We booked a bus ticket from Delhi to Srinagar (820 km) that was supposed to take around 16 hours. Well that was a lie, but we were unaware of it. The guy from the tourist agency that sold us the ticket then hosted us for two more days for free in Delhi. That was all right for two reasons: the road to Srinagar was blocked by the army and we had one of the nastiest food poisoning.
This incredibly talkative dude then made a deal with us. He offered an extra night on their houseboat (small boats you live on and are a speciality of Srinagar) if we take his can on the road with us. His daughter misses him and it is too hot in Deli for a cat anyways.
»OMG WE LOVE CATS!«
(Do I ever think clearly for a second?)
That’s how we ended up at 11 am on the bus station. Klemen with severe fever and cat sever panic attacks because he had no idea what is going on. I bought us water, managed the tickets. We were lucky to get one sleeper (tiny bed) and one seat.
We board the bus. No signs of AC that was promised. Not that I mind but the cat – named Coke – could sure use some.
When we sat down and Klemen layed down I looked around. What an interesting bunch of people! Sitting next to me was a man, around 160 kg, really scary to look at and with bloody eyes. And he was groaring instead of talking. His excitement about the cat was really high.
Well, almost everyone was super excited about the cat.
Behind me a young man and an older mister. In front of me two boys who already started doing selfies. On my left a family – dad a deformed arm and mom both legs. But they were succesfully taking care of a baby (with both legs in a cast) and a little girl. On a sleeper above me a guy with a cage of parrots.
I noticed the rest of the bus later. Two young families with kids. In front older ladies. Few middle aged men. Oh, and it is important to ephasize that when I say »older« I mean 70+ years old.
Let’s continue cronologically. Bus started the trip, Coke fell asleep and I was looking through the window. The journey was going calmly (calmly = a lot of honking, traffic and other sounds but without obstacles). On one of the stops Klemen went to camp on the toilet and I tried to tell the cat that everything is OK.
And in the meantime the flies invaded our bus. There were hundreds of them! Cultural shock sometimes finds you when you the least expect it. I felt disgust. But luckily they zoomed out of the windows in 20 minutes.
It started to get dark and I was nervous about the cat. How will he sleep, how will I sleep? I turned on some podcasts but it was a weird feeling. As if all the information that are just coming into my conscious don’t go well with my surroundings. With all I see trough the window, stuff I am smelling, all the happenings. I was checking google maps all the time – we were doing OK.
We passed a lot of »palaces« - luxury hotels that I suspect host those famous huge Indian weddings. We passed a lot of poor neighbours.
Around 11 pm I became nervous because Coke still hasn’t use the bathroom. We had a litter box with us and kept it under the seat. When I put Coke in it I though he wants to jump out. I took him to my lap. Well, it turned out mr. Peepants just wanted to really casually pee and by my own mistake he did that on my pants. After we already made the last stop before the night.
»Klemen! Klemen!! The cat peed on my leg!«
- Oh, shit.
And that was it. I slept maybe two hours. The worse is that cats come to life during the night. Coke wanted to explore the bus at 3 am. I managed to calm him down, gave him to Klemen on the sleeper and he slept till the morning.
Well, morning …
At around 4 am, when I was awake, we were driving towards a bus stop. I thought just for a quick stop. And then all of the sudden – fight. Ohhh, and not a catfight. It was a real screaming opera!
The main caracter? At least 60 year old Kashimi lady dressed in a pretty floral kurti with purple shawl. She was screaming in the phone and at all the men around her at the same time. The bus was waking up. I started to ask around – what is happening? The military is still blocking the road. And what will we do? We will go and try.
I didn’t sleep from there on. At around 7 am we arrived in a small muslim town. Beautifully dressed women were siting on a small »roundabout«. Men in pretty sand coloured clothes and white caps were walking around. In front of us a military barrier. You can not continue.
And as it is well known for a lot of cultures that I have been in contact with – we know nothing from here on. Each person has his story but no story is a guarantee. Maybe we will continue in 2 hours maybe at 11 pm. Maybe tomorrow.
And here I met my wish for things to be »as they are supposed to be«. Even at this point I felt dirty. Bus was dirty, I was peed on. I got my period (including cramps) and during the night I cut myself on a box so I ended with a wound on my leg. Klemen was still barely standing and just looking for toilets everywhere.
