Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Bus to Mount Abu

Beware of overnight VIP luxary buses that only charge 150 rupees (3 dollars), as they are probably crappy, and in no way worthy of the name VIP.

Alas, There isn't much demand for direct travel from Bhuj to Mount Abu (or anywhere near it), so I had to deal with what was available: a choice between a government bus (no frills, no way jose) or a private bus.

In a western country, on a semi-empty bus, people would follow the urinal rule (i.e. two men in a toilet will stand as far as physically possible from each other). You would imagine that on a large bus with 2-3 people on it, that each would take their own part of the bus, and stretch out.

Not so in India. The other passengers took turns sitting next to me, so they could look over my shoulder and fail to understand my book, smoke bidis (crappy cigarettes) within wafting distance, and worse, unveil their foul unwashed sock-covered feet. Ok, they were hocking loogies too, but after any time in India, everyone starts to do this - so I can't begrudge them of this.

I didn't want to say anything, as I know they were only being nice - they wanted to sit next to me, and hopefully chat. So I did the next best thing. I moved to another seat.

Eventually, the guys driving the bus took pity on me, and offered me refuge in the cab at the front of the bus. And so, while the rest of the passengers were attempting to sleep in seats only slightly less comfortable than Pan Am economy class, I was stretched out (or rather, curled up in a fetal position), lying horizontal, in a bed-ish padded surface usually occupied by one of the bus-staff. Nice guys, eh?


It's worth taking an aside here to discuss a few things.

There are 3 kinds of busses one can take:

Government busses - no frills, shaky, no suspension whatsoever, mechanical noises, no legroom, seats rigid (with little in the way of padding), no reserved seating, and rarely room for luggage. Ok for day journeys, but after 5-6 hours, it becomes pretty rough.

Half-VIP busses - like the ones I took last night. Has -some- level of suspension, thus protecting you from some of the bumps in the road. Seats will also go back a bit.

Full VIP bus (expect to pay 600-800 rupees for a night journey). A/C, DVD player showing a movie, amazing soft suspension, and noise-padding, so you don't hear the driver's horn nearly so loudly.

What I really want is a Half-VIP bus - as it's usually cold enough on a night journey that A/C is worse than useless. However, even on the half-VIP bus, somehow, they have the money for a sound-system, and so the driver will boom out hindu music at least half of the night (if he is kind), or all night long (in normal cases).

The suspension is worth paying a bit extra for..

Now, for rest stops.

The more you pay for your bus, the more expensive the food will be at the rest area you stop at. A government bus will stop at a chai stall in the middle of the road with no toilet facilities, and a VIP bus will stop somewere with toilets, and expensive chai and food.

You see loads of rest areas, so I could never quite figure out how our driver was choosing which one to go to. Clearly, there was some kind of kickback/backsheesh involved - but I wasn't sure if the driver got it, or the bus company.

Last night, after stopping for 15 minutes at a 2AM rest stop, our drive came back into the cab with a big grin on his face, and started muttering about indian women.
Clearly, in addition to selling chai and food, this upmarket VIP rest-area had some kind of make-shift brothel which was used to encourage the drivers to stop there...



Eventually, at 5AM, we pulled up to Palanpur, to a cold, dark city. The nice bus driver walked me first to the government bus stand, and later to the train station - so that I could catch an onward train to Abu Road...

I then took a 2 hour train (50km) to Abu Road, and then caught a shared jeep (lovely suspension, but absolutely no leg room at all) up to Mount Abu - where I've been for the last couple hours.

I don't actually remember sleeping last night - just tossing and turning, in between freezing my ass off, and so I'll be taking it easy today.

I really do need to buy some warm clothes today, as it's freezing cold here, and I only have a shawl to keep me warm

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