Prelude To - The Bus Ride From Hell: The Time I Caught A 'Sleeper' Bus In India

in travel •  2 months ago


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On the face of it, it sounded like a great idea. A trip to a new city, and a night's accommodation, all in one! What's not to like?

As it turned out, plenty. And having caught a number of long distance buses in India before this point, I really should have known better.

Indian buses weren't renowned for their comfort levels, or much of anything really. Bare metallic shells, filled with bench seats containing the bare minimum of cushioning, these things weren't fit for a trip to the local chowk, let alone a couple of hundred kilometers to the next town. Having recently come from Turkey, where the buses were a class above first class, I was in for a rough time in India.

My first bus trip in India was from the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, to a sleepy little beach town called Ganpatipule, 375 km to the south. With thoughts of sun, sand, and bamboo shacks right on the beach, 375 km would be a breeze. Even in this metallic relic seemingly from the 1950s.

Well, I was quickly set straight on that notion. For a start, the trip would take nine and a half hours. Sorry, what did you just say? Yes, nine and a half hours! How is that even possible? How can a long distance bus go that slow (that's 40 km/hr average)? To this day I still can't quite explain why bus and train trips in India take so long. It seems like you are going fast, never stopping for long. Yet they take inexplicable lengths of time to complete. Still, though, I'd done 24 hour bus trips before, so I could surely handle nine and half hours.

That confidence lasted about three minutes. The bus, apparently, had no suspension. Driving over potholes, of which there were many in India, delivered a punch to the kidneys that even Mike Tyson would be proud of. The wafer-thin cushioning on the seat barely dampening hit after painful hit. And as if that wasn't bad enough, our ears were assailed with the sound of window panes crashing into the bare metal frames which loosely held them in place. Every pothole was an assault on kidneys and ears.

And it just got worse from there. Driving over hills on rocky dirt roads, the abuse to the body became almost biblical. Depressingly, I was the only person on the bus who outwardly seemed affected by this crime against humanity. I guess the locals were used to this sort of thing, and probably had to catch this bus regularly. To be honest, I was angry at the thought that the state allowed people to be subject to such abuse.

I arrived at Ganpatipule battered and bruised, and was glad to secure a beach-front tent in amongst the palm trees. After a few days rest, and clearly not learning from my previous experience, I was soon booking the next bus leg of my journey. Having been kicked out of my tent on Christmas Eve (a whole other story), I was soon back on a bus to the town of Panaji in the state of Goa. To be honest, I don't even remember that trip. I suspect PTSD. Either that or I slipped into a merciful coma. But it must have been bad, as my camera shook itself to pieces in my luggage.

All of this, however, was just a prelude to The Bus Ride From Hell. A trip that was to leave those of us who made it questioning our sanity. To this day I'm still not sure whether I dreamed the whole thing...

To be continued...

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What an adventure! From what I've seen on TV, I have a rough idea of what you endured.

But, was there any other way to get there? Probably not.

I'm sorry about your camera. Rough loss...

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Thanks @trincowski. I think there was a train option for one of those trips, but I think the bus was quicker and cheaper, so being the cheapskate I went for the buses. On my last trip to India a couple of years ago I went on mostly trains. Apart from the dodgy buses, being on Indian roads is really taking your life into your hands. It's scary..

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Pfff... From what I've seen, trains are an even worse nightmare, specially for women. They get grabbed, squeezed, harassed... and they can't do a thing about it. For us men it's not as bad but it's not an easy ride.

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Yeah, being a female traveller in India would be a challenging experience, I would imagine.

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Hi Jagsa. No, I'm from Australia. I do love travelling to India, though. ;)

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Oh....! It's ohk

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@revo I love how you narrate your stories. Can't wait for the second part. That bus sure does sound like hell hahaha. I did live 2 years in India so I totally understand and feel you.

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Thanks for the kind comment @gabyoraa. Lived in India for 2 years...! Wow. That must have been an experience.

What a story! I've never been to India but if I would ever go I would never take a bus.. I've learned from your experience :D Looking forward to the second part!

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Thanks mate. :)

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For a reason, your story makes me think of an astronaut who had been in space himself. When asked how much his experience had changed him, he said that it would have been one of the most extraordinary experiences of his life and he would never forget it again. But he also said that the humility of this experience would not last long and that once you were comfortably back in your earthly womb, old habits would soon be restored.
Although I believe that this is true, I also think that experiences like his and yours leave a lasting impression and change something in one through their strong contrast to our accustomed everyday life.

Furthermore, I truly enjoyed reading and your charming way of exaggeration to paint an adequate picture of your physical and mental situation. I myself probably wouldn't have lasted two hours on the Bus of Horror. I bow before your will to take this strain on you and I hope very much for your purified soul after all this hardship. LOL! I hope you understand the humorous allusion to the intention of attaining wisdom.

Sometimes I wish I was a man and young enough to try such pedestrian travel. So I'm happy to read stories like yours to at least feel a little like I'm out abroad myself. Thank you!

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Thanks for the great comment. What they say about time healing all wounds is true, as I can already picture myself taking more of these sorts of bus trips just to save a buck or two. Or perhaps a more apposite saying would be "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome each time"... :)

On my last trip to India I took another overnight sleeper bus trip, despite the horror of the one hint at here (and will write about in a future article). When I was booking and they said it was a sleeper bus my fight or flight instinct kicked in and I nearly had a conniption at the booking office. Haha. But in the intervening 20 years the sleeper bus has been upgraded it seems, and thankfully it wasn't anywhere near as bad as the one I took 20 years earlier. It was still a strange experience, though. Lying in a coffin sized chamber on a bus hurtling down the highway at night in India, randomly positioned on (and off) the road, is still a fraught experience.. ;)

LMAO. Another journey I have put on my list of what not to do.🤣

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Glad you liked the story. :) Thankfully these days the buses are a little bit better (although, I think you can still get old clunkers like this one). But if you want to bus in luxury, go to Turkey. It's next level there.

you have got to ask them if it's a volvo bus or not?

Volvo bus translates to bus with proper seating and AC during the summer...I was born and brought up in India and even I wouldn't dare take a 9 hour trip in those regular buses...

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Haha, good advice. Tata - no, Volvo - yes. :)

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you got it now...also don't be fooled by signs/emblems at the front of bus..they sell mercedez/volvo logos at the grey market...

unless you step in the bus and can see the inside...don't pay for ticket

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hahaha :)