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...