India – from South to North in the most difficult way

Welcome to India!
         Welcome to India!

Since I started travelling I have met hundreds of other travellers. To break the ice most conversations really start with “How long have you been travelling? Where have you been? And where are you going next?” Now, that third question is the one you got to look out for. Why is that? Because there are two types of travellers and the answer will show what kind of traveller you have in front of you.    

Traveller-Type-A will say: “Ah, I don´t really know, I think I am heading up to xy next or probably to zy, but I quite like it here, so I might as well stay a few days and see what happens.” While the answer of Traveller-Type-B looks something like: “Soo, I am going to xy next. I will stay there for 2-3 nights and then head up to zy. I am planning on being in yy at the end of next week and then I am heading to zz.” You get the drift. Traveller-Type-B likes to have a plan, he or she likes to know what exactly is going to happen in the next few weeks. On the contrary Traveller-Type-A is someone who doesn´t plan ahead too much as he or she knows that travelling gets in the way of plans. Personally I can say without a doubt that I belong to the group of Traveller-Type-A. For me one of the excitements of travelling is to never know where you are going to be in a few days, to just let it happen and see where you end up.  This is how Mike and I have been travelling for the last few years. And it worked perfectly fine. Until we came to India.

SOUTH INDIA

We had only been in the country for a few days when we realised that we have to adjust our way of travelling. As India really is massive we noticed that getting from A to B actually takes a lot more planning than normally. Reason for that is the system of getting around. In India there are three types of transport used by travellers. Option A: Airplanes. The fastest and I reckon most comfortable way of getting around. Unfortunately also the most expensive one. Too expensive for budget travellers like us. (Remember this point for later.) Option B: Trains. The train system in India is great, you can literally get to wherever you want using the train. And it is moderately cheap as well. Sounds good? It is. In theory. Because in reality trains, especially the long distance ones, get booked out weeks in advance. Not good for people like myself who like to decide the night before where to go the next day. Option C: Busses. Any traveller you ask who has been on the road for a while has one thing in common: Everyone is sick of being on busses. There are air conditioned busses, ones without, semi-sleepers, sleeper busses – you name it. But all of them are busses. With no toilet on board. With a schedule that seems to tell the bus driver to stop every hour for a half an hour break. Or instead go on for five hours without a toilet break. Busses that break down three times on the way. Or just don´t start at all. Busses get you from A to B (well most of the time) but let me tell you, you get sick of them if that is what you use all the time.

Local busses in India
                        Local busses in India

So where was I? Ah yeah, planning. As I mentioned in the last post Mike and me had realised that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. South India was just too quite at this time of the year. So we decided to head to the north. So what form of transport would be best? As all the long distance trains from Bangalore to Delhi were booked out (obviously), and the whole journey would take up to 50 hours on a bus, we really just had one option: To bite the bullet regarding our wallets and fly up. But before going to the north we wanted to see Mysore. Well, with saying we I mean me as Mike wasn´t too bothered about to see yet another palace. As I told you in the last post we got on a bus at 6 am in the morning in Munnar. Destination: Mysore. Way of getting there: Three different local busses. 1. Two hours from Munnar to I-forgot-the-name-of-this-town-as-it-was-tiny-and-I-don’t-think-anyone-ever-goes-there. 2. Four hours from I-forgot-the-name-of-this-town-as-it-was-tiny-and-I-don’t-think-anyone-ever-goes-there to Coimbatore. 3. And another six hours from Coimbatore to Mysore. The journey went well, we napped away the hours on the back of the bus, read our books or simply looked out of the window. It all worked to plan – until we got to Coimbatore. There is one thing you need to know about Coimbatore – it´s a big city. And that means not just one but several big bus stations. So when we arrived at the final bus stand on our small local bus from I-forgot-the-name-of-this-town-as-it-was-tiny-and-I-don’t-think-anyone-ever-goes-there we weren´t at the bus stand from which the busses to Mysore depart. Which we obviously didn´t know at that point. And no one in Coimbatore seemed to feel like helping out these two white foreigners standing in the middle of the bus stand with no idea where to go. It took us quite some time to figure out that we had to take a city bus to another bus stop and after asking about 20 people we found out that apparently bus number 3 would take us there. Where ever the hell bus number 3 was departing from. Another ten minutes later we had finally found it and off we were to the other bus stop. Thinking that the end was near, only one more bus and we would be in Mysore we got off the city bus and found the ticket office for our bus to the north. And that was when everything went bad. Because THE word was spoken, the word that seemed to follow us through this country wherever we went. Strike.

