What It Was Like to Survive a HUGE Bus Crash in India

What it was like to survive a big bus

Holy shit. My life just flashed in front of my eyes.

I was just in a massive bus crash in India.  It was the closest near death experience I’ve ever had. I’m writing this right now on my iPhone notepad, just an hour after my bus completely flipped over the freeway and rolled in the dust, somewhere in the middle of North West India.  My hands are still shaking.  I can feel my heart beating out of my chest. I just checked my pulse to make sure that I’m still alive.

I was traveling from Udaipur to Jodhpur in the Rajasthan State in Northern India.  The bus was scheduled to go overnight, departing at 10pm from Udaipur and arriving in Jodhpur at 5am.    The bus was a double decker, with beds on the upper deck and normal chairs on the lower deck.  There must’ve been about 40 people on board- almost all Indian men over 30. I had a bed to myself in the middle section on the upper deck left side (if you’re facing the driver).  The bus was pretty old and dirty, but it seemed to be working just fine.

Within just minutes after departing Udaipur, I felt uneasy because the bus was making loud creeky sounds and the ride was more bumpy then usual. But I didn’t really think twice about it. I just tried to relax and get some sleep because I was exhausted.

I sent this snap chat to my friends when I got on the bus:

Things were going alright. I was just about ready to fall asleep.

About 35 minutes later, around midnight…

We were out of the city and in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  Somewhere around this blue dot on the map:

I could feel the bus was picking up speed as we were cruising down the highway.  We were going pretty fast, something like felt like 60 miles per hour.

Then all of a sudden…

The driver slammed on the breaks and sharply turned the wheel sharply to the left (in India, the cars drive on the left side of the road, so he turned the bus off the highway).  We tumbled off the road and fell about 10 feet off a mini cliff and rolled down the hill.  The bus flipped over sideways and I was on the side that it flipped on. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Immediately after the bus tipped, I laid there frozen, covered in glass, in a state of utter shock.  I had to physically check my pulse and I was happy to have my brain working and my heart beating. I couldn’t really move because I was covered in glass and I didn’t want to cut myself.

Because I was sitting on the side that the bus tipped (left side), My head was facing the ground in the dirt (literally) and everyone on the bus was directly above me, screaming and shouting in Hindi.  It was a surreal and haunting experience to peek directly above me and see everyone’s legs dangling and pieces of glass flying everywhere. I’m lucky that a piece of glass didn’t fly into my eye when I was looking up.  There were a couple babies on board who were weeping and crying out load. The upper level of the bus, where my bed was, was constructed with glass protector windows (which is a really stupid design flaw), so the glass was shattered everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

As I’m writing this, I keep getting flashbacks in slow motion, and my anxiety levels are out of control. From the time when the bus slammed on the breaks until it laid still in the dirt felt like one minute, but in reality it was more like 10 seconds.

As I laid there frozen just seconds after the bus collapsed, breathing heavy and trying not to pass out, everyone on the bus was yelling in Hindi and losing their tempers.  After some time, maybe 7 minutes, everyone started escaping one by one outside of a busted window on the roof of the bus. I managed to shake most of the glass off me and noticed that my right foot was covered in blood.

Eventually, I dragged my 25 pound backpack and myself out the window on the roof.  Everyone kept raising their voices and ordering me what to do, but they were speaking in Hindi and I had no idea what they were saying.  I was frightened. I managed to carefully squeeze out of the bus and I stood erectly on the roof of the vehicle.

I was alive.  

The cool breeze on my body was the best thing I’ve ever felt. Ever. I was so grateful that I wasn’t severely injured.  As I stood there on the top of the bus, trying to wrap my head around what just happened, the crazy people starting yelling at me to get down the ground.  But I was standing about 15 feet high on the bus.  So I threw my heavy bag down, and jumped to the ground into people’s arms.

Here is a photo that I took shortly after jumping down.  You can see what it was like:

THANKFULLY, I wasn’t the only foreigner on the bus.  At the bus station in Udaipur before we left, I met an Asian couple- one Korean girl and a Chinese guy- and they were sitting at the very front of the bus.  They both didn’t speak English well, but luckily, she was Korean so I was able to speak with her because I am conversationally fluent in Korean.  The odds of this were crazy because she was the first Korean that I’d met in India so far.  Myself, the Korean girl and her Chinese boyfriend we were the only 3 foreigners on the bus full of 40+ Indians.  Nobody spoke any English and everyone was still screaming and weeping at each other in Hindi.

