Just A Bus Pit Stop 8/4/10 – Delhi to Haridwar

Crammed on a bus like a violated sardine, baking nicely in the white heat.  Windows wide open, no breeze, but plenty of odour.  The cost 106 rupees (1.30 pound) for 9 hours on transport torture.  Public buses, the only way for a sado-masochistic traveller to move.  Its cheap and you get to meet alot of local people.   Normally having them thrust onto your lap, or body parts forced into your face and back.  This time Im wedged between an entire farming family from the Punhjab, numbering over 20.  Prabulal is sitting beside me for a few hours and we exchange the same 5 words for most of the time, smile, nod, smile more and share fried snacks.  ‘Cricket good’, ‘Yes, good’.  ‘Kumbh Mela good’, ‘Yes, Kumbh Mela good’ and so on.  Everytime we stop I have a different male member of the family on my hip, smiling their betel stained smile and asking for my mobile phone number.  I oblige and wonder about the content of our future phone conversations.  I make a concious desicion to learn basic hindhi. 

Im on the way to Haridwar, a few days before the Kumbh Mela (http://www.kumbh2010haridwar.gov.in/bathdates.htm), then straight up to Rishikesh.  Everywhere is heaving.  People spill from vehicles, sagging under their human cargo.  Pilgrims line the streets, trudging resolutely towards the Ganges (Ganga), several days walk away across the scorched plains.  Everyone an example of the super-human endurance of a pious pilgrim.  It seems that Indias 1 billion people are on the move, simultaneously.

Sadhus (Hindhu ascetics) are everywhere.  They all look individually fascinating (see pictures below), with their painted faces and bodies, wrapped in orange fabrics, carrying little steel buckets.  I feel compelled to stare at each one, taking in the deep contours of their faces, seemingly carved from teak.  But I don’t.   

We had sat in a traffic jam for an hour.  I was becoming flaccid with water loss and hoped that my new hiking boots actually were water proof, as they gradually filled with sweat.  Suddenly the bus driver seemed to overheat, let out a yelp and swung the bus into a U-turn, driving straight across a dusty field and headed the wrong way down a small country lane.  I really needed a pee. 

We pulled over after three hours on the road.  There was a concrete bunker with a few pans frying up thali ingredients, surrounded by wonky stalls.  The air was filled with spicy masala fumes.  I asked where the toilets were and was guided out of the back door straight onto a field.  Small ladies worked the dry earth with ancient looking tools, whilst other small ladies squatted under their colourful, tent-like saris and releaved themselves on the field.  I picked a thirsty looking little shrub and joined the party.  I imagine all this business was good for the soil.

Everyone then went for a wash under the water pump, some really getting a good lather on.  I wandered around the food stalls, looking for something that would not offend my sensitive, as yet, unblemished bowel.  A youngster sat on a mini stage, the star attraction, mixing a cauldron of lassi with what looked like a small out-board motor.  All manner and shape of fruit was being squeezed, I opted for a nice hot chai.  Sweet and dark, made buy a small boy with a mighty quiff. 

We all clambered back onto the bus.  I noticed everyones bright eyes, big smiles, missing teeth.  As we pulled back onto the road, I witnessed in a neighboring field a large water buffalo being chased by two elephants.  The dust whisped up into the cloudless pale blue sky.  I turned around to get to know my new Punjab mate, hoping he knew how to play chess.    

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