Burnt-Out on Buses

I hope this will be my last transport bus post for a while as I now should be in the position to stick exclusively to trains. 

Trains are smoother. They don’t freak you out. Unlike buses, trains don’t have the freedom to perilously weave and overtake.

Deluxe Bus Ride: Shimla to Dharamsala
As mentioned at the end of a previous post, I opted for an overnight deluxe bus from Shimla to Dharamsala.  It was much more comfortable than the previous rides as I had two seats to myself.  The driver kept switching the lights from on to off and back again at what seemed like random occasions.   I read until I became dizzy, or until the man whimsically decided that it was time to kill the lights.

Try reading a novel with a small font while intermittently jetting around hairpin turns and bouncing on mountainous terrain.  Sitting two seats back from the driver’s cabin, I managed to watch him position his hands down at around five-o’clock on the steering wheel, trying to save as many seconds as possible while engineering the big passenger rig around at a 90-degree angle.

My mind muttered in silence: This man is sure earning his Rupees.

When the lights were off there was nothing I could do but let my mind wander, while dozing on and off.  I’d wake up and look ahead at the road in front.  Twice, for a split second, I couldn’t decide if I was awake or asleep, in a surreal dream or a bleak reality.

In India they drive on the left hand side.  The first time I awoke as we were attempting to pass trucks to their right.    There was no visibility ahead due to the way the road twisted and turned horizontally and vertically.   Thick patches of fog on a pitch black night didn’t seem to be helping our cause either.

There second time I awoke as the driver was trying to squeeze the bus between two trucks on a two lane road.  This was one of his methods of fearlessly passing so that he could get an open road. He wasn’t successful the first few tries. We didn’t even scrape against those trucks.  Eventually, through sheer determination, he  managed to overtake.

The driver was a polite fellow who spoke solid English.  I had chai with him on the two occasions when we stopped at mini-night markets in the Himalayan hills.

Short Jeep Ride: McLeod Ganj to the Dharamsala Bus Terminal
Two Tibetan monks told me the best way to get from Dharamsala to Amritsar.  The only option would be a local bus.  I was supposed to start with a a short bus ride from McLeod Ganj down to the Dharamsala station.  I didn’t see a bus.  Taxi drivers lied.  They said that I’d have to walk down the hill if I wanted to find the 4am bus.

I asked two guys who were sitting on a guardrail talking.  They offered me a ride.  There was a girl, a Londoner.  She was waiting for an auto (auto rickshaw) that never showed.  A Japanese girl was also seeking out that bus.  The three of us ended up hopping in the guy’s jeep.

Two others jumped in, his driver and his friend.  We sandwiched ourselves into his little rig.  The bus bound for the station then showed up.

I was in the front, squeezed in the middle between the owner and his chauffeur who usually drives.  It was a struggle to avoid the huge gear shift.  We talked for most of the way.  The man, named Piyush, an engineer, told me why he wanted to give me a ride.  He said that he had something on his list.  This was a list of things to do before he turned 30.

One was to meet and hang out with a stranger, something he’d never done.  He was getting philosophical.  We spoke of God and spirituality.  He’d achieved a task from his pre-30, early bucket list.

When the bus passed us, I asked:

Is everything OK?”

I’m drunk.”

He turned to take a right, onto the last leg before the station that was ahead when I thought a bus was about to crush us.

Piyush’s friend said to the girls in the back seat:

Relax!  You’re in India.”

Piyush pulled into the station and got out of the car with us.  He gave me a hug, exchanged contact info and said goodbye.  I was a stranger who had helped someone achieve a goal by accepting a ride.

Hey.  Be careful driving.”

He smiled as his driver was now taking over at the wheel.

Dharamsala to Amritsar
The ride started pleasantly in the early morning darkness. I had two seats to myself.

Eventually a man with short, tiny legs and a huge overhanging paunch sat down next to me.  He folded his arms into his chest so that his left elbow was pushing into my shoulder.  Every time the bus shifted right, he’d inadvertently press me against the bus wall.   I was too uncomfortable to read or glance out the window.  I was beginning to detest these moments of my existence.

I glanced behind me and noticed a couple of spots open along the long back seat.

Excuse me!”

He looked at me incredulously and got up.

After a half-hour of personal space, the next four or five hours would prove to be your typical, jammed bus ride.  Different people crammed up on either side of me, sometimes it was the ubiquitous mustached man. At times there were women
in exotic saris.  The bus stopped on many occasions while  driving across the state of Punjab.

As last Saturday morning kicked into gear,  two-lane roads became filled with all modes of transportation: bike rickshaws, bikes, motor rickshaws, trucks, other buses, cars, jeeps and pedestrians.  When people standing weren’t blocking my view from the center spot at the back of the bus, I was able to see out the front window.

I saw us avoid head on collisions with cars, buses and trucks.  We seemed to come  close to clipping pedestrians, bicyclists and sometimes cows that appeared oblivious to all that was around.  My heartbeat raced up and down.

The bus sweltered when we weren’t moving.

With nothing to do but gaze or close my eyes, I pondered:

There must be some etiquette to this.  These drivers have a set of unwritten rules that I haven’t figured out yet. 

Time is money and the need for speed.   

When you don’t have money you can’t get your mind off getting some. It becomes an obsession, even if you’re saving just a few Rupees by punching the petal harder.

Of the thousands of Hindu Gods, there must be one of Economics.

I’m burnt-out on riding buses.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by darren on July 6, 2011 at 14:55

    Yes it sounds like you got your bus fix at this point.


  2. Posted by Piyush Kumar on July 6, 2011 at 00:27

    Thanks for the mention. I read your blog posts. Great writing! I’ve never noticed so many things that go on during a bus ride. I didn’t get a chance to get a pic at the station. I’m never going to mention that short ride to anyone so I’m glad that you wrote about it on your blog. I’ll remember that ride for a long time.
    Thanks and Regards
    Piyush Kumar


    • PIYUSH: Thanks for the kind words, and for the ride. 🙂 It was very nice of you to go out of your way like that. I’m so happy that you checked the blog out. At the time, I didn’t know that I would include your ride in the post, otherwise I would have asked you to take a photo as my camera now only takes day shots.

      Stay well and good luck in achieving those before 30′ goals.


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