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Travelling In India By Bus, Goa To Mumbai

Discussion in 'Travelogues' started by Craig, Oct 3, 2015.

  1. Craig

    Craig New Member

    Or, how I survived the scariest night of my life.

    Have you ever taken the cheaper alternative in a situation and then regretted it? I certainly have. For instance, you had to get from A to B and the choices were plane, train, bus & boat. Those were the choices I thought I had when trying to figure out how to travel internally within India, from the beaches of Goa up to Bombay where I needed to go for a few days.

    Those choices dwindled to two when I was told the train service has been suspended for modification and the planes were fully booked. So it was either an approximate $60.00 hovercraft ride on the Indian Ocean or an $8.00 bus ride. And for me, who's always trying to pinch pennies, I chose the bus.

    Why shouldn't I? Every travel agent in Goa was advertising a daily service of "deluxe air-conditioned buses" to Bombay and other locations. How could I resist?

    I had a look on the map and the route to Bombay looked fairly straightforward, and not all that far away at 368 miles.

    I went into the government tourist office, thinking that would be a safe bet, and enquired. The man said "I can issue you a ticket for 175 Rupees."

    I told him I wanted a good bus with air-conditioning. "No problem," he says, "but that'll cost 250 Rs. ." The price was very reasonable so I bought a ticket for that afternoon. The bus was an overnight service with no real breaks, so to escape the scorching heat and fill up, I went into a nice air-conditioned hotel restaurant and had an extended, leisurely lunch.

    I reported to the bus in time for departure, found a comfy seat and was relieved to find that it wasn't terribly crowded nor was there any livestock on board. But I realized quite instantly, as the sweat continued to run down my face, that the air-conditioning wasn't working. I thought, hopefully, the A/C might bring itself to life when they got going and shut the doors, but I really didn't count on it.

    The first episode of the journey was when everyone realized that the A/C really didn't work. At least three of the locals weren't shy about complaining either - they went up and voiced their opinions to the co-driver, yelling and pointing between the giant A/C controls in the cab and the air vents over the seats. It didn't matter whether or not I understood the local lingo - it was quite obvious what they were complaining about.

    The co-driver came out and made sure the windows were all up, then fiddled with the controls. The passengers settled down for 20 minutes, but continually felt up towards their air vents in disgust. Soon enough the same three went back into the cab complaining. Hands and arms were flying and pointing, then they sat down again and the co-driver made another attempt at the controls. In the end, the passengers admitted to defeat as the windows slid open one by one over the next half hour.

    The route we travelled was NH17, National Highway 17, the poorest excuse for a highway I'd ever seen. It was only a single lane each side the whole distance to Bombay. And then it was only wide enough for two cars to pass without colliding, not two oncoming buses or trucks. We had to continually slow down to squeeze by oncoming trucks and buses.

    This was particularly bad in villages. Mirrors had to pulled in on a few occasions, and we once crept by another bus so close and slowly I could have reached out and shook hands with passengers on the other bus. Never mind the scooters, the cows, an elephant, the dogs, the carts, and the people who wanted use of the road too - the driver didn't. I was certain we would slam into someone or something before we got there. To make it worse, I stupidly sat directly behind the driver, able to watch his every swerve - and did.

    From the time we left Goa at 4:00 pm, until well after dark, we negotiated many small villages, the road never emptying of people and livestock. They seemed not to have a fear of death. They just walked along minding their business, not a care in the world. There were continual near misses. And persistent use of the horn. All of the vehicular drivers had the perception that continually laying on the horn would make the people, animals and the slower vehicles move out of the way. But it didn't really, he just slammed on the brakes and went around when no one moved. The people seemed to know that someone was watching over them.

    We had to stop at checkpoints on occasion. And while the guards checked the paperwork, local villagers came aboard hawking street food. Everything from coconut milk and fruit, to nuts and weird fried food concoctions. I didn't try any - I'd rather starve the whole night than risk a case of 'Delhi belly' on the bus to Bombay without a toilet!

    After dark, the co-driver tried to entertain us with the on-board movies. No toilet, but we had video! The typically loud singing & dancing Indian movie started, but the tracking was way out. The co-driver came out and tried every adjustment knob for 15 minutes. When he couldn't fix it, he gave up and turned it all off. Lucky for me - I'd heard horror stories about those terrible videos being blasted all night long adding to the misery.

