OR: 'From India to England and Back Again'
17.06.2011 - 23.06.2011 30 °C
If the city of Mysore were picked up and plonked in the middle of the UK, it would immediately become the second most populous city in the country. By Indian standards however, this sprawling metropolis is a mere hamlet, and ranks 39th by population. It was with great pleasure that I left this city behind, and found myself with no immediate desire to see the 38 larger ones.
Today, my 5 hour bus journey took me through a nature reserve, past elephants and bears, up mountains and through tea plantations. My destination was Ooty, a popular domestic holiday destination perched high in the Nilgiri Hills. The town itself was short on attractions and sights, with much of the appeal belonging to the various plantations in the surrounding region.
Exploring the town, there were a few hints of the previous British rule that reminded me of home. There was a small amusement park for kids, closed of course, that was not entirely dissimilar to the ones you find along the beaches of the Kent coast. The main square of the town was named 'Charing Cross' and dotted with cute little cafes and bookshops. But the thing that filled me with nostalgia the most? It was 15 degrees and chucking it down. And not the exciting Indian monsoon rain that I experienced in Goa; this was a cold, lame London-style drizzle that soaked you to the skin and clinged to your clothes for the entire day.
With not much desire to be outside, I missed out on a lot of the attraction of Ooty. Perhaps a crisp, sunny day would have given me a better view of the place. I stayed in a quaint cottage which was part of a YWCA complex, a very different sleeping arrangement to what I had been used to. It provided great views of the town, much of which surrounds a racecourse, with the last race of the season disappointingly being run just the day before I arrived.
Next to come was another test of endurance, a 15 hour bus ride to the transport hub of southern Kerala: Trivandrum. Like the previous journey, this one boasted reclining chairs. Unlike the previous journey, this one was completely sold out. As the only passenger without a reservation, and the only passenger seeing out the entire 500 kilometer ride, I was woken up and told to switch seats no fewer than 5 times. Such was my tiredness when walking from the long-distance terminal to the local bus stop of Trivandrum that I couldn't even manage a shake of the head at the relentless calls of 'rickshaw?', 'rickshaw?'.
After a painless 10km further, I arrived in Kovalam, a hilly beach town famous for its lighthouse and succulent seafood. As I later discovered, it is also notable for its impressive waves, extortionate food prices and desperate hotel owners.
It wasn't long before the soulless beachfront and every local resident with something to sell got the better of me, and I got itchy feet once again. I cut short my stay at the hotel and headed back into Trivandrum.
Here's a question. Do you know what is the most densely populated area in the world? London you say? Not even close. Monaco? Getting there, but not quite. Mysore? No, but I like your thinking. Actually, the correct answer is the 12.55 Express from Trivandrum to Bangalore, and for half an hour, I found this out the hard way.
At 12.55 precisely, the train pulled up to a sparsely populated platform two. As I began to stroll over to one of the doors, literally hundreds of people appeared as if from nowhere, and crowded up to the doors. As I rued not purchasing a first class ticket for a pound more, and discovered that there was to be no other train for two hours, I reluctantly joined them. A full ten minutes later and I was on the train, receiving some dirty looks for having such a large bag. At least I think I did, my neck didn't exactly have a full turning circle. Minutes passed that seemed like hours, as I made friends with a very big person's armpit. A small old man, hopefully not out of choice, planted his head against my back as somehow, the carriage found space for more and more people. Minutes passed that seemed like hours, and still the train didn't leave the platform. Previous concerns such as sweat, smell, comfort and my wallet and camera (it was so compact that even if they wanted to, there was no physical way for someone to access my pockets) vanished as my senses decided 'No thanks.' and seemed to shut down altogether.
At 1.15 (an outstretched arm in front of me had a watch on, so I had something to keep me entertained for the journey) the train finally started to move. Even more remarkably, half an hour later I was still alert enough to claw my way off the train at my next destination, Varkala. I dread to think whether it was that busy for the entire 600 kilometers to Bangalore, and I promise never to complain about the London Underground again.
After a heated exchange with a taxi driver who was trying in vain to add on 10 rupees to the agreed fare, I arrived at Varkala Beach. This picturesque clifftop village is a popular place for yoga, massages and anything else relaxing. A several kilometer long path runs the entire length of the cliffs, with a ban on vehicles a welcome relief. After consulting a fellow backpacker who hails from just the other side of Gatwick Airport, I dumped my bag in a 200 rupee a night room with a double bed, mosquito net, shower and toilet. With cheaper food, friendlier locals, no hawkers and an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, I knew this was going to be an extended stay!
The next few days involved meeting many fellow backpackers, making friends with the locals (perhaps a little too much, I'm covering someone's shift in a coffee shop on Saturday!) and exploring the area. I was given an introduction to the sights and sounds of the area by a lovely Australian mother and daughter, Linda and Lisa, and a genuine offer of lodging once I reach Brisbane! One of the local dogs, duly christened Leonard, became our guide as we meandered the well-trodden path along and over the cliffs.
After a hectic week in bustling India, and a flight to Kuala Lumpur scheduled for next Tuesday, its going to be a tough job to wrestle myself from the laid-back lifestyle of Varkala in time..