on travel

So India is a pretty big place and our route looks like a disoriented worm bathed itself in ink and then squirmed across the map – which has meant a lot of time on the road.

Most likely you already know what we think of sleeper buses, but much of our travelling in the south has been on local buses, which are criminally cheap and delightfully hassle-free. They also provide us with an ever-rotating cast of characters, along with their kids/mysterious boxes/tricycles, to spy on as we are invariably the only passengers going the whole distance – these are buses that take the least direct route from point to point, servicing every minuscule village and hamlet on the way. Saner people might take a private express bus but we’ve become quite fond of the local ones; they’re a great way to see the countryside and the sight of a sunset over palm fields is the perfect tonic at the end of an 8-hour journey. After a year of being passengers at the hands of madmen, we’ve become quite blasé about the whole imminent-and-certain-death thing – which only means the driving in India must have a special sort of mental quality about it, as we still have “I’m going to die” moments on a regular basis. On the many occasions when drivers narrowly avoid a collision, they like to stop and hector each other about it for a few minutes, as though either of them has some self-righteous claim to being a superior driver which, I can assure you, they don’t.

We have taken to travelling in non-AC sleeper class on the train, which we first took to out of necessity but later came to prefer, once we worked out that a sarong was vastly inadequate bedding for the winter’s night and that sleeping on the bottom berth was akin to sleeping in a draughty igloo. Our bags were hauled out in the middle of the night and every stitch of clothing taken out and donned in an attempt to avoid death by exposure. Hol put Linds’ thermal underwear on, over her clothes, in the dark, waking the next morning to interminable teasing from us as they were back-to-front with the “convenience” hole, uh, conveniently positioned over Hol’s butt. Blankets were quickly purchased for the next journey.

We’ve also had a dizzying array of cabin mates, the worst of which was a fat guy who had the most polished English but spoke only in riddles and decided that a vigorous ear massage would be the perfect antidote to Linds’ tiredness. Although he did tell us that the old lady in our compartment had dobbed on us, in Hindi, for only eating chocolate and biscuits for the whole journey. In fact, lack of a common language has been no barrier to us carrying on conversations with plenty of people, especially grannies who are desperate to know whether we’re married, why I’m not wearing a bindi and why on earth we don’t have any children yet. One group of “aunties” caught me trying to catch a peek at what they were eating for dinner and then proceeded to force feed both of us to bursting point, much to the amusement of other passengers. Bless them, they even boxed up what was left and insisted that we keep it for our breakfast the next morning, all the while thumbing through my magazine and tutt-tutting over the scantily-clad models within. We’ve been woken up by pneumatic snoring and vigorous prayers of “Hari Ram, Ram!” but I don’t think I’ll ever forget falling asleep in the mid-afternoon as the quiet young pilgrim in our cabin softly sung his prayers while we chugged through the barren plains of Madhya Pradesh. If ever there was a holy sound, this was it.

A year of long journeys has also fostered some behaviours in me that I imagine are akin to those of a wartime bride – namely, I obsessively squirrel food away for times of famine and in even the blistering summer heat, I still can’t bear to part with the aforementioned blankets lest we encounter an unseasonal cold snap.

And then there’s the post-travel inertia where we find ourselves perversely wishing for the already protracted journey to be further extended, simply so we can delay the tedious routine of fighting off rickshaw drivers and beginning the search for lodgings. At least in Agra, the fighting off was done for us by a policeman who baton-charged the assembled crowd of plundering drivers as they surged towards the fresh meat.

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5 Responses to “on travel”

  1. Naomi Brooks Says:

    I hear you!! am doing my fair share of fighting off the becak drivers here.

  2. It's Grim Says:

    How did you do that red squiggle on the map? I want to learn!

  3. beyondbagot Says:

    In Paint, my dear. Surely Ryan could show you how to do it on the computer-thingy.

  4. wheaters Says:

    aw what a lovely post guys. I love the ‘holy sound’ reference too. Sounds like bliss. xxx vertie

  5. Dave Says:

    Word up dudes 🙂

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