Indian buses

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#1 May 7th, 2004, 23:32
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#1
I have read about the indian bus services and some what i have read seems good and others seem bad.
I will be travelling in himachal pradesh (october-dec) and i have a few questions.

1. Do buses have to be pre-booked (5-6 hour journeys)
2. How safe/comfortable are they?
3. How easy is it to travel and get around by them?
4. Most importantly is it easy to actually know where you are and more importantly wher eto get off!!!
5. last one , are they normally full of locals or tourists?

I am looking forward to going but my one fear is the buses.
#2 May 8th, 2004, 01:44
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#2
The answers to your questions would all be subjective. Buses are cheap and often overcrowded. There are city and state buses, plying established routes. There are also private tour companies ferrying Indian tourists to their destinations, often in "Video Coaches," which have music videos playing at ear-splitting levels.

I wouldn't fear the buses, but they will take some getting used to. You can meet some wonderful people, or you can be totally annoyed and uncomfortable. You will probably find that your journey will be made via a combination of modes, including trains, taxis, auto-rickshaws, and buses. You don't have to commit now to one method or another.
#3 May 8th, 2004, 02:36
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Thanks merchant I have been to india before and been on a couple of trains and loads of rickshaws but i have avoided the buses.
But up north you dont have much choice, ah well fingers crossed.
#4 May 8th, 2004, 03:07
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#4
and in the north you can sit on top of the roof!!
which is very good fun
and of course much safer if you take a bus in the mountains and the bus starts to go the wrong way ............
I once stayed in kasol.....that time the army lost 77 soldiers
their trucks just had fallen down into the beas river
#5 May 8th, 2004, 04:38
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#5
On top of Merchants astute observation about the subjectivity of using bus transport, you also have to deal with the additional variables of bus travel in general. Such as the driver, how crowded/empty, general repair of the bus, weather, the roads traveled and last but not least, wether the bus is a public or private coach.

Interestingly enough, in my experience the public bus drivers seemed to drive somewhat "safer and saner" than their private counterparts.
Me fail English? That's unpossible!--Ralph Wiggum
#6 May 8th, 2004, 10:06
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#6
This is an interesting topic. Many people, myself included, enjoy train travel, but I don't think anybody really looks forward to a nice long bus ride. I don't have much experience with regards to buses in India because the train network is so excellent, but I do have lots of experience from around the world. I detest bus travel less than most people, and have taken countless long bus trips, including several in the 50-60 hour range. With the exception of the karaoke bus and the vomit bus , none were unbearable and some were bordering on enjoyable. Bus travel is certainly manageable, and is generally better than you anticipate.

At the end of this post I'll provide some tips on surviving long bus rides, but first I'll attempt to answer your questions. These answers are from my general experience any may not be directly applicable to buses in Himachel Pradesh. Hopefully other posters will correct me if any of my answers aren't applicable.

1. Do buses have to be pre-booked (5-6 hour journeys)
Not usually, but this depends on the quality of the bus. Express/deluxe buses will more likely require pre-booking, whereas the clunkers will always squeeze in an extra passenger.

2. How safe/comfortable are they?
Safety first:
  • millions of bus trips are made each year in India, and some of them arrive at their destination.
  • i'd rather be in the bus than in the autorikshaw hit by the bus.
  • in the mountains, if the weather is good and the driver agreeable, try to ride on the roof so you can jump off if necessary.
  • theft is a possibility, but where isn't it?
  • the real danger with long bus rides is not the physical threat of an accident, but the possibility of going stark raving mad.
Comfort:
  • a long bus ride is not quite the same as a day at a spa.
  • if you enjoy thumb screws or other forms of torture, you'll have no problem with the buses.
  • survival is not a matter of being comfortable, but learning how to cope with the discomfort.

3. How easy is it to travel and get around by them?
Easy. Lots of buses go everywhere. Just hop on and go. Get off when you start to go insane.

4. Most importantly is it easy to actually know where you are and more importantly where to get off!!!
It isn't too bad if you're going to a major destination (it's hard to miss Delhi). Trying to determine when you've reached a smaller place is harder. I've never had any trouble, but I always worry about it. I keep a map handy and read road signs to try to keep an idea of where I am. I'm pretty sure the driver/ticket collector will throw me off if I miss my stop.

5. last one , are they normally full of locals or tourists?
Depends on whether its an express or regular bus. For regular buses, "full" is an understatement. Unless its a tourist bus you'll mostly be travelling with locals.

