From Bundi we took a government bus to Pushkar, we were excited about going to the camel fair, which is a big event in the Hindu community and also an event that attracts many professional and amateur photographers.
Because it was our first time on a government bus we were a little bit anxious. The bus station in Bundi was quite dirty, everything in it was written in Hindi and there were no screens or announcements. None of the people in the station, including the staff were able to give us any useful information as to how things worked and how we were supposed to recognize our bus.
We sat on a bench near the ticket counter and patiently waited for enlightenment – which finally came when we saw a guy coming over and screaming the name of what we understood was a destination. We figure out that that was the way it worked, and this time we were right: eventually a man screaming Pushkar appeared from around the corner and we followed him to the bus. The bus was very basic and a little dirty, but we had no issues with that, of course.
Once the driver hit the road I couldn’t resist the temptation to look at what was happening ahead of the windscreen (or should I call it the screen for it promised to be a movie, or a videogame, at least): other buses were coming in front of us on a collision course, whether we were in their lane or they were in ours. It was kind of scary. At times I closed my eyes out of fear, but when I opened them again, instead of finding myself dead or at least involved in a bad road accident, everything was back to norm. We were in our lane and the vehicles coming from the opposite directions were in theirs.
In India you don’t slow down or wait. If other cars, buses or trucks are on your way you just overtake them. No matter who’s coming your way, no matter if there’s a curve, or if you have to overtake three trucks in a row. If the road is large enough the other vehicles will get close to the border and let you through. You might just have to honk like crazy. But what then, if the road is not large enough? You overtake anyway and put a bet on your life.
Hindu’s belief in reincarnation must play a role in determining and supporting this traffic-related behaviour. Life in all its aspects and contexts, driving in our case, becomes a videogame. You die? No problem, you will be re-born. And actually there’ll be no ‘game over’ unless, of course, you achieve Moksha, the liberation from the cycle of re-birth.
The bus stopped many times along the way, which made me understand why it would take so much to cover what on the map looked like a relatively short distance. Some stops were longer than others.
During one of the longer stops Romana asked me to buy her some crisps as she was hungry. So I saw a shop fairly close, and ran off the bus, as I was not sure as to when the bus would leave again. During the run I managed to put my right foot into a piece of open air sewer. This was disgusting but I had to keep running and I didn’t have time to think about it. When I finally got to the shop I bought the crisps but I also realized that my bus was moving, although slowly. Panic!
So I paid quickly and ran toward the moving bus, but the bus didn’t seem to want to stop for me. Now, I looked around and saw so many buses, which looked more or less the same. I wasn’t sure anymore if the bus I was aiming at was the right one. I ran past this bus and scanned the station, but suddenly a couple of Indian women popped their head out of one of the windows of the bus I just ran past and waved at me. Romana stood behind them.
I realized that despite the bus was still moving there was a door open on the flank. There, a man moving his hands gently was inviting me to jump in. So I jumped in and when I saw Romana’s relieved face I knew for sure I had avoided the risk of getting lost in the middle of the Rajasthani countryside.
The trip continued, with a fat man with a child on his lap sitting beside me and jeopardizing my space, a couple of Indian guys listening to Hindi music loud from their mobile phones (some Indians must think headphones are not that cool to use), and of course the Rajasthani rural landscape out of the window.
Finally we reached Pushkar and got off the bus into the chaos, the heat and the mud (it had rained the day before). A guy from the hotel we booked picked us up on his motorbike to protect us from the touts and prevent them from hijacking us into any of the competitor’s hotels.
(continues in the next post…)