A bus bamboozle and a night in Jaipur
Nov 9, 2005
|"The worst part is," Jon said, "is that we didn't even want to come to Jaipur in the first place."
That was after what was, and is still, our worst Indian day.
We do take some credit for this day, but only some. The rest we blame on dishonest people, the dirtiness of India, incessant stares of Indian men, a lack of women's restrooms, traffic, and full hotels. Our part was that we continue to trust people when we know full well we shouldn't.
So we bought a bus ticket from our hotel in Agra. We were too lazy to get a rickshaw and go to the main bus station and buy a government bus ticket. Instead, we trusted in the "manager" of the Shanti Palace hotel... (a hotel that was certainly not a palace). The thing is, that the buses are so cheap here, that we have said that if something devestating does happen, and we decide not to take that bus, we have not really lost anything.
We arrived at the "place where we are to meet the bus," which can sometimes be a parking lot, other times a semi travel agency, and other times simply an unspecified alley way. This time we were brought to the dirtiest parking lot known to mankind.. or at least to my kind. It was sketchy and full of trash, and we sat on our packs and watched the life of Agra happen around us, feeling a bit vulnerable, and knowing, although neither of us said anything to the other, that we were about to get bamboozled. Three other Isreali travelers were also waiting for the same bus, so at least we were not the only westerners waiting for the deluxe bus to Jaipur, that we knew now would not be "deluxe." The bus was supposed to leave at 10:30. That passed, as did 11:00 and 11:30. We got on the bus, waited another half hour for whatever it is that the bus drivers and their bus helpers do to delay the leaving of the bus for as long as they can. Finally, the beast started her engines, and we were off... slowly. With a ridiculously loud and obnoxious horn that blew out a tune rather than a beep, we clammered down the road honking at every bike, cow, pedestrian, goat and rickshaw in sight. Apparently 2 minutes of this chaos was too much for our driver, for suddenly we pulled over, not 3 kilometers from where we had gotten on, and the driver got out, sat on the sidewalk with his buddies... and ate his lunch of Dahl and Chapati. Unbelievable. We have heard, and how we know firsthand, that Indians "eat when they're hungry." There is not necessarily a set time for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They eat when their bellies tell them to. Fair enough. But, not when its now 12:30, the bus was scheduled to leave at 10:30, and we have not yet left the fine city of Agra.
Jon wanted to get off here. We could already tell that a nightmare was upon us, and we knew that if we didn't take the chance now, we'd be stuck on this thing all the way to Jaipur.
I should have listened to him.
The events of this day are truly nothing drastic, nor were we harmed in any way. It was just that it was a constant drain on the mind, emotions, and patience. The "deluxe" bus we were sold a ticket for was not supposed to stop. It was supposed to be a 4 hour ride, and because we stopped nearly every kilometer to ask any person walking if they would like to hop on and stand with the other 105 people in the aisle, the ride turned into a good 6. It is fascinating how many people can fit on an Indian bus. Most of these passengers were men. Actually, I think I was one of only 2 women on the entire bus, and I felt it. I had not (and maybe have not) developed a skin tough enough to disregard the stares of Indian men. I come from a culture where staring is impolite, and I feel very strongly in my beliefs. I understand I have to accept cultural differences, but for me, this one is very difficult. As I sat in the window seat, with Jon next to me, I felt the hovering, hot stares of men of all ages from above me. If I looked up at any time, there could be 12, 14 sets of unblinking eyes upon me. Even when I stared (glared) back, they would not take their eyes off me. This wasn't the first time I had encountered this, of course, and like any western woman, I had up until now just accepted that it was going to happen. Because my nerves were a bit rattled, and because I was stationary, with no way to move away from their stares, the frustration really sunk its talons into me on this day. So, for hours I glared back, said a nasty "hello??!" and covered and recovered my face with my scarf and tried to meditate their stares away.
