Gadag to Panjim/Goa 09.02.11
As the bus lurched out of Badami bus station I thought to myself I love these buses. They take you right through the heart of the country, lumbering through the countryside and farm land in a great dust covered hulk with a guy at the wheel who to me had the air of a fighter pilot, perched up front on a bare sprung seat, little neck scarf, cool and at ease with the great crunching gear stick and his companion the conductor taking care of business down the aisle. When you don’t understand the language all you have to go on is the body language and how the people respond to the person. I have grown really fond of the bus drivers and conductors taking us through to me uncharted territory with hair raising precision between oxen goats rickshaws and suicidal motorcycles, and on the bus the guy taking the fare taking care and time with the people, it was all done casually but I could see it. I’ve watched the bus drivers too at the bus stations when they all gather in their brown uniforms in groups and around the supervisor with his book of knowledge and of time, there seems to be a genuine camaraderie that I haven’t seen on the railways. Maybe I will, but this is just the journey so far.
Then we get to another cow infested over run with cute black pigs dust covered town and I’m all sorted. sat in my place territory clearly marked. I’d got on rucksack, guitar, camera bag, bag of those little bananas that make your mouth go dry and all is well. Except it isn’t, I sort of looked up as the last of the people get of the bus like the last of the water going down the plug hole in the far away door down the other end of the bus. Oh oh. So I leaned out the window and just said
“Gadag?” to a one of the fly guys in brown which is a little like saying Birmingham? To a total stranger when you’re in Scunthorpe. So there are smiles from the locals and I get the idea and follow flustered down the bus and fall out into the dust, in a very manly way and landing on my feet I may add and I go around to the other bus and so now of course I’m last on. Damn.
So I get on the bus and everyone ducks and I say sorry, sorry, sorry, all the way to the back of the bus and then no, there is a call and everybody gets up again just as I’ve squeezed past a guy and sat puffing by the window. So I get up and follow and tumble off and walk around and get back on the original bus, but I’m in the scrum now, I’m not last, but I’m defiantly a few apologies to the back of pole position but I’m in there. Anyway the bus sets off again winding and meandering through rural India, brakes screeching and horn blaring and I’m just quiet with my friend again the warm wind blowing through the window just soaking up India gently pinching myself that I have not felt this content for years. Not since I used to drive a Chrysler 440.
A guy came up to me which is a regular thing, and says
“What are you doing?” so I tell him I’m travelling across India. To which he says astonished
“On your own, you have no friends?”
I say no, and for a laugh I told him I was called ‘Billy’ but not to be sad as I had a lot of mates back in England. He looked like a blank page and I left it like that and I went back to the cinemascope through the open window.
So there we are a coach full of bliss right, and we pull into the town of Gadag. You wouldn’t think it was a hard word to mispronounce but I seem to do a good job apparently, you have to say it really fast with an ‘a’ on the end. Like gadaga gadaga gadaga. It’s a tongue twister. But I got it in the end. Then it seemed that the place I had written instructions to get too was in fact another town and I hadn’t realized and not for that matter had I been told.
Now in bus stations I have been sort of seeing it like this, it’s a game of snooker and I’m the white ball, and I brace myself then straight shot right into the middle of all these other bright colored balls I’m told to go here and there ricocheting and the arm is going and the head saying no but meaning yes and eventually after one or two or three connections I reach the pocket. It’s keeping the momentum you see and of course the bus guys, I love em.
So there I am and I’m bouncing of the cushion trying to find the local bus and guess what I end up on the same bus again and its
“Sorry, sorry” all over again, this time only once or twice as I’m only going a few stops and got a seat near the front. Then the guy whistles from the back of the bus the door opens and he indicates for me to, ‘jump soldier, jump’ well ok not exactly but kind of, you’re getting the idea right.
So there I am and I have honestly absolutely no idea where, some place called ‘Mugund naka’ and it is wilderness frontier town to me but I’m not having any soft stuff mate, no sir, not me. So I flash the directions I have on the brown envelope I’d been given at Hampi to one of two strange looking people as I walk along and I soon discover that it is a hotel back where I have just walked from exactly where I was dropped off by my mates in brown. So I troop back and into the reception of the hotel and confidently ask the concierge if this is the correct place to pick up the bus and bang. I hit a stone wall.
“No busses” he said. I’ll save you all the dialogue but he was shall we say and unpleasant character who I recon some British upper class twit years ago had insulted his family and it had been passed down the generations and he’d wanted vengeance and honor restored and now he had it and if that was the case I consoled myself with the deed of having released his family from a spiral of terrible repeating Karma, and now at last they were free. I got nothing from him. But it was the right place, restaurant and all below as I’d been told there would be.
