Tag Archives: bus

Last Minute Rush to Wait – and Geocache 13, not so unlucky

Today we finished up lots of little odds and ends, but first we paid a visit to Naveen and Ashwini, who wanted Sellappan to come with them to view a property they were thinking of moving to. Once we’d had a look around and a chat about it, Sellappan and I went to the Forum mall. We went for a geocache first – my first attempt in India (GLDJ1M23). There aren’t many in India at all, but there are a couple in Bangalore and this one was close to Sellappan’s place so we were able to go for it in the morning before work. Thanks to the hint, we got to the right spot almost immediately. Unfortunately, there were lots of people around, and while we were surreptitiously searching, someone came up to us to ask for money. Eventually Sellappan persuaded them they were on a hiding to nothing and we zeroed in on the likely spot. I couldn’t see anything obvious at first, but sitting down on the wall for a think we dismissed most places around us until only one remained. Sellappan stuck his hand down the back of the likely spot and bingo! Cache in hand! The log was signed and the cache was replaced quickly.

Signing the log book.
Signing the log book at the bus stand.

We crossed back to the mall for the next few tasks. We went to a bookshop and I got some comics as a gift, and got three books for myself in case I needed something to read on the plane. One of these was a second copy of The White Tiger, a book which I had enjoyed before visiting India – I wondered if it would feel the same having been there. We also managed to find a Chumbak store to get the motorbike shirt we’d seen when we were waiting for Sujay and Kallu at the cinema across town. Time was running out, so with everything stuffed into my backpack, Sellappan dropped me off at the flat with some brunch before going to work.

After work, we were making full use of the fact that Mohan and Kowshalya were back in town, and so went out for dinner with them to a restaurant specialising in food from Andhra Pradesh. We had to wait a little while before getting into the restaurant and getting seated which normally isn’t a problem, but we had a bus to catch! Sellappan, Mohan and I enjoyed some non-veg dishes while Kowshalya stuck to the veggie options. We left it at that and paid the bill before rushing back to the flat, picking up our bags and heading for the night bus to Salem via rickshaw.

We made it with some time to spare, and then Mohan and Kowshalya appeared on their bike to keep us company. It was really nice of them to do so, especially as we ended up waiting ages for the bus which was late! Eventually we got on and Mohan and Kowshalya disappeared off into the night.

We hadn’t managed to get our usual seats of 17 and 18, and ended up sitting in the back row of the bus, which felt very strange after always sitting in the middle. Clearly this didn’t bother me as much as I thought, as the next thing I knew I was waking up on the outskirts of Salem, with Sellappan laughing at me because I’d actually managed to nod off before he did. My bus sleeping level: Advanced.

We got off at Salem bus station and got to Sellappan’s house by taxi, and had a nice morning’s sleep on beds that didn’t move.

Sizzling Cinema

We had a lazy morning and got up ready for breakfast, Alka had cooked a delicious stew which we really enjoyed, and then we spent some time just chatting (mainly about Christmas for some reason) and then discovered there was a Hindi movie playing that we thought we’d all enjoy. The movie is called Queen (trailer), and the premise is that a jilted bride goes on her European dream honeymoon alone. As Sellappan, Alka and I met in France and Manu has travelled to Europe too, we were all looking forward to seeing someone else’s first time experience and how it would be portrayed in the film.

The film turned out to be absolutely hilarious, with a great cast – I can’t speak for the Hindi jokes but most of the humour was situational or was easy to guess what was being said, maybe it was all a bit predictable but it was a really fun film in any case.

Our faces still hurting, we went to Kobe Sizzler, a chain reastaurant serving food on sizzling platters. I chose a buffalo steak which came with chips (best chips in India so far…) And boiled veg with a rich mushroom gravy. It was very pub lunch and of course arrived in a cloud of steam and sizzling noise.

Once we’d finished, we somehow managed to get out of our seats and drove to the beach. The sun was still a bit high, so we sat on a bandstand while it got a little lower. The beach was absolutely packed, with lots of people playing in the water and even more eating snacks on the sand. While we sat, a cow wandered over in search of something to eat while its hooves sunk into the sand.

We took off our shoes and walked over the ultra-fine white sand down to the shore. The sand was so light and fine it squeaked a little underfoot and lay on our feet like dust. We sat down on a ridge and took in the lovely sunset (west coast beach!) As kids came by to sell us skinny cones of peanuts and the ice cream man tringed his bicycle bell to drum up some business.

Once the sun was down we headed back into town for ice cream sundaes (because beaches and ice cream go together like…) in a parlour which was under a beauty salon called Queen’s, which was a nice parallel. We headed home for a was and brush up and all of a sudden it was time to get back onto the bus again!

Manu and Alka dropped us off at the stop and we climbed aboard to head back to Bangalore. The journey was smooth, and we got back to Bangalore at about 4.30am and hunted for the bus back to the flat. We got it just fine but it took about a hundred years to get out of the bus station along with all of its friends, so by the end of it all and after a rickshaw ride we got back to the flat at around 6am… Sleep time!

Creeping up the Back Stairs

Praveen picked us up nice and early for a day on the road in the towns around Jaipur. We headed out onto the highway and stopped for breakfast at a rest stop. While Sellappan and I ate and drank tea, Praveen secretly shopped for a Shakira CD and we watched some boars trotting backwards and forwards looking for scraps.

We set off again (to the tune of Hips Don’t Lie) to Ajmer, which neither Sellappan nor Praveen could recommend as a nice place to be. I did wonder why we were going in that case, and Sellappan explained that there was a world-famous mosque there that was supposed to be very interesting.

