08.12.2012 - 09.12.2012
It was a Friday evening and the aim was to reach Kochi by Sunday to meet the Germans, who'd continued on the group trip to Kerala, before they headed back to Berlin. This was to involve two consecutive nights on sleeper busses via either Bangalore, Mangalore or Mysore. Felix had recommended Mysore having spent a week there and, despite his jokes about sending people to places he hadn't liked, the Lonenly Planet seemed to agree that Mysore was worth a visit: 'if you haven't been to Mysore, you just haven't seen South India. So twelve hours in Mysore it was to be.
It was a very dark journey from Hampi to Hospet (where most busses departed the area from) and I got into a brief dispute with the rickshaw driver when I got out as he decided he wanted a greater fare than the already inflated 200rupees we'd agreed on just for taking me to the private bus stand (200m further than the public bus stand). Laughing at me hauling my bag out of the back saying 'fat girl fat bag' didn't in anyway help his cause and so I ignored him and walked across the street wondering if three weeks of curry had indeed added some pounds. I smiled at some other foreigners, who turned out to be from Hackney and Frodsham and were also heading towards Kochi but via Mangalore. We went in search of a washroom together before they boarded their bus and I waited for mine.
This bus was very empty and the only other foreigners on board were an old Austrian lady and a guy about my age who turned out to be from Bangor. This time I had booked a single sleeper bed therefore alleviating any risk of having to share. Although I couldn't see as it was pitch black outside, it seemed the bus was taking a rather off road route and sleeping proved problematic as we bumped over numerous pot holes and speed bumps. The bus made no scheduled bathroom stops so I got out and pee-ed in a bush when the driver went for a snack.
It would seem that I did eventually sleep as I was awoken when it was still dark outside to cries of Mysore last stop. The guy from Bangor, who had some unusual Celtic name - maybe Kimball? - had kindly offered to let me leave my backpack in his room for the day so we went in search if somewhere for him to stay. The hotel he'd wanted was apparently booked out so he ended up in a complete dive across the road for which he paid 500 rupees for 24 hours (meaning that he'd have to check out the following morning at 7am!). The room was dreadful. The bed was lumpy and hard with no sheets provided, it was extremely damp and had a mouldy adjoining bathroom that made no attempt at having hot water - there was only one tap. I had a brief wash in the cold water and, once it reached a slightly more civilised hour, we went out to see the city. One of the main sights of Mysore, according to the city's number one fan, the lonely planet, is the Maharaja's Palace which it describes as being amongst the grandest of India's royal buildings. I'd have to agree with LP here, the palace was the over the top stuff of childhood princess fantasies and apparently rebuilt after fire in the early 1900s by British architect Henry Irwin. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside and despite having bribed the guard a hefty 100rupees to let me take my camera inside the building, I was too nervous to use it.
It was interesting to walk around with Kimball (?) who'd landed in India two days before I had but into Mumbai and seemed to have lingered a while in Goa - I noticed several differences between his approach and my own. For example, whilst I had become expert at ignoring rickshaw drivers, touts and pretty much anyone who approached me, he still willingly engaged in conversation, often significantly slowing his progress. Whilst looking for the entrance to the palace a rickshaw driver had tried to convince him that it was too busy to visit in the morning and that we should go to the market and come back later....obviously he was happy to drive us to the market and back... At my insistence we visited the palace anyway and found it perfectly manageable. He happily handed over 500 rupees for a foul hotel room where i'd have negotiated or gone elsewhere, even tipping the tout who'd led him there 30rupees. When people tried to sell us stuff outside, he politely said no, leading to them following him whilst I ignored them and walked off. When people asked where he was from, he'd answer whilst I'd carry on walking. From his stories it seemed as if he had been scammed a couple of times as well. I did however admire his willingness to engage with people and acknowledged that perhaps my caution prevented some worthwhile and interesting experiences.
After the palace, we wandered the streets of the small city centre in search of somewhere to eat. Characteristic of my experiences with Indian cities, I was unable to find anywhere from the guide book and Mysore seemed to be distinctly lacking in the cafe culture that had made me so fond of places like Pushkar, Udaipur and Hampi. Eventually we ate in a bizarre hotel restaurant that seemed to be attempting safari theme.
With the exception of the palace, I failed to see in my short time there what LP and Felix had seen in Mysore. Perhaps had I lingered longer it would have grown on me but, keen to see Kerala and having had enough of polluted busy towns, I left for the bus station leaving Kimball in his mangey room.
I found my bus with relative ease and having slept surprisingly well on the last two sleeper busses (although still not well) I was not worried about the journey. Or at least I wasn't until I got on the bus. It was an a/c semi-sleeper bus meaning it looks like a normal coach but the seats recline much further than usual. As they are spaced as those on a regular coach, this proved pretty uncomfortable for my short 5'4" frame when, early in the journey, the guy in front of me cranked his seat back to full recline and I felt my knees crack. I was the only single female on the bus and one of very few foreigners - there was a young French couple a few seats in front of me and a friendly older Israeli couple I'd spoken to before boarding.
As the journey began, the conductor inserted a DVD and we were subjected to some dreadful Indian sitcom/film in which pale Indian women in very skimpy western clothing threw themselves at a creepy looking guy with a moustache and his overweight ugly companion. Attempting to read, I prayed that it was a sitcom not a Bollywood film and wouldn't last for the standard 3-4 hours.
When we stopped for a bathroom break where a door market 'ladies' led into a room that didn't even have a hole in the floor toilet in there, it was just floor with a small drainage hole at the back and a tap with a small bucket. I wasn't sure what to make of the situation but there were a lot of men standing around the parking lot so peeing in a bush was out of the question so I did the only sensible thing and peed on the floor before washing it away towards the hole with a bucket of water. Getting back on the bus it smelt like food, aftershave and feet - I wished that the windows would open and resolved again to avoid a/c busses in future.
I was shaken awake by the conductor saying last stop Ernakulam and was disturbed to find that it was 4.30 am. I'd planned to walk to a hotel recommended by both Mari and LP but decided to wait until it was light and there was a higher chance of the reception being manned. So I settled down in the ladies waiting room and read for over 2 hours until the sun had come up.