Now this is where doubt suspicion and violent thoughts came in. I didn’t know how it all worked here, I had a piece of paper with some times and a ticket price written on it. In England tickets are printed and are spat out of machines so its official right this was just some guys hand writing and I realized when I looked over the ticket that the name of the company ‘Shanti Travel’ was spelt wrong ‘Shanthi.’ I tried the numbers printed on there and they were all not working. A guy in a travel agent shop also brushed me aside like he didn’t know who I was and carried on with his internet poker game. I realized later he was the actually the contact there the lazy fat asshole. Sorry, I’m just unloading here, true though.
So I’m genuinely rattled and wander up the road in the baking sun to find an internet café to try and see if I can track the guy who sold me the ticket. I sent a few emails and whilst I was sat there it came to me that I just had to trust. If I had been done it wasn’t the end of the world, I could get out of there, somehow and of course if it came to it I would. So I changed my mind, I have to say here that I had a little help and I was listening and open. Those who know me will know what I mean and those who don’t will get to know.
So as I walked back a group of school kids stopped to say hello so I used it to lift myself, I hammed it up and acted silly and shook every one of their hands and had them all laughing and screaming and I walked away a few minute later full beam on again, and anybody who crossed my path for the next few hours got a full beam Mick.
“Hello” It changed my mind.
I went down to the restaurant and got down to some serious tapping as I had 4 hours till the bus was due at 8.30pm there were open mouth stares as I brought out my lap top and began work, groups of people came and stood behind me leaning over my shoulder, just looking at what I was doing. The food was ok and I had a couple of ‘warm’ coffees, every now and again a guy would walk through the place with a big urn of charcoal throwing incense onto it wafting great clouds of it through the place. It was remarkable like being in church rather than a subterranean restaurant in a badly lit dusty town somewhere in India
It got to 8 o’clock and I they wanted their table back as the place was busy. I said thanks and lots of people waved me goodbye as I left, It honestly is remarkable how open and unspoiled areas are here.
So there I am stood on the roadside nervous but expectant. A guy came up called himself Ahkmed, strikes up a conversation, he has a sad eyes and which are rimmed with the dark lines of lack of sleep and silent angst. We talk and it seems he has a good job, but was a little vague, it seems that his father died and his big brother at the age of 35 died of Dengi fever, and as he tells me my hands buzz, so I said
“Just talk to them mate, they are waiting to hear from you. Your brother and father are never to far away, it was just your brothers time.”
He seemed to understand what I was saying. He asks me if I’m married and I ask him and he’s not he lives at home with his mother his brother and his brothers wife. Who apparently cook for him, he shook his head when he learned that I cook for myself as well. He told me he was a Muslem and how it is wrong that the Hindu gods having 4 wives. I laughed and said lucky them.he stood with me for about an hour it was an interesting meeting really. But I could smell the slight wiff of alcohol on him and he was sad. So I put my hand on his shoulder and said
“Ahkbar you have to find what ever it is that makes you happy and what ever it is cherish it and enjoy it, there must be something that brings you joy.”
He stood silent for a moment on the side of that busy dirty road and then he lit up. I have a cat he said, she is called ‘laksmi’ he went on to tell me how he calls her when he gets home and how she is always waiting for him and how she sleeps on his head at night” I saw the light come back in his eyes. I said
“Hey akhbar hold your hand out like this and I held mine level” he didn’t hesitate and I just let energy flow to him, I watched him wobble a little, though it might have been the beer, but I don’t think it was. He got it. We stood afterwards just quiet both of us looking up the road craning out necks for any headlights that looked like a bus,
“Your bus is late Michael, and now I have to go, good luck” We shook hands I wished him well and he walked of into the shadows.
It was now 9pm and it should have been there 8.30. I stood on the side of the dim lit road buffeted by trucks and busses and traffic blowing dust into my face. Now and then a tuck tuck honked at me to move, I was a rock and they drove round. I felt like loyal dog waiting for the master, which in a way I suppose I am. It got to 9.30 and I started to feel real anger and all sorts of vengeance rise in my mind, as it begins to dawn on me that I have been suckered and there is no bus. Knew I could get out if it but, it’s not a good feeling is it. Lessons learned I tried to say to my anger but it wouldn’t die down and I began swearing I would go back to Hampi and kick the guys frickin ass.
