The love/hate relationship I have with India can be likened to the love/hate relationship I have with Glastonbury. Both places are overcrowded, hectic, hard work and there’s poo everywhere. There’s highs, there’s lows; there’s times when I love people and times when I want to ring their necks. I always leave thinking I’m done and I don’t need to go back. Yet both places, for whatever reason, have drawn me back three times.
A perfect example of why I think India is a stupid idiot combined with an adorable little sweetheart, is my experience catching a bus from Chennai to Pondicherry.
Generally in India you need to ask a travel agent to book your bus and train tickets. Don’t ask why, it’s just complicated and they make it that way on purpose. So you do have to be very specific with what you ask the agent for. I would have been happy with a run-of-the-mill public bus for my seven-hour journey, for example. But because I got a travel agent in a hotel to book my ticket, he automatically booked me on an expensive private bus and totally added like 200% commission. But it had air conditioning and about as much luxury as the business-class budget airline I flew with to India, and was still only $20 for four and a half hours. So no biggie – thanks trav agent.
(Technically you should be able to buy your bus ticket online at RedBus, but it seemed to have an issue with all four of my foreign credit cards. Also, you can just show up at the public bus station and find out the bus times and wait for a public one. These buses have no windows so it’s airy and wild. I would have done this. Would have cost a fraction of the price. Like I’m talking $3-$4 max.)
When I left two days later, the doll at reception booked me an Uber on his account (you pay for Uber with cash in India) so I didn’t have to get an auto rickshaw. I jumped in the Uber and specifically told the nice driver that I needed to go to the private bus terminal, not the main one. He pretended like he knew exactly what I yapping on about and dropped me at the public one. I didn’t realise until I got out and the cheeky son of a gun had driven away. He’s lucky I hadn’t booked the Uber on my account, boy would his star rating have lowered.
There were hundreds of people, and wild buses going every which way, and a huge sign that said Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal, so it was clear I wasn’t at the Koyambedu Private Bus Terminal, also known as Omni Bus Stand (I know, confusing, as is everything in a country with little consistency). But I just kind of hoped I was wrong and the driver was right, so after almost getting hit by a bus (not exaggerating) I went inside the terminal to get help.
I asked a million people who didn’t know my question let alone the answer to it, until I finally found a man who understood what my problem was. He sent me on a 20 minute walk in the blistering sun to the correct terminal. The walk was straightforward, but the heat was unforgiving. I arrived at the private bus terminal feeling like I’d just rolled in someone’s armpit. I got on the bus just in time, I mean, I thought I was late, but people were literally still getting on as the bus started to drive away. They just generously left the door open for the stragglers.
I was restlessly trying to settle into my seat, sweating profusely and highly embarrassed about it because my allocated seat was next to an extremely composed-looking young woman. I assumed she was thinking about how her day had just been totally ruined by my arrival, but then one of the bus drivers walked past me and burped really loudly in my ear. I thought, well I’m not that bad.
Once my temperature settled and I took my shoes off, I started to calm down. The girl next to me, Kavya, was awesome. She let me connect to her hotspot, showed me pictures of her uni friends and Hindu Gods, and invited me to her in her home town, Karaikal, to show me around. (Like seriously, what Australian would meet an Indian traveller on the bus and invite them to their hometown? Asians are so hospitable.)
I’m leaving on a public bus tomorrow morning to go to Karaikal. 85 rupees ($1.70 equiv for four hours).
I napped as much as I could in between the sudden braking that literally threw my backside off the seat, and the relentless honking that sounded like a trumpet trying to fit in at a disco.
And I found my pre-booked accommodation upon arrival at the Main Pondicherry Bus Station. If you’re reading this as someone who is about to do the same trip, I recommend book the Aditya Inn if you are arriving late or just want to chill out and get your bearings for the night. They have wifi and are comfortable enough, for only 1000 rupees. Then get your tea and masala dosa from the Udupi Hotel restaurant next to the Aditya Inn on Ayyanar Koil Street. It was 35-80 rupees and totes scrumptious. Then get your ass to Auroville for some zen. But take your own alcohol. Though, that’s not allowed. So keep it between you and me.