What we were told was this: Apparently the state of Tamil Nadu, the state we were currently in, was having an argument with Karnataka, the bordering state in the north. Where Mysore is. (An argument about what you might ask? Oh, no one knew. “India”, that always seemed to be enough as an explanation.) Because of this argument, there were no busses going over the state border. (Just to emphasize this, we are talking state borders here. Not borders between countries. Like a bus from Schleswig-Holstein not going into Hamburg. Or a bus from Yorkshire to Lancashire. Imagine that happening at home.) What to do now? Remember me saying earlier that people from Coimbatore didn´t seem too helpful? Well, that did not change. Plus literally no one seemed to speak more than three words of English. Which is obviously fair enough but didn´t really help us in our situation. (Funnily enough, the word “strike” was commonly known…) Standing in the middle of the bus station we had no idea how on earth we were going to get to Mysore now. I think we must have looked quite desperate because suddenly this woman appeared out of nowhere and asked us in perfect English: “You guys seem a little bit lost. Is there anything I can help you with?” I kid you not at that moment I wanted to throw my arms around this stranger and start crying – someone spoke English! She told us she just got here from Bangalore on the train (obviously smart people in this country travel on trains) and she was quite confused why on earth we would ever think of getting a bus in India. She herself has never travelled on a bus in all her life so far. (Let that sink in.) We told her about our dilemma and in her perfect accent free English she explained to us that we have three options. (You must have noticed that there are always options in India. Which doesn´t always mean much. Just like they say in India: “Everything is possible. But this exact thing that you want, oh no, that is not possible.”) We could try and get a train to Mysore. We could get a long distance bus to Bangalore and then take a local bus to Mysore as both cities lie in the same state (weirdly only the local busses were on strike but the express buses which are more expensive were going as normal). Or we could take a local bus up to Hasanur which is a town right at the border, walk the two kilometres with our bags on the back across the border and then catch a local bus from there to Mysore. The next half an hour looked something like this: We took a TukTuk to the train station only to be told there are no trains going to Mysore nor Bangalore that day. We then took another TukTuk back to the bus stop to get on a bus to Hasanur to walk over the border ourselves. We then got told that the next bus to Hasanur would only be late that night. It was now noon. “And what about an express bus to Bangalore?” we asked. “The next bus to Bangalore will be at 11 pm tonight.” I think it was exactly that moment when I lost it. I don´t want to come across arrogant now but I class myself as a person who can, excuse my language, hold my shit together quite well. What I mean with that is – I don´t give up fast. I look at the hurdles in my way and patiently try to find ways of overcoming them. So it needs quite a bit to let things get to me. But when I was sitting at that bus stop in this massive city, noises and smells all around, everyone staring at you like you are some kind of alien from another planet, knowing that there was no normal way of getting out of this place without a 10 hour wait and another 12 hours bus journey that wouldn´t even get us to the city we actually wanted to go to – that was when I realised why people say that India is like nothing you have ever experienced before. Because it isn´t. It just isn´t.

Sometimes all you need in life is a softdrink...
Sometimes all you need in life is a softdrink…

So that was when I had my first India moment as I like to call it. The moment you let the country get to you. To be fair in the next weeks there would be a lot more of those moments, a lot tougher ones. But weirdly they wouldn´t touch me that much. I reckon sometimes the smaller things harden you up for the tougher situations. There I was, sitting on the ground at the bus stop with no idea what to do next, exhausted and close to tears because I just didn´t want to deal with this situation anymore when Mike did the only thing he could think of at that minute that might cheer me up: “Do you want a soft drink? I´ll buy you a sprite.” And hell yes, sometimes the thought of a 40 Cents soft drink makes your world look a lot brighter again. It´s the small things in life. While he went to the stall I had a look into my travel book to find out what city it was we were actually stranded in. That was when my eyes found the word airport. Telling Mike about it when he came back we looked at each other and knew that both of us had the same idea forming in our heads. Should we do it? Should we just leave our plans of visiting Mysore behind and just fly to Delhi right now? I mean what did I actually want to do in Mysore? It had this one palace I had heard of. But so have a million other cities in India. (If you are ever after a laugh, ask Mike what he thinks of seeing temples and palaces in every new city you get to 😉 ) Was this palace really that great, that it was worth the 24 hours journey that it would take to get there? Before we thought about all that we needed to find out if there were actually flights going from the city we were in to Delhi. We went into a good-old-fashioned internet café and typed our search into Skyscanner. (You know when you walk past an internet café these days and think, who the hell actually still uses these? Well, now you know). And there it was: Coimbatore – New Delhi, two flights available today. It was decision time. And I think I have told you before, I am not a quick decision maker. And that is probably an understatement. I take ages making a decision. Which is not good in a moment when you need to make a quick one. Should we just abandon all our plans and go to Delhi right that day instead of in a few days’ time? When you hear it like this, you think well it isn´t a life changing decision. No it definitely wasn´t. But you see, once my mind is set to where to go next I find it hard to change the plans to instead take a flight 3000 kilometres away to a place which belongs to the same country but couldn´t be more different. And that´s exactly why plans are really best not made. Because they change anyways when daily travel problems come their way. So this is how 12 hours after we left Munnar with the plan of going to a city around 400 kilometres away we landed in Delhi, capital of India, with a lot less money on our bank account and a whole world away from what we had seen so far. If we thought until then that the south of India was a crazy place, well let´s put it blandly: We couldn´t have been more wrong. Because we were about to experience something you really can´t put it into words. “Mad” might come close. But even that doesn´t do this place justice. Welcome to North India!

New Delhi
         New Delhi

*** As you would have noticed there aren`t a lot of pictures in this blog entry. Which I am sure is not too surprising as it is actually only about one day in our travels. But I assure you there are a loooot more coming in the next post. Which is almost fully written. So not long. ***

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