Having done my fair share of globe trotting over the years, getting from place to place in India has presented some of the biggest extremes of comfort and hardships that I have ever experienced. To put it simply, travelling in India is not for the faint hearted, or the impatient.
When you sit down at the beginning, and at multiple times during your trip, and decide where you want to go and what you want to see, its easy to underestimate the actual distances you plan to travel. We devised a rather ambitious itinerary, which does not necessarily make the most sense, but was influenced more by circumstance than perfect planning.
Here it is:
Mumbai – Goa – Hampi – Surat – Ahmedabad – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Jailsalmer – Pushkar – Jaipur – Manali – Amritsar – Delhi – Agra – Delhi – Varanasi – Siliguru – Darjeeling – Gokarna – Auroville – Kerala.
We are currently in Gokarna which was a late, and welcomed, addition to or plans, dictated by a desire to minimize as many over night trains and buses as possible. If you were to plot this route on a map, you would see that we have done quite a bit of tooing and froing north, south, east, west and back again. This has lead to some loooong and uncomfortable journeys, as in case you were not aware, India is frikkin’ HUGE!!
Despite our woes at the time, everyone loves a good moan and a horror story, so I will begin by divulging just one of our worst experiences in this respect, and I will fully enjoy the venting.
Manali – Amritsar (2nd January 2017)
Like the saying goes, poor planning results in a piss poor performance, and if this journey was a performance of any kind, it would have been piss poor. Having travelled around for a couple of months, and gotten into the habit of turning up at bus stations and booking our tickets there and then, we were confident we could find a decent bus from Manali – Amritar. We trekked with our bags (the worst!!) for about 35 minutes down a massive hill and through a packed out town which had a festival on (India has festivals all the time btw), which was cool to see, but annoying that we had been forced to walk because of road closures, due to the festival. So we get to the bus station, and Craig tottles off to find a bus. He gets back 5 minutes later, tickets in hand, and our bus left in 20 minutes. Buzzin! So we locate our bus, and find it is in fact a local bus. Which means old and rickety, tiny seats and people getting on and off constantly the whole way. We had looked on google maps and it was a 7-8 hour drive, and in our deluded minds we thought that it was only gonna take 8 hours. Oh how wrong we were.
Manali is a hill station, so the drive out of the town was accompanied by approximately 7 hours of windy roads around cliff edges. The window seat offered spectacular views, along with gut wrenching tension and continual ‘final-destination’ moments being played out in your head. Whilst the aisle seat basically offered a seat on the floor, as you were constantly sliding off on every left turn, unless you were lucky enough to have a mans crotch leaning right in your face, which Craig was for at least 40 minutes. Needless to say we took it in turns to brave the joys of both seating positions.
After 7 hours or so we got onto straight roads, almost as scary when you’re in an overcrowded local bus hurtling down the highway, but easier to ignore once you have forced yourself to sleep. We thought we might be near, unfortunately, when we located ourselves on google maps, we had pretty much driven in the complete opposite direction and were still 7 hours away!
If you have ever been upstairs on the back of a bus in England, you will be familiar with youths playing loud music to their hearts content. In India, this is a common occurrence, and no-one seems to mind. They love it! Playing Bollywood ballads like they’re going out of fashion. Which they are not btw. This is bearable for a while, but when you’re trying to get to sleep and your uncomfortable at hot and hungry etc, it can get kind of irritating. Craig was blasting Passenger in his ears just to try and drown it out.
So we got to Amritsar eventually, our hotel room wasn’t ready even though we had booked it for the night before thinking we were going to get there many hours before, and that was that.
Two positives that came from this however were, firstly I tasted the best Thali I have had in India, in a random restaurant that the bus stopped at on the way. And I also discovered an incredible life hack for making long journeys more comfortable. An empty bottle placed behind the back or behind the neck can make even the oldest and most rickety seat bearably ergonomic.
So despite the hardships of this journey I try to follow Monty Python’s message in Life of Brian and ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. 🙂