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The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Bus Journey From Hell

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

In March 2004 I was 25 years old. With not a care in the world, no particular place to be and zero commitments to speak of, I packed up a rucksack and headed off to India. The future lay sparkling and I thought it would last forever.


“Udaipur! Udaipur! Uuuuuuudaipur!!!”

With less than a minute to spare we hurried through the commotion of the bus terminal, heading towards the agitated sound of the final call. ‘‘Uuuuuuudaipur!!!”

‘‘There it is!’’ called Allan, our feet skidding on the gravel as we rounded a sharp corner. Straining my neck to see, I knocked into several people as I ran. All the while praying that the damn thing wouldn’t pull away just when we’d finally found it. Happily, we were in luck! Although my initial excitement melted away as we came to a breathless stop.

We had been expecting, shall we say, a different looking vehicle. But our so-called deluxe bus was a monstrous hunk of metal no different from any of the other metallic clones that filled Jaisalmer Bus Station. Where exactly had my extra Rupees gone? “Udaipur?” puffed Lindsay, red-cheeked. And, like the rest of us, more than a little flustered. 

“Udaipur!” confirmed the guard, “you go Udaipur?”

“Yes” I answered.

You have ticket?”

“Yes!” we all replied in unison.

“For Udaipur?”

Allan fumbled in the breast pocket of his shirt, almost dropping the stubs as he pushed them into the man’s hand. “This are tickets?” came his bizarre question. ‘‘Yes!!!’’ confirmed Holly, lines of sweat racing down her cheeks. ‘Tickets for Udaipur?’’

Closing my eyes in an attempt to tune out and tap into my inner karma, I resisted the urge to scream at this idiotic man. Thankfully the eternally diplomatic Allan took over and made him understand. Finally comprehending that we were all Udaipur-bound, the guard informed us that taking our backpacks onboard was ‘‘not allowed’’. Hence he directed us to the Liggage Compertment at the back of the bus, where a sign encouraged passengers to Leave Your Values.

Jaisalmer buses.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

‘‘Five Rupees one bag!’’ demanded Liggage Boy, a shifty teen who looked as though he’d hot-wired a car or two in his time. He held out an expectant paw as a wave of cynicism swelled among the gathered travellers.

Surveying the situation, I couldn’t help but share in the general concern. An infamous Indian bus scam saw storage berths left accidentally unlocked. Then, just a few minutes after departure, the bus makes a routine stop at a set of traffic lights and a gaggle of thieves slip between the vehicles. It takes them just seconds to open the door and bundle your liggage into a nearby rickshaw. Moreover, it’s usually hours before you realise you’ve lost your values.

“How about we give you the money when we get our bags back in Udaipur?”

The suggestion cam from a well-built American man in a Yankees cap. The boy shook his head defiantly, a floppy mass of dark hair falling over his beady eyes. “Money now!” Reluctantly paying him, we all pushed our bags as far back as possible, so that they were buried behind the others. In the meantime the American guy promised to keep an eye on things from his spot in the back row of the bus.

Short story India

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Onboard, the seating allocation was a complete fiasco! Allan and I quickly discovered that we had the same seat numbers as a middle-aged American couple. Furthermore, they were already settled in and had no intention of moving. When we alerted the driver to the situation, he simply told us to “find seat”. Less than animated at the prospect of standing up for fourteen hours, that’s exactly what we did. 

Installing ourselves behind Lindsay and Holly, we were soon approached by two Indian women whose seats we’d just hijacked. With sheepish smiles we muttered our apologies, while they in turn grabbed the nearest available spaces. Thus the wheels were set in motion for total bedlam, the four of us looking on in bemusement as the stampede unfolded. Get a seat, any seat, by any means! It wasn’t a pretty sight. 

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

10 Rupee note India.

Before long the bus had become jam-packed and people were still boarding. These latecomers were mostly Indian men who had to make do with standing in the aisle. They didn’t seem at all surprised or put out by this inconvenience. In fact, it struck me that for them this was probably business as usual. 

