I was in my mid-twenties when I visited India for the first time to attend a yoga conference. All the colours, smells, flavours and sounds were so alluring, so different – I was truly wonder-struck.
It was the start of a many decades-long continuing love affair with the whole country, which I eventually travelled from north to south.
On one of those early days, my yoga buddy and I decided to dress up in brightly coloured sarees and walk to a nearby bazaar. Standing on a busy Delhi street corner, we tried repeatedly to cross the crazy, chaotic traffic.
We’d tiptoe out, then pull back as the onslaught of cars, buses, rickshaws, buffalo-drawn wagons and motorcycles careened past us. We probably looked like two newly hatched butterflies, flapping on our first flight out of the cocoon.
A bearded gentleman watching our attempts leaned over his cane saying, “Come, come… you just start out, everything else will adjust!” With this salient wisdom, he took hold of my elbow and pulled us boldly into the swell of motion.
Magically, the traffic melted around us and we arrived on the other side of the avenue, wide-eyed but unharmed.
The old man’s words had a profound effect on me and the sentiment soon became a life “mantra” for handling uncertain or surprising situations that might arise.
I returned to India a few years later for a three-month summer tour, this time with my new husband. One night we were standing in a hotel lobby in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, when those wise words came into my mind again.
We were considering a trip to Dwarka and so far, I had avoided what I considered to be the Dreaded Overnight Indian Bus. I wasn’t picky about most things – this was India, after all! But I was leery about taking an overnight bus ride, as toilets on-board were not available.
But this was our one chance to visit the site of the mythical, wonderous used-to-be kingdom of Krishna, one of the major figures in the diverse Hindu pantheon. Saying no just wasn’t an option.
The hotel desk clerk promised three (three!) nice rest stops along the overnight ride to Dwarka.
“All righty, then,” I said, as I repeated to myself, “You just start out, everything else will adjust.”
That night a three-wheeled rickshaw dropped us at the bus terminal. We climbed on with the other travellers – students, businessmen, and families with babes and toddlers.
There was no air conditioning, but the windows opened and the seats tilted back. The bus lumbered out of the station, and we began our journey.
After a few hours and a pause at Rest Stop #1 (which was very nice, by the way), we were moving back down the highway behind a string of other buses. Suddenly, the buses in front of us slowed to a creeping crawl until all came to a stop.
Our driver jumped out to confer with the next driver. After much-animated hand waving and discussion, we learned that further ahead there had been a crash. Apparently, every vehicle waiting in line would be held up until someone came to clear the road.
Forty-five minutes later, we were still waiting. After a while, the driver at the head of the line-up started his motor and took a sharp left turn off of the highway and into the inky night. One by one, the buses ahead of us trailed off behind the first. Our bus driver sprang into action, following the glow of tail lights. It looked like we were heading straight into the desert!
I figured that was the end of the scheduled rest stops.
With nothing but darkness surrounding us, the “shortcut” was bumpy, and the going was slow. Then, the other buses veered off, and soon we were all alone in the dusty desert sands.
My husband and I chuckled to ourselves as we pictured this scene happening on a Greyhound bus in the USA. It was hard to imagine a bus driver just heading off the highway into, let’s say, the open Arizona desert.
Obviously, no worries here, as our driver navigated through rock and scrub brush. Huge gusts of sand blew in, covering us.
Overwhelmed by the thick grit, it was difficult for anyone to breathe, and eventually, we all opted to close the windows. As the heat built up, we rocked along, sweaty and grime-coated.
Finally, the bus stopped. Hours had passed, but it was still night and we were still in the roadless desert. The question was: where exactly were we?
A boy sitting near us talked with the driver. He came back reporting, “I think we are lost.”
Everyone calmly accepted his news and I relaxed back into my India mantra… somehow, some way, (albeit, rarely in ways I might expect) everything always adjusted… surely this time was proving the same.
A few men stood smoking outside the bus. A couple of women exited and I hurried after them realizing this might be my last chance for another pit stop.
Outside the stifling vehicle, the night air was cool and refreshing and we walked behind the bus to take care of business. Soon, the rumble of the motor filled the silence again and we filed back on board to continue our adventure.
Much later, we saw through the hazy glow of dawn, that we were, indeed, traversing an open sand-scape with not a road in sight. We trundled slowly past a cluster of rustic mud dwellings, as the scent of a wood fire filled the air.
Villagers reclined on well-worn cots, while a weathered matriarch boiled morning chai. I thought our driver might stop for directions, but he rolled right by, with a horn beep and a wave.
It was six hours past our scheduled arrival when the bus finally creaked to a halt in Dwarka’s small town centre. Back home, people would have high-fived and cheered – and then demanded a refund for the several-hour off-road delay.
But here, our fellow travellers simply picked up their babies and bags and quietly left the bus. We stepped down and walked through fruit stalls and flower stands, as afternoon shoppers stared at our dusty faces.
I took a deep breath of ocean air and happily glimpsed the sparkling blue Arabian Sea in the distance.
We spent two relaxing weeks in Dwarka, which certainly lived up to its intriguing reputation. We enjoyed fiery food and seaside walks, basking in the historical ambience of King Krishna’s former hometown.
When the time came, we booked another bus back to the big city, knowing with confidence, especially in India, “You just start out, everything else will adjust….”
Last Updated 11 March 2023