Suresh had no idea where to start looking so he went to his gas station and asked around while we filled up. Gas is 33 Rs/liter or about $2.90/gallon. That’s prohibitively expensive for all but the most affluent residents of Dharamsala so most vehicles (including mine) are company cars. Most workers commute on foot, bus or motorcycle. There are very few bicycles because either the hills and the traffic would kill you.
We were directed further down the valley past the biggest structure in town, the new Dharamsala Cricket Stadium. Built in 2003 and holding 19,000 fans, it is now one of the most famous pitches in India. It’s only held a few national matches, but the players and journalists claim it to be the most beautiful athletic complex in the world. The stands are high enough to keep the dust and noise of the city out, but nowhere near tall enough to obscure the peaks. In April Dharamsala will host four very important national matches and the entire town is just giddy over it. Much as they are thankful for the Dalai Lama bringing in cash to the region, they are proud they will be famous for something purely Indian – their cricket pitch. Come April you’ll find me at that stadium with a Kingfisher Strong Beer in my hand.
A few clicks past the stadium we came upon a section of town that was nothing but building supply stores and carpentry shops. Suresh spent an hour trying to find the right shop, waiting for the owner to come in, then finding out they couldn’t do aluminum. Finally he got a hot tip that the best aluminum welder lives in Matour, 10 kilometers further down the valley – probably a 45 minute drive on these roads. Neither one of us had anything else to do and I really had no choice, so we headed off to Matour.
The ride to Matour was on a muddy one-lane road along a trickling river bed. The river bed was 100 meters wide, but since there’s been so little snow in the mountains, there was only a small stream winding around huge boulders. Had I been on this quest by myself, I would be eternally lost and forced to join the ranks of Indian beggars. There are no directional signs except on heavily trafficked roads. This road had very few cars, yet there were houses and business in identical caving brick structures almost the entire way. Once inside Matour, there were a few signs, but only for cities, not for roads. Suresh knew the place a little bit, but we also spent a lot of time asking around – something he could do because he speaks the local language. I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Finally about two hours after leaving the TCV we stopped in front of a garage door in the middle of a non-descript street and, sure enough, this guy had the big gun. Suresh disassembled the padding from my chair; the welder fired up his magic wand and I sat in the car praying it was going to work out. The welder did a phenomenal job putting the handle back on and assured me the second handle was in good shape. Total cost for his services: Rs 30 (66 cents).
What I hadn’t noticed on the way to Matour was that behind us loomed the full Dhauladhar ridge of Himalayas. In Upper Dharamsala you can catch the tops of the peaks, but the ‘foothills’ (10,000 footers) can block much of the granite. Out here in the plains of Himachal Pradesh the monsters are in full glory. And as opposed to the monsoon season, the winter sun was glistening off each peak and avalanche.
Suresh drove back via one of the quicker national roads while I stuck my head out the window like my pooch Sydney used to. It wasn’t long before we were at the base of the Library Road. No matter how many times I take that drive it still gives me a thrill. It may have been the most beautiful day of errands I’ve ever experienced.
For three hours I was having the time of my life; completely forgetting there was a giant gap in my leg.