8th October 2011
Delhi Metro towards Anand Vihar
The SWBT trips are supposed to be unplanned. Still there are some basic planning that one cannot do without, like finding out about the route to a certain destination, which is the nearest bus or train station, where to board the bus or train etc. As a traveller living in Delhi all my life, I know that ISBT Kashmiri Gate is the point from where you can get any bus to any direction around Delhi. For any impromptu travel plans, simply take your bags and reach Kashmiri Gate and hop in any of the hundreds of buses there going to hundreds of different directions.
So my journey had to begin at ISBT Kashmiri Gate but Just before leaving home I gave a call to Kashmiri Gate ISBT to find out till what time can I get a bus to Tanakpur. I found out buses to Tanakpur is available till 11 pm in the night and it takes about 10 hours to reach and that it is only available from Anand Vihar ISBT and not from Kashmiri Gate. Had I not made that call, I would have reached Kashmiri Gate instead.
Inter State Bus Terminus, Anand Vihar, New Delhi
As soon as I came out of the Metro station at ISBT, a bunch of men, bus operators of all kinds, started crowding around asking about my destination. Some of them were continuously chanting the names of various tourist hot spots in Uttrakhand like Nainital, Mussorie, Dehradun, Haldwani etc.
This is an usual scene outside most bus terminuses or railway stations so I wasn’t surprised. These are mostly private bus operators who try to get passengers. The private buses are usually parked outside the ISBT complex and inside there are only state buses.
These men can really be very annoying as they try to hover around your shoulder and bring their bodies very close to yours. In any case Indians don’t have any respect for an individual’s invisible boundary which should never be crossed. So we don’t mind standing too close to each other in a public queue or we don’t mind letting our bodies brush against each other while getting in and out of an elevator door.
To reach Champawat district one has to take a bus or train to Tanakpur which is the main bus terminus. The challenge for me was to find out the exact boarding point of this bus to Tanakpur. I knew I had to ask someone for it since there wasn’t any other systematic information sharing by the state. But I didn’t want to ask those men who were already trying to lure me with some or the other ‘valuable’ information.
So I just tried to bore them by being absolutely disinterested in any kind of bus related information. I took some time lagging around, taking a few photos. In between I did however causally dropped the name Tanakpur. As soon as I told my destination to one of them, ten more came forward asking whether I wanted a deluxe bus or non deluxe, AC or Non AC. I quickly took a few steps back from the crowd and said, “Relax, I am just asking, don’t worry I’ll figure it out myself. Thank you. You can go.”
I then walked inside the ISBT complex. I was surprised that even after they have beefed up securities all over Delhi and the foot fall at ISBT has increased many folds the entry to the complex is absolutely unrestricted with zero amount of security check. As a result the place is prone to be frequented by pick-pocketers, petty thieves and other miscreants. In addition the place was not properly lit. And there were barely any women. And of course I was the one and only woman who didn’t have a company, male or female. [This remained true for the rest of my journey as I would eventually narrate to you]
I must admit at first look ISBT Anand Vihar didn’t seem to be the kind of place any woman would want to visit alone for even 5 minutes. [But as I was about eventually find out, it was ok. Nothing bad happens. Well mostly.]
The complex was also very confusing for travellers. There were hundreds of buses parked at over hundred and fifty of the ISBT platforms and there was no way to figure out which one goes to what direction, unless you read the sign boards, or to figure out on which platform would you find the bus you want to board. But I was confident if I kept walking inside I would find a Delhi Transport Corporation booth somewhere where I can do some inquiry. Not that DTC officers are of any great assistance to you, but when you travel alone, it is always safe to align with everything Government.
And I was right. After just a few meters of walk through the dark alleys created by the hundreds of buses parked in that bad lighting conditions, I found a tiny DTC booth manned by two well uniformed DTC officers. Now do not assume that the information you require is going to be available to you from a single government point. For that kind of continence you go to the private tour operators, bus operators. Government agencies, they only give you information in instalments.
I got my first installment of the information from the tiny DTC booth where a visibly upset officer in neatly ironed uniform was busy counting currency notes. I approached and asked, “Excuse me sir, where can I find the bus to Tanakpur?”
Without looking up from his bundle of notes, he made a hand movement towards a particular direction and said, “Palli taraf chale jaao” (Go towards palli taraf). I asked, “what number?” He said, “no number, read the sign board.”
I meant to ask which platform number should I go to, he thought I was aksing the bus number. As if I am that dumb that I will ask for a bus number to travel interstate. But I chose not to continue the mini conversation and decided to follow his directions.
Growing up in Delhi I have always heard this ‘Palli Taraf’ but never really known what it means. I’ve always assumed it meant ‘towards the back’ and then matched it up with the hand direction and figured out my ways. But ISBT is so huge, palli taraf can pretty much be any directions, all over the place.
Anyway I started walking towards the direction he waived his hand. Pretty soon I realized I have to ask again otherwise I would be lost in the maze created by the buses, light and dark. But asking anything to anybody here would mean inviting the same bunch of over enthusiastic men offering you deluxe buses.
So one has to be really judicious about whom to ask anything. This time I found a bus driver who was seated on his hot seat, disinterested in most things tangible in the world, looking at piece of paper in his hand. Standing below the pilots seat I looked up and shouted, “Bhaiyaa.” The man was so startled he hurriedly replied back, “Ji bhaiyaa”
I asked, “where would I get the bus to Tanakpur?”
He gave me further hand directions. No body knew the platform numbers.
When I reached this Palli taraf or whatever taraf I was required to reach to be able to find a bus to Tanakpur, lo and behold what did I see? An enquiry booth for buses to Tanakpur and Kumaon region. This booth should have been at a point closer to the entry gate.
This was the point where I got the final installment of the information I was seeking. I approached the counter and even though the hole through which I had to speak to the officer sitting inside the booth was too high up for me, I stood up on my toes and asked, “Sir I need to take a bus to Tanakpur please?” The man said, “Number 128”
That was the platform number which was right behind me. An unimpressive non deluxe non AC rickety bus of the UPSRTC (Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation) was parked there. The sign board read, ‘Delhi – Tanakpur via Banbasa.’
I got into the bus which had 7-8 people in it. It was very dirty and once again very badly lit. There was one family with a man a woman and some children. Then there was a bunch of young boys mostly in their twenties. Everybody belonged to the Hindi speaking lower middle class or what Mr. Shashi Tharoor would like to call the Cattle Class. The bus conductor was standing at the platform telling everybody who approached him that the bus is about to start so they should hop in immediately. It didn’t start for another one and half hours. Meanwhile more people occupied the seats.
I had taken a double seat near the middle rows. I occupied the window seat myself and on the other rested my backpack. Since nobody could imagine I was traveling alone, they didn’t bother to ask me if the seat next to me was available or not. That was one advantage of people assuming you are not traveling alone. Yet another time the assumption paid well for me was when an eunuch came to ask for money. As much as I empathize with them I cannot figure out why should I give them money. I pretended to not see her and she assumed my ‘aadmi’ must be standing out with those bunch of men smoking cigarettes. Good riddance.
The bus finally left at 11 pm from ISBT.