I woke up with a start when R shook me awake. We’d reached Kathgodam and most of the passengers were off the train. Blearily I picked up my bags and got off the top berth. The first few hours of the journey from Delhi had been uncomfortable, sweaty tossing on the rexine but the cooler weather must have knocked me out.
Stepping out into the quiet and quaintness of the Kathgodam platform to see the hills across the tracks, when the last memory in my mind was of a busy, hot Old Delhi Railway Station felt strange and surreal. R could not stop smiling and once I woke up enough, I could not either. After chai and biscuits we figured out our travel options for the 65 odd km journey to M’War were as below
a) Wait for the bus to M’war – neighbourhood shopkeeper insisted the next one would be at 2 PM
b) Head up to Bhowali and take a bus from there
c) Pay a usurious 800 or 1000 bucks to a cabbie
It wasn’t till later that we figured out that (a) was incorrect – the bus would have come by in a few minutes. It is anybody’s guess though whether he would have stopped! We also figured out that (c) is not the only option. Share taxis will give you a seat and cost about as much as the bus.
However, not knowing all of this, we got onto a bus headed to Bhowali. Getting into the bus is a bit of a fight – being a squeamish city type who expects little queue or even space to sit or stand when getting into a bus will not help. We missed a couple of buses before we learnt that if the bus stopped, it meant you could squeeze in somewhere – one wonders how full the ones that did not stop were!
R and I got the seat on the engine. We were sharing space with a family of seven – mom, dad and two of the younger kids got the seat while the other 3 children – ranging between 4 and 8 or so hopped around on the ‘hot seat’ with us, getting burn marks on the bottom. Sitting on the floor of a bus meant we missed the panoramic views of the mountains that you get as you climb, however the family we were sitting with were no less beautiful and I just could not stop staring.
The bus was rattly, stopped whenever a passenger wanted to get off, sometimes when a passenger wanted to get on and one memorable time when some of the folks in the back got irritated with a drunk co passenger. Much discussion ensued on whether the offending party was to be taken to the police thana (I would have liked to see the FIR – “ek ghante se bol raha hai ki tayar puncture ho jayega”) or thrown off the bus. While this discussion was going on the beautiful man sharing leg space with us murmured to his even more beautiful wife, “Itni subah sharaab peene ka mazaa kahaan aayega?”. In response she smiled, put her arm around him and shook her head understandingly. By this time a few people realised they were running late and started with the ‘gaadi chalao’ – the driver stepped in, convinced the drunk to shut up, settled ruffled feathers, started up the engine and we were on our way again.
Our ride to Mukteswar from Bhowali was a lot more quiet and comfortable – and this time we didn’t miss the mountain views. The bus let us off at just the entrance to ‘Mystic Mukteswar’ where we were staying. Mrs. Sharma, Brownie and Suresh (who ran up and down with paranthas and luggage on a very regular basis) were all waiting for us at the gate.