The windows opened, that’s what I believe they meant by ‘semi-luxury.’
Finding the bus for my impromptu trip to Nuwara Eliya was a task in itself on a not so bright and breezy Saturday morning. For one thing due to a night out before and a consistent lack of sleep over the last few days, my head felt like it had been rammed full off cotton wool.
I tottered around the Pettah bus stand trying rather unsuccessfully to blend into the greater Sri Lankan public whilst looking for the bus. My inquiries of Ayie, Nuwara Eliya bus eka koheda thienna (Brother, where is the bus to Nuwara Eliya) elicited rather sympathetic smiles from the various brisk looking individuals at the Kotuwa bus stand as they directed me to all four corners of the bus stand . I actually think they were being sincere in their own individual opinions of where the requisite bus was parked.
Here’s a tip to any similarly culturally misplaced, clueless individual who tries to grab an inter-city bus to one of the more remote destinations from the Pettah stand: Keep a sharp ear for your destination being called out in the staccato cries of the conductors entreating passengers to use their particular bus. It was only by hearing the sharp shout of Nuwara Eliya, as I stumbled in the direction pointed out by yet another well intentioned, possible employee of the Pettah Bus Stand, that I found my bus.
It had of course been carefully concealed as the Welimada bus which apparently was both past Nuwara Eliya and better known to the general populace than my chosen destination.
After paying the pittance of the Rs. 247 to ride to Nuwara Eliya I settled in next to rather severe looking lady in a mostly full bus. As I smiled unsurely at her and something about Nuwara Eliya mumbled (I’m not sure why I did this, it must be something to do with the current inability to handle the easiest of social situations), she looked me rather witheringly and said Welimada ta yanne and that was that. Gingerly I placed my bag on my lap and looked around at my bus compatriots. There seemed an inordinate number of children around me who looked like they would get motion sickness at the slightest vibration. Steeling myself to the thought of little children hurling over me in the near distant future I closed my eyes and leaned back against the seat to try and catch up on some sleep.
Any thoughts however of getting any rest were rapidly extinguished as what seemed like all the street peddlers in Fort poured into the bus selling everything from education booklets to mangoes to cadala by the time honoured tradition of thrusting the said materials into your face and yelling in your ear about their dubious qualities. Many people seemed to buy items simply to try and preserve their hearing. One enterprising individual even got so carried away with trying to sell his sheets of old bank notes from Sri Lanka that he seemed intent on coming half way out of Colombo with us as the bus started out on its six hour journey.
There are many adjectives that spring to mind when trying to describe my journey wending it’s way up the Kandy road and up to the hills, redolent, noisy, exciting, chaotic and indescribably screechy being some of them. I did in fact manage to fall asleep until around noon so missed a lot of the early part of the drive. The few glimpses I caught were courtesy of the lady next to me who rather stoically pushed my head to the side as I lolled in my sleep onto her personal space.
I was also woken up intermittently as being a ‘semi-luxury’ bus; various people were loaded on at what seemed like every stop possible so they could spend the better part of the trip pressing their bodily extremities onto those of us who were seated. Stoically ignoring the seemingly distracted advances of the gentleman pressing his crotch into my shoulder, I absorbed the views visible from the open window as the bus trundled on with a disconcerting screech.
It must be said that the rather distorted views available from a single bus window are anything but boring. You catch brief, tantalizing, enigmatic glimpses of the towns, people and landscapes as they whiz by and often only disembodied parts of whatever is outside. The gigantic wrinkled backside of an elephant taking a ride in a truck resolved into a side-on of him contentedly chewing on some stringy bright green leaves, hands bearing cobs of corn and other interminable edible items flashed beguilingly past the window and at one stage, two white upright PVC poles intriguingly flew by as the bus swerved around something in its path.
I won’t lie; despite the many distractions, a semi-luxury bus is probably not the most comfortable way to get to Nuwara Eliya. After a while the screech of the engine, the radio blaring and the press of humanity can get a bit overwhelming, but such a journey is certainly the most organic way to remember what Sri Lanka is and who makes up the vast majority of the country.
The school teacher manner of my seatmate was but a front as she offered to share her lunch of bread with me and placed my uneaten snacks of Maliban chocolate biscuits in what she deemed was a more respectable siri siri bag than what I already had. The children declined to throw up on me and instead rather endearingly maintained a delighted commentary of what passed outside the bus, often shedding some much needed light on the more obscure items I saw from my limited perspective of the minute window. More spectacular scenery, terraced fields, lush misty mountains and bright green tea fields fled past as the bus miraculously, despite the determined efforts of the driver both remained on the windy road and to the six hour timeframe for the journey.
s the bus rattled into Nuwara Eliya central, exactly six bone crunching hours after departing from Colombo, and I peeled myself off the chair in weary anticipation, the mind did still boggle, what exactly did a non-luxury bus ride to Nuwara Eliya entail?
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