Ambulances and cops immediately showed up to the scene.  They blocked off the road.  We all waited around patiently while others got off the bus. I saw several people injured with blood stains from glass.  Some people were carried off in ambulances, and everyone was surrounding the bus watching anxiously as the scene unfolded.  The bus looked like something out of a horror movie as it was laid on it’s side and buried in the dust.  The wheels were off, cords were hanging loose and pieces of the bus were all over the ground.

After some more minutes passed by, people started gathering more closely around the bus, and I finally realize that there were 2 people caught inside or under the bus.  They couldn’t get out.  I’m still not sure if the they made it out alive, because we didn’t stay long enough to find out.  But I have a feeling that they didn’t make it.

We fled the scene because we got picked up by another bus that was (luckily) heading to Jodhpur.  I am writing this right now from that second bus, and still shaken up and scared shitless.  Every single bump turn in this bus is making my heart leap out of my chest.  I keep getting flash backs in my head of the bus tipping over.

I still have NO IDEA why the bus crashed.

Nobody spoke English to explain to me why it happened.  Maybe the driver fell asleep at the wheel?  Maybe he was trying to avoid hitting a cow in the street? Maybe he just lost control of the steering wheel? Maybe he got distracted from the road? I’m still clueless.

And the scariest part to this whole story is that it happened in India.

Things here aren’t as regulated or monitored like I’m used where I grew up.  Bad things in India happen all the time, and they frequently go unnoticed. I can’t help but think, “Would my family and friends ever found out if everyone on the bus died?

I am very fortunate.

If the bus driver didn’t slam on the breaks at the last second, or if we were driving a bit faster, then I’m sure everyone on the bus would have died and nobody from the outside world would have known about it.  

This is the thing that haunts me the most.  The first time that I saw my life flash in front of my eyes occurred in the last country that I would choose it to be.

Right now it’s 1:51AM and I’m completely wide awake.  I still keep flinching every time this bus jolts.

To everyone reading this right now, please take a second to appreciate everything in your life.  Tell you parents you love them. Call your best friends to catch up.  Because you never know what can happen unexpectedly.

I think I’m only going to take trains for the rest of my India travels.  Screw the buses, I don’t want to risk my life again. This will take some time to recover.

And to end this bizarre story on an ironic note, today is April fools day. But as you can see by these photos, this was no fucking joke.

Here is one more snap chat that I sent my friends when I arrived in Jodhpur.

I love you all and stay safe! 

52 thoughts on “What It Was Like to Survive a HUGE Bus Crash in India

    1. It is so weird to read your story, because the same thing happened to us in Cambodia. We hit a calf on the road, tumbled off the road, down a slope and tipped over. Of course we were on that side too. I was unconscious, buried under seats

      1. and luggage. My husband thought I was dead. When I woke up I could not move my legs, that was scary. Twelve other people were injured. We were taken to the hospital, a bumpy ride in a van(!), which was very painful as I had broken my pelvis in 2 places. I had to stay in hospital for 16 days before I could be flown home. Fortunately my husband only had some scratches so he looked after me, as there is no food or care in Cambodian hospitals. Quite an adventure for two 60+. Anyway, not discouraged, we go to Burma this year!

        1. That’s bizarre – I can’t believe it happened to you as well. Your story is more dangerous thank mine. I am glad that you ended up being okay in the end. You will love Myanmar — check out my blog post about it!

  1. Drew in India our goverment is very careless regarding des things. That bus would have be an old one and its owner was never in the mood of spending money on it. There are only few bus services dat provide good condition buses. I am really sorry for what happend wid u. N thanks to god nthing serious happend to u.

  2. OMG, this is truly a horror story, Drew, and I am glad you survived. I really hope that these two people you mentioned who were still inside the bus when you left made it out there alive as well.

    I travelled across Northern India in November 2011. I used trains and private instead of public buses, but at that time a few heavy train accidents with several injured and dead people just occured, so before boarding a train or bus I always hoped that I would make it savely from A to B. Fortunately all I experienced were a few heavy train and bus delays. But I totally agree with you that transport in India is much more challenging and harder than in many other asian and in western countries.

      1. Hi Wayne, I am planning to head to China for the 7th time in July or August for an Intensive Chinese Program. Later this year I hope to teach English as TEFL teacher. I am just doing the TEFL Course online.

