We have a pretty short time in India, and have a pretty big wish list for our itinerary. Therefore, we booked as much of our transport as we could online, in advance. It’s a lot easier than expected and the trains have been really efficient, yet another country I’ve visited with a better rail network than the UK. However, one route Jaipur to Agra was pretty much sold out in advance. We took our chances and decided to book a bus locally in Jaipur.
We had originally hoped for a tourist bus, the incredibly helpful manager at our Jaipur accommodation (a rare light in an otherwise horrific time in Jaipur, but that’s a different story…) arranged for us. He had told us that the government buses, “Volvo, super nice” would be the ones for us. As it transpires, they were fully booked. A combination I fear of the proximity to Diwali and the well-trodden golden triangle route of Jaipur to Agra.
Anyway, we’re booked onto a private company bus, which isn’t Volvo, but will still get us to Agra.
The next morning a tuk-tuk driver deposits us at the destination, which is not a bus station but a hotel underneath an underpass full of various buses, booking stands and makeshift breakfast options. By some miracle (I think it’s down to the Ganesha I had in my backpack) we get on the right bus.
It’s pretty much the most unfamiliar bus layout I’ve ever seen. I can make out what seem to be three classes; Seated class, aisle class and coffin class. Coffin class, was located in an elevated cabin, above the seated class, with a sliding plastic door like a seventies sideboard, with just enough room to sit upright, if you’re twelve, or under.
The whole process was mayhem, we were the only white folks on the bus, we had no idea about arrival times, or bus etiquette. Luckily the good man at the hotel got us into seated class and once we managed to get to our seats and sandwich ourselves, and our backpacks in, we were set.
Our tickets stated an 8am kick off, but for some still unexplained reason we set off at 7:45 and stopped about half a mile up the road for pretty much everyone to get off and piss on the closest wall. As we trundled out of Jaipur more and more people squeezed onto the bus, not one, but four conductors came around to check our tickets, and generally shout at people on the bus. As more people got on and ‘aisle class’ filled up I noticed many people negotiating their ticket price, I’m very happy to have paid three hundred rupees for a six-hour journey, but, I’m pretty sure at this point I paid over the odds, again.
Anyway, we carry on down the road, with the driver beeping at everything from the traffic to the wildlife in the road, and possibly people he knows and happen to pass, with all these people crammed in like livestock. It still doesn’t fail to amaze me the sort of positions and contortions Indian people can fall asleep in. I’ve seen people asleep on motorbikes, lying on curbs, and now also, three deep in ‘coffin class’ or sitting on the floor of a bus driving over potholes with knackered suspension. Honestly mystifying.
The journey was a great insight into India, one thing I’ve seen over and over again here is people’s generosity, and tendencies to share everything. This continued on the bus ride with people breaking open their breakfast boxes and bottles of water and passing them around to one another. Sometimes I’m not even sure if they knew each other. As is the case with transport in India, people all over the bus are playing music from their mobiles and this just blends in with all the other noises and I almost forget we’re the foreigners until I notice people staring, again.
A few other bizarre things happen, such as when we pull over for a ten minute break a succession of people get on trying to sell things such as, Plastic table clothes, small books which may have been Indian pulp fiction and gold neck laces. As we set off again another argument kicks off and the conductor mediates ending with one woman smacking the guy in the seat in the front over the head. I can only presume he stole someone’s seat and I’m glad we didn’t get off the bus for fear of it driving off without us, and now also, for fear of losing our seats. Also worth mentioning that anytime anybody left the slightest edge of their seat available someone from aisle class jumped up and sat on the edge. It’s all very unfamiliar.
It’s a strange situation to be travelling in a bus and see one of the deluxe AC cruiser buses pull up alongside, with all the tourists pointing their cameras at you. (or at least your vehicle..) I think it was probably because people were sitting on the roof, but it felt very surreal and quite intrusive. I don’t know how the average Indian feels about it, but I can’t imagine they look on tourists in a good light in this sense.
So we arrived in Agra, another downside of the private buses we kind of got dumped on the edge of Agra, as loads of others jumped on. I didn’t expect to be delivered to a shiny bus station, and it was nothing a quick tuk-tuk couldn’t fix but it’s yet another example of the lack of communication or organisation (at least perceived from our expectations…) we keep experiencing in India! The only time we’ve felt comfortable we know where we’re going has been the Delhi metro with its English announcements.
It’s not all about the destination, and I’m glad we travelled a bit out of our comfort zone and wouldn’t have had the chance to notice half of the interesting things on the super nice Volvo.