Stop this bus!


Like all great adventures, many of the lasting memories come from the journeys we make. Boat, camel, canoe, you name it- there is a story waiting to be written. Three incredible weeks in India with my travel buddy and friend Cara, gave us our fair share of memorable journeys. Picture the scene, Cara's 24th birthday, 50 degree heat, a 6-8 hour journey (no one knows) on a non air conditioned bus through the desert to Jodphur. Arriving with our bags laden, water bottles filled, books at the ready, and spirits already dampened from reports of India's worst bus route, we pilled onto our chariot. Our new friend, and third musketeer Rich kindly, or stupidly said he would make the journey with us, so as the three of us made our way to the back row seats, we forced polite smiles and positive words. With no breeze, over 50 people already on board, and no sign of moving, we looked at each other as if to say, "What are we thinking?"

Eventually we moved, only to stop to allow more passengers illegally on to fill the aisles, passing backhanders to old driver. There goes the leg room! As we began to climb up the steep hillsides, city turned to cliffs, street vendors to herding farmers, and overbearing buildings to make-shift village huts. The blue skies with clouds like candyfloss turned to a grey blanket draped over the very direction we were headed in. And with that, the clouds let go of their heavy burden and rained down on the barren and dusty lands. Complete, if not short lived relief, as the fat droplets snuck in through the windows and cracks in the bus to cool us weary travellers down. However the lower temperature was not to remain and the sun was once again scorching down on us.

While we were on our bone shaking, head banging, sweat inducing journey, we struck up conversation with an Indian family, with two children, a boy of 7 and a girl of 4. "Aww, how cute" we said as we waved at the little girl, who promptly smacked her brother, and shot death glares our way. He told us, "She is a very naughty girl, and wants to hit you and make you bleed."
"Oh, how charming!" was our response, as we backed away, checking for potential weapons, and locating our nearest exit. Five hours into this bone re-arranging, scary child journey, we needed the bathroom. Rich asked, "Will be stopping to use a toilet and get some food at any stage my friend?" which sadly got lost in translation. We can only imagine the message was something along the lines of, "The white people have a toilet related emergency going on back here!"
Screeching to a halt, we to discover everyone was pointing to the side of the road. All that I heard as I walked forward was Rich asking, "And for the ladies?" I think we all know the answer to that my friend.
So, in polite British fashion, not wanting to appear ungrateful, I confidently marched over to a sand dune to maintain my dignity, calling to Cara to keep look out, (names have not been changed to maintain anonymity as she deserves to be embarrassed too!) She rudely denied my cry for help, and left me to fend for myself so as not to be seen by the 60 on looking passengers. After much cursing, humiliation, and fear I would disturb a nest of cobras, I hung my head and returned. With full bladders and totally embarrassed, we got on again. Women maintain a low profile in India, so you can imagine the looks we got for that stunt, not least from scary child.
"No, I am not ready to laugh yet," I said as Rich comforted me, totally mortified, wishing I never got on the bus, drank that last litre, or lost my dignity in front of our new friend and half of India.
No more than 10 minutes later, we stopped at a shop and toilet! “Are you kidding me?” I asked old driver, “A toilet!” He just looked confused and said, “Yes madam.”
After the last thirsty, uncomfortable, awkward miles were over, we slumped off and into our hotel. Having dinner we toasted birthday buses, desert humiliation, and reflected on a trip from hell. In hindsight it actually brought us closer and gave us a laugh, but at the time all I was thinking was, “STOP THIS BUS!”



H Birtwistle

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