If the headline has an uncanny similarity to the 1999 smash hit ‘Vengabus’ by pop group Vengaboys, well, it’s deliberate. That’s because this photo feature is on the buses which have likely played the song while going from Shillong to Smit in Meghalaya.
These blue and yellow buses are the trademark of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. They look old-worldly, the drive is old-worldly, and sometimes even the music playing inside these buses is old-worldly – or classics, as they’re called by music aficionados. It’s little wonder then that Michael Jackson still finds a place here.
These wooden buses – or ‘Bos Dieng’ – generally travel between Shillong and nearby towns like Smit. According to The Shillong Times, there are only 50 such buses left that ply between the Mawlonghat bus stand in Shillong to the towns and villages of the East Khasi hills and Jaintia hills.
Thirty-five-year-old Hep has been driving one of these blue buses for the last five years, but not before working as a conductor for 10 years. He makes two trips daily between Shillong and Smit. He is married and has a child.
Every morning, people from far-flung areas like Mawkyrwat, Mawsynram, Jowai and Smit make the trip to Shillong, particularly to the biggest market, Bara Bazaar – locally called ‘Iewduh.’
They load almost everything in these wooden buses – baskets, groceries, poultry, furniture. There’s nothing that’s not allowed. Typically, a truck would ferry these, but not here in Shillong.
Young conductors like 24-year-old Lung is responsible for loading the buses. He studied till class 12 but had to start working to support his parents and siblings. He earns Rs 5,000 every month.
According to The Shillong Times, there are two types of wooden buses – line and city. While line buses, around seven in number, make two trips, city buses run throughout the day. There are around 15 city buses.
It’s hard to pin point since when these buses have been used. Till the late 1990s, they had few Bedford buses, even now some of the buses are styled as Bedford buses but they are Indian brands like Tata.
These buses are unlike anything you may have seen anywhere else in India. Apart from the metallic chassis, almost everything else made of wood – the floor boards, the seats, the windows, the doors.
The Christian influence in Meghalaya is evident on these buses. Images of Jesus Christ, the cross, and the British flag is a common sight.
The wooden buses of Shillong are trying to co-exist with their modern counterpart, but aren’t the most efficient public transport. The locals of Shillong rarely board the wooden bus, but for those living far away, it’s perhaps the cheapest and most efficient way to come to the capital.
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