You must (hopefully) have at least one friend who is a railway champion, the one who rocks at booking last-minute nerve-wracking tatkal tickets. Well, I consider myself a champion of Volvo. I’ve done more Volvo rides than are considered healthy by medical science. No kidding, I can look at a Volvo and tell if it will supply water bottles complimentary.
Those super cushy-excellent leg space (for the 5.4-footers like me anyway)-air-conditioned wonders saved us at a time when train tickets to Goa were impossible to find. They still are, and they always will be as Indians multiply with full enthusiasm, but meanwhile in 2001 we got Volvo. It was better than state transport and more laziness-friendly than trains. Of course I took to it with love. Here, then, are my humble tips on how to best tackle a Volvo ride. Consider them expert level.
1. The Best Bus: Not Bombay’s BEST bus, I mean you need to pick the right bus from the list that drops down on RedBus (which should share some tips with IRCTC). Always check and give ratings, and know that an unfamiliar bus operator will probably mean new bus with clean upholstery and clear windows. Remember Indian Airlines? Same rules apply. If you take Paulo to Goa you will look like a tired old Paulo on entering Panjim.
2. Time: If it’s a private operator you can take your time because there will be others like you who’ll stumble in drunk and late. If it’s a government bus you shouldn’t have booked it if you think of laziness as an asset. In any case it is best to arrive a bit early, have a smoke and a chai and analyse the person in the following point.
3. Neighbour: He/she will determine the most significant beginning and end times of your journey. He/she/that-goddamned-creature is your god/demon for the ride so you better analyse the neighbour the first thing you climb into the bus. If you detect fussiness or spilling fat, walk up to the conductor and play the dumb, tortured tourist and beg him to change your seat. Do the opposite if your neighbour is occupying the seat you booked.
4. Soundproofing: Charge all your gadgets and come because there is no guarantee of the few shared plug points working or your turn coming around. But most importantly, bring your earphones. You don’t want to expose your eardrums to the sound of another passenger puking as you take off on the adventure of a lifetime or a much needed break from office. It’s contagious. Carry an Avomine pill for emergencies and mountain roads.
5. Essentials: Firstly, dress comfortably and pack your bags tightly. Carry a shawl if uncomfortable with AC. Secondly, carry water with you if travelling with a private bus operator because you won’t get any until this fellow has picked up every last passenger within the next 100 kms on the road. Thirdly, train your bladder to hold on until loo breaks, which are far and few.
Bonus tip: Contrary to popular belief, it is easier to convince the driver to pull over in the night in case of emergency, because he knows the whole bus wouldn’t also jump up at the idea of a piss and prolong his awful night shift.