I make a Google search for ‘bussing’ before making up the title, just to check if such a word exists. Whether it is a valid English word or not, I get to see plenty of results on the web. I decided to go ahead and use it.
I did not have any choice but to use buses when I decided to make a Rajasthan trip. I could neither afford a ticket on Palace on Wheels, nor a taxi. Trains would be nice, but for someone who doesn’t like to plan his journeys, trains are not the best option. I would almost never know my departing date when I arrive somewhere. I could leave a place the very next day if I am done with it or linger for many days if I take liking. Besides not willing to book in advance, I am too lazy to do some homework with train timings and reservations. Instead, I would rather just get to a bus stop, hop in a waiting bus and move on.
“It is easy to travel around in Rajasthan,” a friend told me, “connectivity is good and so are the roads. You can move around comfortably and swiftly.” I discovered he was right, the moment I left Delhi for Jaipur. There were many buses waiting at RTDC’s(Rajasthan Tourism) Bikaner house near India Gate, and all I had to do was to get my ticket and get on board a bus that was leaving in thirty minutes. The bus was good and comfortable, but what came as a surprise for me was the mid-way restaurant where the bus pulled over for snacks. All over the country, I was used to buses stopping for a tea break at dingy chai shops smelling of urine. We had an exception here. The mid-way restaurant(as they are called in these parts), was a clean and well maintained place owned by RTDC. It was not just a restaurant but a small hotel complex housing everything a traveller would need – room’s to stay, ATMs, restaurant, bar and even a beauty parlour! But what applies to a Delhi-Jaipur deluxe bus did not apply everywhere – I once found my bus stopping at a small grimy place on the way from Jaipur to Ajmer. In fact the RTDC mid-way hotels are pricey enough that all the ordinary buses would not be able to stop there.
The frequency of buses all around Rajasthan is something to appreciate. I did not plan any of my trips except one or two overnight ones on deluxe buses, but whenever I turned up at the bus stops there was a bus waiting to go to my destination. Even in small towns like Mandawa in Shekhawati, a place I used as a base to go around nearby towns and visit the painted Havelis, I never had to wait more than 15 minutes to find a bus. May be because the people of Rajasthan prolifically move from place to place. Though frequent, buses used to run full, and more than half the passengers women. Another positive note about bussing around the state are its roads – you hardly get to see any potholes. And the plains of the desert allow construction of long stretches of straight roads that lets you travel in good speeds. Most major cities are connected with excellent toll roads where travelling is a breeze.
Inside of the buses and fellow passengers are also something worthy of mention. The deluxe buses had the usual well-dressed crowd who sat in silence, and the interiors are fairly clean. Small town buses are where all the action is, and have a different story to tell. The floor is usually full of groundnut coat on which you have to walk, but the seats are fortunately clean. People love to munch when they are on the move, and they don’t think twice to dump the remains below their seats. There is also plenty of conversation among passengers. Some people spot their buddies at the far end of the bus and start a conversation that takes in all the people sitting between them. Women travelling in small groups chatter away non-stop while their kids cry and vie for attention. Villages of Rajasthan are no exception when it comes to loud cell-phone conversations to which everyone in the bus is forcefully made an audience. I used to strike conversations with friendly neighbours a couple of times to kill time on the way. The topics varied widely, from the implication of tourism in Rajasthan to traditions of the state to just whiling away my time with small kids. There were plenty of digressions for the mind during the journeys and it was never boring. The highlight – occasionally spotting small flocks of peacocks that would scatter away seeing the oncoming bus!