Have you ever travelled on the highway in the local buses on rainy days? If you haven’t, you should. In the past, people travelled mostly when the weather was good — warm and sunny, that is. And they had a good reason for it. Vehicles were open-structured, and exposure to inclement weather could result in sickness. However, with the number and variety of travel and comfort options available today, monsoon tourism is taking off in a big way.
Pictures of various destinations abound — waterfalls which flow in full fury, rapids that tumble in absolute frenzy, resorts that nestle in rain-washed locales. However, to me, it is not the destination that beckons, but the journey — the journey in the rain itself. And what ignites my imagination is not travelling in a comfortable car with persons of your choice. It is the drive through the rain in mofussil buses that floats my boat.
The experience starts at the bus stand itself. Here, everything is in various states of wet, damp and icky. There are wet splotches on the polished floor that make it slippery. There may even be drips from the ceiling that catch you unawares and leave a wet spot on your scalp. People are more morose, sitting hunched in their sweaters, jackets or shawls, and cursing their fates for making them travel in such weather, eyeing the lumbering rain- and mud-splattered thin-shelled behemoths that they are trusting to take them to their destinations. As you climb on the bus, you can’t resist a glance at the shiny black huge tires with traces of dirt from different places clinging to them.
If you are lucky, you get a seat in front of the windshield, near the driver. If you find television or Youtube fascinating, you will give them up after you watch the world go past through a bus windshield. Other passengers walk in with wet hems, be they wearing pants or saris, and carrying wet bags and umbrellas. Irritation and bad blood caused by an inconsiderate dripping umbrella or bag colour the air, but people ‘adjust’ when the bus begins to move.
The bus leaves the stand and moves through city roads, seeking the freedom of the highway. Cities that are beautiful in the yellow of strong sunlight look dreary and ugly in rain. Garbage, which can be ignored on a sunny day, preens its shocking colours and disorder in the grey of a drizzle. Bedraggled bikers dart in and out of traffic, making you marvel at the driver’s patience and alertness.
The bus picks up speed as it leaves the city behind, albeit with caution. In fact, everyone on the road is proceeding a bit more slowly. The conductor settles on his seat opposite the driver and you hear the scratching of his writing on his notepad as he tallies his take with the tickets bought. You observe the way he has tucked money, the tickets and the whistle between his fingers with interest — he definitely makes use of all five of them!
The ‘hrrsh’ of the wheels as they rush through the thin layer of water coating the road is harshly soothing. By now the passengers have all settled down, some listening to music, some reading and some, inevitably, sleeping. As the bus trundles past villages, women peer from under the overhang of the low roofs. Clothes hang lifeless on lines while children play in the shallow porches, and dogs huddle under any shelter they can find. You watch drowsily as towns, villages and fields whizz by. The monotone swish of the windshield wipers lulls you as the precipitation changes from rain to drizzle to mizzle and back. Sometimes, the sun makes a surprise appearance, and you see the drab greens transform into vibrant colours for a few minutes before the clouds move back into place.
Past the half-way mark, the bus stops at an anonymous tea shop — anonymous to you, that is. The driver and conductor know the place well. Soon, passengers gather around the vendor, sipping the hot brew from incredibly tiny tumblers. The drink has all the character of dishwater, but it is hot and sweet. It hits a happy spot you never knew you had until now.
Now, the journey becomes more about the destination. Other vehicles on the road now seem to be moving more purposefully. As the bus nears its destination, passengers come to life, gathering their belongings. At the bus stand, everyone is focused on getting to their final destinations, as they hurry out. As you walk down the platform, you look back. The sturdy contraption that transported you is backed into its slot, already looking forward to its next journey.
You turn and head out, another wonderful page written in your memories.