There is a fine line between the two, one I don’t want to get the wrong side of.
Waiting for the sleeper coach to Aurangabad I had been surrounded by families. However, now on board, looking at my one bed cabin (top bunk), I noticed that it was just me and a whole load of men. I started to worry; such a situation had not even occurred to me, the glossy pictures at the bus booking office had lulled me into a false sense of security.
I decided that if no other women got on, I would get off, screw the £20 fare. Just as I was getting all my stuff together and was steeling myself to demand my rucksack back, six Arab women came on board, I immediately felt safer. One of them looked like she could pack a hefty punch so I gave her my most winning smile – we were now friends.
I started to settle in, got into my silk sleeping-bag liner, attached my bags to the rails and still feeling apprehensive, and began to accept my lot. Then I needed the loo. In my desire to get to the coach pick-up point on time I had forgot to go and had naively assumed there would be a loo on board. But we had already set off.
As we left Mumbai, in a blaze of fireworks celebrating the New Year, I now started to worry about the journey. I hate car journeys, hate being on the road. I much prefer the train but that had not been an option. I had been a little gung-ho perhaps. Keen to leave the oppressive heat and confusion of Mumbai and start my trip proper and hopefully meet some people, I had not thought through all possible avenues. And, as anyone who knows me well will attest to – I do worry, over analyze and work myself up into a tiz.
I was feeling genuinely scared. I had no ideas about Indian roads, except that they probably are not great. Would we go careening off into a ditch? Maybe hit an elephant? I had heard that the lorry drivers drink at the wheel, maybe they would plough into us and I would get speared by a tree (I don’t know where the tree had come from, but I didn’t want to be speared by one or anything else for that matter.) If anything did happen, what would I do? How would I contact help from the side of a motorway in central(ish) India? How do you contact your insurance company from a grotty hospital in the middle of no-where? Who would tell my mother?
Stupid, I had definitely been stupid.
Not to mention the fact that I <em>really </em>needed the loo. To take my mind off my sorry situation I listened to Adam & Joe podcasts but they make me laugh, not great when you need the loo. I forced myself to fall asleep. only to be woken up by the fact that I was going to fall out of my bunk because of the speed we were going around the corners. I gripped the bars, praying for my ordeal to be over.
We made a toilet-stop by the edge of the road but only the men got off and there was NO WAY I was going to join them out there in the dark unknown. Pulling down my trousers and showing off my white bottom! Not today – no way Jose.
So, berating myself I soldiered on (which meant I lay in my bunk thinking up improbable and detailed horror stories of what could happen to me), trying to read Richard Dawkins by torch light. Luckily I feel asleep again.
Actually it was quite comfortable, if a little cold. I resolved not to do any more travelling alone. I would just latch on to people from now on.
Next stop, I looked out the window to see a service station. Oh joy! I scrambled my stuff together and leapt out of my bunk, several of the women were also going this time but that didn’t matter I had held on for six hours... It was the most disgusting facility but I didn’t care, not even about the funny green bugs flying around my head, a quick check for spiders, and relief.
Back on the bus and not long to go now. I looked around at the other passengers, families – who must have got on at a stop I was unaware of, lots of women and some men. I felt better, had a long drink of water and anyway only three more hours to go. I gazed out at the stars listening to Rufus Wainwright feeling less alone.
I am sitting now in my hotel in Aurangabad. I already met some Americans in reception and am in a clean room having had a very hot shower. I now conclude that I am neither brave nor stupid – it was just a bus journey.
<span style="color:#ff00ff;">Footnote: That was yesterday morning (20/10/09) and I have just (21/10/09 11.30pm) seen on p.1180 of Lonely Planet’s India guide: </span>
<span style="color:#ff00ff;">“Avoid night buses unless there is no alternative, as driving conditions are more hazardous and drivers may be suffering from lack of sleep”</span>
<span style="color:#ff00ff;">So it turns out that I was stupid, perhaps a little brave and absolutely naive – you live and learn I guess!</span>