For most of this time I was also in need of a restroom. Anytime you're on the bus and have to go, its difficult, and makes for a much longer ride. But when in India, on a overcrowded bus in the middle of the desert, you begin to realize that the prospect of actually using a bathroom, or finding a bush or tree is very slim. We did eventually stop, at a very grubby roadside "town." My first sight was of a dog that had become roadkill, and was merely moved onto the sand on the side of the road, right next to a small kiosk selling chai and other fried Indian goods. I was frazzled by this, and as I stepped off the bus to find something that resembled a "ladies room" I realized that this whole 1/4 kilometer area of dirty restaurants and roadside kiosks presented me with quite a problem. As I looked around, I realized I was the only female, and that the stares of every store owner, busdriver, and chai drinker was on me. All I needed was a place to pee. The smell of urine was overwhelming, so quite obviously people were going somehere nearby. (although, now I know that a place to go to the bathroom in India, is really just anywhere you want to go to the bathroom). What I was looking for was simply privacy. A bush, a tree, an alley, or even behind a car. I could find nowhere. The first person I dared to ask directed me to a square brick room filled with 5 or 6 men urinating. It was no more a bathroom than a nearly demolished room of an old house... and besides, where was I supposed to go??!! Basically I was just being made fun of, and I was the becoming the butt of a big joke by men who get nearly no entertainment all day. A western woman showing up looking for a restroom was good fun.
Jon of course was concerned, as usual, and also as usual, the best companion a girl could ask for, and I saw him deboard the bus with our gear in order to help me. Usually one of us stays on to save our seats and keep an eye on our stuff, and then we switch. After being the recipient of several terrible sexist comments, a zillion stares and laughs, dead dogs, flies, smells and a full bladder, I was nearly in a state of tears. Again, it wasn't the end of the world, just a bad Indian day, and a lot all at once.
As it all turns out, with Jon keeping guard, I found a spot, (after seeing the other woman exit it) and after experiencing the most revolting, 5 by 5 foot space of ground I have ever seen in my life, I had at least solved one of my problems. It is unbelievable to me that in a country of over a billion people, there are so few facilities, especially for women. It has been mind boggling for me to see people urinate and defecate anywhere they please. Privacy is a difficult luxury to come by in this country, and residents seem much more accustomed to that than I do.
We walked back to the bus to find two guys in our seats, and the fire within in exploded a bit, and despite their laughs and impolite gestures, I managed to get them out. They went and stole the other two tourists' seats, of course. Back on the bus, with more stares, and hours more stopping and starting, honking, shouting and packing the people up to the ceiling, we finally arrived to a bustling Jaipur. Another negative to taking a private bus is that they are not allowed in government bus stations, so often they simply let you off wherever. This was the case this time as well. We deboarded on a dark street, with plenty of people, of course (because there are always plenty of people wherever you are in India) but we had no idea where we were. This is when you then have to trust a rickshaw driver. You cannot trust anyone, but you have to trust someone. Therein lies the trouble.
After picking a hotel in our book, our rickshaw driver took us there hassle-free, but we had to go through some not so hassle free city traffic. Traffic laws are few in this country, and the mess that gets created on the roads can be unbelievable. Fancy cars, auto rickshaws, cyclists, cows, pushcarts, you name it combine in a big mass of movement, with horns and yells and the utmost commotion. It is truly amazing how it all seems to work itself out- the knot somehow gets untangled and people get to where they want to be, at all different paces.
Luck would have it that the hotel was full, and, as the hotel owner tells us, "all of the places that I know in Jaipur, are full." Wonderful.
Deep breaths, a few phone calls, and another rickshaw ride later soon brought us to a quiet family-run guesthouse with nice courtyard and a peaceful feel. That night we met several other travelers, and we all communed at one table over a meal and shared stories. In this, I was able to put into perspective everything that had happened to me on this day. Travel has allowed me to do this with more ease than I think I would have before this journey. Bad days, good days, days that test your patience and will, days that fascinate and excite and teach; this is what travel is all about. When you can sit around a table with strangers, who all have similar stories, and share and laugh about them, and then laugh at yourself, you have learned. Each day since this one has been a "better" if not "good" Indian day. I think I have learned.
The next day we went to the Government bus station to book our ticket to Pushkar, and guess what? a comfortable, on time, hassle free ride.