A short guide to How to Travel by Bus in India. Although I’ve only been backpacking in India for a very short time, I’ve developed a few conclusions about bus travel in India.
Aisle vs. Window – It can be quite difficult to decide whether you want a window seat or an aisle seat. Of course, with the window seat, you have the option of an open window and fresh air. However, you are also within spitting distance of the many camels roaming around the streets. You will also get a lungful of exhaust from all of the other modes of transportation passing by the window. On the other hand, the aisle, which can be stuffy without the fresh breeze blowing through your hair, can give you a bit more leg room. You just have to be prepared to have your toes stepped on and various objects shoved in your face whenever new passengers load or unload.
The luggage dilemma – Be wise when choosing where to stow your luggage. There is always the option to throw your packs on top of the bus, where the chicken crates are haphazardly tied and a stray stowaway might be sitting. I feel safer (and my OCD stays calmer) when I can see my bags at all times, but sometimes throwing them to the porters is your only option (and have a spare rupee available for tipping). Upper racks inside the bus are your best bet. Even better if you carry a padlock with combination to super-secure your personals. I often secure my bag to the seat or wrap the wire through the racks above me. Last resort? Stick the pack on your lap. It will be uncomfortable, hot and heavy after five hours on a bus, but your personal items will be safe and sound.
Danger of falling objects – Be wary of other passenger’s beloved items that could be stored near or above you. I’ve been lucky to sit underneath a basket housing a green snake (I did not move, nor speak, nor breath during that trip), a stalk of bananas (which actually kept me fed because every time we hit a bump, a banana fell in my lap), and a child – an actual child who squatted on the rack above my head and very nearly peed on me.)
Road rage 101 -Nobody slows down for anything here – nothing! We came across 500 sheep in the middle of the road and our driver swerved right on over into the other lane…directly into the path of oncoming traffic without so much as a hiccup of hesitation. We blew through pot-holes, ran over hay bales, and practically floated through a slightly medium-ish river. My fellow passengers seemed calm and collected, while I had white knuckles from gripping the headrest in front of me. Also a highlight is that many of Indian passengers get horrible cases of motion sickness – just a warning.
Driver camaraderie– If the driver is given the option of stopping every 1/2 hour for a ‘small’ break, he will do so. He will probably wander off for a bit, run into one of his childhood friends among the cluster of men playing cards and sitting in the middle-of-nowhere spot along the unpaved road. Your driver will then spend the next 20 minutes chatting and drinking chai while you wait nicely on the bus, swatting flies, sweating and silently praying that child who crawled on your lap to inspect your necklace does not pee on you. (Can you tell this has happened before?)
Bring your own chiropractor – Buses must…MUST… make a special effort to hit every bump, nook, and cranny on the road to ensure that the ride is most enjoyable. For the passenger, it is hard to decide what to pay more attention to…trying to stay in your seat while you swerve around corners and around mountain passes, keep an eye on the bags that are teetering on the edge of the baggage compartment over your head and praying that the thing doesn’t come down on your head, or trying to keep your stomach calm and breakfast down. However, this wasn’t the case with the child sitting on my lap- poor babe lost his lunch all over my pants and inside my shoes. I forgot to mention that it was an 8 hour bus ride. I appreciated my shower last night.