Outside, an impossibly good-looking Swedish couple refused to board until they’d seen the boy lock the door to the luggage hold. The argument went back and forth until the driver threatened to leave without them. Moments later all three scurried onboard, Liggage Boy sitting alongside the driver on a raggedy cushion. Meanwhile, the Swedes wore the unimpressed looks of two people who knew there were no seats left. And that they were about to experience the most uncomfortable fourteen hours of their lives.

It was time to go, and yet there was still space for one more passenger. A formidable beast of a man we came to christen The Colonel. He stomped onboard dressed in some kind of military uniform, his tree trunk arms swinging back and forth. He wore a camouflage rucksack on his muscly shoulders, his chest almost bursting out of a crisp white shirt. As for his meticulously polished boots… well… they looked more like weaponry than footwear.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Knocking Liggage boy out of the way with an open-palmed slap, The Colonel claimed ownership of the cushion before turning his attention to the driver. Who he then proceeded to verbally assault with a furious monologue. By the time he’d finished, some minutes later, we’d pulled out of the station and were now clattering down the highway, full speed ahead.

With the journey underway, The Colonel began working his way through the aisle counting heads, checking tickets and generally scaring the shit out of everyone. A few unfortunates even found themselves subject to interrogation.

Who are you?

Where are you going?

What did you have for breakfast?

Just watching him do his thing was draining. So Allan and I made a pact not to mess with him in any way. Finally done with his duties, The Colonel reclaimed his perch next to the driver, where he sat chain-smoking and stroking his moustache. All the while staring fixedly at the road ahead.

Kicking away the remains of a squashed sandwich and a rotting apple core, I regarded my immediate surroundings with a view to making myself more comfortable. First came the discovery that the overheard fan was broken. Then the grim realisation that my so-called reclining seat was jammed.

Adding insult to injury, the bus made a tight turn and a random Indian man slid across the aisle into my lap, where he sat grinning at me. In fact, he looked so pleased with himself that for a horrific moment I thought he might stay for breakfast. Thankfully, he made his apologies and returned to his spot in no man’s land.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Jaisalmer to Udaipur, not a short journey.

Gradually, the road became rockier and the bus began jolting from side to side. I had just started to feel queasy when we came to a screeching halt, the windows clouding up with dust. With the mist clearing, I was amazed to see four more passengers squeezing in to join the fun.

With precious little space inside, The Colonel barged them back out and began noisily directing them onto the roof!!! Hoisting each other up in neighbourly solidarity, they then had to reach down for their plentiful and varied baggage. This included a box of overflowing cricket bats and a small cage of miserable chickens. The roof groaning ominously above us, I did my best to be amused by it all and clear my mind of thoughts best categorised as worst-case scenario.

Uncomfortable, hot and increasingly tired, the subsequent hours bled into each other in a blur of disjointed images. I recall semi-naked children playing on the muddy roadside and filthy dogs sniffing through mounds of garbage. Stunning lush green landscapes came and went, faraway hills dissipating before my eyes as darkness descended. 

Later on, at some timeless hour, The Colonel announced a stop at a godforsaken dustbowl of a village. Trundling out into the airless night like extras from Night of the Living Dead, we stood snacking on samosas while the roof folk awkwardly descended with all their goods. Then disappeared into the blackness. 

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

The Bus Journey From Hell: a transformative experience.

Then we were underway again, the journey resuming through a curtain of impenetrable night. Exhaustion had fully set in now. However, sleep wasn’t an option on The Bus Journey From Hell. The condition of the road was steadily worsening and at times it got so bad we were literally bouncing up and down in our seats. The driver crunching through potholes and honking his horn whenever there was even a sniff of another vehicle in sight.

Just when I thought things couldn´t get any worse, the sound system crackled to life. Blaring at an ear-shattering volume, we endured an onslaught of Indian techno music. Some distressed sounding woman howling in Hindi over relentless dance beats.

I turned toward Allan to express my disbelief but he was long gone, away in another world. Staring frog-eyed into the seat in front of him. There was a pained expression from Lindsay too, who glanced back at me as if to say shoot me now. I gave her a sympathetic smile as a baby began wailing a few rows ahead.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Crowded bus India.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Photo courtesy of awaygowe.

