It doesn’t take long to find out that travel plans usually don’t work out in this country. Actually it is better to not make any, as life knows better than you and India takes you where you have to be by its own ways.
I found out that studying a map of India and marking the routes to the destinations you want to reach in a scheduled time, even if it represents only a rough idea of what you want to see, is pretty useless; unless you want to spend more time in a vehicle than in your destination.
Where I come from it takes about one hour to make 100 km by road; in India the same distance takes approximately the triple of time, at least if you decide to travel in the cheapest way, which is the local bus.
We took the local Bus from Rishikesh to the state of Himachal. I wanted to do the “real” thing and had prepared myself mentally for a nine-hour trip. But when we arrived at the bus stop and I saw the tin can in which I would be sitting for longer than it takes from Europe to New Delhi, my spirit of adventure sunk drastically.
First of all the driver lit an incense stick and performed a fast puja to the little Ganesh Statue that was glued to the dashboard, adorned with blinking fairy lights and dusty plastic flowers. Ganesh, the elephant god and remover of all obstacles…
Was this a good or a bad sign?
As we took off, I marveled at the systemless traffic chaos, which somehow seems to always work out fairly well. Despite off all the honking and random passing maneuvers you get pretty soon used to the wild driving style and don´t bother about it anymore.
For the next couple of hours I chatted with Baba and enjoyed watching the landscapes rushing by. The plastic seats though were anything but comfortable and soon my behind demanded a little break from all the up and down bumping. The driver though showed no signs of intention to stop for a break.
“Only” seven more hours to go!
Suddenly I noticed that a man a couple of seats in front of us lifted his pinky to the air. Shortly after the bus stopped on the road side and several men got off to obey nature’s call. I had my doubts that my funny guess was correct, but Baba confirmed:
Yes! If you have to pee really badly, use the official pinky mudra and the bus will stop!
I tried to sleep. Not easy, when there are rusty screws sticking out from everywhere. The slide window was shaking loudly and cold air blew on my neck through the gaps. I tried to close it several times, but soon gave up, as each time it opened again after only a couple of minutes.
When I finally managed to doze off the bus stopped for a food break in a motorway dhaba. The conductor directed the driver into a narrow parking gap by blowing his shrill whistle as hard as possible.
During these stops I normally have to choose between eating food, finding and using the toilet (this mostly also needs some mental preparation) or smoking a cigarette. I never manage to do all of it and as soon as I scoop the first spoon of rice into my mouth, while everybody else already has finished their plate in a matter of seconds, the conductor whistles for departure.
Soon we reached the hill area, which is a danger zone. Not only because of the poor road conditions, but also because there are always a few people getting sick on the bus. Be careful if you feel like sticking your head out of the window to breath in some fresh air; you risk to get hit by someone’s vomit right in the face. The bus however drives on cheerfully from bend to bend, while people with green faces lean out of the windows trying to resist the gravity which tosses them back and forth.
Apropos, avoid leaning against a local bus during breaks, the result will probably be some nasty stains on your clothes…
Five hours had passed. I felt drained, my body hurt and my thoughts were turning darker and darker. Sleeping was impossible; at least for me. Everybody else, inclusive Baba, did not seem to have any problems. Some people, who got on the bus at the last stop, didn’t get any seat and somehow managed to sleep even while standing in the corridor. I obviously was the only person having an inner struggle. Even the small children did not complain and slept soundly on their parents’ laps.
I felt stupid, what was wrong with me?
It helped a little when I tried to concentrate on my breath. I released my anger and watched my thoughts wandering from here to there. I noticed, that they became pretty creative, many ideas and conclusions came into my mind.
This was a good way to spend the time!
I remembered a story a backpacker couple told me once about their local bus ride experience: It was wintertime and a big stone hit the windshield causing a huge crack. There was still half of the distance to go. The bus stopped and they expected the driver to call someone to fix the window or to exchange the bus. Instead he picked up a stone from the side of the street and broke down the entire windowpane. That was all. The bus went off again, as if nothing had happened. No one complained.
Tired but thankful we eventually reached our destination. I like to take my time when I arrive somewhere and stay at least a couple of weeks. First of all to get to know the place in a relaxed manner and second, because I need at the minimum three days to recover from the trip and three days more to get prepared mentally for the next one.
In this backpacker lesson I learned that the secret is to accept situations you cannot change anyways; and of course,
the mysterious meaning of the pinky mudra!