It was December of 2009; I used to live in Noida with one of my relatives. One sunny afternoon, I was coming back from Delhi Cantonment, after meeting a friend. I reached Dhaula Kuan and had to get off from Bus No. 724, to change buses. There is an interstate, bus station at Dhaula Kuan, where all the neighbouring state buses cross. At the Dhaula Kuan Interstate Bus Station, Delhi I saw a bus marked “Alwar Depot”.
Suddenly, I remembered, that one of my best friends in school used to reside in Alwar and the last time he had come to Delhi, all he had done, was boast about his college, the infrastructure, the location, the crowd, the Cafeteria and the bread omelette, sold in the Cafeteria. Bread omelette!
With a blink of the eyelids, I was inside the bus. I bought some cheap apples from a vendor who was sticking his hands inside the windows, to sell the apples. So I bought some for the journey. I got a ticket worth Rs.80 which was quite cheap, I thought. The bus started, and so did my music player, on my Nokia 3110c.
The transition was magical! It started with BMW’s and Skoda’s, then to trucks, goats and cattle (mostly in Haryana) and then Camels! A short stop away I had the best jalebi (a type of sweetmeat) and then we were off again… I called my friend to tell him, that I’m on my way,
“Dude, what’s up?”
‘All good! Listen, I’m coming to Alwar.’
“Awesome dude! Do meet me when you come; when are you coming?”
‘I’m on my way, and I’m coming to have those bread-omelettes, you were bragging about’
“You mean right now? It's awesome! Okay, get down at LIET, Chikani, and it’s straight from the Railway line crossing. Tell them and they’ll know.”
It was about 7 PM when I reached his college gate, where he received me and showed me around. The grounds were for the couples. Till the watchman blew the whistle at 8 and the girls went to their hostel, and left the guys sulking. Then we went to the famous “cafeteria” which was my agenda for the adventure.
And yes! I had the best bread omelette till date. My friend covered his omelette with ketchup, to which I disapproved. He replied “It’s awesome to load over free stuff, because it’s FREE!” After that, he called some friends and we went to one of his friends’ rooms, where he had an awesome collection of miniatures! I had a ‘Black Dog’. And then he told me that visitors are only allowed till 9, and the last bus for Delhi is at 9:30. Hence I rushed to the bus-stop.
My phone’s battery had died. It was pretty cold, and there was no soul around except two guys, around an open bonfire, smoking biri (a type of cheap cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves.). I waited for a few minutes, and then went up to them to ask about the arrival of the bus, and get some warmth from the blazing refuse.
As soon as I asked them about the time, the last bus arrives; I heard the sound of heavy engines rushing past me, blowing cold wind on my back. I got goosebumps, which, I realised had nothing to do with the cold. The last bus had just left, and all I was left, was to wonder and wander. The men told me to walk around one and a half miles, where there is an intersection. There, a bus turns up at around 12. So I walked a mile and a half.
Although I was a bit apprehensive but I couldn’t help but marvel at the long stretches of doused-moonlit farmlands and small houses, with sounds of television, cooking and muffled voices. Everything was so, intimate and I was at home. When I reached the intersection, after what seemed like ages. I saw that it was a small market area with proper streetlights and small shops nearby, which were closing, by the time I reached. So I asked someone about the bus, who reassured me about the stoppage.
After a few minutes, I saw a jeep with five Rowdy looking men pass by. They were clearly drunk, and would’ve clearly recognised me as an outsider, by my attire. But they didn’t stop and slowly faded away on one of the roads. After about a quarter of an hour, started feeling restless. I started to doubt whether I had heard correctly, or that am I at the correct intersection, even if I’m awake or dreaming, as the day had been a fast paced one, and everything seemed like a blur.
I was pacing at a measure 4 feet path when, suddenly the jeep which had passed earlier, appeared out of nowhere and stopped in front of me. The driver, a wrestler-looking man called me. I was definitely scared now. He asked in his heavily accented Hindi “Aap yahaan ke toh nahi ho. Kaafi der se dekh raha hoon aap yahaan khade ho. Kya baat hai?” (“You don’t look like you’re from this place. It’s been quite some time since you’re loitering around here. What’s the matter?”) I was shaking badly and in a quivering voice, I replied that I’m waiting for the bus for Delhi.
“Yahaan koi bus na aati. Saamne aadhe meel pe highway hai, jahaan ek Dhaaba hai, Balaji Dhaaba. Ek baje ke aas-paas ek bus aati hai jo dilli jaawgi.” (“The buses don’t come here. About half a mile from here, there is a highway where you will find a roadside eatery; Balaji Dhaaba. A bus comes around one o’clock which goes to Delhi”)
I started walking towards the highway, out of sheer fear. When I saw the long stretch of road, and two dhaabas (roadside eateries) adjacent to each other, I breathed a sigh of relief. He was right, and I had misjudged him by his appearance. There were many people around there and half a dozen trucks. I asked the owner of the place, about the bus. He said that a bus comes at 4:30 AM. Hence I’d have to wait. I was tensed, as my relative in Noida would start getting worried by now. It was around two. I took a chaai, which worked as an elixir for the cold and my nerves.
There was a young boy in his early twenties, who asked me what I was doing here. I told him about my visit, and how I missed the bus, to which he replied, that he has been waiting for a bus since AFTERNOON! He was a helper in one of the vegetable trucks, which load in Rajasthan, and are transported to Delhi’s vegetable markets. While we were chatting while sipping our tea on the chaarpaai (wooden cot), a truck arrived at the dhaaba, and this guy seemed to know the driver and the helpers.
After a couple of minutes he comes to me and says that the truck is going to Delhi, and offered me a ride. I saw no other way and hopped in… not exactly in but at the back of the truck, where huge rag-bags of onions were loaded. The truck started. Using the bags as cushions, we rested ourselves, and one of the guys, handed me a coarse woollen blanket. As I propped my head on the Onion bags, and wrapped the blanket. I looked up. The sky was full of stars, and the trees made silhouetted archways.
It was beautiful, and I was feeling content. I don’t remember when I dozed off, but I was woken up by blazing horns. I woke up with a start, and saw that we are at NH-8 toll booth.
We were on the threshold of Delhi. I asked the driver, where would he be going. He was going to Najafgarh, and he’d be passing Dhaula Kuan. I got down at Dhaula Kuan, completing the circle. And thanked the generous people. And then walked to find some mode of transport. There were some people waiting at Satya Niketan, for the call-centre cabs. I waited with them and after half an hour or so, a cab heading to Noida came. It cost me Rs.15, which was cheap. But from where I came from a while ago, humanity, and not money, held value. I reached Sector-18, commonly known as Atta Market. It was around 5:30 AM, and some tea vendors had started making tea.
I had a bread-omelette and a cup of tea, with a cream roll. But I’d had better. I was smiling. From there I walked to my home which wasn’t that far. And then the dread of knocking the door and the reaction of my cousin. He was sleeping and when he opened the door, he was too sleepy to say anything. I went and changed and went off to sleep. The next day when I told them about my experience, dreading a session of scolding. Nothing happened. He just smiled. They were true, those travellers. You don’t need money. All you need is will and the want to travel. To add, when I had started, I just had Rs 220 in my pocket out of which I had just spent Rs 170.