Goa to Hampi (Hospet)
Our biggest mistake was getting on another bus. I knew it at the time, but it was the cheapest and easiest option. A private car would have cost a fortune. The train station in Goa was a two hour drive North from our beach, and Hampi was a 6 hr. drive to the East. So to get to Hampi, we got on another bus.
It just occurred to me that a map of Southern India might be useful to see where we traveled and all that. At least I would be driven mad to read the opaque names of cities and have no real clue where they are. So here are two links to reasonable maps, iffun you dunna gotta Atlas handy.
Our full bus internary, for the record, was from Kodaikanal to Dindigul, Dindigul to Bangalore, Bangalore to Goa, Goa to Hospet (Hampi), Hospet to Pune, Pune to Aurangabad.
Backto the tale:
In full knowledge of the hygienic tendencies of Indian transportation, I bought tickets for a “Sleeper.” These have horizontal bunks instead of reclining seat. Nice theory, but an obvious flaw comes to mind immediately: someone else has slept on our bunk the night before, the only selection criterion being the price of Rs. 250.
On the trains, however, Sleeper Class wasn’t bad. The bunks were vinyl and generally clean. Only the floor left something to be desired, and that’s the same almost everywhere (except Japan where it seems you are expected to take your shoes off before climbing on public transportation).
All sense had not left me at the moment of ticket purchase. I specified upper bunks rather frantically and repeatedly in the travel office. I didn’t make new friends, but I got upper bunks.
Sliding the tickets into my pocket, I hesitated in the thought that I had no basis for an upper bunk bias. Gravity pulls dirt down, sure enough, but what local customs might trump it? I decided not to mar my time at the beach with attempts to envision the horrors of an upper bunk.
The bus was to leave at 10pm, from Canacona and arrive in Hospet (the large town near Hampi) at 6am. We got to the bus stop at 9pm for no good reason. As we waited around, passengers arrived in drips and drabs, set their gear down and waited with us. Most seemed to be teenage kids tramping around India. There were two Brits, two Israelis, and some others speaking what sounded like a Scandinavian language. Two of them sat down, pulled out rolling papers and a fist full of dope, then set to work making the largest joint I’ve ever seen, about the length of my forearm.
I was witnessing a parody of a Cheech and Chong movie; or, not to date myself too badly, a Harold and Kumar sequel. The dope I could grasp, but where they found rolling paper that size puzzled me. The light was too dim to see—perhaps it wasn’t rolling paper, but something else? A bedsheet? A beech towel? Then I came to my senses.
“Hey kids, let’s go and look what’s in that store.” And off we went without argument, across the street to a closed shop. I released a sigh of relief having successfully sheltered my children from funny smelling cigarettes for one more day.
Canacona at 9:45pm was closed for business but filled with street life. There were at least a dozen motorcycle taxis hanging around, several cows, and an assortment of people who seemed to have nothing better to do than sit by the side of the road, watch the trucks drive by and inhale the clouds of dust in their wake, and watch the white tourists stand around looking bored or getting stoned. There was nothing to see, so we went back after we’d seen it all.
Up the bus pulled, almost on time: a tall, white and very dirty bus (there’s a photo of it in the previous bus blog). My heart sank as we climbed on. The floor was so covered in dirt, sand it looked like a poorly-maintained forest path. The light was very dim perhaps three 5-watt bulbs shone down on the aisle, but everything was most certainly filthy and breaking apart. There were some sliding doors on upper compartments. Where they had been broken off, shabby curtains closed the openings. Some of the curtain rods had also fallen down. The curtains on the floor had served to clean the shoe soles of countless passengers looking for their bunk.
I looked for one of our double bunks and found it. I pulled back the curtain to find at least eight faces staring back in silence.
I was about to say something (and I’m no longer sure what I was about to say, but it had to do with the eternal human question of meum and teum). Just then, though, the driver came up behind me and pointed to the lower bunk with a big smile. I didn’t smile back.
“Upper Bunk.” I said in a rather coarse tone.
“Yes. Here.” He motioned to the lower bunk, which I could just make out in the gloomy light
“Upper Bunk.” I said again.
The driver looked at me, snicked his tongue, shook his head in disgust and walked off.