There were intermittent stops here and there, with passengers coming and going. At some point the music stopped, an event that was celebrated with a few ironic cheers. With the first traces of light creeping through the windows, we came to another standstill to pick up an ancient woman who took forever to hobble on board.

Slowly but surely, her spindly limbs occluded by a multitude of swaying grocery bags, she made her way through the stuffy silence with a grimace that could have shattered glass. Regarding her as she plodded through the aisle, it felt as if I could have watched the director’s cut of Casino in the time it took her to sit down.

A good while later I found my eyes dropping and a warm fuzzy feeling sweeping over me. At long last I was succumbing to the sleep my body so desperately needed. Which, of course, was the exact moment we all nearly died. 

In a surround sound tornado of screeching brakes, terrified gasps and duelling horns, we suddenly veered to the right and the bus skidded out of control.

Seconds later a minivan scraped past, cracking a few of our windows as it went. It was all over in a flash, though not before I caught sight of a ghostly woman in the other vehicle. Her face suspended in open-mouthed horror as our eyes met for the briefest of nanoseconds.

With our course stabilised, my heart started beating again and I took stock of my fellow passengers. A collection of stiffened bodies and ashen faces. Amazingly nobody had been injured! The Swedes were sat cross-legged in the aisle looking bewildered, while Yankee Cap was slumped forward with his head in his hands, clearly no longer worrying about the liggage. Even the old lady was unharmed, albeit enormously unimpressed at having lost her groceries, which had been redistributed haphazardly across the bus. ‘‘Here you are’’ said Holly, handing her a dented tin of tuna.

High on the adrenaline of simply being alive, the final hour of the journey rushed by as bright bars of sunshine flowed in through the windows like sparkling white wine. Ironically, I fell asleep about ten minutes before we rolled into the city. “Udaipur!! Udaipur!!” I woke with a start to see Holly bending over us, rubbing her eyes, pulling on my sleeve. Guys… we’re here!”

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

The Bus Journey From Hell, a short story from India.

Udaipur Bus Station.

Completely disoriented, I jumped up and my legs nearly buckled under the strain of my own body. Invigorated by the cool morning air, I watched Liggage Boy slowly unloading the bags with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed man shovelling manure. Naturally I was delighted that our ordeal was over and grateful to be reunited with my unmolested backpack.

Rummaging around in my money belt, I pulled out a ten Rupee note and dropped it into the boy’s hand. “Thank you sir!” he cooed, with a wide grin. Heading back to the bus where the last few bags awaited, he turned to look at me one last time, his smile still firmly in place. “Welcome to Udaipur!” he cried.

‘The Bus Journey From Hell’ is the eighth instalment of my short story series Incidents In India.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Anonymous

    I know the the journey gave you the real India but I think I would have flown. 😛

    May 31, 2015 - 7:57 am Reply
  • Skytraveler

    If one positive thing came from this experience, it’s the story you have to tell 🙂

    June 3, 2015 - 5:31 am Reply
  • john

    You should write more stories! However as an Indian myself, a lot of these stories (although humorous) give the casual reader a negative picture of my home country. Thankfully your next chapter is a really positive one and better still it is my hometown. 🙂 Looking forward to more positive stories!

    June 17, 2015 - 11:41 am Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Hi John, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. You know, I really enjoyed my adventures in India. But I have to concede that it was one of the most challenging countries I’ve visited. My age and inexperience as a traveler at the time was also a factor. While it may feel negative at times, I think there are plenty of positives too! If you haven’t already, please take a look at ‘What do you Think of Love?’ ‘Same Same But Different’, ‘Lalou’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and The Cashew Kid’. As for your hometown, I loved Udaipur and wish I’d stayed longer. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment!

      June 17, 2015 - 1:54 pm Reply
  • 999

    Funny story, glad you didn’t lose your “liggage”!

