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Published: August 29th 2015
Jeep wait. Train wait.
The first item on the agenda was to get a bus ticket for tomorrow. I managed to reserve the single seat directly in the front all the way from Srinagar to Jammu for 387 Rupees (about $7.75 in 2011), far less than the rip-off price for the jeeps plying the same route. The driver ensured me the bus stops first at the bus stand and then proceeds directly to the train station. This news made me happy, calming my nerves, as I must make my scheduled train tomorrow night. It’s a long way through the mountains but I’m giving myself plenty of time to make it.
The next morning I slipped quietly out of the room at 6:50am and within 11 minutes I was at the bus station. It felt good to be sitting outside in the warm, fresh morning air waiting for the bus. The 7:30 bus finally arrived at 8:15 but it took awhile to get all the waiting passengers to board and the obscene amount of luggage packed onto the roof, so we didn’t actually depart until closer to 8:40.
Even though the bus was one hour
late, I felt okay in regards to the timing, as it should have been about a 10-hour journey to Jammu. I would rather wait for my train in Jammu’s train station for an extra hour rather than sit here in Srinagar on the off chance something could delay my journey.
The driver of the very full bus was Sikh; he had his incense stick burning from a crack in the dashboard and shrieking, high-decibel Hindi music resonated from the dashboard player. There was a “No Smoking in the Bus” sign clearly posted above the dash. One thing I love about India is that the people actually take head and don’t smoke on the buses. It surely makes traveling in this country so much easier for a non-smoker and a smoking-hater such as myself.
The bus got to its first checkpoint around noon where I had to get off the bus and present my passport to an official sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine. He took down some information, asked where I had been, how long had I stayed in Shrinagar and the name of my houseboat or guesthouse. I signed a form, was dismissed with a wave
and the bus was soon on its way.
At 1pm a military truck pulling a bulldozer was creeping up the hill we were zipping down. I counted 45 cars and trucks he was holding up behind him. Our turn to wait came five minutes later but with over double - maybe triple – the amount of cars in front of my bus. The driver didn’t wait but 10 seconds before he jammed the wheel to the right and barreled past all the stopped lories on this particularly narrow stretch of road, without guardrails and high above a rushing river. A number of smaller vehicles – cars – did the same. After passing well over 100 vehicles, we too came to a stop. No one seemed to know what was going on ahead of us; all we knew was that the cars and trucks waiting had all turned off their engines. “That can’t be a good sign,” I thought to myself. I was told only that there was “a jam” and “a long queue.” Perhaps this is my sign if I don’t make my train that I had better do something else instead of head to the east (like head
The accident that caused hours of backlog on the journey to Jammu
straight to Nepal). I better make my train.
At 1:17pm a lorry, the first vehicle in ages to head up the hill, wanted to pass but we were stuck in the way. The smaller cars passed the uphiller on the right but we’re too wide of a vehicle for the truck to go around us. So we started backing up. We were soon on the farthest right shoulder with a steep drop off to the river below. Not good. Not good for the nerves. Many lorries soon passed. At least there was movement, but this narrow road above the river is not meant for three wide vehicles in a row.
1:21pm – now we’re stuck on the right side of the road, cars and lorries are passing us heading uphill on our left and at the far left of the road heading downhill (our direction as well) the vehicles are all inching forward.
1:22pm - three random cows/calves just passed between the uphill vehicles and us. Brave suckers. Ah, life in the mountains. Earlier, on numerous occasions, goat and sheepherders ambled along this dusty “National Highway” half on the
Accident that caused hours of backlog on the journey to Jammu
shoulder and half on the road.
We starting to inch forward at 1:27 and thought soon we will see what’s ahead of us causing this slowdown.
1:29 Ok, we tried moving from the far right lane to the far left one but no one was letting us in. We just now got through and we’re (sort of) making progress. A sign on the roadway, one of the many attempts at humorous passages, says “Smile and the world smiles with you.” HA! That is to say except in this country where that sign is posted. Smile here in India (especially at the men) and often all you get back are sinister stares or advances from the men who think you are interested in something more. An overly-friendly person in India must be cautious.
1:31 and we’re stopped again, at least this time the driver finagled his way onto the far left lane in between two lorries. Persistence. He’s not getting stuck on the far side again – he learned his lesson the last time.
1:45 the bus is starting up again after a long stop, yet again. We just passed a freshly dead horse in the drainage
This Also Slows Traffic In The Mountains
Surprisingly the majority get through unscathed
ditch as seen out my window. Crap, that makes me angry.
1:49 I think we’re going again now. Possibly for good this time, though I really don’t know for sure. It’s slow going, whatever it is.
1:52 We just passed a smashed-up truck that had crashed into the mountainside, its boxes and cargo spilled all over the side of the road next to it. It appeared the debris must have been cleaned up to some degree and thrown earlier to the side of the road (the military and a few trucks were there so no doubt they helped with that). It was definitely an accident from today and boy, what a mess and a crazy havoc this is causing in both directions. Just cause we’re past the “scene of the accident” doesn’t mean we’re home free.
