Crucial tips for the long distance bus rider:
1. Imodium. Whether you're sick or not, do not leave your digestion to chance. India's delicious yet dangerously spicy and sometimes unsanitary food is a recipe for disaster on a long distance bus ride. I can't stress this enough. The buses do not have toilets, only make stops every 4-6 hours (you're lucky if there's somewhere to go at the stop), and are incredibly bumpy. Imodium is a diarrhea suppressant which 'blocks you up' for an entire day. You cannot purchase it in India so bring supplies from home. Take one or two of these pills before you even step foot on the bus and you'll have nothing to worry about in the digestion department for 24 hours.
2. Earplugs, headphones and music. Many of the long distance buses in India play very loud music throughout the night. I've never been able to figure out why. It's like trying to sleep at a bad party that just won't shut down. On top of the music, the buses also feature horns that play music. Like a teenager showing off an annoying new ringtone, the drivers like to 'honk' their horns as much as possible. Earplugs won't block the sound completely but will bring some sense of sanity to your ride. Making sure you have a fully charged mp3 player and noise cancelling headphones is also a wise precaution.
3. Be comfortable. Bring a shawl or small blanket with you on the overnight rides, especially in Northern India where the climate can be much cooler than the South. Many of the 'tourist' buses have sleeping compartments where you're able to stretch out. Using your backpack as a pillow and a shawl as your blanket goes a long way towards a comfortable ride in these compartments. One of my worst long distance bus rides found me without a blanket travelling from Mumbai to Udaipur in the North. The last 6 hours of the early morning were a freezing hell.
4. The 4 hour chunk system. On any long distance travel, whether its a flight over the Pacific Ocean or a long distance bus ride in India, I've found it's best to count down time in 4 hour chunks. A incredibly long 16 hour ride becomes 4 easy sets of 4 hour chunks. It could just be me but I've found breaking the larger 16 hour 'goal' into more manageable chunks of time makes the ride much easier on the mind.
5. Snacks and refreshments. Every long distance bus is different. Some will stop often, most will rarely stop- maybe once every 4-6 hours. Again this tip is about not leaving your personal needs to chance. Bring some snacks and refreshments in a carry-on backpack. Cookies, chips, samosas, water... Anything to keep your stomach happy.
If you're travelling in India for any amount of time, chances are you'll find yourself on a long distance bus. How you look back on your experience will come down to how well you prepared ahead of time. Don't leave it to chance.
Travel by Bus:
Most tourists travel in India by bus. Book in advance during the crowded seasons (particularly during the Christmas-New Year rush, for Carnival, or when other Indian regions have school holidays when families travel). Now in the era of internet, you can check and book online bus tickets. Lot of OTAs in India provides cheapest bus fare online. Book your bus ticket in advance to avoid rush. Search for the best bus services and do online bus booking
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