    June 28, 2018 - 1:41 am Reply
  • Mary

    After reading this story, I’m not sure I could have made it the entire journey and I’m sure I would never take a bus in India.

    January 26, 2020 - 8:10 pm Reply
  • Andrew Blackadder

    Number One rule in India, “There is always room on the Bus”….
    I have been on many a bus and when it stopped I could count at least 20-30 people standing at the “Bus Stop”. However my bus was packed to the rafters with people sitting and standing in the aisle and yet when the bus pulled away all those people were gone and somehow managed to get on. Only in India…

    April 28, 2020 - 5:09 pm Reply
  • Just_Me :)

    What a bus ride!!!

    January 19, 2022 - 12:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was certainly memorable ha ha. Thanks for reading!

      January 19, 2022 - 12:58 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Wow. And people complain here if they have to stand on a city bus or subway for 20 minutes. India’s whole transportation system seems to operate in a continual state of chaos, but, it does operate. Good thing you did this trip when you were young. Thanks for sharing Leighton. A good episode, indeed from the comfort of my own home. Cheers. Allan

    January 19, 2022 - 1:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allan, it was one of those ‘not fun at the time’ but ‘hilarious later on’ kinda experiences.

      January 19, 2022 - 3:40 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Life is certainly never dull in India is it! It was certainly the bus journey from hell and it is miraculous that both you and your luggage arrived relatively in one piece. Compelling reading Leighton, well done!

    January 19, 2022 - 2:31 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, how clueless I was back then as I hadn’t imagined the journey could be anything like that. I remember, a little later in the trip, reading about several fatal bus crashes that happened across India while I was there. Could have been worse, as they say.

      January 19, 2022 - 3:42 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Wow your title is definitely not clickbait! At least you have a good story to tell haha

    January 19, 2022 - 2:46 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Phew, glad to hear I made it through the clickbait test! Thanks for dropping by Lyssy.

      January 20, 2022 - 10:14 am Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Very appropriate title to this story! How you all made it without injury is amazing. And the fact that your packs also made it in one piece is nothing short of miraculous. Your storytelling really is top notch as you paint a very vivid picture of your experiences. 🙂

    January 19, 2022 - 2:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg, we were probably doing Liggage Boy a disservice. He was ok I guess, though at the beginning of the trip he hardly came across as Captain Trustworthy. He’s another one I can’t help wondering about. What became of him and where is now.

      January 19, 2022 - 3:48 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        We will hope that he too found a way to better his life and leave the scamming behind 🙂

        January 19, 2022 - 9:19 pm
  • wetanddustyroads

    Noooo 😬 … I’m again looking to find that plane (out of India that is)!! What a great (terrifying) story Leighton – at the age of 25 I would probably gave it a go, but I’m afraid now – double that age – it would just be too much for me!! But hey, on the bright side … you arrived alive WITH your “liggage”.

    January 19, 2022 - 3:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yup, like you I would research the hell out of such travel routes now and make safety and security my top priorities. Back then, we were simply thinking: “The bus is cheap, let’s go for that!” You live and you learn.

      January 19, 2022 - 3:51 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I felt as if I were with you in the story Leighton, both because of your great story telling but also because I had most of those same occurrences on many buses in India. They’re crazy rides but make for great stories! Maggie

    January 19, 2022 - 3:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Maggie, appreciate the kind words. When I was doing my final read through it struck me that someone might think I was grossly exaggerating the whole affair. Glad to hear that it rang true for you.

      January 19, 2022 - 3:59 pm Reply
      • Monkey's Tale

        No exaggeration, I can vouch for you 😊

        January 19, 2022 - 4:09 pm
  • NattyTravels

    Wow! At least you have a story to tell. The places we have to adapt to the most give the best experiences even if they’re a little challenging at the time. Great read 👍🏾

    January 19, 2022 - 10:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Natty! Hope you are staying warm, wherever you are.

      January 19, 2022 - 10:44 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Oh gosh I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been to stand for 14 hours!! At least you had a seat, but that sounds about it in terms of good things about that bus ride from hell. What a wild journey, but it makes for such a great story!