1:57 and the driver has killed the engine once again. I really hope now that I make my train on time! Baring anything more happening, I should get there with plenty of time to spare for my 10:45pm train tonight (I hope, anyway). The one
good thing – I’m pretty sure – is that this bus stops first at the bus stand and then at the train station. At least I won’t have to deal with public transport and finding my way there in the dark, which is a good 3-4 KM from the bus stand.
At 3:15 we finally made it to a small town called Romlon, where the driver pulled over for a 25-minute break and we passengers all got out to stretch our legs.
Upon starting back up again, I was assured there was another 4-5 hours (ish) to go. As long as it is not later – or much later – than that or I am going to really start to get nervous. If it’ll be 5 hours, I could conceivably get to the train station by 9 or 9:30 and since my train is scheduled to leave at 10:45, that leaves me plenty of time. That’s not allowing much playing room for potential error, however. We’re still in the mountains and I think still have quite a bit of up and downhill climbing to do. Please, please, let me make my train!
After what I have seen today, I must decide whether or not I want to tackle these mountains again in the future: I have seen enough trucks and lorries in the ditches, smashed into the mountainsides, over the ravine and upside down. I have experienced ridiculously slow moving traffic and vehicles traveling far too fast for the curves, and it is really tiring on me. Stop, go, stop, go, STOP…apply brakes suddenly so as to NOT smash into the stopped vehicle in front of you. I know the driving is much the same as elsewhere in the country as well as much of South East Asia, but it always seems more dangerous when there are perilous cliffs and deep ravines to contend with. It’s quite a drive and I’d really like to see the Shrinagar-Kargil road in the daytime but with more time and fewer time restraints.
4:31pm We seemed to have made some good time and are climbing into yet another valley. We just came to a complete stop, however with at least five lorries and a tanker in view in front of us. What’s the hang up now? This so-called NH1A (National Highway) isn’t at all what I had expected, after numerous Indian and Kashmiris assured me it was a good road and I’d have nothing to worry about. Granted, in terms of it being paved and sign posted and even complete with guardrails and large stones on the drop offs – occasionally – it is the better road, however, with more stops, stalls, and other road incidents having occurred on this “good” stretch than the other two “bad” stretches (Manali to Leh and Leh to Kargil). This is also the only stretch where I have transport pending tonight, the night I am to reach the destination of this bus. Fingers crossed I make it in time.
4:42 and Jammu is still 125 KM.
7:45 SMACK! There was a head-on collision directly in front of us as the narrow road veered to the right. When the dust and the shock of what had just happened settled, the bus in which I was riding slowly passed the accident sight; it was then I noticed the entire front end of the smaller vehicle completely crumpled like an accordion. The front windshield had popped out and was lying on the road. Two cars passed us before my bus slowly crept past the horrific scene. No one checks on the victims of the accidents in this country. I could see the driver from my then open window and from what I could tell he looked or appeared to be okay, surprisingly, and thankfully.
My bus finally reached Jammu at 8:50pm, much to my delight, as I was starting to get a bit nervous not really knowing if I’d make it on time. At least now I’m in town and it shouldn’t be a problem any more to make it to the train station before my train departs. I do, however, need food!
Oh, I saw a few more smashed up cars on the side of the road earlier. That’s just more evidence of crazy driving and narrow roads and is enough for one day!
9:10pm and we arrived at the train station. 1/3 of the passengers that were still on the bus got off there. By 9:30 I was settled by the tracks on Platform 3, having emptied my bladder (relief!) and purchased dinner at the train station: three potato burgers with a ketchup packet (needed) included with each bun. At least they were only 15 Rs each, although the flat potato portion wasn’t much larger than a silver dollar.
Just as my ticket indicated, the neon sign above Platform 3 confirmed the estimated departure time as10:45. I plunked myself down amidst a sea of bodies and instantly felt I was back in India proper. I started to read and eat my pathetic dinner. At 10:05 I looked again at the neon sign, and noticed it had been changed to an ETD for 12:45am! Crap! That’s another two hours to wait, on top of the current 45 minutes left from the original departure time. I’m definitely going straight to sleep once on board the train, as this has been a rather long, tiring day. It is going to be a loooong wait! But, I guess, at least I’m waiting here now, although I feel like doing nothing but curling up and falling into a deep sleep.
The train arrived at 11:50 and it was a mad rush getting on, despite having an hour to board before departure. We left on time; well, on the new time, that is. I was the first to board my darkened carriage and repeatedly I had to keep checking to make sure it was indeed S2, as the number had only been scratched on the exterior metal wall of the train, not printed on. As usual, there was no placard to indicate the car number. Soon the lights came on and people flooded the carriage and then my compartment itself. For a few minutes I had foolishly thought I might have the compartment to myself for a while but that silly naive dream soon came to an abrupt halt. My compartment filled up with an oversized and overly loud Nepalese family. I finally closed the train window and tried to get some shuteye, some time around 2am. Onward to the far north eastern lands of India....
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