Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Fun with Buses

Reflections Guest House, Ooty
We're currently in Ooty, and it's wet and miserable outside, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up in my entries, especially since quite a bit has happened since my last one... This is the first time that rain has really interfered with our sightseeing plans, but James says he almost doesn't mind because it reminds him of Auckland.
When we first boarded the bus that would take us from Hospet to Bangalore (where we would then take another bus to Mysore), we were initially pleasantly surprised to find the sleeping berth quite wide and, to James' delight, even long enough for Caucasian statures! There was a sturdy rack for shoes, and even a power point for recharging your mobile. We both thought these were good omens for our journey, but alas, it was not to be smooth sailing for us.
On all the long-distance buses we've been on, they usually make stops along the way to let people on/off, for the driver to take tea breaks, and for hawkers to jump on and push their wares in your face. So at around 4am when our bus stopped, we sort of both assumed it was just another one of those stops. However, after an inordinately long time I thought something might be up, and when I drew aside the curtain and peered around, the bus was practially empty. When we asked what was going on, some guy just kept saying 'change bus, change bus', so we groggily got our stuff (I couldn't even see cause I didn't have my contacts or glasses on), grabbed our big bags from the luggage compartment as well, and then got shoved onto another bus which was waiting behind us. There was also one other foreigner behind us as well, who had also no idea what was going on. Turns out our original bus had broken down, and we were being transferred to one which had left Hospet a bit later. Of course, nobody had told us what was going on, and even now I wonder if maybe they would've just left without us... I'm glad we didn't have to find out.
That already had us cursing the dodgy travel agent guy in Hampi who lied about the train being full, booking us on that bus instead and ripping us off by about 300Rs in the process, but our troubles weren't over yet, because it turns out our bus didn't even stop at the central bus station. It dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, where we had to take a rickshaw to get to the actual bus station. Once we got there though, things went relatively smoothly. I know I've complained a bit about dodgy people in India leading us astray, but for every five of these there's at least one nice, helpful person!
According to the Lonely Planet, Bangalore has a 'huge, well-organised Central Bus Stand'. I was expecting something akin to Britomart, maybe with helpful maps and signs, but this is India - what was I thinking?! It was absolute chaos, but I guess some sort of organised chaos... We asked some random person where the bus to Mysore was, and he actually sent us to exactly the right place! Once we got there, there were two or three buses with guys leaning out of it calling 'Mysore-Mysore-Mysore-Mysore' etc, we just chose the one which looked the least like it was falling apart, and off we went! Well, kind of. The buses all chose to depart at the same time and there were no lanes or anything. It was like a herd of cows all trying to get through the same narrow gate simultaneously.
We got to Mysore without incident, which was teeming with people due to it being the last day of the Dussehra festival. Seems there were a lot of local tourists in town to see the big parade, which was a bit like the Santa parade, except for with about ten times as many people, many of them drunken youths... The police were on hand to beat back the crowd, and of course there were people precariously perched on every high thing such as power posts, signs, trees, rubbish skips... There was a local who started talking to us (and some other foreign tourists), explaining what was going on etc, he was really helpful actually - at the end I half expected him to ask for some sort of tip, but miraculously he thanked us (for letting him practise English on us?) and just left! Wow. The parade itself wasn't that spectacular, I mean there were guys on horses and elephants and floats, but the whole thing had a fairly budget feel to it. Ah well, I guess we were lucky to have caught at least one big festival parade on our trip!
In the evening we went to the Mysore Palace, which was lit up at 7pm with 97,000 lightbulbs (they weren't even the energy-saving ones!). There were tons and tons of people around (due to it being the festival) and we really did feel like some sort of walking freak show. Everyone would stare and stare at us - I mean, that's happened everywhere we've gone in India, but it was especially bad in Mysore because of the sheer number of people around, and most of them were probably from the countryside as well and not that used to seeing foreign tourists. The hawkers were annoying too, there was one particular kid trying to sell us pens who followed us for about five or ten minutes, even after we repeatedly said 'no' and even walked really far away from where he first accosted us.
The next morning we went back to the palace to see the inside, which was very interesting because of the mix of European and Indian artwork, but was altogether a bit too gaudy and over-the-top. We decided to skip the 'famous' silk factories of Mysore given we'd both seen the ones in China and had no intention of buying any silk, and boarded a 2pm bus to Ooty, the most famous hill station in southern India.
What should've been a five hour journey turned out to be seven hours long, with lots of fun bumpy bits on the way. James and I were in the back row and in some bits I think my bum levitated about a foot above the seat! By the time we'd dropped our bags off at this guest house and went off to look for dinner, it was 9.30pm and the restaurants were closed, so we went without dinner last night - but I guess we hadn't exactly done much either, so it wasn't too bad.
Today we just wandered around Ooty, booked our train ticket away from here, visited St Stephen's church where a nice caretaker guy turned on the lights just for us (and didn't even demand a tip! wow), and then bought a ton of books at a shop called Higginbothams. We got Dante's Inferno, Treasure Island, Frankenstein, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland(the original by Lewis Carroll), Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Man Who Was Thursday, King Solomon's Mines and The Lost World. I'm sure we won't get through all of them on the trip, but we both getting more into the classic sort of books, and they were just so cheap compared to Borders, that we thought we might as well! They're the proper versions too, not the pirated books they sell on the streets.
Tomorrow we're planning to do a full day trek with a guide, but I'm not sure if that will go ahead if the weather continues to be like this, so we shall see...

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