As we often do, Sellappan and I planned to take the night bus to Mangalore, and so my day really started when he came back from work and we picked up our backpacks and went out to get food and to buy sweets for our hosts.
We walked from the flat to a particular place that Sellappan knew that was a combined restaurant and sweet shop, which served our needs very well! We filled up for the journey and eventually Sellappan managed to stop a rickshaw after several drivers refused our journey. We crossed the city to the bus stand and boarded our bus.
I’ll describe the phases of a night bus journey for those of you who may be interested! The buses we have been travelling on are mainly air conditioned, large coaches, some with double rear axels. The seats recline quite a way, too. You board the bus by showing your ticket (which you can have texted to you) and showing ID, stash your luggage above your seat and settle in.
Blankets and water bottles are often provided, and once everyone has boarded, the bus will fight its way out of the station and out of the city. Our journeys usually start between 9 and 11pm, and most people immediately start to snooze, even if they haven’t reclined yet. The conductor will come around and check tickets again, and as the twisty city roads turn to flyovers out of the city, the interior lights are switched off.
Once the bus is on the highway (and for me, at least, depending on the bounciness of the roads) everyone chucks their seat back and dozes off, usually before midnight. Between 1 and 3am the bus will pause at a rest stop, which will awaken some of the passengers (like me). The light switch on will awaken more, and almost everyone will be woken up by the kerfuffle of people disentangling themselves from blankets and displaced layers of clothing and luggage to get down for a walk, a snack, a drink or a trip to the loo.
The rest stops are generally in the middle of nowhere and will have a snack shop or two with a tea stand, and maybe a few stalls selling hot food. There will also be toilet facilities which you can gamble on if you like – it’s not easy to judge a toilet from the outside of the building and I have been both pleasantly surprised and very disappointed by entering a toilet block on many occasions.
Pile back onto the bus if you bothered to get down, and resettle yourself in your blanket for the rest of the ride. You’ll cross through toll gates which might wake you up with their bright lights, creeping speed and triple speed bumps. Keep your eyes shut as you go from the highways to the outskirts of towns, and don’t bother trying to work out where you are by shop signs unless you know where the route goes. You’ll only end up squinting uncomprehendingly at bright lights from your dark chair. Eventually though you might spot a few with your destination city written on them.
The bus will stop many times before its terminus, and the conductor will beatbox the name of the stop repeatedly, and loudly, to make sure everyone gets off at the right place. Eventually your stop will be called and you dig yourself out of your blanket fort – even more of a challenge if the person in front of you is still present and reclined – and you wobble to the front on potentially dead legs, depending on how you slept.
I had my most triumphant night’s sleep on a bus yet, and Sellappan and I jumped down in Mangalore only a few minutes’ walk from Alka and Manu’s place. Alka had been with us in France, so I was really looking forward to seeing her again and to meeting her husband.
Once the lift reached their floor we were greeted with excited noises before we’d even opened the lift door! Alka and Manu gestured us in and we spent ages just chatting and catching up, before eventually tiring at about 7am. Alka and Manu went to work for the morning and we slept a little to catch up.