Monday, July 2, 2007

A ride on an Indian 'local' bus

Remember our fear over local buses? We have now had the opportunity to take three long bus rides on local buses within India, these being quite an authentic experience in their own right. Our first local bus to Ghuttu was exceedingly cramped but fairly uneventful compared to our subsequent rides. On this bus, there were people standing, and sitting on each others laps, and getting generally quite cozy, but no one threw up (that I know of) and the driver did not almost kill us.

The most exciting part was getting to the bus stand at 3:00 AM. We walked past people sleeping everywhere. They slept in their rickshaws, their shops, in the woods, and truck drivers and entire families alike layed on blankets stretched out along the sides of the road. We eventually picked up a ride to the bus station standing in the back of a flat bed truck.

Bus ride number two, from Gaurikund to Rishekesh, was about 9 hours. The driver was absolutely crazy. I watched him in the rear view mirror as he nearly killed us all. He had the hard, relentless stare of a schizophrenic. Then his eyes would roll back in his head, showing only the whites. He would go barreling down the road towards the hair pin turns, slamming his brakes only at the very last second, only inches from shooting out over the edge and down the thousand or more foot drop off to oblivion below. Then he would whip as fast as he could around the corner and begin hurtling down the road again for a few seconds before reaching the next corner. I never heard brakes squeal so loud, and each time we came up near the edge I wondered if this would be the time that they went out, if we were only moments away from death. Other times, he passed people on these same blind hairpin turns, often having to slam on these same failing brakes to avoid a head on collision.

On this bus, there was a boy screaming and puking out the window while his father tried in vain to ease his discomfort by rubbing his stomach. A man puked on his seat mate, who jumped up and began yelling at him. A women who had been standing fell across the laps of two seated men, ripped open the window, and puked out of it. She stayed draped across their laps the rest of the ride. There were 5 or 6 men sitting in the front of the bus who took turns puking out of the door. And still the driver hurtled along. I was amazed that neither Tim, nor I had issues with motion sickness. But we had other problems.

When we arrived at the bus that morning, the only remaining seats on the bus were in the very back row. We had assigned seats, but when we tried to get these, we were basically laughed at. No such thing as assigned seats on this bus! Within 5 minutes of starting out we realized that the back seat was worse than a bucking board. My neck hurt already and Tim and I decided it would be preferable to stand and let our knees and legs absorb the shock. Tim gave his seat away, but I zealously guarded mine, moving back to sit in it and glare defiantly at any would-be-takers. It was then that Tim got the idea of paying someone near the front, where the ride was smoother, to trade seats with me. He found a taker, the man who later puked on his neighbor, for the price of 100 rupees, about $2.50 U.S. Since Tim had given up his seat already, he had nothing to bargain with and was out of luck, and ended up standing for several hours before I switched off and stood for an hour. Altogether, we switched off standing and sitting in our one seat for about 7 hours before the conductor moved the man who had been sitting next to me into the front of the bus. At last, we had two precious seats for the last of our crazy ride!

Our third experience on an Indian local bus (but this will not be our last!) was on a three by two seat bus with slightly glorified benches for seats. This was a 16 hour ride from Dehra Dun to Manali. We had been told that there was a luxury bus that did this route once per day, at three o'clock. We arrived at Dehra Dun from Rishekesh at about 2:58. A man at the bus station yelled out "Manali" and pointed to this horrible looking, decrepit bus. It was leaving at 3:00, two minutes from now. Did we want on or not? If we did not take this bus, we would probably be stuck in Dehra Dun for the night. I tested out the seats (amazingly they were pretty comfortable as long as you did not want to sleep, in which case there was no head rest to lean your head on). I confirmed with the whistle happy conductor that we would indeed have seats the entire journey, and not on the bucking board in the back. He assured us that we would and even promised to move us closer to the front at a stop 5 hours away. Sold! We jumped on the bus and it pulled away. The driver of this bus was relatively tame compared to the last one. The conductor loved his whistle and spent much of the bus ride near the doors blowing it.

At some point in our journey two Sikhs with turbans got on the seats in front of us. At first they were very nice speaking to us in very broken English and even shared their beer with me. However, further into the ride, as they got more and more drunk, one of the Sikhs decided that he fancied me. He had removed his turban by now and had wild hair. First he blew kisses when Tim was not looking. Next he grabbed my hand and kissed it when Tim was sleeping. I snatched my hand back and firmly said "no, no, no". Later, while I was sleeping he arranged to trade seats with the young man sitting next to me in the third (isle) seat. I felt a quick poke on my boob. My eyes flew open to catch a glimpse of the Sikh, now seated next to me, jerk himself into a position of pretending to sleep. I began yelling at him, pointing to his previous seat.
"you, there! you there!"
People began to look. I smacked the man awake who had traded seats with the Sikh and yelled at him, too.
"you, here. No switch!"
As they are switching back to there previous seats the Sikh is laughing. Tim opens his eyes for a moment and mumbled " What, what's going on?" before falling back to sleep. The Sikh must have passed out soon after, because he was good the rest of the trip, and was gone in the morning when we reached Manali.