The Longest, Coldest, Most Cramped Ten Hours of Her Life
Hippie on Heels summarized her illustrous “bus ride from hell” experience from Manali to McLoed as “the longest, coldest, most cramped 10 hours” of her life. I rode the same road, in the opposite direction, and also experienced a bus ride from hell – my version.
Being several good years younger, the Hippie on Heels took the local bus. In my younger days on Guatemalan and Mexican roads I also rode the locals with the pigs and the chickens and the people on the rooftop.
On her bus ride from hell there was no place for storage, it was winter and cold and the doors were open. There were drunkard fights on the bus and non-stop teenage obnoxious music that nobody dared to ask to stop. And then, the ultimate – a guy, sleeping while standing, fell on top of her and continued his sleep in that position, not budging…
Hippie also mentioned being “super sick to my stomach”, but apparently that just made everything else worse, but was not the main problem.
Well, it was mine. (see below)
Prelude - Oh, My Stuff
Dark and forlorn
But first things first. The nightmare actually started earlier, at the McLoed bus station itself.
I generally prefer to arrive a bit early rather than late. Consequently, when the taxi from Bhagsu dropped me at the McLoed bus station, a bit off the main road, it was a dark and forlorn place. There were no buses in sight. Only few people were waiting in the fairly large compound.
I approached a German couple with big backpacks to make sure I was in the right place at the right time. Yes, they were also going to Manali, but on another bus. They knew nothing about an orange Laxmi bus. Theirs was a blue Bedi Bus, fancier and higher above the road, as I later found out. I relaxed a bit when somebody told me that the Laxmi bus was indeed expected to arrive soon.
Hezi, my beloved travel agent with his big heart, did not think I needed a fancier bus, and tried to save me a 100 rupee…so I booked the Laxmi. Regular seats. A/C. In retrospect I wish I spent the extra rupees, but that was it.
People started to show up. Buses started to come and go. An Israeli religious family I met in the Beit Habbad Kabbalat Shabat was traveling to Delhi. Back then we got into a discussion about the idea of Messiah. I said in my opinion it was a not such a great idea and caused more harm than it was worth. The lady reminded me of that now and said: “I was thinking about it and have some answers for you.” But I missed her musings on the subject since I desperately needed to go to the toilet. I asked the group of Israelis to watch over my luggage, which was placed on a concrete post.
A toilet ordeal and the disappered luggage
That toilet was, of course, an ordeal all to itself. To start with, it was locked. An obnoxious Indian guy told me there was nothing he or I could do about it. But then I found out I could pay. Five rupees did the trick and brought about an old funky man, the only one with the key. The sesame opened. The toilet was a disaster, but at least I was equipped with some toilet paper.
When I came back I found out my stuff was gone. Luckily I promptly discovered that a brave well-wishing religious Israeli guy “helped” me and loaded it all on the bus to Delhi where the group was going…
Luck upon luck, I got my luggage back in the nick of time, before the bus with the Israelis and my stuff on board made its way to the capital.
I was left alone with all my luggage by the concrete pillar. I needed the assurance that other souls were also waiting for the Laxmi orange bus to Manali. Buses came and went. The blue fancy Bedi bus showed up and swallowed the German couple.
Eventually an orange bus appeared out of the darkness. After all this waiting, I now had to rush with all my bags (yes, I know, I had too many…) over mud and puddles that accumulated on the ugly dirty concrete floor of the bus station.
Somebody helped me to get my mochila and suitcase into the trunk of the bus. I took the medium-sized red mochila and the small basic backpack with me. Luckily I had a double seat all for myself. LUCKILY!!
Obviously, I did not take any pictures during my ordeal. This Laxmi bus from the company’s Facebook site naturally looks better than the real specimen. Mine was not a semi-sleeper anyway, and definitely not shiny, but this was the closest-to-reality picture I could find…
The Bus Ride From Hell - Super Sick to My Stomach
First the peanuts, then my soul
Well, Hippie on Heels paid $10 for the trip. I probably paid about $5 more for a “seater” or whatever that type of bus is called. It was a night ride. The bus was not full. There was nobody on the floor, the roof or hanging from the doors, which were tightly closed. I had the double seater to myself, thank goodness.
Nonetheless it was also a bus ride from hell, for the one single reason mentioned above, which also made the trip “the longest 10 hours of my life”.
Basically, the minute we departed in the darkness, the driver was already taking a turn, looping too fast, and my body reacted instantaneously. I started to feel sick even before he made his way out of the bus station…
I walked up to the driver asking for a vomit bag. That was when I could still move. He gave me two – reluctantly, grudgingly. I sat and immediatly started to throw up. Into the bags, not on the floor. Very politely.
To each their own
Nobody seemed to care. I was making all these sounds, looking my most miserable self. Nobody gave a hoot. (Reminds me of a story about an Israeli girl who reportedly shat in her pants on an Indian bus because the driver refused to stop).
