June 20, 2011
Transportation in Rural India - The Buses
I initially hated riding buses in India. Because the NGO I'm working with is spread throughout three centers in Punjab, I ride a short bus ride daily and hour long bus rides several times a week. There were several (extremely valid) reasons I originally disliked (make that strongly disliked) riding the buses:
1. On one of my first long bus ride experiences, I sat at the very front of the bus where I was inline with the driver. I was privy to seeing his crazy driving antics whereas before I only felt the dangerous swerves he made in and out of traffic. I saw first hand how he dodged bicycles, pedestrians, motorbikes, trucks, other huge buses, cars, and cows on the narrow two lane Punjabi roads. His face remained unchanged as he blared that ridiculous horn all the way down the road.
2. My personal space bubble is constantly invaded by the five people pressed against me and sometimes on top of me. The buses can be so crammed people ride on the roof. If another passenger isn't pressed up against me, then it's the bus attendent who collects money. These attendants have a tendency to sit on me or run into me when the driver makes an especially daring move and must quickly brake. It usually results in some awkward contact.
3. Both the bumpy roads and the crammed buses make for a motion-sick Julia. And I'm not the only one as evidenced by the trials of vomit that can often be seen outside windows on the exterior of the bus.
4. The language barrier constantly terrifies me when I'm not totally sure where I'm going. I have had to do many transfers on local lines and I constantly repeat the name of the city where I'm headed in order to confirm and re-confirm (and usually re-confirm again) that I'm headed in the correct direction. Usually I just have to trust the bus attendant that he's not taking me to the wrong city and putting this kind of trust in one man terrifies me. Little seems more scary than being stranded in rural India at night with no idea where the heck I am and when the next bus will come.
However, I've had a recent change of heart. On a bus journey I take at least once a week, I admired the beautiful orchards, fields, and small towns that flew past outside. The window was open and a cool breeze offered me a relief from the heat. I sat surrounded by curious Indians who wanted to know more about myself and the other Westerners with me. Adorable babies with big beautiful eyes lined with kohl returned my smiles and would sometimes respond when I questioned, "tera naam hai?" It was beautiful. It was the one hour that day I had taken time to sit down and relax. I began to love the rhythm and energy of the buses here in Punjab.
I have also met some incredible people on the buses. The other day a woman about my age struck up a conversation with me. She had excellent English and she was eager to practice it. She wanted to know about my home, what I was doing in India, where I went to school, etc., etc. She was amazed that I was to travel to other countries alone and professed a desire to travel abroad some day, although she thought it was unlikely. I told her to stop by the center of the NGO I'm working with and she surprised me with a visit the other day. It turns out that she is a police officer in a large town about an hours bus from where I live. It was refreshing to meet a young person so dedicated to changing her state and country. I was also excited and relieved to get the contact information for a seemingly well-intentioned police officer - something of a rarity.
Even the garish decorations of the buses add to their charm and I find that I like these tin metal cans packed like sardines more and more. Although I prefer hitchhiking in the backs of trucks or riding motorbikes, the buses remain a favorite of mine despite their many draw backs. I guess this might have to do with the fact that the buses cannot give me a second degree burn on my calve as motorbikes have done. That and I don't have to be male in order to successfully flag down a bus as is the case with hitchhiking... Regardless, riding Indian buses is all a part of the experience and my time here would not be the same without them.
All in all, many aspects of India that I initially dislike or resist, have a way of surprising me by enriching this amazing experience for the better.
Posted by julimari at June 20, 2011 02:25 PM
I went through a similar transition with my feelings on the buses (and other forms of transportation) in India as well. I actually think I'm really going to miss the little autoricksaws that are everywhere. I think they are so cute and I haven't seen them in any other country.
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