Solo Journey Through Northern India: Rishikesh to Haridwar

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

I leave my Rishikesh hostel early because I'd assumed it would take me a while to find the bus station. I want to ensure myself a seat on the 2 p.m. bus to Haridwar. This is probably illogical as I'm not really sure whether there is actually a bus destined to leave at 2 p.m., but when I'd asked the man who ran the hostel how often the buses leave to Haridwar, he assured me there are many buses leaving every hour. I take this with a grain of salt as my limited experience in India has taught me not to trust anything that sounds too simple a process. My plan to board a specific bus turns out to be a very silly plan as I had literally just stepped out of the rickshaw when I was waved over by a man in the middle of the street, surrounded by buses, shouting "HARIDWAR! HARIDWAR!" at nobody in particular while rickshaws and people and cows zoomed around him artfully. "This is the bus to Haridwar?" I ask him meekly as a passing rickshaw lays on its horn unnecessarily, making my ears ring. "Yes, yes," he says, barely looking at me as he pushes me toward the bus he is standing next to. Nonplussed, I climb on board and make my way down the narrow aisle to the back, my huge backpack banging into the few other passengers seated. It had taken me less than 15 seconds to find the right bus and board it, an all-time record, especially for India. I cram myself next to a dirty window and try to shove my backpack next to my feet but there isn't enough room between my knees and the seat in front of me. I perch the hulking backpack on the seat next to me as the bus slowly fills with passengers, who are mostly men. As more people get on, I grudgingly move my backpack to my knees to clear a space. I'm momentarily excited to see a backpack similar to mine bobbing alongside the bus, but I can't see its carrier. I wonder what country the backpacker is from and whether he or she would sit by me. However, the backpacker turns out to be an Indian guy who apparently is backpacking around his own country, and he is one of the last passengers to board. He looks around the bus rather uncertainly, just like I had, and I wonder what part of the country he is from. The bus is already overflowing with passengers, so he sits on an available ledge of a seat and shoves his backpack into the overhead rack. I regret not having done the same as my backpack has blocked my view in front of me; all I can see is the guy jammed up against my right arm and the grimy window to my left. Presently the bus conductor peers around my backpack and demands thirty rupees. Thirty rupees for more than an hour's bus ride? Excellent! I just really hope this bus is actually going to Haridwar. . . . This turns out to be one of the more painful bus rides I've taken, as the driver doesn't seem to have any consideration for keeping his passengers in their seats. He zooms through the dusty and chaotic streets of Rishikesh. I say goodbye to the city silently as the driver jerks the bus around tight corners and races over gaping potholes in the road. The other passengers are mostly men and the smell of the guy crammed in next to me was rather powerful, so I try to yank open my heavily smudged window. It moves about two inches and I stick my face through the tiny gap to try to find clean air. Soon we are traveling fast along a highway that snakes along the Ganges River, which is a surreally opaque turquoise in the midday sunlight. I'm relieved that the rough part of the ride appears to be over, but I am so, so wrong. After a peaceful twenty minutes or so racing alongside the river, the bus makes a sudden detour off of the highway and, without warning, plunges across what looks like a giant half-flooded basin. The bus plows through more than a few inches of sludgy water from the river, the wheels groaning with a horrible noise. Apparently I am the only one who had not expected this, as the other passengers don't seem to react. We bounce along rather violently through the water and I knock my head against the window after a particularly deep pothole. My eyes water from the pain and I try to pretend nothing happened. The guy sitting beside me gives me a kind of sympathetic grin, but all the other passengers are busy chattering with one another to notice the white girl at the back who can't handle your garden variety Indian bus ride.

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Stephani S

Louisville, Kentucky, United States •

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