Travelling from Junagadh to Jamnagar, Gujarat. 2009
The driver revved, revved, revved the engine. ‘And this thing has to go 200 km – I don’t think so’ said Jim. We were on private bus – Mahasagar Travels Ltd. – travelling from Junagadh, hopefully to Jamnagar. We moved about 200 m and stopped for another five minutes of serious revving. The whole bus vibrated. The window panes hummed faintly against the frames. Slowly, we inched forward and were underway.
There is always a feeling of excitement setting off for a new place, a sense of anticipation, who knows what the journey and the destination will bring. Echoing my feeling, the driver gave a celebratory toot of the horn – ‘toot-a-toot-toot-toot’ – now we were making progress.
On the outskirts of Junagadh, squalid ‘tents’ clung to the edges of small settlements. No more than plastic tarpaulins strung over a branch or a bamboo pole, walls of hessian sacking and bits of rubbish. Glimpses into the interiors revealed brown bare earth and a pile of rags for bedding. Nothing more. A man squatted on his haunches, arms outstretched, warming his hands over a smoky fire. Raggedy children played in the dirt. A boy, about eight or nine years old, pulled down his trousers to defecate. Clothes spread out to dry on bushes. A sea of litter threatened to engulf it all. Cows and egrets nosed through the debris, discarded plastic chai beakers, food wrappers and morsels of food. Women collected cow dung. Herders steered buffalo and goats towards the river, thin strands of bidi smoke rising into the air as they walked beside their animals. This wasn’t just Junagadh, this was anywhere and everywhere in India; a scene played out in thousands of places, thousands of times.
In Doraji schoolgirls cycled to school, their dupatta’s flowing out behind them. Long black hair gleaming, fastened into pony tails and plaits with neat hair clips and ribbons. One held the edge of her dupatta over her nose and mouth – protection from traffic fumes, or the smell of open drains – or perhaps simple habit. Gujarati farmers dressed in their customary white clothes, pleated jackets and jodhpurs, smock tops, turbans and gold earrings – carried milk cans on the backs of their bikes, and one held a sack of rice steady on the panier rack as he tried to manoeuvre through the traffic. I love bus journeys, watching India with all it’s beauty and ugliness; a constant paradox, pass by.
Every so often the driver gave another blast on the horn – a happy – ‘ta-ta-toot-toot-a-toot’ as if he was pleased the bus has made it so far. On the ticket, under ‘duration of journey’ it says seven hours. The guide book states the journey should take four, the man at the guesthouse told us five. How long is a piece of string? We stop regularly, sometimes to let more people board the bus, more often inexplicably – as if the bus needs a breather. A game of musical chairs is played as the new passengers search for their places. Seat numbers are written only in English and cause considerable confusion. Aside from these momentary disturbances our fellow passengers are quiet – most sleep, the two men behind me snore.
We break for chai and the toilet. Men sip steaming tea from saucers. Small stainless steel beakers are passed through windows to some of the women who remain seated. The ladies room offers just a smidgeon of privacy. There are four walls, but that’s it. A square area of concrete – no cubicle, no toilet, just a hole in the ground. A lady approached, saw me, and turned her back until I was finished. Not much privacy, but plenty of respect.
The bus rolls on. It gets hotter. A little girl wearing a lilac headscarf and a fake fur fleece coat (!) – bright orange with rough red spots – like a demented leopard – walks up and down the aisle, clutching the arm rests. She tugs at the scarf and her mother puts it in her bag. The child laughs and lays her head briefly in her mother’s lap.
We pass through a wonderfully green countryside. ‘But flat’, says Jim ‘I don’t like flat’. Sugar cane, white blobs of cotton, yellow flowers of the mustard seed, palms and cactus. The occasional field of marigold blooms and a bougainvillea trailing over a wall provide splashes of brilliant colour. I drink it all in.
All too soon the journey is over. It really was only four hours. No time at all.
Photos are not from this journey, but street scenes from anywhere and everywhere in India.