I couldn’t find platform 25 at Bangalore’s Kempe Gowda bus station (known simply as ‘Majestic’ by locals – I’m not sure why), so I asked a tea vendor. He asked me something in Kannada. I assumed he was asking my destination. So I replied 'Pondicherry'. "Straight and left," was his answer. I eventually found a platform '25C'. "Which bus?" asked another tea vendor. He directed me to the end of the platform, where the newspaper man asked me if it was the Volvo bus to Pondicherry I was looking for. He told me it arrives at 8am opposite the platform. I crossed over to where some people were sitting and waiting. A man with a pile of boxes confirmed that this was the place to wait for the Pondicherry bus. I watched as one bus after another went by with the conductors standing at the doorways calling out destinations.
At 8:30 the bus arrived. The luggage was loaded into the hold and the passengers got on. We finally drove off a half hour later with the radio blasting the latest Kannada film hits. As we winded through the morning traffic, we passed city buses stuffed full of people on their way to work which contrasted to our air-conditioned Volvo bus only half full of passengers.
At Hosur, the bus suddenly pulled over to the side of the road where 2 vans piled with boxes full of flowers were waiting. The bus driver and conductor got out and started emptying the hold of our luggage which was then carried into the bus, filling the aisle. Somehow I felt this flower break was not a 'scheduled' stop. This was confirmed when I saw the driver being handed a few bills. Bunches of flowers were also loaded inside the bus in the overhead compartment.
After this delay and with the smell of flowers filling the bus, we were back on the road. Ten minutes later, we stopped again - this time to pick up a consignment of fleece blankets! And then somewhere in Tamil Nadu, another halt – this time to load a huge sack of jasmine flowers. I was beginning to understand how lucrative it is to be an inter-state bus driver!
The interstate road was newly paved and work was in progress to widen it. Signs along the way warned drivers of the perils of reckless driving:
"Fast drive could be last drive"
"Don't learn safety by accident"
"Lane discipline gives you long life"
"Destination is reward for safe driving"
And the more ambiguous: "Death is nature, you don't cause it"
At some point, we turned off onto a narrower road which took us through rice paddy fields which were a brilliant post-monsoon green. We passed workers making bricks out of the red earth. In every rural market town there were statues of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dr Ambedkar who was often conspicuously painted entirely in blue.
We arrived at the Pondicherry bus stand only half an hour late - not bad considering the two tea / bathroom breaks on the way and all the unscheduled stops!