Before this India trip a neighbour informed me that he’d never get on to a bus in India where the driver believes in reincarnation. I recalled this statement less than one hour in.
The day had started with a tad of tension which as the day and night went by descended further.
We’d taken a taxi from McLeod Ganj down to Dharmasala bus station where we were to pick up the 14 hour overnight deluxe coach to Rishikesh.
Leaving McLeod was slightly throat aching, reminiscent of those past holidays where you say goodbye to a place where a great time was had.
We had an hour to spare at the station and the first thing I did was to go to the ticket office and pointlessly ask what platform our coach was to depart from. They never tell you unless waving their hand in a dismissive manner is a signal.
The small station shop was selling pop and water and so I went to get some refreshments and it was then that I made the mistake I never thought I’d make. As I removed my wallet a small kid of about 4 years old ran over with his hand outstretched. He found me in a moment of compassion, having just been surrounded by Buddhist monks for 4 days, and as the note was out, I gave it to him – 50 rupees (50p). Before I’d had time to put my wallet away an army of very small children surrounded me, hung to my legs, gripped my shirt and made me the amusement of the whole station and so I took them to meet my family and we all started repeating the word ‘No’ verbatim with accompanying head shakes, that, on reflection, may have made us look like an odd cult.
The families they were with were camped out on the station floor and only admonished their child beggars when they went back empty handed it seemed. Amongst all this, a beautiful puppy was looking for safety from the kids who were doing their very best to terrorise it. It chose well in picking under our chairs to take refuge and he was loved and cuddled and how I wished we could take him with us.
I was taken away from this puppy reverie by an elderly member of staff telling me that our bus was in. I turned to follow his pointing finger and then turned back to explain that we actually have a deluxe coach and this isn’t our bus. He assured me in a rather vengeful manner that it was our bus, so I showed him our ticket and he brushed it off and said ‘your bus’. As the bus to Rishikesh was to leave in less than 10 minutes I went back to the ticket office ‘allowing’ three people to barge in front, before spreading myself across the ticket window. I carefully explained that we have a deluxe coach. He replied, whilst pointing at the same vehicle the other guy had and said ‘your bus, deluxe’. I had to assume that this wasn’t his first day and he’d know what a deluxe bus looked like but on this occasion he was mistaken. He replied to this suggestion, and rather too gleefully for my liking, ‘deluxe, deluxe, only bus to Rishikesh until tomorrow’. I had to accept that as the bus route and the destination and the time of departure all matched that on the ticket that I’d booked 3 months previously, that this was indeed our 14 hour overnight bus. I informed the other two members of my family of this and I think the exact words my son used were ‘you fucked up this time dad’ – and he was right.
This was the sort of bus that was running, woefully, in Manchester in the fifties. Air con was supplied by the windows that had an automatic slide mechanism which worked by them sliding forwards only to slam shut on every brake of the bus and to slide backwards and slam open on every acceleration, which essentially means 20 times a minute. The seats were very, very shiny, and they weren’t leather or plastic, and as the bus began to move it shook as if it had square wheels. It shook as if every nut and bolt was hanging on by a thread. I felt my first measure of total discomfort before it had even left the bus station and had resigned myself to the fact that sleep would not be something that would occur.
We were then told that the beggar children had got hold of the puppy and had thrown it violently down a set of stairs. The sadness this filled me with made me angry as it must have surely died and the thought that went through my mind was that the beggars had virtually guaranteed their rebirth as a dog in India.
My mood was jolted sideways when the driver, a maniac even by Indian standards, having dared to do 007 manoeuvres on very winding mountain roads, with infinite drops, hit the brakes, and skidded across the highway narrowly missing wiping out an ambulance on an emergency call. Once we’d all removed our heads from the very, very shiny headrests in front we consoled ourselves that had he hit it, we would have at least got instant medical attention, had the crew survived themselves. This was 15 minutes into the 14 hour journey. We were later joined on the bus as dusk fell by several large families of mosquitos taking advantage of the automatic windows.
But there’s only one thing you can do in a situation like this.
Switch off your mind, relax and float down stream.
At the halfway stage the driver stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ where we got talking to our fellow passengers all of whom were Indian. One guy said he does this journey, 10 hours from Dharmasala to his drop off point, twice a week to commute to work –a return journey I might add! After staring at him speechless for a long unbelieving while I asked if all the drivers are as bad as this one and I was reliably informed that they are not and ‘this one is crazy, the worst driver I’ve known’.
all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
‘I am not a Buddhist….’ – https://kevollier.com/2014/06/14/i-am-not-a-buddhist/
‘In Search of Gandhi’ – https://kevollier.com/2014/04/14/north-india-in-23-days-day-2-in-search-of-gandhi-part-1/