    January 20, 2022 - 1:30 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah those guys that had to stand… I would like to have read their written account of the trip ha ha. Thanks for keeping up with the series 🙂

      January 20, 2022 - 10:15 am Reply
  • Life with Alegria

    What a journey! Great story. Sorry but I had to laugh in places, 😂😆😂 though I do sympathize with your experience. On the bright side, you didn’t lose your values. Or did you? 🤣

    January 20, 2022 - 3:00 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m glad it came across as funny! I really wouldn’t have wanted the story to channel pure negativity. It was a horrible experience but there was a lot of humour to it, especially in retrospect. Thanks for contributing to the thread!

      January 20, 2022 - 10:18 am Reply
  • Life with Alegria

    …and FYI, your videos never seem to work in the WP reader. Is that typical? I too post videos occasionally. Now I wonder if they work.

    January 20, 2022 - 3:02 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh the WordPress reader… sigh… where to begin? I spend a lot of time designing the articles and indeed the site in general. I’m really happy with how my blog looks now, but it often feels like that work is undone with the WP reader. And unfortunately that’s how a good chunk of my readers access my articles. I notice, for example, that each article’s cover photo is often missing altogether in WP reader format. And that subheadings are not centred, but rather slant awkwardly to the left. I just checked my recent India stories and actually for me the videos all show when accessing through the reader. But I think the device you use is also a factor. It may be that videos don’t show on mobile format, but do on desktop. Or vice versa. I guess this is why some bloggers immediately supply a link that takes you to their main site. I might consider this long term. Thanks for the feedback, hope your own videos are showing for all readers.

      January 20, 2022 - 10:26 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Good god, what a ride! I’ve had my fair share of long bus rides (some even overnight, which are an entirely different beast), but I recall always having a seat to sit on (and not the aisle). Truly a hellish, but memorable experience to never forget!

    January 20, 2022 - 4:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I suppose this kind of experience can be filed under “character building”. And you’re right the overnight factor only adds to the genera paranoia and discomfort.

      January 22, 2022 - 10:40 am Reply
      • Rebecca

        Yes, “character building,” haha! Once you lived through that, you can live through anything!

        January 22, 2022 - 9:00 pm
  • Alison

    You do tell a good story Leighton… I really felt as I was sitting next to you on this trip. I did a four day bus trip once in my early twenties… 1981… from London to Athens! I don’t think I could write about it in as much detail as you though.

    January 20, 2022 - 7:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Alison, thanks for the kind words. 4 days on a bus takes the biscuit! While I do have a good memory, I did need to pour some creative juices during this series to glue the stories together. Though for the most part it was all as described. Thanks for dipping into my India tales.

      January 20, 2022 - 7:28 pm Reply
      • Alison

        I’ll be looking at more in the days to come… good for when I need a quick read on the train or in the hairdressers 😁

        January 20, 2022 - 8:39 pm
  • Memo

    Now this is an adventure that I don’t want to have. I’ve had some 1-2 hour trips that were similar but 14 hours is beyond my endurance. Your descriptions seem to be getting more vivid with the greater level of discomfort. Thank god for your sense of humor.

    January 21, 2022 - 6:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Wait until you read about my 48 hour train journey ha ha. Happy Birthday Memo!

      January 21, 2022 - 6:20 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    It sounds awful, I can’t manage 30 minutes on a bus without vomiting, let along 14 hours on a hot, bumpy, awful bus. I love the way you tell the story though, it brings it all completely to life 🙂

    January 24, 2022 - 1:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Funnily enough I can also suffer from bus sickness. I guess on that particularly night motion sickness was the least of my worries.

      January 24, 2022 - 4:03 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Appreciate your dark sense of humor on this mostly unbearable ride! Great story.

    January 26, 2022 - 2:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha glad you appreciated it. At the time I had zero sense of humour about that trip, it came in retrospect.

      January 26, 2022 - 3:03 pm Reply
      • rkrontheroad

        I can relate to that. But you are so observant and, sarcasm or not, it reads well.

        January 26, 2022 - 3:08 pm

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