Indian Transport: The 24 hours from Hell

It was meant to be so simple, the plan was to leave Rishikesh and head for Manali. It was a rickshaw ride, a train and then an overnight bus into Manali that we could sleep through at least that’s how the travel agent had sold it to us. I had met 3 English lads to share the 18 hour journey with and we assumed it would be a breeze. As with everything in India, nothing is quite as simple as it seems as we were soon to find out. 

We get to Haridwar Railway Station and ask the Station Master when and where our train was leaving from. Platform 4 in half an hour. A train pulled into the station at around the time our train was due but it didn’t have either of our two carriage numbers on it and it was the wrong train number altogether. We could only assume it wasn’t our train right?


An hour later we went to check with the Station Master and only then did he bother to explain that the train had two different numbers and two different names. Well that was a good deal of help now.

Never trust the train numbers!

Never trust the train numbers!

We picked up a kiwi guy who had also missed the train and decided to split a taxi for the 5 hour trip instead of missing our connecting bus. This should be easy there was a plethora of booking agents nearby and we split up and checked out two of them. We got quoted 4500 and 5000 rupees, we decided to go with the cheaper offer, we went back and suddenly he had a change of heart and now wanted 5000, safe to say he lost our business.

Another agent told us he could have us in a taxi within 5 minutes, we would happily pay the 5000 this time to get on the road. We were in a taxi within 5 minutes but that’s when he added ‘We have to go change taxi’s because this one isn’t licensed for interstate travel’ More wasted time. We get to the new taxi about 15 minutes out of town and now that we’re away from the rest of the booking agents he decides he wants 6000 for the journey. Things get heated, we’re arguing back and forth and end up deciding we’d rather miss our connecting bus than pay this scumbag (it’s the only appropriate word for him). We walk away and he calls us back for 5000, we load up our bags and he now demands 5500. We were running out of time and he knew it.

The taxi is on its way and apart from the 3 fatal accidents we see along the way, it’s smooth sailing, that is until we actually get to just outside Chandigarh, the driver starts yelling at us in a mixture of Hindi and English and from what we understand (which wasn’t much) he’s not licensed to drive into the city. We rush out of the taxi and in our haste one of the English lads leaves his iPod.

We pull over a rickshaw and the 5 of us (the other 4 guys over 6 foot) pile in with our backpacks, we’re lying on top of each other with limbs hanging out the doors and window. Cue another argument. We have the destination punched into the GPS on the phone but the driver refuses to follow our directions, instead he pulls over to get directions from another driver who is trying to send us to the public bus station. He’s shouting in Hindi, we’re shouting in English. He drives off and our driver reluctantly follows our directions.

Rickshaws weren't made for 5 people with backpacks

Rickshaws weren’t made for 5 people with backpacks

The others guys bus leaves at 11:30 and we arrive at 11:15 – perfect! As for my bus, well it was due at 9:30 and you would think I would have well and truly missed it. A nightmare experience of Indian transport finally swings in my favour, my bus was late and due any minute now. Well any minute now turned into 1:15 in the morning before I sleepily boarded the bus, it was absurd to think that this was only the halfway mark.

There was to be no sleep on the bus, it raced through hairpin turns on the skinny mountain roads at 60km/h narrowly missing the buses and trucks doing the same in the other direction. This was going to be a long 9 hours I’m just glad that no one was vomitting – just kidding! Wouldn’t have been a trip from hell if the two people next to me didn’t spend the last 5 hours vomitting into a plastic bag. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I talked about the Ten Year Holiday.

Himalya view from manali trek

The views from Manali were definitely worth it.

What seemed like an eternity later the bus finally rolled into Manali, All around me, the snow-capped Himalayas stretched up towards the blue sky with only rivers and waterfalls splitting them. Everywhere I looked seemed like a postcard picture, the air was clean and fresh and only then could I begin to laugh about the last 24 hours.

Have you had any horror transport trips? Let me know in the comments below, it would make me feel better!

13 Thoughts on “Indian Transport: The 24 hours from Hell

  1. alan walter on June 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm said:

    Nick, Thanks for your fascinating story of your staggering nightmare trip.
    When we went to the Geiranger ford in Norway we took a double decker bus trip to
    Trollshaven. Got stuck on the severe hairpin bends, everyone had to get off the bus
    to give it enough clearance to move. Next hairpin bend was so sharp that the driver
    took the bus off the steep road & we all had a glass ofschnapps to calm our nerves down.
    The driver then decided to precariously turn the bus around & return back to our hotel.
    On the way back he misjudged an oncoming large truck so we ran off the road ito a muddy sloping ditch where the bus & all its passengers tilted over at a 60*degree angle.
    We weren’t allowed to dismount from the bus & had to wait over 90 minutes for a rescue
    towing truck to attach 2 long cables driven deeply into the ground.Then the bus was gradually winched to an upright position& we slowly proceeded back to our hotel.

    This incident followed our bus the day before catching alight on a busy freeway when
    most passengers were only interested in getting their cameras & bags whilst we were suffering smoke inhalation at the rear of the bus We yelled to everyone to get off quickly &
    forget their bags. 2 incidents so far. Many joked that bad luck comes in threes!
    Net day on the way to Bergen we were driving on the bus thru a narrowing tunnel.Just as the tunnel became very narrow a semi trailer derived coming towards us the opposite way
    beeped his horn & flashed his lights to tell us he was coming thru& to get out of his way.
    We couldn’t & the bus driver slammed on his brakes with only 1 foot to spare between us & the huge semi. The comment made was: You can always tell a Norwegian but you can’t tell him much!Our bus driver had to reverse his bus for over 100m to the wider part of the tunnel so that the huge truck could pass us.
    After these 3 nightmare events we had a smooth trip back to Oslo.
    Kind regards from nan & pa.

  2. Sounds like quite a hectic 24 hours! At least now it’s all over it makes for a good story :)

    Cannot begin to imagine how you managed to fit five people plus rucksacks into one rickshaw – I’ve struggled to breath with just three people in one!
    Catherine recently posted…Photo Essay: The Gardens of ApelternMy Profile

  3. Pingback: Video: Rock Climbing in Manali | theboywander

  4. I felt like this on a sleeper train journey from Bangkok to the East islands. I had cockroaches crawling all over me all night!
    Becky Padmore recently posted…10 of the most beautiful places to visit in NorwayMy Profile

  5. Oh gosh, I could relate to this. haha We had our own nightmare journey getting to Manali. You can find it on our blog titled simply ‘The Jeep’, if you are interested in reading it. I’m glad to say that I didn’t actually vomit. haha Doesn’t sound ideal for anyone. Glad you got there safely in the end, which is the main thing, and at least you came away with a great story. :)
    Jessica – Notes of Nomads recently posted…Soccer Fuel: Eating Raw Meat in TurkeyMy Profile

  6. I guess it was a case of going through hell in order to get to heaven … hope your other journeys are less eventful!
    Jeremy recently posted…Top Things To Know About Visiting TahitiMy Profile

  7. Pingback: Escape to Manali | theboywander

  8. Gah, that is classic India right there!! Your trip makes the hellish train ride I took pale in comparison. That’s how India gets its hooks into you though – suffer suffer and suffer so that when you reach your end destination it’s a paradise. Manali looks amazing, can’t wait to see more pictures.
    Frank recently posted…Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em!My Profile

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