  3. What a crazy and scary experience! I was in India a couple of months ago and avoided the buses for this reason. Mind you there was serious train accident while I was there that delayed on trains on my travel routes by about 15 hours. But I’d go train over bus any day in India. Glad to hear you’re ok and thanks for the reminding of simply being grateful for what we have today. Take care.

  4. I am so happy you got out relatively unharmed. Getting over a tramatic experience can take some time. It’s just hard for the mind to understand and resolve. I was on a mini bus from Dharamshala to Manal, the driver was on drugs. The whole time I was thinking of you. Halfway through everyone got off. But we were in the middle of nowhere. Stood there for 30 minutes, before reluctantly getting back on because we were in the middle of nowhere with no options and no phone service. I have a bike now so my safety is atleast mostly in my hands.

  5. Holy Frak! That is scary as heck. I have been following your adventures, however normally read from my phone, which isn’t conducive to easy commenting. Glad you are okay! Guessing the rest of your travels have been crash free?! Happy weekend. Cheers, Anna

    1. Yesss this was so scary. Thanks for the nice message! The rest of my travels have been crash free.. but I managed to escape the quake in Nepal by 1 hour. Eeeek

  6. Wow crazy stuff Drew and I’m glad you got out of it with minimum harm.

    Sadly this is not that uncommon in India where the driving is horrendously dangerous. I’ve been on many a country road in India and the drivers have to be very alert. Whilst you say you don’t know what happened I can only hazard a guess based on what I see frequently there.

    Firstly your driver was going too fast for the road – fairly standard fare in India.

    Secondly – I suspect he was trying to avoid a head on collision hence the sudden braking and move to the left. As you will have noticed drivers take crazy risk moves overtaking other vehicles, especially going around blind corners. How I’ve not been in an accident in India I don’t know. I guess it is a matter of time.

    Travel safe.

    1. Yeah maybe he was trying to avoid a head on collision. I still don’t know, and I am trying not to think about it anymore. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Glad to know that you’re safe and hope you have recovered fully.

    Long distance bus travel is not safe in India. This I am saying by personal experience. And I am an Indian! I have faced many other experiences such as ticket issue, overbooked seats, lack of accountability, drunken or sleep deprived driving etc and decided that bus journey is not made for us or the other way round. LOL 😀
    Trains are quite safe though.

    I had read about this accident on Facebook and also the arguments and then probably you changed the post a bit. Shall I tell you something about my country? Everything boils down to one major handicap … corruption. 🙂

    Now onwards, be safe & travel safe,

    1. Thanks for the message Nisha, I’m glad that you shared your experiences with me as well! I have been taking trains since this incident, and they have been much better.

      And I’m also so glad that you also agree that India is corrupt, and you don’t feel offended by my post. I truly do love your country, but there is NO denying that it’s corrupt!

      Cheers from Delhi 🙂

      Drew

  8. A very clear presentation of the mishap. Perhaps news channel would also not go this way telling the story. You are very lucky you got to Udaipur. A Person can’t die until his provision is still left!!!

    As soon the provision cycle ends, life cycle ends…..

    But Drew I’m amazed you survived such a freaking accident but nowhere did you use words of thanks to God. I think it comes natural. One forgets everything in such circumstances but not God.
    Anyways, best of luck for your future trips.
    Well I am also from India, its capital Delhi. And I am your host and you are our guest. So don’t leave our house before meeting us. We will be glad to meet you. Plan your route to Delhi before you go over-sea…..

  9. Good Lord, Drew! I’m glad you’re okay! An experience for the books I guess…it’s all a part of the journey! Stay Safe 🙂

  10. How absolutely terrifying and thankfully you are here to tell the tale! I was watching a TV show the other day about crazy train rides and I think India came in at number 3, with people riding on the roof as there was no room in the carriage…so be sure to stay safe on there as well!!
    take care

  11. Relieved to know that you’re safe, that was a very scary incident to have gone through! Trains are so much better, so I hope you don’t get on another overnight bus.
    Long distance bus travel is not a safe and reliable choice and I always pick trains while traveling in India. It’s very common for bus drivers to fall asleep at the wheel or be drinking and driving. A few years ago, I was road tripping through North India with a big group of friends and we traveled across Himachal Pradesh by bus. While everyone was asleep, this one guy noticed that the bus was moving in a funny way, kind of sliding off to one side every few minutes. When he went to check with the driver, he found him asleep at the wheel. From that night on, we made sure there was always at least one person staying up with the driver and talking to him so that he would not doze off like that.

