As soon as I saw August 15 on Monday and Raskhabandhan on August 18 on my organization’s internal portal for leave management, I felt a sudden rush, a different kind of joy that was waiting to be rekindled after my Leh-Ladakh bike trip got cancelled for this year.
It gave me two days of weekend, Monday and Thursday of holiday. All I needed was to get my leaves approved for Tuesday and Wednesday. Being a senior resource in the team, I had to coordinate with my other senior teammate who was planning a leave from 19th till Janmashtami. So in all I had time from night of 12th to morning of 19th August to make or break the much awaited trip. From my usual Bike Trip, this time I decided to take a backpacking trip by public transport. After giving much of a thought and weighing in locations of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, finally I made my mind to explore Utterakhand. In doubt I turned to India’s best and most friendly Travel Forum, BCMTouring to get inputs from experienced members to finalize my itinerary. (http://www.bcmtouring.com/forums/threads/suggestion-required-for-6-day-strict-budget-backpacking-trip-from-delhi-to-utterakhand.68663/)
Day 1: Delhi – Almora - Kausani
Day 2: Kausani – Baijnath – Bageshwar
Day 3: Bageshwar – Thal – Munsiyari
Day 4: Munsiyari
Day 5: Munsiyari – Thal – Haldwani
Day 6: Haldwani – Delhi
Meanwhile, I got scolding from my friends who were asking me to take them with me, or align with their plans. It’s tough to make people understand that you are truly not interested in the way they travel, and they will never understand the ways you travel. So after giving a cold shoulder to a bunch of people, I set to leave on Friday night at 11:30 to take the Bus to Haldwani from Kaushambi.
I took an uber in sharing mode from Noida to Kaushambi which had an overly chatty girl as my co-passenger. She too was going Kaushambi, so I had to keep calm until the destination arrived. She was going till Haldwani, and told me about his boyfriend at least two-and-a-half-million times to ensure that population of the FriendZone remain intact. Anyway, the scene at Kaushambi bus station was horrifying as I saw a Punjabi family shouting to their maximum potential on a Bus Agent for not providing correct details of their bus which was supposedly on the way and should have been there at 9:00 PM. I prayed this shouldn’t be my Bus operator’s agent. But, since when such prayers have started being heard?
I approached him, and asked about my bus’ status. He told me it is standing nearby and will arrive once 9:00 PM bus arrives. It was 10:30, and still I had one hour to spare, so I sat there and checked everything in my mind making a mental note, until the Punjabi family fired up again. This time they were having dinner on the roadside. I was wondering why they are shouting to person sitting at a hand’s length. Probably, I will never understand what makes people talk loudly. Meanwhile, some more people hurled abuses to the bus agent for delaying the bus, and it brought ominous thoughts in my mind too. I didn’t want my journey to start with delay, because it will prove my decision of leaving bike at home devastatingly wrong.
This time prayers were heard and two buses arrived at the station, one of 9:00 Pm and other of 11:30 PM. I boarded the second one, and settled on seat no. 13 which no one took due to being Seat No. 13 and had empty seat next to it too! In peace, I turned my phone’s music player on and put my usual instrumental playlist. It would have been barely five minutes there was a lot of hustle. I paused the music and learned that the other bus’ passengers have been transferred to this bus as there had been many cancellations and this bus had very less passengers already. So the Punjabi family strikes back. This time they wanted exact same seats they had on other bus. They spared no time to put an old man and his wife to get scared for their lives as they has the desired seats. Bus Agent, at his polite best asked a few people to move and shift to accommodate them. Some agreed, one lashed out at the family to creating a nuisance since the inception of time, and I saw peace of mind committing a suicide.
I took a deep breath, thinking about the wonderful journey ahead, and pushed the earphones a bit deeper in the ears and turned up the volume to maximum with groovy trance music. It helped, for a nanosecond and then the shouting pierced my ears, forming a knife of sound waves, and slit my heart to its deepest corners. It took a bunch of people to stand, shout, cry, whine, move, threaten to bring everything to a halt and make everyone settle to their designated/robbed/occupied seats. I felt a relief and got back to little softer and slower music as the bus moved at 12:30 PM.
