Friday, May 09, 2008

The Sleeper Bus

Can't recommend it.

Clearly our multi-train journey was not the most efficient or comfortable method of travel between Delhi and Dharamsala, so we decided to follow the world's advice and take the sleeper bus.

It sounds so easy. Show up and get on the bus. They sell tickets for the thing all over town. Sposedta leave at 6:30 p.m. and take 12 hours. Trouble is (one of the many troubles), you can't tell which is your bus from a long line of unlabeled buses lining the hill leading out of Mcleod Ganj.

My fear was that we'd get on a bus to Delhi and it wouldn't be air-conditioned. Not that it necessarily would have been the end of the world, just that I wanted to get what we paid for.

You hand your ticket to a dude who looks at it and hands it back to you. No change in his expression. No indication that yes, this is the right bus.

Other backpackers are standing around, so you ask them if they're on the a/c bus. You think probably yes, this is the right bus, but the dude isn't taking your bag to put it in the holding area. A scruffy European dude puts his bags in and the dude tells him, "Eighty."

"Eighty what?" backpacker asks in his European accent (I can't remember which, it was probably British). "Rupees?"

He's outraged. As a female European says, "But we've already paid 700," the dude yanks 8 bags, including a large embroidered Guatemalan duffel and a guitar, out of the hold.

I decide that it's not worth the inconvenience of wrestling our bags onto the bus for 10 rupees a bag (25 cents). We fork it over.

8-bag guy stacks his bags in the middle of the aisle of the bus.

Dude, I support your moral outrage, but there's a point at which it comes at the expense of your fellow travelers.

On the bus is chaos. There don't seem to be seat numbers. We select a double bunk that could be seats EF, which is what it looks like our ticket says. It's an upper bunk. There are round a/c vents on the ceiling. The bunk itself isn't bad. A cushion like a futon. The singles were way too narrow but the double was a good size for us.

We're told to move to a lower bunk. I don't mind not having to climb up the ladder...but Rob would have preferred the upper. The vents in this new bunk are missing and there's wires where the vents should be. I say to a dude, "What's the deal with this hole in the ceiling?" He bursts out laughing and says something to the other bus dude and walks away.

Further chaos as it seems there are more people on the bus than there are sleepers. We have our curtain drawn closed at this point so we don't know how it turned out, but the bunkless chick was saying "It's your problem, you find a solution."

Again, supporting your moral outrage...but how is he supposed to create another bunk for you? It's actually not his fault, since he's not the one overselling the tickets.

I think he tried to get two women to double up, and they said, "No. We paid for it because we wanted it."

I lay there staring out the dark window as it started pouring down rain and lightning, and trees blew like crazy and we finally got going. We didn't care about the delay, since we didn't want to get to Delhi at 6 a.m. anyway.

At first, I worried that they'd wake me up every time there was a stop. On trains, I can wake up and pee on my own schedule. On the bus, there was no way to tell whether we were stopped for a pee break or what. I missed a pee break at 3:30 a.m. when I climbed over the European's 8 bags and asked the guys in front if I had time or if we were leaving. "We are leaving," one of them said. Probably shouldn't have made it a multiple choice question.

I made the pee breaks at 9:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. While I was off the bus at 5:30 a.m., Rob said the dude announced it would be another 4 hours to Delhi, but I never heard the guys tell us anything about anything. No announcement from the flight deck or whatever.

The bus seemed to get cool when we first departed, but I kept waking up feeling really stuffy and hot. Rob opened our window. At about 8:30 a.m., I sat up and looked out the window and the breeze felt nice. Then I felt cool air coming out of the gaping vent hole for the first time.

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