in New Kaza have green roofs. Whilst Old Kaza is full of pretty little white-washed houses, New Kaza is home to officialdom, unattractive lumps of concrete with corrugated iron roofs, painted either red or, more commonly, green. I tried one likely looking building, wandering around the corridors until I found someone, and asked him. I was in the wrong place, but he told me to continue the way I'd been going, and that I was looking for a big building (which most of the green roofed buildings were). He said I could take a shortcut through the back, and led me to a hole under a metal fence (I kid you not). He kindly held my bag and camera for me, while I contorted myself through the small gap, and bade me farewell.

I continued in the direction he'd said, and after a while came across the hospital, with a red cross painted on the roof. I went to the large, green-roofed building behind it - wrong building. They did point me in the right direction though, and soon after I found the right place. After a bit of a hunt, I found the room where the permits are issued, and the young lady inside took my passport copy (I only needed the one) and told me I needed to get an application form from a nearby shop, giving me directions. I was getting a bit peed off by now, and left the building muttering and mumbling under my breath. The shop wasn't too far away . . . but the shutters were down, and when I asked at the dhabba next door I was told the owner was away, and wouldn't be back until the next day . . . when the permit office would be closed. I had a couple of cups of chai, and chilled out somewhat, before returning to the office to explain the situation.

I met the girl in the corridor, and told her about the shut shop. She grabbed my arm and dragged me into the office, giving me a blank piece of paper, and a filled-out form to copy from. I then had to take the application form to the police station, to get permission from the police to enter the restricted zone. Normally the permit would be issued only after the police had signed the form, but she explained that she had to go to her home urgently, and would give me mine immediately. While I filled out the form she asked to see my rings, which I'd bought in Dharamsala, telling me that one was genuine silver and the other was not (I personally suspect that neither is, but I like them all the same). She asked where my husband was - England - if he was a good man, and whether it was a love marriage or arranged. Her marriage, she said, had been arranged, but he was a good husband. When I said I had no children she told me it was very important to have at least one, for when you get older.

As she had to leave, she gave me my permit there and then, but asked me to return the application form once the police had signed it and leave it in the room next door. She stressed that this was very important, as her boss was very strict and would check, and slapped herself in the face to demonstrate the consequences if I did not. I thanked her profusely, and set off in the vague direction of the police station, as her English was not sufficient to give full directions. I managed to get there, and was met by a neat, smiling police officer, with hair the colour of a black smartie. He led me to his office and checked my hand-written form, seeming most impressed that I was a postman. He too asked where my husband was, and I magically transported him to Delhi, saying that he would be meeting me in Shimla. The form was duly signed and returned to the office, lest the helpful young lady get a clip round the ear from her boss. A bit of a palaver, but I got there in the end.

There's a festival in Ki Monastery tomorrow, which I'd like to go to, so I'm thinking of leaving on Sunday. I wasn't able to book the bus ticket in advance, so I still have a chance to chicken out. I just hope that the scenery is worth it . . . and the bus isn't too uncomfortable . . . and we make the journey in one piece. I'm sure it'll be an eventful journey and, provided I do survive, you can be sure I'll tell you the tale.

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