This is the tale of our bus ride to Shimlashimlashimlashimla. Of course, it is not actually called Shimlashimlashimlashimla, it’s just one: Shimla. We have been calling it Shimlashimlashimlashimla ever since we met our bus manager/ticket checker/alarm clock on our ride to Shimlashimlashimlashimla. He was a tall, serious fellow with one slightly crossed eye and a bristly mustache like your uncle is sporting in your 1986 Thanksgiving family photo. He took his job very seriously. Every time the bus would slow or come to a stop he would repeatedly blow his whistle and scream SHIMLASHIMLASHIMLASHILA whether there was someone around to hear it or not. But guess who was there to hear it every time; my left ear, which is still slightly ringing. He was born in … just kidding, I don’t know where he was born or anything about him besides his affinity for whistles and impressively large lung capacity. Anyways, This is not the tale of our funny bus man, this is the tale of our funny bus ride. Enjoy. Or if you have already grown bored, I’ll catch ya later.
When we purchased our bus tickets to get from Rishikesh to Shimla we picked our seats on what appeared to be a very large, toilet outfitted bus. It even advertised air-conditioning (a necessary feature in any long-distance treck in India), and luggage storage (another necessary feature when you are carrying backpacks the size and weight of middle school children). After all the booking was said and done we were under the impression that the journey would take around 5 hours, up to 7 if we were unlucky. Now, picture everything I just listed, but flip it upside down, shove it in a 4×4 box, sprinkle some body fluids on it, and put it in an oven. A crammed, crumbling, hot city bus was our magical chariot for approximately….wait for it…12 hours. When we arrived at the bus station we were baffled by the realization that this seemed to be the only place in all of India that did not have English subtitles accompanying Hindi signs. After asking our way around the station we were finally ushered into our regal automobile by several staff members and passengers. Within one look at the outside of the bus we knew this could not be the same vehicle that we booked, however, everyone assured us that this was the one and only bus heading to Shimla.
The bus was once white and green, complete with festive floral trim. My best guess is that the seats were once blue, but the years of grime and wear had aged them into more of a smokey-brown. Every seat had its own foggy window, and under every foggy window was a splayed array of vomit (if your brain just made a broken record sound then you read that right, there was LOTS of vomit). We were still too naive to recognize that this display of bile was an indication to the ride we were about to embark on. Our driver ushered us into our seats which happened to be above the wheel well. The wheel well eliminates approximately 8 inches of space, and when you are Paul’s height (which is 6’6) an 8 inch loss is a big deal. The luggage storage we had had our hearts set on turned out to be a small overhead shelf just big enough for my bag to fit in. Paul’s bag (which may I remind you is the size of a middle school child) we placed his backpack in-between our legs in our already shrunken seat. Now I would like you to recall the 4×4 body fluid oven box I mentioned earlier, and place both myself, my very tall boyfriend, and his very tall luggage within that box. This is the way we rode for 12 hours.
Upon our departure from the bus station I immediately understood the quantity of vomit decorating the side of the bus, and even began to wonder how there was not more. I am giving myself a mental high-five for holding all my cookies in, because this trip made Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride look like one of those wheel-chair-lifts that elderly people get installed above their staircase. The only thing more terrifying than navigating traffic in India is navigating traffic in India in a bus on the edge of the himalayan mountain side. We flew down crumbling one lane roads, never slowing for pot holes, sheer cliffs, or other vehicles. Over one particularly rugged road we made an Evel-Knievel-style jump over a rocky riverbed that had every single butt at least 4 inches out of its seat, and tore one seat straight in half…literally..The seat broke completely in half. Back-part completely separating from butt-part, and sending the man whose butt was in that butt-part sprawling into the laps of the people who’s butts were in the butt-parts behind him. The dislocated back-part was shoved under the back bench seat and we continued as though nothing had happened. We giggled and wondered where we went wrong. We weren’t sure where it had happened, but we had definitely done something wrong.
As we climbed higher and higher into the himalayas the smog of the valley began to clear and the population grew sparse. We stopped at several mountain villages for tea breaks and to take on more passengers, in each of which we were greeted warmly by locals who showed us to the restrooms and offered us tea. Then with the timely SHIMLASHIMLASHIMLASHIMLA we were ushered back on to the bus and were on to the next stop. Each town was accompanied by a breathtaking view of the valley we had just climbed out of. At one particular bathroom stop I wandered to the edge of the cliff. I watched monkeys jump tree-to-tree in the steep forest below me, and goats napping on the roof of a small shop next to me. I smiled as I began to realize that we had done something right. I am not sure exactly where it had happened, but we had definitely done something right.