“This is going to be a terrible journey” – Dutch Lady, 2010
Our first true bus trip – a straightforward journey through the plains of Himachal rendered abysmal by mechanical failings, terrifying driving styles, and annoying fellow passengers.
We started off the morning with a relaxing sprint down a complex series of pee-stained alleys to the Shimla bus station. We got on the bus, met the Dutch Lady, who offered us a chance out of our impending travesty of a ride, and popped some Immodium just to make sure we wouldn’t have to set foot in any roadside bathrooms along the way. We suddenly realized that we’d harassed the Dutch Lady the day before, shouting, “Where ya goin’ whitey?” to her on the street. But thankfully she didn’t remember. All was well.
Within an hour, we were hurtling along hairpin, cliffside turns with Devon snapping away at the scrubby hills, and Steve shutting his eyes and trying to think of nicer places to be. Suddenly the bus lurched to a halt and steam and smoke exploded out from a portal near the driver. After fifteen minutes we had managed to crawl to a mechanics’, but instead of actually fixing the bus, the driver and conductor simply stuck a slowly dripping hose into the engine and told everyone that we were having an impromptu rest.
We also had an impromptu return to the trip, which caught Dutch Lady and her asian seatmate, Singapore Sally, off guard as they squatted behind a roadside dhaba. Devon snapped one of them racing back onto the bus – which we stopped for them, by the way. So we’d had a setback, but we were heroes, and Steve had found a happy place to go to, and all was well.
The best was yet to come, for around three in the afternoon, when we should’ve been within an hour or two of our charming mountainside destination but were instead stuck somewhere in the middle of barely habitable wastelands, the bus took a very violent turn on a flat, very manageable road. Performing a maneuver pithily described by stunt drivers as “going on two wheels instead of four”, the bus driver elicited squeals of delighted horror from all the passengers. He’d brought us the ultimate thrill, but he had to pay the ultimate price, which was a flat tire that took over an hour to fix in a dusty one-dhaba town. Steve was stressed out, Devon had snuck a high-powered beer during lunch so he didn’t care, but both were able to catch up with the other English speaking passengers.
There was the gruff and gloomy Dutch Lady, obviously, and Singapore Sally, who had little to offer on the gender-appropriate hair and conversation front, and some weird woman from Canada who had spent way too much time in Nepal. The Canadian had purchased two seats up front, so that she could keep her luggage up there with her instead of leaving it on the roof and making it subject to flying away (she should have made her own Nebraska Pact, then she wouldn’t have to worry). She was disappointed, for this pretty smart though expensive plan had been sabotaged by the front of the bus becoming 115 degrees, thanks to the engine constantly overheating…. lol!
Before long we were back up and running with nary a problem save the bus still overheating every half hour. By nightfall we found ourselves creaking into Dharamsala, ready to meet up with our Couch Surfing contact Vicky. You see, we had this all planned out – fairly cheap bus trip, then free lodging – piece of cake. The next day we’d be working on a WWOOF farm, not paying for food or lodging or anything (click here to see how that illusion was destroyed)!!! We hadn’t been able to contact Vicky all day, but we finally got hold of him near our stop, “Oh, sorry, yeah, I’m about 200km away right now. I won’t be back tonight.” But thankfully he had a friend who would be able to help us out, and he told us the friend would be able to meet up with us in Mcloud Gainj.
And meet up with us he did. And that’s all he did. Well, he told us, “Hi, I’m Vicky’s friend”, and then said, “yeah, there’s guesthouses all around here. Ok, bye.”
So, in summation: Bad bus, bad company, bad delays, and bad surprises at our arrival. The consummate Indian transportation experience.