Some other points to keep in mind:
  1. All bus trips over four hours are the same. The mind shuts down and enters some sort of "survival mode". It doesn't matter if the trip takes 5 hours or 50, you feel equally exhausted at the end. The key to happiness is to forget about the past and the future, and focus on the present. Forget that you're riding the bus to go somewhere. The bus is your life, and that cramped seat is your home. It has always been that way, and always will. Make the most of what you have, and you'll start to appreciate the small pleasantries. If you think about your destination, you'll only remind yourself that there is a better existance, and time will drag on and on.
  2. Avoid all video buses. The noise really hinders relaxation, and makes conversation impossible. Most importantly, avoid karaoke buses at all costs, or else you will suffer from permanent brain damage. I made this mistake once, since I assumed the novelty would wear off after a hour or so and people would stop singing. 36 hours later the crowd was still going strong, with me, the only foreigner on the bus, being the singer-of-honour for all the western songs.
  3. Avoid buses with A/C. The windows don't open so there's no escape from the cigarette smoke, and the rancid stench from the toilet gets recirculated . After a certain 12 hour trip where every passenger vomitted several times I vowed never to ride an A/C bus again. If the windows opened I could have at least stuck my head out, with the appealing possibility that it would be crushed by an oncoming truck.

In general, I have found the more deluxe buses to be a lot less comfortable than the more rustic ones. I don't care how insanely hot the bus gets, or that I have a bag of chickens on my lap, if I can open a window and get a blast of fresh air on my face then I'll survive and perhaps enjoy myself a little. Videos and A/C on buses, which are supposed to make the trip more comfortable, have the opposite effect.

Of course, the ultra-delexe bus in Argentina, with the cute little stewardess serving me cold beers in my seat , was an exception, but that's another story...
#7 May 8th, 2004, 10:35
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#7

Re: Indian buses

Quote:
Originally posted by lobo
I have read about the indian bus services and some what i have read seems good and others seem bad.
I will be travelling in himachal pradesh (october-dec) and i have a few questions.
1. Do buses have to be pre-booked (5-6 hour journeys)
2. How safe/comfortable are they?
3. How easy is it to travel and get around by them?
4. Most importantly is it easy to actually know where you are and more importantly wher eto get off!!!
5. last one , are they normally full of locals or tourists?
I am looking forward to going but my one fear is the buses.
For a start, please note that the bus is not the only option you have for road travel, you can use a share taxi, full taxi.

Now to answer your questions:
1. In peak season, which is April to June and October to mid-Dec. in H.P., you do have to book buses in advance, particularly the long distance ones and more particularly the deluxe coaches.

2. All buses are, generally speaking, very safe. Regarding comfort, the deluxe coaches are far more comfortable than their ordinary counterparts. The deluxe coaches are also faster, as they are generally point-to-point services and have only the odd halt for lunch/dinner on the way. The ordinary buses are much slower and are capable of stopping anywhere in addition to their numerous regular halts; to oblige locals. It is also not at all uncommon for the driver to park the bus at his favourite, obscure dhaba on the way somewhere and enjoy his meal with his partner-in-crime; the conductor; for 45 minutes, while you fret and fume on the bus !
This is especially prevalent in the hills.

3. Very easy.

4. As a deluxe coach is normally a point-to-point service, you will certainly know where to get off ! If travelling by an ordinary bus; and if your destination happens to be on the way; you inform the conductor as you board the bus where you want to get off and he will do the needful. Indian bus conductors are very obliging, especially to foreigners. And not just the conductor, ten other passengers in the bus will help you get off at the right stop, so don't worry !

5. The local buses will have their fair share of tourists during season. The locals will be travelling throughout the year.

You need not worry. Do travel by bus and I'm sure you'll love the experience. Patience is the key to enjoying your bus journey, indeed the key to enjoy anything in India !
Whoever said money can't buy happiness didn't know where to shop !
#8 May 8th, 2004, 11:29
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#8

How to enjoy an Indian bus ride.

First off, there are many kinds of busses. There's the deluxe coach (avoid this) the video coach(avoid this unless you like watching unsubtitled Indian films) , the city bus, the long distance bus, the mountain bus, the village bus,...I may have missed one or two...

There is NO BETTER way to see India than by travelling in its busses. (and at the risk of sounding poetic, everyone that say othervice are wusses).

