An International herd boards the sleeper bus at Hampi – Russians, Indians, Mexicans, Spanish, Kiwi, Danish, Australian, Israeli and English to name but a few, along with Denso, Clay, Jamie, Oskar and me, all privileged to be touring this great country for next to nothing and destined for Gokarna 250km away for only 900rps (~£9 each). Each passenger has their own story to tell, but with one common thread: right now, we’re trading it all in for simplicity, adventure, curiosity and perspective.
The windows suck in a warm breeze as we go (a much welcomed change from the Mapusa-Hampi ice-box), making the curtains flutter and flap in the aisles like sails. Ironic, as the coach pitches and rolls like a sailing boat on rough seas, and our sleeping quarters resemble a narrow galley below deck.
Oskar and I settle down to conversation and an obligatory game of cards; whooshing through the quiet chaos at 100 knots, we pass towns, villages, countryside, catching glimpses of ornate archways, the vast rocky landscapes of Hampi, wandering dogs (hi Steve), “don’t give a fuck” cows ambling the road, rubbish and filth piled up behind smiling, waving locals, and always that innate feeling of an unconditional welcome – a slice of India.
I stare out the bunk window at the stars. We take a moment to reflect on our predicament: of being in this beautiful, rough-round-the-edges marvellous country where anything goes, sat on a shithole of a bus that’s rattling it’s way rapidly towards the coast, taking us back to our beloved sea, and feeling completely content. If nothing else happens in India from now on, I’m happy.
After 60 days in India, we’re used to how things work here. Our bus pulls into the backarse of nowhere at stupid o’clock in the morning. We disembark. Stares. Confusion. Fatigue. Engines. Truck horns. A bit fatigued but un-phased, we sit bleary eyed outside a dimly lit transit stop. We buy some chai, and patiently await our connection – we’ll get there in the end.
I love this part: the joy and freedom of travelling. It doesn’t really matter where you go, it’s the going that’s the thing. By early morning we’ve arrived somewhere new: new people, new places, new ideas, somewhere new to make our own, somewhere new to stretch out, and just in time for a pre-dawn skinny dip surrounded by phosphorescence, a cow raid and the sunrise. Sublime.