In my limited experience so far of travelling in India I can only describe it politely as “interesting”. In the seven weeks I’ve been here I’ve travelled by bus, train, taxi and tuk tuk, oh and by camel too! I’ve previously taken internal flights and I’ve yet to experience motor biking and cycling.
What to make of it all, its definitely different to travelling in Europe. The factors that contribute to the experience include Indian time which is not as precise as Western time; lack of clear signage, if any, indicating bus stops; difficulty booking tickets online if you are not Indian; excessive noise not just from the cronky, old vehicles and the constant horn blowing but from the drivers and passengers too; the ability of Indians to cram themselves together in small spaces and to think nothing of it; the taking and sharing of food with other passengers; the pollution and dirt from the overcrowded and often unmade roads; the total lack of health and safety awareness in terms of roadworthy vehicles and driving ability; very lax driving test requirements and if there are road rules nobody knows them or totally ignores them and the lack of cleanliness despite best efforts.
Does that give you a bit of an idea as to the challenges a Westerner faces when travelling around this vast country? If you are thinking that you’ve experienced similar in Europe then imagine it being at least ten times worse.
So travelling here is definitely not for the fainthearted, a sense of adventure and a whole lot of trust that it’s not your time to leave this earth is needed! I keep reminding myself the age a clairvoyant said I would be when I shuffled off the mortal coil, however I should have also asked what state my body would be in 🤣🤣.
My second trip on a bus was the community bus from the ashram to Jodhpur. The driver drove like a man possessed until half way through the journey we stopped for a break and after some chai and food his driving was less suicidal! I sat at the front of the bus alongside two ladies one of which asked me a number of questions which included “Do you have anything from abroad you could give me?” and “Could I have your mobile number?” A firm “No” was my response to both questions. One thing I am learning fast here is to set boundaries very quickly and to be very assertive when behaviour is not acceptable. I’m sure being in my more mature years is also helping me in this respect but it’s not something I’ve been able to do easily up until now.
It was a fairly uncomfortable journey not just because of the numerous occasions I thought we were all going to die at the hands of this dangerous driver (especially when he was also talking or texting on his mobile) or because of the impertinent questions from the young Indian lady, or because of the continuous stares of other passengers and them trying to surreptitiously take my photo but also because of the hard seat and doing some luggage juggling. But hey I’m here to tell the tale and it was preparation for what was yet to come….
Travelling by tuk tuk is quite hilarious once you’ve been in one a few times, think whacky races on steroids. It’s like a dance the way all the different modes of transport and people on foot weave their way along the roads. Everyone honks their horns constantly as a way of letting other vehicles or pedestrians know they are there but no one takes a blind bit of notice. Everyone seems to try to go as fast as they can darting and weaving about but there’s so much traffic in the cities and towns that you don’t get very far and it’s a constant stopping and starting. The near misses are happening in every moment but someone always gives way right at the last millisecond. We had a few fun moments when with friends it became a bit of a tuk tuk race.
Train journeys are interesting too, particularly the cockroaches which gave us all a surprise on Sunday as we travelled from Pushkar to Delhi. We were on the train for around 7.5 hours which felt long enough to me but apparently the train kept going for three days!!!!! Can you imagine being on a train for three days, some journeys are even longer? Taking overnight trains and buses are quite common amongst the travelling community but I personally don’t feel drawn to it just yet. I doubt I would get a wink of sleep, worrying about my stuff getting taken or worse still a cockroach up your nose or in your ears 😳😳!!!
After this long train ride and a week of being on the road with a group of friends from Europe (blog on that adventure coming soonish) I was getting pretty desperate for some peace and quiet and to get into nature. However India decided she’d just give me another blast of craziness before I could do that. Bus journey number four and I thought I’d got it all sussed and it would be a breeze, what could possibly go wrong. Lesson learned, do not expect any travelling to go as planned, know that no two journeys in India will have any similarities.
Where to start and how not to bore you with what felt like an epic journey. Shortened version is couldn’t find the bus and with a ton of luggage to carry and departure time imminent a bit of flustered panic set in. Bus found but wasn’t impressed with it’s appearance, even less impressed when I managed to get on it as it had lots of sleeper cabins and felt a bit claustrophobic. Left about an hour later than planned and seemed to take forever to get out of Delhi. Consequently ETA moved forward by an hour to 7pm and then later in the journey to 8pm – this is totally normal apparently Constant horn honking by the driver at times, not conducive to sleep but other passengers clearly used to it. Noticed that the door between the passengers and driver could only be opened by someone in the driver area, not a good feeling for claustrophobic tendencies 😳.
On a positive note the guy in front didn’t recline his seat (suspect it was broken) and a had a petite young Indian lady sit next to me. Also I managed to fall asleep for about an hour which helped time go more quickly and also shifted a niggling headache. Loo stop quite acceptable and although the sleeper cabins started to turn into sardine tins (my worse nightmare) thankfully there were only a few people standing in the aisle.
Confusion reigned when we got to Haridwar, 14km from where we were supposed to be getting dropped off and still 21km from my guesthouse, when we were told to get off the bus. In hindsight I should have got on another bus that was going to the location I’d booked but lots of helpful and I’m sure well intentioned Indians decided I should get a tuk tuk to my final destination. Now 7 or 8kms in a tuk tuk in the city is quite long enough but 21kms in the freezing cold and on the bumpiest roads ever (due to roadworks) is total madness. And that’s exactly what it was – we changed tuk tuk part way, picked up and dropped off other passengers along the way (interesting prompt from the Universe on the Bhagavad Gita – more on that another time), driver no idea where we were going and then the roads on google maps (I became the navigator) turned into dirt roads and to cap it all the tuk tuk broke down. Yes I kid you not just 2km from the farm house we stopped the engine so that I could speak to the farmhouse manager and then next news the driver started lifting up a seat and with a cheerful smile on his face pointed to a broken frayed cable which sparked when he put it near metal. Deep joy 🙄. It’s at this point that I remembered the wise words of Eckhart Tolle whom I’d been listening to on the journey. When faced with a challenging situation you have three choices:
1) Step away, remove yourself from the situation or;
2) Surrender or;
Clearly I couldn’t remove myself from the situation, here I was in the middle of nowhere, 9.15pm and still 2km from my final destination. Now suffer, yes there were definitely waves of frustration and utter incredulity but when I realised the negativity arising I remembered the other option – surrender. So I chose to laugh at the ridiculouslness of the situation rather than get angry and so I smiled back at my tuk tuk driver and held the phone torch over the engine whilst he fixed it.
The final part of this epic journey to some peace and quiet was off roading in the tuk tuk as we followed the farmhouse host on his motorbike to our final destination. Bless him the driver was now incredulous and complained he was really cold so I lent him my pink shawl to wrap around his head. Then he was happy again and the smile returned. After bargaining the price down at the start of the tuk tuk ride I felt compelled to give more as a way of thanking the driver for his persistency in getting me to my final destination and in one piece!
Earlier that day whilst having a little wander around Delhi an older man came up to me and after a few minutes of conversation mentioned that he had a fleet of cars and did I want a taxi to Rishikesh – just 3,500 rupees so around £38 (without bargaining) for 225km. Boy was I kicking myself now for not pursuing that option but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as much fun or would it…… 🤣🤣
Ps sorry no photos just yet as having trouble uploading them 🙏