On Buses.....


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Asia » India » Uttar Pradesh » Varanasi
October 21st 2011
Published: October 25th 2011
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Now, thanks to my mildly itinerant nature, I’ve been on a few different bus journeys, in a few different parts of the world. Nearly all share the common theme of comedic value.

For example, as some of you will know, South American, particularly Colombian buses, all share one common factor; the air conditioning is jammed on full blast for the duration of the journey, regardless of the outside temperature. Earlier this year I went to Colombia to visit my brother and his girlfriend on their travels and was subjected to a couple of these cloak wrapped, steam breathing journeys. On a particular journey, one of eighteen hours between San Gil and Santa Marta any observers will have had good value for money on their entry ticket. Not only were we frozen for the journey, and subjected to violent action films played in Spanish at full volume for the entirety. Not only did the bus break down at five am for three hours and it drop us nearly half an hour from our destination, but I was lucky enough to be sat next to a Colombian gentleman who snored so loudly I felt like I was in a two-bob massage chair, and he was so large that every now and then parts of him would spread across me and my seat as if Jabba the Hut himself was making himself cosy on the small seat next door. But these moments and memories are what bus journeys are all about, and why they are always such fun.

As I mentioned in my last blog, the twelve hour journey from Delhi, overnight to Mcleod Ganj in the hills was another humour inducing trip. Up until that point I had been spared the experience of bumps in the road being taken with such enthusiastic speed that I bang my head on the roof. I can now tick this box on my list of “things to do before I die”.
I have been on freezing cold, noisy buses in Colombia, buses in Thailand designed for pygmies so hours are spent with your knees communing with your ears, and I have taken many a National Express throughout Europe with my senses kept busy by the screaming and vomiting of young children who are unaware of why the big white European chain are more affectionately known as “National Distress”.
I have however just taken my most laughable bus journey to date.

As I made my way to the Bus Stand at McLeod Ganj for my return journey to Delhi I was fully anticipating another brutal bone bashing for the following twelve hours. At first I was delighted. My bus was a big comfy Volvo that looked new and capable – for the same price as my beaten old wagon up here? “Hadn’t I done well” I chortled. As boarding proceeded few people were getting on my nice Volvo, and the same bus next to me was beginning to resemble a sardine can. “Brilliant” I thought, more space! The reason for this unequal divide of passengers was soon made clear to me. The other bus was going where I wanted to go, Paharganj in central Delhi. My bus was going to the Tibetan community half an hour outside the city. My smugness faded quickly. The humour began as each member of our tiny travelling team made themselves noted in a variety of ways which would have had Monty python falling over themselves to re-unite and write a script.

First came the driver. He was just as red-eyed and silent as the chap who threw us up here as if personally challenging his record time, but he had evidently just been allowed to throw away his ‘L’ plates and transport people alone. As buses, trucks, cars, and cow-drawn carts overtook us, our driver stopped and shunted around every corner we had flown around only four days previously. It was looking like becoming a long journey.

Behind the driver was a middle aged Aussie woman who for the whole time I was awake, was munching crisps with as much discretion as a Roy Chubby Brown show. I half expected to wake up to Gary Lineker trying to wrestle her remaining packs off her in a jealous rage!
To her left and in front of me were a young Indian couple who had obviously planned a mutual need to visit long lost relatives in Delhi, therefore unknown to their parents, giving them twelve whole hours of clandestine hugging, kissing and giggling. Finally, behind me to the right was a teenage Tibetan man who for the first and last two hours of the journey insisted on chanting Michael Jackson lyrics in the style of Buddhist prayer in a quavering and rapidly breaking soprano voice!

The bus had only filled six of fifty three seats but what a menagerie the travel agents had managed to put together. I was engrossed in the show until we predictably broke down, stopped for food, and collected what seemed like the drivers entire extended family invited to witness his first solo trip. At this point I could take no more, it had achieved its ranking as my favourite bus journey ever and I fell asleep smiling, only to wake up half an hour outside Delhi in the dawn traffic with a rick-shaw ride yet to come!


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