    In the daylight hours, I feared more for the lives of the people and animals on the road. But now well into the night, the road was empty except for vehicles. The rest of passengers, all Indians, seemed to getting to sleep alright. Not me. I was too busy keeping an eye on the drivers' driving, now fearing more for my own life. The two drivers did change every few hours, which was somewhat of a relief. Except that they both drove like maniacs. No one told me about any mountains either. But from about 10:00 pm until 4:00 am the land mass between every town seemed to be a mountain pass.

    We literally went up and down mountains like they were using them for trial runs of the 'Goa-Bombay Bus Rally.' The pitch blackness, the roads without any white lines or lights to guide us along didn't make the driver any more cautious.

    Passing a slower bus, going up a mountain on a blind bend? - no problem - we did it often. Most of the traffic really late on were other buses from Goa area (You could tell by the plates). We did get passed at times by them, but we certainly caught up and passed them back. This happened all through the night.

    They were racing each other to Bombay. Was there possibly an unwritten code between Goan drivers to race and overtake at any opportunity, so as to keep the driver's alert? I think so. But alert or not, I genuinely felt uneasy about this whole journey. The driver drove that powerful Indian bus up and down those mountains, around those hairbend turns, as if it was a Porsche - I don't maneuver my Ford Escort as well as he did this giant bus.

    I continually thought we were going over the edge, or that we were going to hit an oncoming vehicle when overtaking blindly. And I wished he wouldn't put so much faith in those brakes. Or was that it. Were they, the passengers all sleeping soundly, not worried about dying because they truly believed in re-incarnation? I just couldn't relax and sleep. If I was going to die, I wanted to see it happen! But at about 3:30 or 4:00 am, my eyelids took over. I slept lightly for the last two hours.

    At around 6:00 am we pulled into Greater Bombay and headed for the center, stopping 25 minutes later. I got off after 14 hours on an Indian bus, still in one piece somehow, my only affliction being a very numb butt. Never again will I penny pinch pennies again! On the way back it's the hovercraft!

  2. sillyllucy

    sillyllucy Member

    I have taken many bus rides and regretted them deeply. It takes so long with traffic and you are in a cramped bus. I prefer to take a taxi now. I have had too many negative experiences on the bus to go on a long trip via bus again.

  3. pwarbi

    pwarbi Active Member

    I think a lot of people will have made the mistake of going for the cheapest option when it comes to travel and ended up regretting their decision. When travelling any Kong distance then comfort as well as cost should be factored in if possible, and I think it's safe to say that any bus journeys are very rarely comfortable.
  4. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    I loved reading your recollection - you write very well, and it felt like I was along for the ride with you! I literally laughed out loud when you said "We literally went up and down mountains like they were using them for trial runs of the 'Goa-Bombay Bus Rally'." - it made it sound pretty intense but I loved that you still kept a sense of humor in your writing of the events!

    It does make you think that saving money isn't always worth it!
    Vaishali Mishra likes this.
  5. Tanmaya

    Tanmaya Member

    That exchange rate for USD suggests you came to India in early 90's or late 80's. These days buses from Goa to Mumbai generally go via Pune and this is what the road looks like :


    Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years and the pace of change has only just picked up with the new government in place.
    amelia88 likes this.
  6. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    That road looks great, and way quieter than I expected - for some reason I just imagined it would be jam packed with traffic. If that's the case I don't think that it would be too daunting to catch a bus from there - I've been on some long bus trips in my travels on tiny roads with loads of traffic and this doesn't look anything like those trips!
  7. Tanmaya

    Tanmaya Member

    As you get closer to a city, that's what you get but outside the densely populated areas it is not so bad.

    These days most long route buses are either Volvos or Mercs and they are pretty comfortable. I did travel in a bus like the OP described on my way to Vaishno devi as a child and it was not too bad as thoughts of an accident never crossed my mind and I loved the twists and turns that bus went through in its Jammu to Katra leg.
  8. comlink

    comlink New Member

    I would tell you the same thing except be very careful if you dont have someone very known by the people that operate the transportation. Most of the time you will get overcharged by many fold if you do choose the more pricey options, even if you are paying more for a safer option, you might end up getting scammed for extra fees.
  9. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    Sometimes those twists and turns are relaxing and other times they make me feel queasy, haha!

    I think traffic is crazy as you approach most cities so it's one of those things that I just deal with and try to factor into any time-based travel plans.
  10. artyarson

    artyarson New Member

    Cool story, bro. Definitely, your message is right. Saving money based on personal comfort is a huge mistake. Thank you for sharing your experience and doing this in a very fascinating way. I guess, you're good at telling stories.