Getting around in the mountains if you don’t have your own vehicle means either hiring a taxi or taking a bus or share jeep. The nearest town from my village is a couple of hours away, so I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a share jeep. It’s usually not as crowded as the one in the photo above, but it does get crowded.
I like to go with one driver who is exceptionally reliable and trustworthy. Bhupal goes almost every morning and comes back in the afternoon. What I do is call him the evening before and ask him to reserve the front seat for me — the whole front seat. The cost is twice as much, but it’s worth it to me not to be smashed in. The mountain roads are really curvy, so there’s usually someone in back getting carsick. And being squished in with lots of people is a good way to get lice. So it’s really worth it to me. If I don’t have lots of bags of my own, other people will usually put some bags in front with me, but I don’t mind that.
Going with a driver you know — or who is known to someone you know — is always the best thing, especially for a woman traveling alone. I would certainly hesitate to get into a crowded jeep that only had men in it, especially if I didn’t know the driver and didn’t have the whole front seat.
Along the way there are many stops. Some people just go from one village to the next, so people keep getting in and out. Because Bhupal is so reliable, lots of people call him up to do errands, like picking up parcels in town and delivering them to some shop in the next village. People also call him to find out when he’s coming back. There are plenty of vehicles going, but he seems to be everyone’s first choice.
Yesterday, I got a ride in with a friend who was going, but Bhupal wasn’t there as there was some wedding. Actually, there were about twenty weddings going on in the area, so it must have been an extremely auspicious day. I had to go to the share jeep stand and take mu chances. It was that or the bus — and I really don’t like buses in the mountains.
Usually, getting a jeep from the stand in town is a bit of a hassle. There are lots of jeeps going in many directions and the one I need is way down the hill. All the drivers ask where I’m going and offer to take me — in a full jeep. They always say there are “no share jeeps”, but of course it’s not true. They just expect foreigners to always hire full jeeps. Since I know better, I just say ‘no’ and keep going. Incidentally, this expectation is why it’s really not considered outrageous for one person to take up the whole front seat.
But I got lucky. There was a jeep just getting ready to go and it was no problem getting the front seat. The driver wanted to charge me rather more, but I just mentioned the amount Bhupal charges me and he said OK. He packed more people in than I’ve usually seen, at least a dozen inside and another three or four standing on the back bumper, as well as a full load of stuff on the roof. And I had quite a load of bags up front as it was really tight in back. At the next village down from mine, I had to change to another jeep, but it was OK. As usual, there was some errand someone had in a village along the way, but the whole thing is quite relaxed, so no problem.
I’ve gotten quite used to the share jeeps. It took me a while to warm to the idea, but it’s quite expensive to hire a whole jeep and it usually isn’t necessary. And going by share jeep is definitely more interesting. And since neither the driver nor most of the other passengers speak English, it provides an excellent opportunity to improve my conversational Hindi.