Typed up at: Cyberia in Nainital, Hotel Vivek in Delhi
Posted from: Internet Cafe in Hong Kong
From Amritsar we wanted to go to Mussoorie, a small resort town in the foothills of the Himalayas. This would be a 2-day journey. First we took an afternoon bus from Amritsar to Chandigarh. It was an AC bus, which are the good kind. The thing that made this kind of bus good wasn't the AC (because it wasn't hot when we traveled) but the fact that seats were assigned, and fairly comfortable. This kind was what you think of as a typical tour bus.
The other kind of buses are local ones. You get a seat if there is space, and frequently has people standing in the aisles. These buses stop very frequently, the chairs aren't as comfortable, there might not be space for your luggage aside from on your lap, and so on. The original plan had been to take another AC bus from Chandigarh to Dehra Dun, but when we arrived in Chandigarh and tried to book a ticket we discovered that such a bus did not exist.
But a local one did. Depending on what source to trust, this ride would take anywhere between 6 and 11 hours. Since every bus/train estimate has always been optimistic, I did not want to take that option. So I sat up for another hour at night studying "Trains at a Glance," the time table of all trains in India. After some puzzling I had it all figured out, except that our first leg would leave before the ticket office would open allowing us to buy a ticket for that train.
The receptionist (at the Divyadeep Hotel) to the rescue: There's a bus to Ambala, from where we can catch a train to a bus to a bus, thus avoiding a possibly horrendous bus ride. In the morning we got up at a very reasonable 7am. At 8:20 we were on the local bus to Ambala, where we arrived an hour later. The bus stop was close to the train station, where I bought train tickets while Danielle sat on our luggage.
Indian queueing is a bit of an interesting phenomenon in it's own right. To look at it, it's just as proper as any British queue. But when you're standing in one, you realize that cutting in line is quite common. Every several minutes there's a small shouting match somewhere in the line, with the invariable result that the cutter is sent back to the end of the line. To prevent this, people stand in line very close together. I have no intention of letting anybody cut in front of me, but if there's more than an inch or two of space in front of me, people behind me might start pushing a little bit to get me to step up. Some men (women are rarely in those queues, or get their own queue) will reduce the distance between them and the next person to 0 inches, literally pushing up against them the entire time.
I stood in line about 15 minutes with one of these men pushing up against me all the time. I suppose it's normal here, but I felt quite uncomfortable. I got away with general compartment tickets, because reserved seats are not available for purchase for a train that leaves the same day or (as in our case) had already left its station of origin. General compartment is free-for-all seating, and often over-full. If you've ever seen pictures of a completely overloaded train compartment, with people hanging out the doors etc, then you know what it can look like if it gets truly busy.
So when our train arrived at 11am, Danielle and I were both relieved that there were some CC (air-conditioned coach) seats available for us to upgrade to. We had a very pleasant ride to Haridwar, the end of this particular train. At 2pm we got off the train, and discovered there was a 3:30pm train to Dehra Dun. Just enough time for a quick lunch across the street, before heading back to the train station to get some more general compartment tickets in the hope that we can be upgraded again.
We spent some time watching monkeys climb around the train station because the 3:30 train showed up at 4:10, and it was a bit difficult to wait while knowing that buses to the same destination were leaving twice an hour. Not finding the conductor we just sat down in sleeper class waiting to upgrade later. But nobody ever showed up to check our tickets. It was another enjoyable ride. For the first time we passed through significant stretches without much evidence of human life. We saw forests, spotted deer, peacocks, and monkeys.
We arrived in Dehra Dun at 6pm, and left on a bus to Mussoorie 20 minutes later. It was dark for this final leg of our journey. All we could tell was that the road was windy and going up. Our for real final leg of the journey was to walk from the bus stand to Padmini Nivas Hotel, maybe a mile along the (slightly hilly) road.
We would have gotten there sooner if we'd just taken the bus straight from Chandigarh, but I thought having many legs was a huge success. There were some moments of uncertainty and anxiety but in the end everything worked out pretty much as I'd hoped, and we didn't sit in the same seats on the same bus for who knows how many hours.