An exceptionally empty bus!?!
When I was preparing to come to India, it never really occured to me that I would have to take the bus anywhere. But, as it turns out, Elly and I are the two Tare who ride the bus each day to our Partner site, Anand Gram. Perhaps many of you have an idea in your head of bus travel in India. If it looks anything like this, you're on the right track.
Fortunately, this type of scenario seems rare in Pune, although it is very common to find 4 or so people holding on in the rear stairwell because there isn't room elsewhere on the bus. Why, just last week that was me! Thankfully, it wasn't for very long -- after a minute or so things shuffled enough that I could push through the crowd and actually be standing in the bus. My general rule when I'm riding on the stairs of the bus (yes, I have a general rule for this now) is to hold on tight and don't look behind me at everything we're zooming past.
Somethings to note about riding buses here:
Everything is written in Marathi. I don't read Marathi, so this is a challenge. Our typical tactics are to flag down any public bus that is coming and as it slows down (they don't really stop) we shout "Alandi?!?" to the conductor at the back and if he bobbles his head in that lovely Indian fashion we run and hop on. Yes, run. The other day, I still had one foot 'on the ground' (mid-air) when the bus picked up speed. After successfully boarding a moving vehicle, it is then time to communicate with the conductor our destination. Me: "Kate Vashti, 2." "Kaste Vashti?" "Ha." (This means yes in Hindi) Money is exchanged and we hold on for a wild ride. Of the 20 or so bus trips we've had to date we've been able to sit for about half. A few times some courteous locals have given up their seats for us. This is because they want to talk to foreigners. :) There is definite crowding, although nothing like 'super-dense-crush-mode' which, believe it or not, is a form of measurement for train carriages in Mumbai. I await, with trepidation, the summer season when things really start to heat up. What will the buses be like then??
So, as our stop approaches, we begin to make our way (if possible) to the front of the bus where exiting is meant to occur. Thankfully, the conductor rings the bell to let the driver know he should slow down -- just a bit -- because two people want to get off. The cool thing is that this bell is really a bell, on a yellow rope, that hangs the length of the bus and jingles just above the driver's head. Truthfully, I'm not sure how he hears it over the roar of the engine, grinding of gears and squealing of breaks... We brace ourselves for the hasty exit, fearful of getting left hanging mid leap.
This is Elly and I on our first bus ride. It's blurry because it was fast and bumpy --going over speed bumps it felt a bit like the downward motion on a roller coaster where you're kind of hanging and gravity hasn't kicked in yet. But hey, at least we're sitting.
Another thing to note about Pune buses, is that most don't have doors. On Friday afternoon's bus, some of the vertical bars weren't attached to the ceilings anymore... that made for an interesting ride.
I wish I could share some more photos of our bus rides but, quite frankly, I need to hold on with both hands. :) The good news is that I am starting to enjoy this daily routine and it gets easier each day. We've yet to get on the wrong bus, so that's always a bonus. I have conquered rickshaws and buses; next on the list is trains...