Now the next thing is a weird series of things that seemed to all happen at once. I am not sure what or how, but I felt something odd on my neck and just brushed it with my hand and I was instantly horrified and there was fur on my neck, I kid you not. It felt like fur. All the hair and the skin on my shoulders had lifted and the second I touched it my whole back erupted into the most intense itching I have ever known in the next second it had flashed down my back and along my arms and into my hands. I started almost dancing scratching and reaching inside my shirt desperately trying to stop it itching I thought some sort of chemical truck had passed by as I saw another guy across the road scratching too. It was really scary for a few minutes there and got worse, and at the same time all the locals seemed to start paying me attention, which I suppose they would as I had been stood for an hour and a half like a rock by the road side then all of a sudden I am pacing up and down the road doing a weird kind of dance with my arms up my shirt. It seemed that all of a sudden everybody wanted to look at my ticked that was passed around 5 or six times, I think it was the guitar too that drew them out, one guy was a drummer and played me Tamal Nado rock music on his ipod, and I’m trying to listen and at the same time obviously distressed when some other guy who could speak broken English boldly takes the ticket off me and we all march up to the steps of the hotel like the mob from Frankenstein to the guy in the travel shop still playing poker on his computer.
He said “Did you not call this number”
I barked back at him ”The number doesn’t work and you were called and you were supposed to order the bus here” he jumped into life and all of a sudden we have information apparently the bus is running late and will be here at 9.30
“Its 9.40 now mate” I said aggressively. Every body was buzzing about and the ticket was being passed above the heads of about 6 or 7 people now. We all marched back to the road. I was itching like crazy and really uncomfortable and getting a little stressed and the drummer guy is following me wanting me to listen to his favorite band and honestly I was really trying too. Then somebody seemed to notice me itching, scratching and twisting and they said
“Water infection” Damn, it must have been the coffee I’d just had as I had been unbelievably careful as far as water went. It felt like somebody had rubbed fibre glass into my back, neck and hair. Well how do stop it I asked.
“Medicine” he said
“Well yeah I could have guessed that, but where from?”
He did that hand movement again “der” he said
I looked around to see the red cross shop shutter down. “closed” he said
I said thanks and went on scratching. We stood there till it was 10.30. The guy in the Frankinstein windmill travel agents had said
“Wait over there it will come” But he’d left half an hour ago and pulled the shutters down. One last look at my watch and one last time the ticket was passed around, they all looked at me sadly words like Criminals, crooks, cheats were whispered amongst them, and each time a little glance at me. I was very angry now and just aflame itching, I very nearly got on a bus to Aurangabad, but something said no. I’d seen the star card earlier and I knew that somehow faith would play out in this instance but after two and a half hours stood by that road even this little dog had begun to doubt, so all the mob came with me to the hotel foyer, the cleared karma guy said they only had double rooms and he wasn’t for doing a deal, he hadn’t realized right then of course that his soul was lighter, I hoped he’d notice when he got home to his wife later.
But then a shout went up from the darkness outside, I actually had my credit card on the counter .
“The bus, the bus, the bus is here.” They shouted running into the foyer “Come come the bus is here”
I was honestly almost carried out and down the steps and there she was “Paola travel” emblazoned across here huge front window, a great super tanker of a bus, a guy snatched the ticket out of my hand and ran up to the bus waving it at the driver who took it looked it over and said
“ok, get on, Goa bus” I put my bag and guitar in the storage place underneath, shook about 10pairs of hands I had given one guy my address, but he didn’t speak a word of English, I think he just wanted something written in English by the hand of a foreigner. They were all saying
“Safe journey Michael, enjoy India, good luck.”
I am not exaggerating about this. It was amazing to me and I couldn’t quite take it in at the time as I was on fire and I had never experienced anything like it. One last wave the door hissed closed and I was instantly in a quiet hushed world. I had been told it was a seated bus that I would have a reclining window seat. But instead I was sharing a top bunk right at the front of a bus with a Russian family from St Petersburg, the change of pace and sense of relief was amazing. I was so very happy, the Russian son and I chatted for what must have been a good few hours. He was a great guy. Told me there were a lot of Russians in Goa and he proved to be right.
The bus stopped in a few utterly revolting places along the way. The stench in one of them was stomach churning but people got off had a pee and ordered food in this open air toilet of a restaurant, I was thinking are you not worried by what you could catch, but obviously not. After the itching there was no way I was going anywhere near anything like it again. The next day it has started to subside, and in retrospect I think I was bitten by something as if it was a water infection it would have spread to my legs too and it didn’t t that night I scratched all the way to Panjim and a few times as we took hair pin bends nearly rolled out of the bunk, there was not a chance of any sleep I got off the bus absolutely wasted and slightly out of this world
It was such a strange journey and so uncomfortable yet I am so relieved and fortified, as it means that my ticket from Goa to Aurangabad in a few days is good too. Also that faith was right, that the guy in Hampi had been straight after all and it seems this is just the way it is here.