I was travelling to Agra with Prateek, a brilliant photographer and one of my closest friends, back in 2015. It was quite literally my first journey without any authoritative figure. Unfortunately or fortunately for us, it started with a major setback; our bus left us stranded in the middle of Yamuna Expressway in the middle of the night.
We had boarded a local UPSRTC bus from Noida City Centre. The only time slot available to us, no thanks to busy college schedules, was the evening and so, we took the first bus we could.
As the bus departed, we realised that there were way too many passengers on it. Classic UPSRTC we thought and didn’t pay much heed to it. An hour or so passed and we stopped at a place for refreshments.
Our fault here was that we forgot to ask the conductor or the driver about the duration of our stoppage and their fault was that they overloaded the bus with passengers and didn’t do a headcount (which would’ve been impossible anyway).
The result was quite simply one of the best and the worst experiences of my life.
Imagine coming out of the washroom and not seeing your bus. “Prateek”, I called out, “where’s the bus?”
“It’s just over h—“, he came out walking behind me and stopped mid-sentence.
The bus had left and we weren’t on it. Luckily for us, all we had carried were our backpacks and we were wearing them when we’d left the bus.
So, it was the two of us versus the night and fate. I won’t lie. I was terrified. Imagine being young and dumb enough to be stranded on an expressway.
We asked a nearby guard and he told us that the bus had left. Thereby confirming our unnerving situation.
We looked at each other and considered our options. To this day we applaud ourselves for not throwing a fit at the time. We calmly talked to each other and agreed that the first stop was to try calling the customer care and we did.
They had just one advice for us and that was to board any bus that belongs to UPSRTC. Easy enough, we thought and tried stopping any bus that we saw. We’d see the buses come toward us and we’d throw our arms in the air. This continued for thirty minutes or so and none stopped.
Plan B was to find help. We asked a few families but none were to keen on letting two teenagers travel with them to Agra. Apparently, there was something about rather skinny young men that scares people to death.
Fortunately for us, we were near the Mathura toll booth and toll booths usually have some law enforcement around them. At least, that was our theory. There was a police van and we told them what had happened. They tried helping us and called the customer care on their own. Their help, although filled with good intentions, didn’t help us much as far as I remember.
Then, we walked toward the toll booth as all sorts of vehicles sped past us in the broad moonlight. We recited the same story again, this time to the toll booth operator. His suggestion was simple, buses have to stop at tolls so we could and should wait there instead.
So, we did. We waited. Some ten minutes passed and a bus stopped. We got on it. The driver understood and he let us sit. However, the conductor was not a fan of letting two teenagers tag along and so an argument ensued.
This was an argument between the driver and the conductor of the bus. It started that way, at least. A couple of minutes later there was utter chaos when each passenger had their comment on what is the right thing to do and if we belonged on that bus.
Out of helplessness and fueled by frustration, I had a rather heavy verbal exchange with the conductor and ultimately, we were given refuge on the bus for a small charge, of course.
We reached Agra a while later. That was how our trip had begun and sure, we had more experiences. Some good, some bad but this was one experience that I will probably never forget. You know what they say, “you never forget your first“.
P.S. I have a passive fear of buses leaving me behind now.