The agenda for the day was to drive up to Dali, around 400km from Ruili. The Chinese highway system is extremely impressive! They’ve thought of everything from frequent rest stops to escape routes(in case of break failure) and some sort of construction on hill slopes to prevent landslides. And the road quality? Like butter. I’ve never been a fan of driving in the mountains. Two words- motion sickness. Yet somehow, we were navigating the hills and I could barely tell. See, the roads here don’t wind around the mountain side like in India. When possible, the roads cut right through the mountain in the form of a tunnel and other times, the roads are on high stilts as soon as there is some semblance of flat land. The entire drive reminded me of a video game.

Bauchyan was a stop along the way. We’d been looking for a place to check tire pressure for a while and we finally stopped at a rest stop. Now I don’t normally use public restrooms unless its urgent, but this one time, daddy insisted that I go. A direct order to high command cannot be disobeyed. I went in, used the facilities and came out. The entire thing took ten minutes, tops. As soon as I came out i was greeted by an empty parking lot. It wasn’t exactly empty but it might as well gave been! Neither of the two cars could be seen. I looked everywhere, there was so sign of anyone I knew. Ten minutes passed. It was nippy and evening was closing in. The scariest scenarios ran through my head and nothing made sense. One thing was clear. I was officially Abandoned in a foreign country. No passport. No money. No phone. No clue. My communication was limited to hand gestures. Traumatic doesn’t cut it and words fail to describe what i was going through. Twenty minutes later, the familiar pale blue and bright orange beast pulled into the lot. I was relieved for a moment before I was furious. They hadn’t been kidnapped! There was no alien abduction! My parents forgot me. It was that simple. What was even more outrageous was that it took them twenty minutes in the car to finally realise I wasn’t there.

Putting the evenings events behind us, we finally reached Dali and my was it beautiful. It seemed to be a large city but tucked away in some quaint corner was this very touristy area. Cobble stone roads lined with Street lamps and stores on either side. All against the backdrop of majestic mountain peaks that seamlessly blended with the sky. At one point I couldn’t tell them apart. The evening sky was the prettiest blue.

We spent the evening strolling the streets of Old Dali Town. We passed a large variety of Street stalls ranging from sugarcane juice vendors to knife makers to locally made accessories. The streets were alive. Funnily enough, we were the only foreigners among the many tourists that flocked the area. Why don’t places like this get any attention? When people talk about tourism in China, it’s the usual suspects – Beijing, Shanghai, Ghounzhou. Dali should definitely be put on tourists’ radar.

We finished our day on a high note with a delicious dinner at a cozy cafe. Spaghetti and baked potatoes were a welcome change from cup noodles and chowmein. Everyone took turns recounting their version of the gas station story. I suppose I’m over it. Enough to look back and have a good laugh at what went down. This day will definitely go down in Srivatsa family history!