How to survive interstate bus rides for women travellers in India

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I have been on countless bus rides during my travels. I’ve peered out of the window watching the torrential rains as the Orlean Express bus that brought me back from Quebec to Montreal. I survived a 12-hour journey on windy, mountainous roads from the border of Thailand and Vietnam to Luang Prabang. However, nothing could have prepared me for my 5-hour bus ride from Delhi to Chandigarh, India. Hence, here are 7 tips to survive interstate bus rides when you travel alone as a woman in India, so you wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had.

Volvo or Local buses?

When browsing through ticket booking websites, you’ll be presented with a choice between Volvo and Local buses. There is a slight price difference between the two, and I’d pick Volvo buses hands down. These buses are the most comfortable of the lot – fully air-conditioned with cushy reclinable 2 x 2 seats. The seats were fitted with functioning seatbelts too. I wore them for most of the journey.

The bus station isn’t really a bus station

For many international travellers heading to North India, the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi will be the first port of call. The interstate bus station isn’t located near the airport; you’ll be require to take a free shuttle bus that will take you to the Public Transport Centre. You will need to have the information of the bus (e.g. timing, bus number etc) prior to leaving the airport. It’ll be impossible to find wifi once you leave the airport. There are no counters, just a tiny waiting area for passengers. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for the bus you intend to take and rush out to get on it before it zooms off. This was where it got tricky.

Book your bus tickets in advance

Despite a friend sending a link prior to my departure advising me to pre-book my tickets, I for whatever reasons hadn’t done so. I thought that it’ll be like any other bus station where I could just head over and purchase the tickets. Surprise, surprise. Upon my arrival, I discovered that the Delhi PTC didn’t have an information counter, let alone counters to purchase tickets.

When you travel alone as a woman in India, or anywhere you will need to be vigilant of your surroundings. You must also be open to making new friends too. Agrim asked to sit at a spot next to me in the tiny waiting area. He’s an undergraduate heading home to Chandigarh and he too did not book his ticket in advance. So we were going to be two people sticking together and “winging it”. My initial plan was to take the scheduled bus at 2330. However, another bus came an hour earlier. We decided to take our chances and ask the bus conductor if there were seats available on the bus. Our chances seem pretty slim, looking at the almost full bus and four other gentlemen waiting for a seat too.

Thank God for the two no-shows. When you travel alone as a woman in India, you get special perks! We were bumped up to the top of the line and were given a seat. Agrim’s just lucky we were travelling together. For the first time, I was grateful this “ladies first” thing worked to my advantage. To the four others who hadn’t managed to get on: Sorry, gentlemen. Hope you caught the next bus.

Choose your seats wisely

This obviously applies only when you’ve made a prior booking. Pick the seats as far from the front as possible. My new friend Agrim and I were right at the front of the bus behind the driver’s seat. It was a nightmare. The blinding headlights from the oncoming traffic made it impossible to sleep. Plus, the bus was weaving dangerously between large trucks, tooting the horn every few seconds. Thankfully, there was a screen that could be pulled down to minimise the glare – and my anxiety – so that we could get a little bit of a shut eye.

Have a sweater and snacks handy

While it’s hot and humid outside the bus, it gets pretty chilly in the bus even with the vents closed. Having a sweater within reach comes in very handy.

The bus stops at the Interstate Bus Terminal about 30 minutes away from the PTC for a quick break. They picked up additional passengers (mostly ticketed ones) before hitting the road for the next 3 hours. I’d recommend getting a pack or two of potato chips in case you’re feeling peckish, and a bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated throughout the journey.

Seatbelts, everyone!

Like Miss Frizzle says on The Magic School bus. Safety first people, and also because the huge bus weaved in and out of traffic at top speeds, I felt much more secure strapped in. It also prevents you from sliding off your seats when the bus makes sudden breaks too. Wear them.

Busy roads for travel alone as a woman in India.

Things to calm your nerves

The bus ride isn’t the most peaceful with the constant tooting of the horns from the bus and other large vehicles. I believe it’s a culture there, to toot their horns in hello more than a warning to keep the drivers awake and alert. Even through my excellent noise-cancelling headsets, I could hear 35% of the toots.

Personally, I am one of those people who can’t fall asleep easily (unlike my boyfriend husband who’s already asleep even before the aircraft pushes back). ZZZquil sleep aids are my best friends on long flights where I need to sleep, or on stressful bus rides like this one.

By the time we got into Chandigarh, it was 0400 hours. It was quiet and peaceful and very, very safe. I was happy to hop into an Uber to the guest house where my good friend Ling kindly woke up just to wait for my arrival.

Hope you’ll find these tips useful for your interstate bus rides when you travel solo as a woman in India! Stay safe out there everyone, and hope we’ll be able to travel again soon.

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