The Long Road to Lamayuru


Taking a local bus in India, you begin to feel rather envious of a tinned sardine.
Oh, what luxury of space they must enjoy compared to the Tetris-packed challenge of an Indian bus, where all manner of luggage and cargo, brave passengers and random forms of livestock are pummelled and cajoled into submission in an effort to fill every last cubic inch of this rattling, fuming, shambolic contraption.

When Christophe and I missed the ‘semi-deluxe’ bus heading to Kargil on Tuesday morning (having made an impressive arrival at the bus station at quarter to six in the morning, only to be told that the bus actually departed at 5 that particular morning), we decided to hang about at the terminal to see if we could grab another bus heading our way – westwards to a town named Lamayuru.

Attempts to investigate the day’s timetable at the apparently deserted ticket office, only unearthed a pyjama-clad man who emerged from his office – toothbrush in hand, and a look of severe disinterest on his face. He resolutely informed us that no bus would be heading our way today… at all… (strange, no? …given that there is only one road heading west…) then went back to polishing his molars.

Despite this (excessively helpful!) word from the top, a few locals seemed a little more generous and forthcoming with information. They pointed us in the direction of a bus that would most likely be travelling through Lamayuru that day and would be leaving in just a few hours – around 8 am… or maybe 9… 30…?

Excellent news! So, we took up position waiting patiently in front of the appointed bus – relaxing with our cup of chai and the knowledge that at least we would be among the first to board, and therefore able to enjoy the luxury of a seat!

At 8.15 am however, the distant, yet frantic, sounds of people clambering onto another bus (and the ambitious stacking of luggage on its top in dangerously swaying piles) alerted us to the fact that we were, in fact, waiting in front of the wrong vehicle. Now the last to board, we struggled to throw our bags onto the roof in time and clambered aboard to somehow find a spot to park our bodies for the duration of the trip.

Eight hours and 140 kilometres later – when we finally pulled into Lamayuru – we were still searching for that spot.

We had the spent the entirety of the epic trip in various states of yogic positions (perhaps a reason for yoga’s great popularity in India – an essential skill for any trip on public transport), and managed to share a seat with an impressive list of characters – 3 old fellows, a sleeping woman, 2 small children, a very chilled-out baby, several sacks of flour and (just when we thought it couldn’t get any cosier!) – the tyre of the bus that had decided to make a valiant attempt at escape as we were on a particularly hair-raising hairpin bend.

This was perhaps a particular highlight of the trip – the entire load of passengers watching aghast as the tyre of the bus (somehow neglected as it was in the process of being changed), casually rolled down the hill – gaining momentum until it began its dramatic series of leaps and bounces over the unfolding bends of the road below.

Miraculously, the cartwheeling tyre avoided all oncoming traffic below and eventually came to rest in a field, some 30m beneath.

A sacred cow below seemed oblivious to his near-death experience.

The fugitive tyre – finally recovered – was then conveniently wedged into the back seat with us, and we continued on – pressed between bald rubber and flesh, for the remainder of the long journey to Lamayuru.