Every movement caused further nausea, even the action of tying and untying the stupid puke bags to the handle at the back of the seat in front of me. I thanked the powers that be for the handles…
In succession I threw up the two packages of peanuts I bought from a hanging snacks chain in one of Bagshu’s groceries. I threw up the Thali I had for lunch. Then I started to throw up my stomach juices, my soul and whatever was left in my digestive system after the stomach juices were all out…
I slept for a few minutes when a miracle made the bus go straight for a few kilometers, and then on the next turning I woke up to puke once more. Sometimes my luggage rolled down the aisle or under the seats. I let it be, unable to deal with it. Just trying not to throw up out of the bags took all my available energy.
A third bag and the light of day
Finally the driver stopped somewhere in the middle of darkness at a pipi-and-vending place. I got Menthos candies and chewing gum. Went to evacuate at the nightmarish toilet. Luckily I did not need to have a number 2. Vomiting took plenty care of that.
I needed a third bag. I threw away the existing two, filled to the brim.
Again reluctantly, grudgingly, the driver handed me one more plastic bag with a stern face, as if I were a misbehaving child.
When we were back on the bus it started to get daylight. The more daylight, the better I was faring. Darkness makes it harder for the body to predict and prepare for a turn on the road, which then hits the digestive system without warning.
Nonetheless, I still managed to fill up the entire puke bag.
A beautiful river emerged on the right side of the bus, and then Kullu. We passed Bhuntar. I remembered some Israelis said you had to get off at Bhuntar to reach Vashisht. But I kept sitting. Kullu was a kind of a city with guesthouses and all, along a river. The river was beautiful and clean, pristine-looking.
For the first and only time in India (or elsewhere) I “polluted” the ground, adding my small contribution to India’s humongous garbage pile. There was no other way to depose of my disgusting vomit bag, and I needed both my hands for my luggage and fast…
Bus Ride from Hell - The Aftermath
A rickshaw ride in heaven
I needed to take out my luggage and manage my bags, then get a rickshaw to the Drifter’s Café in Old Manali, where I was supposed to meet Amrita, my wonderful Indian friend from the guesthouse in Bhagsu.
I wasn’t feeling nauseated anymore, but was entirely wasted from the ordeal. Nonetheless, I managed all that, including conducting small talk with the friendly rickshaw driver.
We passed by New Manali. I asked the driver which bank did not charge a fee for withdrawals. He stopped right away at the next bank. I tried to explain this was just a request for information, nothing immediate, but that was a complicated message to transmit in a foreign langauge.
At a certain point I had to get off the rickshaw as the weight was too much for its motor to carry uphill. I was a bit apprehensive about leaving all my stuff on the vehicle, but decided to trust, as I did on so many other occasions in India, and nothing ever went wrong.
In a short while I was back up on the rickshaw, and eventually we reached the Drifter’s Café. I Whats-apped my dear Indian friend Amrita, who arrived several minutes later. In the meantime I leaned against the wall of the café, taking deep breaths. People were friendly. The town was beautiful and tranquil.
The main street in Old Manali was quiet. Several Israelis walked down the road. Small businesses, but less dirty and funky than Bhagsu. A more comfortable feeling, village indeed. I haven’t yet seen the actual country part until Amrita took me later to see where she was staying.
But first things first, I needed to put my stuff in a solid room. Four walls. No movement.
I left the bags at a “safe” guesthouse with an Israeli girl who was staying there, and went with Amrita to check the recommended Krishna place. It was very pretty but the available room was on the third floor. There was upholstery and a carpet, which I dislike, but for one night it would do. After the bus ride from hell almost anything would do…
Amrita helped me carry the smaller mochila up the flights of stairs. I carried the heavy one and dragged the suitcase. She also carried my small red backpack. Yes, I did have too much stuff. Definitely.
Once in the blessed room, I sat down. I needed tea. I needed water. The friendly landlady brought me both without making issue. I was a bit demanding, but admittedly I was in bad shape. For what seemed like half an hour or more I was incapacitated, sitting by the small table on the balcony, looking at the compound below and the mountains yonder. The landlady said the water was filtered. I drank it. Then me and Amrita went out for ginger tea with lemon, followed by warm noodle soup at the Art Cafe.
I was healed.
End of “Bus Ride From Hell” story.
More about Manali in a future post.
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Bus Ride from Hell - The Moral of the Story
Despite everybody’s automatic assumption that I must have had a stomach issue like all the other tourists in India, I did not. I had a bus issue.
When a phenomenon starts the minute you board a bus and ends the minute you disembark to stable ground, there is a clear cause and effect at play. My scientific mind knows that much.
And – indeed – the only time I had a food stomach issue in India occured when I couldn’t say no to the Sikh guy who handed me prasadh at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It was a short-lived affair, though, with no lasting effects…
Otherwise, I bought street food everywhere and ate at the dhabas to get authentic food for little money, all with no ill effects.
It is possible that I had already paid my dues in Mexico when I was lying in bed for a week with high temperature and a messy belly, letting Muntezuma have his sweet revenge on me…
The moral of the story is to listen to local and traveler expert advice regarding motion sickness, especially the prevention parts. Here is some practical wisdom from The Times of India, and some more tips from Tripsavvy.