Fine, it’s a free for all. I found another empty double upper bunk and simply took it. Wife and kids could jam into it. I took the upper single across the way, to keep an eye on things. And I found one more reason to be the first on the bus in India.
The Swedes, Brits and Israelis followed us on the bus, looking for bunks in an absent minded way. They were muttering to themselves, somewhat happy to find the bus was on time, somewhat disappointed by the filthiness.
It was hard to tell in the gloom, but the bunks seemed covered in thin velvet. We climbed up and stuffed the luggage into a corner, wondering how they every cleaned the velvet covers, or if they bothered. The vinyl bunks on the trains are easily cleaned. But velvet?
I climbed into the single, which was astoundingly thin. I’m no porker, but I found the single bunk just wide enough. On one side I was pressed against the glass window. On the other, I was pressed against a flimsy aluminum bar.
Below me, a very stoned Brit was struggling with a curtain rod. It was broken, and the curtain in the dirt on the floor. But he seemed to want it in position for the ride. I sympathized with his plight. Though I couldn’t see anything, he seemed to be discussing the matter with his very stoned mate, in the double across from him, in very technical terms.
“This is broken. Wow.” He would say.
“Get the driver.” His mate would offer.
“Yeah.” He would agree. Scuffling sounds of someone struggling to stand up with great difficulty filled the aisle for a few minutes. Then I heard:
“Hey man, my curtain is broken.” Somehow the driver had blundered into the back of the bus. I heard no reply.
“Yeah, man. The curtain. CURTAIN. BROKEN. Hey. Where are you going? What about my curtain?” Perhaps there is company in misery, as I felt a bit heartened over his troubles. We were all in it together.
Then a very stoned Israeli girl came down the aisle talking in very loud accented English:
“….well if there’s no light in my bunk how can I see anything I mean it’s impossible to see and you should go and get a new bulb to fix it so I can see, so go and get a new bulb for the light, I mean this is ridiculous it’s pitch black in there and you have to fix the bulb now, so go and buy a new bulb….” Her voice faded as she left for the front of the bus, talking non stop to the driver. I had not heard his reply, but I made a fair guess at it.
The Brit underneath me seemed to be talking as he worked on his curtain rod.
“Yeah, so there’s this thing which seems bent. Yeah. So I bend it like that. Right. Now if the other part, let’s see, yeah…”
Then one of the kids got his ipod speakers rocking, and the strains of some modern guitar-driven band filled the back of the bus.
“oooohh yeahhhhh” crooned the frontman in a sort of romantic shriek.
“…he said nothing can you believe it he said nothing there’s a light broken on this bus and he won’t fix it can you believe it and I’ve got those scrapes from when I fell off the motorcycle, you know, I have to look at them because they could get infected….” the girl returned from the front of the bus, I fear, without a promise to fix the light in her bunk.
“Oh wow, I think you fixed it.”
There seemed to be signs of success below me. Then I heard the curtain and curtain rod fall.
“Yeah, so let’s see. Uh, I guess maybe if we bend it the other way?”
“Yeah, try that.”
Eventually, the music died down, though the funny cigarettes didn’t. Wafts of smoke would fill the aisle at all hours of the night.
The Mr. Stoner underneath me never got full control of his curtain, which would collapse to the floor at inconvenient times during the night. The Ms. Stoners at the back of the bus seemed content enough with their digs, after coming to the understanding that their light would not be fixed before the end of the voyage.
Then there was the ride. It seems this bus had a suspension problem as well, or maybe it was the roads or maybe the driver. We swayed from side to side constantly. I didn’t get much sleep. It didn’t help that the windows didn’t fully shut and it was cold outside. I awoke to find my head sweaty against the filthy velvet, my left thigh frost-bitten, and my right arm numb from loss of circulation from being pressed against the flimsy aluminum bar.
At sunrise, we watched fields of sunflowers pass by. It was hard to get excited. Assumed indifference seemed the best reaction to the circumstances. When the bus stopped, we lept off in glee, praying a shower was near at hand.
Two days later, we were faced with the same dilemma—no reasonable alternative to another bus. Aurangabad as our destination, and the best way to get there was through Pune. Two buses and 20 hrs. later, we made it to the big city near the Ellore and Ajanta caves. And these buses were worse simply because they played non-stop Z-grade Bollywood movies. But those tales are for another blog. As are the Ellore and Ajanta caves.