As announced in the previous post, here is a story that I have never experienced in this form in my 31 years in India. The short version is this: we had wrong information about the departure time and place of a night bus to Shimla and tried to find it in time anyway. What exactly happened is worth describing in more detail.
Phase 1: Orientation and knowledge
According to the internet and the bus ticket, the bus was supposed to leave at 9 pm at the RK Ashram Marg metro station. So we arrived there about 25 minutes before and tried to find our way around. It was dark, it was hot, it was loud and it was crowded. People, cars, rickshaws were clustered around the metro station and at first sight we couldn’t find a place where a big bus could have parked. But you never know what kind of ideas they will get in India and so we trusted the information and started looking for the bus. We asked various Indians and they always gave us information. In principle, Indians always give information – but it is often not correct. Either they don’t know and politely don’t want to leave you with a shrug of the shoulders, or they sense their own monetary advantage and want to sell you something. We were sent here and there and got offers of rickshaw rides for a few 100 m where the bus would surely be. Realisation: no one really seems to know.
Phase 2: Phone calls
Next step: call the specified hotline. This was difficult because of the ambient noise and communication difficulties. At times I was not sure whether the person on the other end of the line spoke English and understood me. In any case, I didn’t really understand him. At what point do you give up on a phone call like that? Or would I somehow still get good information? I ended it at some point and called Prashant, who had got us the ticket. I understood him better on the phone. But he also had to do some research first. Looking for a quieter place, I noticed a building full of small offices of bus companies. Ours was not among them, but there was a helpful gentleman. He offered his quiet pleasant office and helped with phone calls. In the meantime, we had even got a bus driver’s number. English communication was difficult, the office man sensed a deal and passed on the info that the bus driver had already left and was 20 km away and he could offer us one of his buses that would leave in 1.5 hours. We saw through his intention and continued to talk on the phone, but remained friendly with each other. Finally – it was already after 9 pm – Prashant had all the information together: the bus never intended to leave from RK Ashram Marg, but was at the huge bus station Kashmir-Gate and would leave at 10 pm. That was only 6 km away and a rickshaw was a good idea, shortly before arrival we should call the bus driver, give the mobile phone to the rickshaw driver and he would direct him to the right place. That sounded simple and good.
Phase 3: the rickshaw ride
As I had no traffic problems on the outward journey and only the immediate vicinity of the metro station seemed relatively crowded, we hopefully boarded a rickshaw after price negotiations and set off. I don’t know if there were alternatives that the driver didn’t know about, but he drove right into the middle of an unbelievable tangle of people, transport vehicles without engines, transport vehicles with engines and packed large goods. These were being transported (on the vehicles or human heads) and unloaded and loaded. The road was narrow and everything moved forward millimetre by millimetre, but in different directions, creating even more entanglement. People tried to push their way through by honking loudly. It was hot. I vacillated between temporal restlessness, annoyance at the bus agency, senseless questioning of decisions, alternative plan thoughts and feeling pity for the lives people must lead. Slaving away daily in this conglomeration of heat (we were far from peak temperatures of 45°C), noise and polluted air for far too little money to be able to offer the family a few chapatis with rice. I was already at the edge of my strength during this short eternity.
Phase 4: Bus search
I continued to stay in contact with Prashant. Somehow the bus driver seemed to have changed, there was a new number. And then we had actually left the tangles behind us and were in the huge area of Kashmir Gate. There is a normal bus station with platforms where buses stop, but it is too small and many many buses are parked in the streets around it on the outskirts waiting for passengers. So how to find ours? I reached the bus driver and gave the mobile phone to our rickshaw driver. But he was afraid of having to communicate and refused. He asked various people and we were sent here and there. Not the correct bus to be seen. I kept trying with the bus driver – but his mobile was often busy. Eventually we were successful and I forced the mobile phone to the rickshaw driver’s ear and it worked. However, it was still not 100% clear to him where he should go – but the area is also extremely confusing. By now it was 10pm, but Prashant assured us that the bus would be waiting for us. And then I saw it! A bus from the right bus company! It just appeared on the side of the road! It had the wrong number plate though. But once I looked around and there was indeed our bus!
Final phase: departure
We got in, sank into the very reclining seats in cool air-conditioning and marvelled that we had actually made it. What a chain of experiences and people and decisions! Even though, for example, the rickshaw ride was a mistake on the one hand because of the tangled route and the metro would have been much faster, we were lucky with the driver who, despite everything, did not give up but wanted to deliver us to the correct bus. Without asking for extra money. Or simply forced us to get out because he had reached the stated destination of Kashmir Gate. And what a tangle of feelings happened in me during this time, with hope, anger, action, rational thinking, pulling myself together, pity, blame, gratitude for help, aggression at the noise (especially the pointless honking), confidence that it would somehow work out and relief that I didn’t have to go through it alone. I hadn’t experienced such an intense time as the one between arriving at the metro station and boarding the bus for a long time. It is still a mystery to me why the wrong departure information was on the internet and on the ticket.
The bus driver belonged to the kind of “maniac” who drives like crazy over the roads, so that one can get scared and anxious. But my feelings were used up anyway and I actually dozed off sometimes. And sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 we were actually in Shimla at 2,000 m above sea level. The air was pleasantly cooler and fresher, it was quieter and we first enjoyed coffee with breadomlette.
Would we now come to a kind of travelling calm? I can already say: not really…..