I wanted us to come to the destination as soon as possible. And then I decided to turn that off.
So I don’t know exactly how to explain the day that we have all spend in that tiny town. A mosque was close so I was going there to use the toilet (stomach issues started again) and I changed my pants. Cat decided to sleep trough the heat and hid himself in a small spot between two back seats.
Klemen offered me a bed for two hours, so I could sleep a bit. I was getting delusional. I was making sure we have water, buying us bananas. I wan’t able to eat anything else. Oh, I did step in line with soldiers in front of an ice-cream seller to get a popstickle.
Everyone was so chill. No anger, no complaining. I turned off asking: »Do we have any new info?«
I wasn’t able to read or even to listen to anything so I was looking through the window a lot. Kids were going to school in neat uniforms. Men were carrying lambs on their shoulders. Some dead some alive. People were selling ice-cream, toys, omelettes.
I sang to the kids on the bus. Tickled them a bit. And around dawn a mother was nursing a but-naked baby next to me. And then I feel something wet.
The baby casually peed on my feet and shoes, the mother was laughing and I met anger in myself. COME ON! I screamed to Klemen, who was lying on the sleeper, in a temperamental and dynamic Slovenian that someone peed on me again and that I am going outside before I freak out.
I went to the mosque, cleaned my feet and shoes. Came back cooled down. We took cat out a bit, gave him dinner.
New information: We will sleep here tonight. OK, no big deal.
New information no. 2 in an hour: We can proceed.
LETS GOOOOO! No, I wasn’t really that happy because I knew that nothing is ever as it is said it will be.
And so it was. We were driving for about 30 km and then stopped and spend the night on the bus. I didn’t even ask why. The night was a bit better. Coke started with night hunt a bit before the morning prayer from the mosque so we went out and took a stroll. And I have to say that it is not a romantic errand. Cats are not dogs. He just wanted to escape and was meowing all the time.
One of the guys showed me where I can use the toilet and clean myself. I was stressed. Two nights on the bus. Diarrhea, period, wound on the leg. I ate a banana, 2 sprites and a bag of chips in last 2 days. Just thinking of anything else made me want to vomit. And I had less and less hope that we will ever arrive.
But when I cleaned myself and changed clothes the world was a bit better place. It became bright, cat got his breakfast, Klemen felt much better and we hit the road again.
Kashmir highway is the name of the road. In reality it is a goat path where trucks meet. On one side cut off cliff and on another falling rocks. There is a landslide on the road almost everyday. Average speed 20 km/h. I was looking with my mouth opened all the turns our around 80 years old driver took. How is it even possible? KLEMEN DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?
And then the bus turns off. I go out, monkeys are jumping around me. All the men are looking at something. Landslide closed the road but they are already cleaning the rocks. Ok … No biggie. It can’t take forever, right?
In a bout half an hour we start again. I sleep a bit, I look at the beautful scenery a bit. Me and Klemen are loudly wowing. A bit because of the nature - mountains, forests, rivers, sheeps, horses, villages. A bit because of the opportunity to die on every curve.
Do you know how many kids were on the bus? Two babies (that cried sometimes) and 6 kids. And they didn’t cry at all. No »enetertainement« was used for them. I was observing a girl, about 4 years old, that was seating with her family on a sleeper. We were on the road for the 3rd day. We were driving trough the mountains without any stop for at least 8 hours. And she was just sitting and observing. When her mom gave her food she ate. Cultural shock comes in different varieties.
And when I though that I just need to hold on a bit to get to the destination and there is no possibilites for new surprises – I was woken up by screaming. Fighting, someone hitting a bus with a stick. I had no idea what is going on. And then all of the sudden two guys entered the bus, absolutely furious. I quickly put Klemen’s phone under my butt and squeezed backpacks to the wall with my feet. I checked where is Klemen. The men on the bus were trying to calm them down. But they were searching for someone. Luckily they didn’t find him and they left. My heart was racing so fast, I was shaking. I said to Klemen: »I just want to squeeze next to you.«
But we continued as if nothing happened. Passing new villages, new landscapes. The map was showing we are very close to leaving the mountains. We made a stop when we started driving on a normal road. Toilet and water. Cat was sleeping carefree on a bus. Sun was shining, everything was green. Klemen was already in his full colours and made friends with half of the bus.
And it went only uphill from here on. Well, kind of.