The Long Bus Journey

When sathya first suggested that we do the trip by bus, I immediately jumped at the idea. Apart from significant cost savings (compared to hiring a car), there was also the comfort factor and we didn?t have to compromise much on flexibility. Or so we thought.?

We saw off Manu at the chickmagalur bus stand and proceeded towards Goa. Rather, set out to proceed towards Goa. Only problem was that we had no clue how we would get there. The rest of this blogpost is going to be preserved. For a few decades after which I might relate it to my grandchildren as an adventure story.?


After a quick run of the A* algorithm (in this stochastic case), there were two clear routes. One was to go to Mangalore and then take an overnight bus or a train from there. However, the earliest we could reach Mangalore would be at nine pm, at which time it would be next to impossible to find an overnight bus. We settled for the other option.

Kodhi has had a hate-hate relationship with Shimoga. He?d been there only once before, and that was for an inter-college fest where he didn?t particularly do well. The fest on the whole had turned out to be a disaster, with the only positive being that kodhi had fallen in love with a classmate. I don?t know if I?d be adding much value if I were to tell you that that love story (kodhi and his classmate) didn?t last too long.?

It was six in the evening when we reached Shimoga, and the first thing we did was to assess options. The hunch that had led me to take this path was that the Shimoga-Karwar market would be well-served, and if we could get to Karwar, goa wasn?t too far away. This assumption had been based on the fact that one of my relatives used to frequently travel between Shimoga and Karwar!

One look at the board in the Shimoga bus stand destroyed all hope. The only bus to Karwar was at ten in the morning. There were a couple of rays of hope, however ? there were two overnight semi-deluxe buses going ALL THE WAY to Panjim. The worst case wasn?t too bad, we decided. Quick enquiries around the bus stand revealed that there wasn?t any other bus to the coast. There was one overnight VRL bus but that was all booked. My uninformed estimates had gone horribly wrong.?

Murphy seemed to be in full form that day. Further enquiries at the counter at the bus stand revealed that there was no reservation for the bus to Goa, and that we had to ?buy tickets on the bus?. The worst case suddenly looked infinitely worse. I noticed one Volvo to Bangalore that was to start at half past eleven. In the worst case we could go home by that, I declared. We still had four hours to kill before we could make that decision.

Now, Shimoga is an extremely small town. Much smaller than I had assumed it was ? the last time I?d been there was twelve years back. In this kind of a place, there can?t be too many good ways of spending four hours. The benches of the bus stand weren?t an option. Now, working for a firm like Unilever is that you have contacts literally in every nook and corner of the country. Kodhi tapped on these and delivered his verdict ? there were two good hotels in the town – Samrat Ashok and Jewel Rock.?

If you are a regular reader of economics blogs, you learn to think in terms of incentives. So, when Sathya asked for the auto driver?s opinion of the two hotels, and the guy suggested the one farther away, we had to take it with a bucket of salt. After checking out the one close by (it was right opposite the bus stand), we decided to experiment with the other one.

The problem with a small town like Shimoga is that there is no eating out culture. The only people who eat out are occasional visitors to the city, and this means that there isn?t much of a market in restaurants. Jewel Rock, which is supposed to be the best in Shimoga wouldn?t score anything when compared to restaurants in Bangalore. And it?s strange when you go to what is supposed to be the town?s best place and find yourselves at one of the two occupied tables!?

Endless orders for Bournvita sustained us till nine o?clock. All the while I kept wondering what kind of life people in this town had. Having lived in Bangalore, my mom says that she can?t even think of living in Mysore now! Going by that I wonder how bad Shimoga can be. I could never think of living in such a place.

Back at the bus stand, we were told that the bus to Goa (which was coming from Mysore) was running late and that we might have to wait. While making these enquiries, I also figured out that a large number of people were waiting for the same bus. Death were there.?

In the meantime, following repeated SMSs from his girlfriend and thoughts about work, Sathya was putting max NED. I mean, he had lost all enthu. The problem with NED is that it is highly contagious. If someone you closely interact with is suffering from a lack of enthu, it is very likely to rub off on you also. The situation looked ominous here. Sathya was already into full-blown NED. Us being in Shimoga, Kodhi wasn?t in his best spirits. And the thought of having screwed up the trip for everyone had kept me down. The Volvo back to Bangalore beckoned.

In bleak times such as this, all you look for is for a thread to hang on to. All you need is a ray of hope. One little positive thought that you can latch on to in order to drive the negativity away. Some small thing based on which you can feel good about yourself. That was the day I realized why people drink when depressed. The temporary high the spirit provides, if harnessed well, can get the person back into good spirits. It maybe temporary, but a temporary ray of hope is all one needs. It?s like the famous Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) case. All it needed was some additional capital to tide over the crisis. It was known that finally it would all end up well. All it needed was a temporary infusion of capital.?

Kodhi and Sathya were seated on a bench at the bus stand, along with all the luggage. I was on the lookout for the bus, waiting to literally catch it. And my immediate objective was just that ? to spot the bus before the crowd, jump on and catch seats. There was a ray of excitement that this provided. If only I could achieve this, it would be small compensation for the mess I had got us into. It might even provide that kick that might make the rest of the trip memorable.

I have a ?history? in catching seats. For two years, I traveled 12 km across the city to NPS Indiranagar by a BTS bus. During the time, I learnt the nuances of ?catching? a seat on the bus. This art would be perfected later when I was at IIT. Chennai Express would arrive at 1445 to Chennai, only to depart as Lalbagh Express an hour later. Traveling in the general compartment in this was yet another experience. I?ll probably write about that in a separate post. For now, it?ll suffice to mention that I honed the art of catching seats there.

The last time I had felt such a sense of accomplishment might have been back at fourth term at IIM, when I had cracked the derivatives course. I was on top of the world. Sathya was to my left, talking on the phone. Kodhi across the aisle on the right. We were in the penultimate row of the most rickety bus I?d ever been in (not counting the local buses in Madras). A few seats were broken. Once in a while, we would get thrown off our seats as the bus negotiated a pothole or a speedbreaker. And I was still feeling good.?

I had been the first guy to get into the bus as it rolled into the Shimoga bus stand. I had jumped in even before it had stopped, and caught three seats. There was a kid who had entered the bus through a window in order to catch seats, and I even beat him to them. The old skills had no doubt proved to be extremely useful. I was to assume at that point that this would carry me through the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, the rickety bus, lack of sleep and extreme tiredness would prove to be our undoing.

During my brief stay at the Shimoga bus stand, I learnt much about the geography of North West Karnataka, and also about the travel markets in the region. I also learnt of the general geography of the region, including the various roads. I learnt of the various classes of buses, and also a bit about consumer behavior. For example, over short distances the class didn?t matter. The premium to be paid for a higher class wasn?t too high, which meant people you?d expect to travel by the ordinary classes would take luxury buses for short distances. Immense learning were.?

It was an extremely mixed leg. Excitement on one hand and despair on the other. NED on one hand and rays of hope on the other. Learning on one hand. Pain on the other. Feeling tough on one hand, mental disintegration on the other. Things that kept us going (I reiterate) were the uncertainty, and the associated excitement. It was good while it lasted, and would be a major cause of NED in Goa

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