The way back…

I returned from my trip last Saturday. I didn’t like Goa, and hence spent just about a day and a half there. For purposes of pseud value, I’ll write the story of my last week’s travels in four parts, and they would be in reverse chronological order. Each part would, however, be linear, though I won’t be making any special attempts to ensure linearity.

Let us start the story just outside the Panjim main bus stand. 6 pm on Friday evening. In front of the Paulo Travels office. The shuttle from Calangute has just deposited us there and we have been told we have to wait for two and a half hours for our bus to Bangalore. I’m sitting on a plastic chair, with a suitcase, a kitbag, a backpack and a laptop bag around me. Kodhi has gone searching for a place which would park us for a couple of hours, till the bus takes off. He returns in ten minutes, full of abuse for the state, the city and also the travels. “They can’t even spell the great one’s first name properly”, he mutters.

There is a CCD some ten minutes away. A ride by a maruti omni taxi takes us fifty bucks. Apart from the ride, we also get loads of conversation, and also the chauffeur’s mobile phone number. “Saar, next time you come to goa saar. Call me saar. I’ll pick you from airport saar. And give you nice and cheap hotel saar”. For the uninitiated, the whole place works on commissions. it’s all interlinked. The taxi driver finds accommodation for you. The guy at the hotel recommends a place to eat. The guy at the restaurant helps you rent a bike. And the guy who rents you the bike will tell you where you can fill the petrol. Amazing system. Works like clockwork. And of course, everyone gets his share. Maybe the doctors and the drughouses and the labs and the pharma companies in the US could learn from this.

Private bus operators have figured out a new way of minting money. Sleeper buses. Over and above the existing seats (literally), they have added a layer of sleeper berths. Two on each side of the aisle. Two people to share a three and a half feet by six feet space. If you aren’t traveling with your wife or girlfriend, you might get to sleep with a friend. And if traveling alone, you get to sleep with a stranger. Such joy. And they charge you a hundred and fifty bucks more than they would for the seat! Travel by this seventy two times, and you don’t need to be a terrorist. I should file a case against these buses saying they promote sex against the order of nature (how many single women do you expect to travel this way?) and the moral police will surely burn these buses. For the record, we had seen through the scam of the sleeper berths. With no intention of going gay, Kodhi and I had booked seats.

I’ve always wondered how a traffic jam can take place on a straight road. Of course i know from my op-man course that if the flow is greater than capacity, there will be a bottleneck. However, I’ve assumed that most Indian roads are capacity constrained by intersections. This is based on my experiences at traffic jams in Bangalore. Life on NH17, however, is slightly different. On either side of the road, you have parked trucks. Stretching for miles. Rendering the national highway into a ONE LANE road. One lane, and vehicles have to pass in both directions. Disaster are there.

Then you have the Lingaraj syndrome. When Lingaraj, who was my father’s driver, saw a traffic jam ahead, he would instinctively move to the right side of the road. He didn’t figure out that for the jam to clear, the vehicles coming in the opposite direction needed a way to get past us. Lingaraj didn’t care. For all he cared, going on the right was a good arbitrage opportunity. And would duly be taken. And a million other Lingarajs would follow him on the right.

There are a few cops out there. And a few dozen random guys running around with sticks. Trying to clear the jam. They make the parked trucks move. Some can’t – since they are broken down – and their windshields are duly broken. There is a little movement on both sides. The Lingarajs are shouted at and their trucks beaten with the sticks. Some seem to back off. And there is more movement. We are lucky to be near the nucleus of the jam. We get past it in only an hour, during the course of which we realize there is a much bigger jam on the Karwar-Hubli highway. We are now going to take a detour. Through Kumta and Sirsi. And join the Golden Quadrilateral at Haveri.

The bus stops frequently. Every time someone on board wants to take a leak. Or put download. And it’s contagious. Every time someone takes a leak, someone else follows a minute later. And then someone else. Thus each pee break lasts for quarter an hour. And I wake up every time the bus stops. And look out to see what the golden quadrilateral looks like. I see some country roads next to the bus. And realize that we are yet to hit Haveri. That we are yet to reach the GQ. Even if the bus would reach on time, half the day would get wasted. Now, I’m sure I’ll reach only by dinner. I continue to hate private buses.

I wake up at a quarter to seven. And we are going past Chitradurga. We are on time after all. It’s just that the daymn GQ doesn’t exist beyond that. It’s essentially a dirt track. The current government has no incentive to finish it. After all, the credit will just flow to the previous government. However, I remember reading somewhere that there is a 100km stretch in Karnataka which has been unbuilt because of some legal issues. I guess it is Chitradurga-Haveri.

We seem well on course to reach ahead of schedule. A couple more pee breaks (this time initiated by some firang hippie women) push us back by half an hour. And then the bus stops for breakfast. Some “National Restaurant”. “My dad always says that when a restaurant is named “National”, it is owned by a certain community”, remarks Kodhi. A few skull caps at the counter confirm this belief. We don’t see too many of the bus’s occupants eating anything. The drivers and cleaners emerge after an eternity. The choice of restaurant was again a part of the commission cycle, we decide.

And amazing drive (Tumkur-Peenya) and an awful traffic jam (Peenya) later, the bus finally makes it’s way to the Paulo Bangalore office on Race Course Road. There is a huge crowd of auto drivers, waiting patiently for the bus to roll in, so that they can cheat unsuspecting incoming tourists. I say “meter” and get laughed at. After all, these guys have invested time to get a tourist so that they can make a fast buck. Agreeing to meter fare at the end of it will only result in their time having been wasted. The trick in times like this is to find an empty auto that is traveling – one where the driver hasn’t got down to accost the bus. It’s likely that this guy hasn’t wasted much time waiting for tourists, so isn’t expecting to make much of a supernormal profit. If you try two-three such rickshaws I’m sure you’ll find one that will take you at the meter fare.

It’s almost four days since i returned. I’m yet to recover from the effects of two painful overnight bus journeys and much lost sleep. I still have a blocked nose. I still move around like a zombie. And always feel weak, sleepy and hungover. And don’t feel like writing about my trip. I’ll be back with the third part of the series the next time I can muster some enthu. I’ve to go sleep now.

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