How to have a good time in an Indian bus:

1. Get used to the heat. It's going to be HOT travelling in an Indian bus. they are metal contraptions without a cooling system(except for wide open windows, and you can count on THOSE when the bus is filled to twice its capacity with screaming infants (and their mothers) and fisherwomen carrying baskets full of the day's catch...) But an experience of this sort is like doing a focus group on India. it's Intense, and it's truthful. Can ya handle the truth?

2. They don't touch. they that touch are BAAAD. MAke noise if you are touched.

3. find a seat if you can. If you are white and female, sometimes, you might get a certain amount of chivalry(usually from Indian women) and might be offerred a seat/allowed to win a contest for a seat on a long distance bus...but don't count on it, and guys, be reconciled to standing..

4. IF you have a seat, be prepared to converse in signs/ "english" with at least a couple of people (same sex) around you. they'll leave you alone if you look unsocial but they WANT to talk to you, they don't want your pens(or money) . ALL you "sitters" in the bus are fortified royalty. the standers the audience. You are allowed the privilage of conversing with them /making faces at their children / showing them maps of where you went/want to go/etc.

5. This is like a summer camp romance nobody brings in any expectations INTO or FROM this relationship. you nod amiably and go your way when the bus journey has ended. you are not obliged to eat/smoke cigs/ pee with them on stops. It's fairly irregular to sleep with them,too . your companion is social company for "timepass" (a word you will learn the hard way when you do long journies by train/bus in India).

6. Please DO NOT be choosy or discriminating when looking for a conversation partner. My best "friends" have been the unlikeliest looking/ speaking ones.

7. Conversations tend to be like the joke about the buddhist monks in a cave....long, spaced but continuous. let it build.

8. You get on a bus, you have ALREADY been exposed to every possible microorganism in India in the air water, body fluids...or other forms of propogation. So Don't worry about 1. food you may find in restaurants at trucker stops(dhabas), 2. water you may fill into your empty "mineral" water bottle from pipes that stand up from obviously old puddles, any animal life that may have chosen to go nearby , 4. etc. You are now IMMUNE after a few bus rides. you are India tough....


9. The good sights come in hill bus rides, but I would recommend you do your hill rides by car(jonga) or train(if they have toy trains) they are clean,fun and short. Use cars if you have a tendency to stop and take pictures.

10. be curious. this is a wasted journey if you want to function within your zone of comfort. you will see patterns that will make the alien civil society safe/ unsafe/unusual/familiar if you observe stuff like who lets whom take seats, what the male female dynamics are in a crowded space, how different people are dressed(there are HUGE differences in the dresses people wear) how jewellery looks, ...etc. It's OK to stare. just don't look 'em in the eye.(that's either rude or inviting, and you don't want to find out which).

Have fun.
#9 May 8th, 2004, 11:42
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#9
no,

that happens(if at all) as soon as you land in India. you just get progressively more confident as bus rides happen. They're more like a controlled burn than like an attack of germs.
#10 May 8th, 2004, 11:52
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#10
You know what? JUST GO. if it has to happen, it will. (precautions help, of course) . Quit worrying(the worrying isusually worse than the bug).. It usually is just a teensy bug that'll stop bothering you in a couple of days(if it comes) if you take your courses right.
#11 May 8th, 2004, 12:00
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Iím pretty used to all the predictable unexpectedness of Indian roads. But the most hair rising for me was a bus journey from Delhi to Chandigarh. It was a misty cold morning. I felt like I was on a formula I tracks with buses competing to finish first. At the end I was shocked to find it was a sardarji and not Schumacher at the driverís seat of my bus!
#12 May 8th, 2004, 12:02
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#12
and mala, this post was not really for your this trip. you're not backpacking (or something) are you?
#13 May 8th, 2004, 13:35
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#13
What happens is you get the runs while on a long bus ride? I'd be worried about this.
#14 May 8th, 2004, 13:40
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#14
You don't panic.

You carry a pack of tablets(if they work for you) they did for me, a couple of times.. or you drop out at the nearest city and wait em out.

You don't jump headlong into long distance (2/3 day) rides though. you experiment...carefully.
#15 May 8th, 2004, 13:56
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#15
I guess the point(of my long post) is that Bus rides are extremely enlightening experiences for Backpackers that are(looking to) toughen their systems to take it all, because they can't get enough of the india experience...and time is of value.

It's certainly not for you if you have a constitution under stress from the elements in India...or you are by nature ...um...un-experimental.There are many OTHER amusements there that you may want to try instead...
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