  12. I’m so glad that you were able to walk away from that and your doing ok. (right)? Just your photos and reading your blog is so frightening especially in the dark. Be safe and enjoy the day!

  13. Sorry about your bus accident! To add a bit of humor, to what is otherwise a very traumatic experience, buckle up on those trains! We took the rail system in Myanmar and was amazed how bumpy it was! I read your Myanmar blog where you advised against using the trains due to safety concerns. That was the one point I disagreed on with your Burma advice. For us we loved it! We got to interact with the locals more, see incredible scenery and felt like we traveled back in time. Now you’ll get the Myanmar experience in India! I don’t suppose it’s that much different.. Looking forward to your updates as you travel throughout India. Be safe!
    Dave from Boston

    1. Hey Dave, thanks for the comment! Actually there were no seat belts on the buses here, so I couldn’t put mine on. ‘
      And I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the trains in Myanmar! You are the first person to tell me that actually. I Never experienced it for myself, so I shouldn’t have written about it in the first place 🙂 I will be taking trains for the remainder of my time in India. Boycotting buses! Cheers : )

  14. So glad you were OK – relatively. I’ve seen crashes like that in Mexico and been on over-crowded vans making blind passes on mountain roads. I could’ve been a statistic. Hopefully one day you’ll feel safe again on a bus ride but perhaps will always avoid taking them in India. Be well.

  15. Drew, I am so happy you are alright. I can only begin to imagine what that experience was like. You write about it well, and I’d hope that putting pen to pad (or fingers to keys) might help to calm your anxiety. Holy hell man…..scary stuff….nothing else to say…..

  16. Holy shit! That is so scary. I’m glad you are alright and hope the other passengers on the bus did make it out ok after all.

  17. Hmm. Think I’m going to rethink the GAdventures bus tour of India idea. OTOH, you never know when the co- pilot on your flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf is going to decide to commit suicide by plane crash—-the other 149 souls on board be damned. Bottom line—all the other things you said at the end of your post. Carpe diem.

    1. Yeah you make a good point! I guess that you just never know when something bad is going to happen. Although I would definitely recommend NOT to take the buses in India, as there is a MUCH higher likelihood of something bad happening. Carpe Diem

  18. wow.. just found your blog through a link that had appeared on mine (http://thenextbigadventure.net) and WOW… we had several scary moments on buses in India as well. One, on a mountain road out to Kumily, scared us so much we ended up paying a private driver to take us back to Kochi. At the time I felt a bit foolish, as though we were being overly nervous, but on the drive back we saw the carcases of multiple buses that had fallen off the steep cliffs! Glad you made it out okay. Scary stuff. BTW.. loved reading your articles on making social media work for you. We’ve simply been slowly puttering along with it for a couple of years on our blog, but once we’re back on the road this fall plan to work at putting your practices to work!

    1. Hey Rhonda! Appreciate the message! Yeah it is really scary stuff.. I will hire a private driver is there is no train going to my upcoming destinations… And good luck with the social media stuff! Please let me know if you have any questions 🙂

  19. You are very lucky to be alive! This is such a frightening story because it’s one of those things you always see headlines about but never think it will happen to you or someone you know. I think taking the train is probably a really good idea from now on. I haven’t been to India but I’ve heard the driving is crazy, so I wouldn’t want to tempt fate by taking another overnight bus. I’m so happy you are okay!

  20. Oh Drew! How unbelievably scary!! I’m glad to hear that you are ok but this makes me very nervous as I’m doing that very same journey in a couple of weeks. Do you think you will ever get any answers as to why the driver lost control?

    You’re right about India being unregulated. A couple of weeks ago I got a very nasty electric shock in my hotel in Mysore. Also very scary. Take care out there, buddy!

    1. Thanks for the sweet comment Hayley! I absolutely won’t get any answers to why the driver lost control. The bus crash likely went unnoticed. I hope you’re doing okay from the electric shock. That’s very scary! Have a nice day : )

  21. Glad to know you’re safe. The outcome could have been very different, like if the bus exploded. Yikes! You’re given another chance at life. Not everyone is given that. Phew! 🙂 Hope you have a more uneventful travel from here on!

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