Half-heartedly waiting at the bus stand at Aut, me and my travel buddy, Krishna, binged on bhajiyas and chai. With the trip to Himachal Pradesh, I was experiencing a deluge of emotions running past me. I was overwhelmed, excited, happy and to an extent gloomy as well. The budget trip to the land of Gods and stunning nature had come to an end!
What if I could just stay back here?
What if I could open my café in HP? Does that even count?
What if I can be on the road and explore the untouched scenarios of HP forever?
The questions were trying to justify my stay further but I had to return. The train tickets were booked and Bombay was waiting for my arrival. Honestly, I felt like ditching Bombay for the first time ever.
I was brought back to reality soon. There was no seat on the local Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) bus from Manali to Chandigarh, wherein we were supposed to board in from Aut. Damn, we should have booked our tickets earlier. There was no way to take this journey standing for 8 hours on a difficult road in any bus that was available. The generosity of the locals was brought to the surface when a travel agent decided to help us get two tickets in another private bus, no matter what. He was a newbie in the business and was trying to prove a point of being helpful to customers. He booked the tickets at last. Phew, finally!
The bus arrived at 9 pm and we were panicking already because the roads make it a little difficult to cover the journey in 8 hours. Nevertheless, we took the only option available only to realize that there were no seats! The agent seemed as helpless as we were. We were offered a seat in the cockpit. Yes, you guessed it right, it was in the drivers cabin. Payal, a cute teenager had already made herself comfortable with the fact that she would have to spend the rest of the night here.
A glimpse of the adrenaline rush I got while almost driving the bus!
Sitting on the makeshift couch, we managed to squeeze in next to each other. Pretty uncomfortable and wanting to sleep, we entered the Aut tunnel which comes on this Manali-Chandigarh route. This 3 km long tunnel led us into darkness with only the headlights of the trucks from the other side coming by and a little light in our bus. Some lights here and there, it looked scary. The rustic Punjab music added to the vibe of this different journey. Exactly at this moment, adventure took over fear. I started enjoying the bus ride and felt how a pilot would feel in the cockpit.
The new-found feeling and the adrenaline rush promoted me to sit next to the driver’s seat, separated by the gear box. Krishna managed to sit behind me with some support of the bus to lay her back on. The cute teenager had fallen asleep next to Krishna. I could relate to how a pilot feels while sitting in the cockpit and oogling on the view in front of him. With just the windshield between me and the road ahead, I felt like the driver of the bus occupied by 50 people. This spine-tingling ride of uncomfortable twists and turns with practically nothing to hold onto was the most adventurous I have felt. Well, my paragliding experience feels a little more adventurous by a point. You can read about it here.
That was the night I felt like I took those 50 people on a roller coaster ride. That night I felt like I drove the bus from Aut to Chandigarh.