Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bus From Hunger

I really wanted to take a train in India, but there are not many trains to and from Udaipur, so I had to settle for the bus. I figured that was another important experience to be had.

Important, maybe, but not pleasant. I won't be repeating it.

There are many private bus companies (ie. the nicer buses, sadly) and you just have to find one and reserve a ticket. There was a ticket-booking place outside my hotel. Nothing goes directly to Jaisalmer from Udaipur, so I had to change buses in Jodhpur, but I bought the ticket for the entire journey. The ticket cost a little over $10.

The bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30pm. At 9:30, a group of about 15 foreigners had collected (from my count, at least 5 from the UK, 4 from Spain, 1 from Australia, and a gaunt weird-looking couple with interesting clothing and smoker's teeth who sounded like they were speaking Portuguese and seemed fairly crazy). We were told to pick up our bags and walk. We crossed a large, dangerous street, and no one from the bus company seemed to be looking back to make sure a foreigner hadn't been squashed trying to dodge cars wearing heavy packs. We continued down a road in the dark, stepping in puddles and over garbage. Being a large group, we took up a significant portion of the road, and the cars honked and swerved. We kept having to cross and turn and I wondered if we had lost anyone yet, but I couldn't risk turning around and getting squashed myself. The walk seemed to go on forever - it was almost funny. I heard the Spaniards wonder aloud why they didn't just tell us to meet where the bus was parked in the first place.

The bus was a sleeper bus, and there were seats, but those of us (all foreigners) who had bought a sleeper ticket were assigned to a coffin-like compartment above the seats. Some were doubles, for 2 people traveling together, but mine was a single. There was just enough room to lie down, and I wonder if very tall people would fit even lying down. You could not sit up, and sometimes the bumps in the road made you fly up and hit the ceiling. When the bus swerved left or right, which was constantly, you were thrown against the sidewalls of the plastic coffin. This lasted 7 hours.

It didn't look as if it was cleaned all that often, so I was glad that I had my own travel sheets. There was no AC, and the plastic coffins were a bit stuffy, so you could open the window, but that had its own complications. I left mine open a crack.

After about 3 hours on the bus, I wondered if I had to pee. Which usually means that I do, but I'm in denial. There was no bathroom on the bus, and the staff didn't seem too friendly. I didn't think they would take a request for a bathroom break very well, if they understood it at all. The bus stopped at one point, and the British guy across from me hopped up, desperate to urinate. I followed him out, but not fast enough. He managed to dash across the street to a gas station, but I was more timid, and while the nicer bus attendants said I could go across the street, I was worried about being left behind by the bus. Then a meaner attendant stopped me from crossing and said "No bathroom! Can go here, all around, anywhere." Right, yes. Great idea. A woman traveling alone in the middle of the night surrounded by rude leering men is going to expose herself and squat next to the bus.

So I got back on the bus and hoped for another stop, which never came. I tried for mind over matter. Denial worked a bit, and I managed to fall asleep on occasion, only to be awakened a few minutes later by a bump or a swerve. The time went by very, very slowly and I reconciled myself to the fact that I would be very, very tired when I reached Jaisalmer. I also made peace with my bladder and embraced the pain. By the time we reached Jodhpur, at 5am, I couldn't even tell if I had to pee anymore, although I was pretty sure I did.

I asked one of the Spaniards to guard me - I've heard some stories - and I ducked into these cement stalls that looked like roadside bathrooms. I'm not sure what there were, since there didn't seem to be any sort of urinal or hole, but they reeked of urine, so I figued I wasn't the first. I ducked and peed. Sorry for the TMI, but the volume of urine I had held in was astounding.

Since it was so early in Jodhpur, we were the only people at the bus stop. There also didn't seem to be a bus stop, just a corner. I had worried about this bus change - how would i know where to go? What time was the next bus leaving? What if they made me buy a new ticket? What if there was no bus to Jaisalmer? But it turned out to be surprisingly easy: when we arrived, there was another bus waiting, and nothing else to be found anywhere, except a guy with a cart selling chai, and a couple of guys standing around with him for apparently no reason.

Of course, nothing can actually go smoothly. We were barked at on arrival - "Jodhpur! Hurry up! Off the bus! Next bus leaving! Bus to Jaisalmer leaving!" We unloaded our stuff from the first, but and put it onto the second. Then we waited around for over an hour with no explanation. No one even bothered asking or complaining. We just all sat and waited outside, since it was too hot inside the bus.

We had all been instructed that the first bus would be a sleeper bus, and the second a sitting bus. But this new bus also had sleeping compartments, which confused us. On the first bus, while the tourists slept in the compartments, the seats were filled with Indians. This time, we were all assigned seats, and then the remaining seats were filled with Indians, and then the Indians who came later began to filled the sleeper sections (which were bigger on this bus and you could sit up easily) at random. Then there was a game of musical chairs, especially with the 4 Spaniards, some of whom decided they wanted to be in a sleeper, or on the roof, or whatever, and so an Indian person would come and sit where the Spaniard used to be. When the Spaniard got back, his seat was taken, so he went somewhere else, and it seemed at every stop, there was swapping and moving and confusion.

The seat in front of me, occupied by the Australian, was broken and leaned so far back that his head was nearly in my lap. Whatever. At this point I was so hot, dirty and exhausted that I could barely register anything. Thankfully, I had a good book.

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