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  • I'm going to die in this van.
    Here I am, approaching the town of Rohtang which is 13,054 feet above sea level, 7000 feet above the nearest town of Manali, nearly 8000 miles from home and I'm going to die.
    I won't even know it too. There are 14 other people in this van, only a handful of whom speak English and all of whom speak Hindi. So when the end comes, I won't understand the fear and warnings. Except, of course, for the sinking feeling as we plummet down the side of the mountain. Out the window I can see crumbling bits of the road leap out from beneath our wheel and disappear below the fog.
    And it's getting colder, so if I don't die plunging off a cliff, I might freeze. Isn't India supposed to be hot? Outside the window the snow is just starting to melt. Everything I packed for this 17 day trip is lightweight. As a result, I'm wearing my thin, button down shirt completely buttoned up, a cotton sarong around my shoulders and I've let my long, blanket-like hair down. It's not really working. Still I've always liked cold more than heat so I guess I'd rather die of the cold up here than of the heat back in Delhi.
    Delhi seems like weeks ago. A 9 hour overnight van ride away, 3 of which were just getting out of the city itself. Trying to sleep through the blasting, beautiful but shrill Hindi music which, if the stereotypes of The Simpsons have any truth, South Asians consider to be lullabies. I doubt that very much though. I think they were just trying to the keep the driver awake.
    But now everyone is awake and chatty. A couple miles behind us, we stopped on a bit of the Himalayas. I always find out second hand as I'm the only person who was crazy enough to do this without knowing a word of the language. I've learned the "chalo" means "let's go" and that "pani" means "water" but that's hardly helpful when the driver says, "now we're gonna zig zag on cliff side roads into the heavens."
    We finally break through the clouds, or rather into them and enter the "town" of Rohtang. Watching our van empty must have the effect of a clown car as Kamlesh, Parveen, Jagdish, Poonam, Chirag, Yamini, Chetna, Divya, Nikhil, Leena, Deep, Shweta, Nadia, the driver and myself all spill out. I can only see a small area of land as clouds cover the rest of the mountain, but in that small space are a few cars, some donkeys and a small shack made of a tarp. We are served a dish called Maggi, the Indian version of ramen. I'm already feeling awful from going up so high in such a short period of time, so when they hand me the maggi I can only manage a few bites.
    A couple of moments later everyone is yelling in Hindi. The people around me drop to the ground, so I do as well just in time for a plane to pop through the clouds and fly so close overhead that it narrowly misses knocking over the tarp-shack. Nobody else stands, so I don't either and moments later another plane bursts through the clouds. This time I feel emboldened to lie on my back and run my fingers along the belly of the plane as it passes.
    When that plane is gone, everyone stands up. The women dust off their brightly colored salwar kameez' while everyone else gathers by the van as we prepare to zig zag back down this mountain, this time with our bellies full of maggi.
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