The hundred waves goodbye.

Trip Start Jan 27, 2008
Trip End Apr 06, 2009

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Flag of India  ,
Saturday, February 16, 2008

So, the reason why the bus rides on the private coaches take 20 hours from Delhi to Manali is that you wait. They collect you from the hotel, walk you up the street to where the bus ostensibly stops chanting "bus is coming, five minutes, no more," like some long-forgotten mantra first spoken by the Baba of the Late Bus. My german friends also waited at the same spot, so a few jokes and many cheap indian cigarettes later, finally a bus showed up. "Manali, this bus." Bid adieu to the fellows, and on the the steaming bus I went, climbing into my "sleeper" berth (about 18 inches wide and barely 6 feet long with a window and curtain to the bus), and waited again.
From what I could make out in the rapid-fire hindi of the bus conductor, there was some sort of mix-up in the bus for Dharamsala, so after a time, I saw my friends again, sitting down below me as I strained to get comfortable within the constraints of my "bed."
Still, there is a window the whole length of the berth, so I opened one end to let some air into the stuffy compartment, and looked out.
The bus of course, did not go directly to the highway and out, it seemed to wind through every neighborhood in delhi, from the rich to the poor, and finally arrived at a petrol station, where all the Dharamsala people were bade to get out. Another wait, while the bus people made deals with prospective Indian passengers to every town on the way up, trying to fill the seats and berths. Haggling over every price and ticket (and there must have been 30 of them) took another hour or so, and in the meantime every time the bus lurched forward I had to wave to my friends, thinking we were leaving. Finally had to give up on that after sixty times or so. I'd send them the V for victory sign when we finally got out of sight, after that purpose.
At long last, we pulled out on the road, but then it was full on rush hour going out of Delhi. By about 9 o'clock (we left the travel office at 4), we were past most of the traffic and making some time. The bus driver was completely crazy, there would be suspicious fleshy thumps and metallic scraping sounds when he overtook trucks or other buses, and made turns. First day with the new license, I guess. If I could see behind the bus, I'm sure there was a bloody trail of cows, people, cats and dogs in our wake, mixed in with shards of broken mirrors and indicator lights from the poor souls unlucky enough to be in the way. Once I was sure the rear tire had a violent blowout, and the driver slowed for a moment before resuming breakneck (or break-everything-in-the-way) speed.
The sleeper bus is a tiny bit taller than the usual bus, just enough to fit berths above the seats, most of them "doubles," which means you are stuffed into a one-meter wide flat and lightly padded platform with somebody you don't know, foot to head, and invariably that person smells, whether of guthka, farts, never-washed armpits, or some un-nameable industrial chemical. Haven't had a sewer shoveler on the bus yet, but heck, there's a first time for everything.
The holy grail of the sleeper bus are the only two singles, located in the front of the bus, one on top of the other, and the best one is the top, though it is extremely hard to get into and to extricate one's self from between the 3 evenly space bars that presumably are there to stop you from falling with a meaty thud onto the floor as the bus careens around a switchback on a mountain road at 40 miles an hour.
Somehow, I managed to squeeze my 6 foot frame into a space made for a hobbit, and it ain't half bad when you get in and situated. About ten thirty we pulled into a roadside dhaba for a quick bite and smoke. The drivers have agreements with certain places and will stop there every time, but they are usually indian price, and sometimes the food is not half bad. The very worst thing one can do is to eat a lot of food and hydrate while taking the sleeper bus, as they have no on board toilet and only stop twice in twenty hours or so. Three times if you're lucky.
Probably for the best that they don't have one on board anyway, because like everything else in India, it would be nice only the first time it was used, and then would turn to a stinking cesspool, overflowing and splashing down the aisles, probably with a poor little man trying to clean it up with a rag and bucket and no soap. . .
Delhi's Metro and some places in Bangalore as the exceptions, Indians know nothing of proper maintenance. There is a sort of maintenance, sure, but for the most part something brand-spanking new becomes ramshackle within a few months to a couple of years, barely working, and only when something breaks does someone take out a few shitty tools and patch it back together, only enough to work for the moment. It is for this reason that you will see a pole literally covered in wires; no-one knows what the wires do, or where they go, so when the power goes out, the "electrician" just tests for current, probably by putting one lead on each ear, and hooks up a whole new wire. It is a wonder the whole country doesn't burn down, but then again, most buildings except in the mountains are made of bricks and/or metal, so they are pretty fireproof. If there is an electrical fire, it will be just down on the street, spitting sparks and molten plastic insulation, sending jumping power cables down among the crowd in the baazar.
Brand-new buildings, built the year before are already run down, dirty, and decaying. A bridge, sparkling when new, is soon rusty and unsafe, at least in appearance. India runs on manpower, and it would seem that that manpower is used to build, not to maintain or rebuild.
Creation and Destruction. India is constantly being created and destroyed at the same time. No wonder Shiva is so popular here.

Hey, don't get me wrong, I am just observing the way things are. I wouldn't have this place any other way! India Mera Prem-ka!
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