'It will be an adventure!' Said Krishna, my guide, nodding and smiling assuringly.
I wasn't so sure. I looked ahead at the battered old bus, spruced up to the nines in every colour under the hot Rajasthan sun, and bellowing out thick black fumes in an alarming fashion. Then glanced back at Krishna, my guide somewhat shiftily. 'Are you sure?', I asked nervously, trying to ignore the blaring Bollywood music, whilst staring agog at what seemed like dozens of local families piled in, laden with wares, children and the odd hen for good measure. And not another tourist in sight! Krishna followed my gaze and grinned appreciatively - 'Yes, this is what India holidays are about!'
What 'India holidays' were 'all about', I wasn't sure. High-speed death traps? Broken bones? The grave necessity of buying premium insurance? I was nervous to say the least.
I had arrived in India for a friend's wedding and decided to leave the teeming streets of Old Delhi for a retreat in the remote Indian Himalaya to the high reaches of Leh, capital of Ladakh. I imagined beautiful, remote mountain scenery, age-old monasteries and the romantic idea of getting away from it all. I did not imagine a 15 hour train ride and two day bus journey through some seriously high terrain in a moving cheese grater. More fool me.
A little advice: If you have a bigger budget than mine (and much more sense), I would forget the long and arduous overland journey and hop on the short flight from Delhi to Leh. But at the sound of Krishna's encouragement, the promise of adventure and the embarrassment of turning back, I swallowed my nerves and hopped aboard.
And here's the thing, it was one of the best decisions of all my travels. Yes, we climbed at a painfully slow pace, lurched our way over potholed dirt tracks and broke down on more than the one occasion. But I also saw us progress into the bare rocky wilderness, pass tiny villages where the pace of life lay unchanged for hundreds of years and grow accustomed to a different world. With each bumpy lurch through the mountain, I realised it had been absolutely worth it.
And at the end of the road was Ladakh. I stepped out into the thin air high on this high plateau in the Himalaya to gaping blue skies, the sound of Tibetan chimes and chanting and the sight of prayer flags fluttering in the distance. I grinned as someone pushed a hot plate of steaming momos - delicious Tibetan dumplings - towards me and thought of my old friend Krishna.