The AC was on full swing and there was no control on air outlet. So I took my sweatshirt and covered my head. People complained about AC being too cold, but driver paid no heed. I didn’t care much either. Since, I already don’t sleep much, I could take this moment to look out of the window, and seek what I much seek in the darkness moving along. No matter how many solo trips you have taken, the excitement is always new. This time, it was much needed because I am really tired of the weekend trips which start with hurry of leaving and end with hurry of coming back. Six full days, all by myself to take the journey the way I want it to be. Simple pleasures are hard to earn. This is one such.
The road was bad, but it wasn’t much since my seat was towards front side. However, people at the last and second last seat were complaining much about the bumps they were getting. The bus stopped at a dhaba where no passengers went. I took a tea and chatted with the driver. He told me that there are several diversions ahead which are due to Kanwar Yatra, and the diversion road is in terrible shape. The bus would reach Haldwani earliest by 10:00 AM instead of 5:30 AM scheduled time. I wished if I had asked for bus to reach Haldwani on time instead of asking for its arrival on time. One always wants best of both worlds. Anyway, I was prepared for the delay, and heaved a sigh thinking if the Punjabi family learns about it.
We were back on road and the roads got worst as we took diversions created. One such road had craters on the surface and could make bikes disappear in their depth. The bus bumped into one and passengers at the last seat took a flight. One passenger got his head hit on the roof and blood rushed instantly. People sitting next to him shouted, hurled a few made-in-Delhi abuses to driver and asked to stop immediately. Driver, in his conscious said “We cannot. It’s middle of nowhere. We will stop at first town we find next.” Reasonably, people understood and hurled a few more abuses. The man, shaken, sat quietly on front seat. I offered him first aid and tied a bandage with cotton dabbed in Savlon around his head to stop the blood. Next town was 20 kilometres away. So everyone waited patiently for tormenting road to end.
The next town arrived had no name, but had a doctor’s clinic on road. Some active ones knocked the door and woke up the doctor at 6:00 AM, got him to take a look at the wound and concluded there is nothing to be worried about, and got him bandaged. Everyone went back only later to learn there are more diversions ahead and Haldwani is in no sight for next 5-6 hours. The Punjabi family, sleeping calmly, had no idea of it by then, so everything was fine for next 10 minutes. Someone from their family woke up and enquired how far Haldwani is, and learning the delay launched an all guns blazing attack on the driver and bus staff, until their own family member ignored the ones shouting.
After taking many diversions, we finally entered a town which I didn’t care much about since it wasn’t where I was going. There was a police van, which was standing in the middle of road and a few policemen who were controlling the traffic in no particular way.
They made our bus stop and asked the driver to park it on side, while allowing trucks, tractors, oxcarts, aeroplanes, helicopters, hovercrafts, and literally any vehicle to pass, but our bus. For the reasons unknown, few male passengers took a step and asked the men in uniform why bus has been made to stop. There were no answers except “sit inside.” I wondered if this is typical stereotype behaviour to bargain some bribe. It wasn’t. The bus conductor spit on ground after having a word with policemen earlier, and he considered it as an insult to him, and decided to make a bus, full of 40+ passengers suffer and wait in the middle of a road for Forty-Five minutes.
It took some time and my provoking Narad-Muni skills to bring everyone out of the bus to protest and make them swallow their pride and allow the bus to pass, and we were back on road.
At around 10 AM, the bus stopped at a dhaba where people ordered whatever they could. I settled with tea and aloo-paratha and ate in solace, while some people looked at me like I am some alien who has stolen their food. After good twenty-five minutes later everyone was back in the bus and hoping to reach Haldwani by 12-12:30 PM.
Rest of the journey was monotonous with people informing their folks about delay over phone, describing the man’s head injury and how they convinced every passenger of the bus to protest against the policemen who threatened to laathi-charge on everyone. If I paid more attention, I am sure there must have been some shots fired and someone took a bullet or two. But I was busy in charging my cell phone with the new Solar-Bag I purchased recently from Ishaani Renewables.
At around 2:30, the bus finally reached Haldwani and I de-boarded the bus with Punjabi Family, The Girl I shared cab with, her boyfriend and few more passengers. I took an auto to taxi stand as I had some more journey left to be covered.
From here, I need to go Almora and then to Kausani.
Next part: Coming Soon