As my mind returned to the mundane, I realized I had been mistaken in assuming that we had completed the mountainous segments of our bus journey. I was wrong. Oh how wrong. We climbed into yet more mountains with hectic hairpin bends and the puking symphony began anew. A woman stood in the aisle next to our seat almost puked all over us. Nix and I leapt out the way just in time for her to stick her head out our window and let rip. To add to the fun, we had a blowout on one of the bus’ double back tyres as we were hurtling downhill. The driver managed to pull over and we all got out to inspect the damage. The smell was horrendous and what looked like a lot of steam was escaping from underneath the bus. We hadn’t run over anything – the heat of the day, the heat of the tarmac and the overloaded bus had caused the tyre to explode. There was no way to change the tyre from our current position so we all got back in the bus and continued downwards with one less wheel. Needless to say, in true Indian fashion, the driver still stopped to pick up more passengers even though we were already way over the maximum limit. At the foot of the mountain we pulled in to a one horse town and everyone got out again. How many Indians does it take to change a tyre? An entire bus load. Most were just offering advice, as opposed to actually doing anything. It was scorching hot and there was no shade whatsoever on the road. Luckily for us the job was finished in 20 minutes and we carried on.
Next on the entertainment itinerary were heavy roadworks which took three hours to navigate. The main highway had been reduced to a potholed dirt road. It was fortunate that the driver had changed the exploded tyre before we hit this section or you might have heard about us via a news bulletin: “2 foreigners killed on bus in Karnataka today”. My Hare Krishna chanting must have worked. The dust from the road was voluminous. The only way to prevent us being roasted alive was to keep all the windows of the bus open, which meant lungfuls and facefuls of dirt from other traffic on the road. I felt sorry for the travel sick passengers. This was not going to help their predicament. I wondered why Indian bus travellers don’t seem to take travel sickness pills, despite many clearly getting very travel sick. It’s not a money issue – I saw most of them pull out wads of cash when the conductor asked them to pay for tickets. It’s not an availability issue either – you can find travel sickness pills in any chemist here. I find it quite bizarre that they’d rather suffer for a whole day on a bus trip from hell. Anyway, horses for courses I guess. As long as they don’t puke on us, it’s all good.
When we stopped at Sullia bus terminal, a well dressed woman poked her head through our window and asked us to put her iPad on the empty seat in front to reserve it for her. Everyone else joining the bus was busy piling in through the one and only door at the back to fight for what limited space remained. Cheeky, but ingenious. Note to self – do this when next in dire need of seats on a bus which is rapidly filling up. This was our introduction to Hemlatha Kumar – Senior Business Manager for Prudential Insurance India! We chatted to her for the next couple of hours until we reached Mangalore. She had a very spiritual way of looking at the world and it’s inhabitants (although she wasn't above pulling a fast one where bus seats are concerned!). Since she is Indian this didn’t surprise me. It did however make me feel hopeful that consciousness is rising throughout all sectors of society, even in fields not typically known for this.
Our late arrival meant that we could not carry on to Anand Ashram as we had hoped, so we’ve found a spot in Mangalore to bed down for the night before re-engaging with the Indian public transport system tomorrow.... The epic voyage continues.