We hopped down from the taxi and Praveen pointed us to the rickshaw driver he knows, who then drove us through the packed, bouncy streets for about half a mile. I spent this time trying to tie my headscarf which proved to be pretty impossible with all the bouncing. We jumped down from the rickshaw and met a local guide who immediately zipped off through the crowds via some quiet back streets and staircases. It was a maze where everyone else seemed to know where they were going except us!

We popped out of an archway, down some stairs (Sellappan swiftly purchased a cap to wear in the mosque, somehow) across a market street and up some white marble stairs, dropping off our shoes as we climbed, keeping pace with the guide. We bustled through to the mosque itself and squeezed inside, where a cloth was placed over our heads and words were spoken. When the light came back in we bustled back outside and were handed rose petals to eat.

We then went to a counter where Sellappan made a donation and was given a receipt, then we sat for a while facing the mosque along with everyone else. Finally, we climbed a large step pyramid which held an enormous metal dish into which offerings could be thrown. We got down from there and the guide went back into fast forward mode and we reversed our journey back to the car.

Sellappan took pictures as we left, and indulged in a bit of rickshaw-based street photography too. We got back into the cab and left Ajmer, no more than half an hour after arriving.

We drove through the arid hills (more goats) and to out next stop was KP, home to the only Brahma temple in existence. Praveen took us nearly to the door. We left our shoes in the car and navigated through to the white marble steps up to the temple, which was outdoors and fairly hot underfoot thanks to the sun. There were plenty of people bustling about and we had a short visit, including traversing a mysterious set of steps underground and back out – “What was the point of that?” We went back to Praveen who was waiting for us and zipped off into the desert.

On a seemingly random junction there were a few camels and carts gathered and we got out ready for our camel ride. We chose to go by cart, climbed up the back of it and sat over the axle on top of a thick carpet. The cart was square with a pointed top, with sweeps of tasseled red fabric to shade the worst of the sun and frame then desert view. Our driver seemed to only be about ten years old, but handled the camel fearlessly and expertly.

Part of the way in the camel stopped to drink, which was a bit of an operation and lasted exactly as long as the camel wanted it to. When we were almost round, we paused and Sellappan climbed up to ride on the camel’s back for a while, and thoroughly enjoyed it if his grin was anything to go by. It didn’t seem too comfortable though, and he joined me back at the camel’s backside after a while. When we arrived back, Praveen was ready to go!

We headed back to Jaipur, stopping for lunch on the way at yet another nice restaurant (though it seemed a bit expensive) where we had thali, and Sellappan picked up a fee more gifts. We got back to Jaipur at about 3pm for our 3.30pm bus, which we hadn’t booked in advance in case we were late. We were very excited to be heading off to Agra and the Taj Mahal, and settled into the journey, enjoying the mountain tunnels.

We stopped at a rest stop of course, and the journey went smoothly until… We were due to arrive in Agra at 8.30pm and had a driver booked to wait for us. When we got to the little roads, the bus slowed and ground to a halt. Why? We pent the first few minutes wondering what was going on, and finally realised that the road ahead was somehow blocked. Traffic was flying through from the other side, mainly bikes and small cars, but occasionally a large vehicle would come by making us think “well, now he’s through we’ll get moving,” not so.

People overtook us down the middle of the road and passenger started to get restless wondering why we were just sitting in a queue – Sellappan discovered that the driver was just sitting reading his newspaper. After two hours we finally moved, and eventually cleared the terribly managed junction which was causing the problem. Meanwhile, we had phoned our driver several times and he agreed to pick us up whenever we got there.

We were held up by at last 10 wedding parades, featuring grooms on brightly lit floats, preceded by silver brass bands and bright lanterns. The generation running all this came behind the groom on a cart or truck, and wires dangled everywhere.

We met our incredibly friendly driver S (“Please take my card and tell all your friends!”) and his battle worn people carrier, and and began driving through the streets of Agra proper. He sympathised with us about the junction, which was apparently always snarled up at that time of day. If you learn nothing else from this post, please remember to take the TRAIN between Jaipur and Agra. Seriously. S took us to a place to grab some food, and took us to our hotel, the Taj Haritage (sic) where we scrubbed off the desert dust (an amazing amount that we didn’t realise was there, the water ran brown and left silt behind) and shovelled tandoori chicken with minimal undercooked nan to supplement.

A party going on next to the hotel didn’t affect my sleep in the slightest. I wondered if the Taj Mahal would be worth it…

Horizontal Living/Are we on fire?

Horizontal living in the very, very literal sense happened today, at least for Sellappan. I sat up on the sofa while he lay on the living room floor. Another day of relaxation with home cooking and films was very welcome.

We took Casper up to the roof and Sellappan tired him out with fetch as the bucket filled. Once Casper was just about worn out, he submitted to the dog shampoo, dousings with water and scrubbing quite happily, thoroughly enjoying the attention and rarely soaking us with a shake. He smelled loads better after his bath!

We headed to the bus station late in the evening, and Sellappan bumped into a schoolfriend who had booked the seat behind us. We settled in for our standard commute back to Bangalore. Just as I was wondering if the air conditioning was sucking in fumes from the bus in front, someone came from the back of the bus to speak to the driver, and asked him to stop.

The smell was getting stronger, and the driver eventually pulled over and we turned around to see the back of the bus beginning to fill up with blue-grey smoke. We all got off the bus, and looked around the back where smoke was pouring out. Initially it was thought that the AC unit was malfunctioning, but it turned out that the engine was overheating!

The driver and conductor started making phone calls to the bus company, and sure enough, a couple more buses stopped to help. After a while standing under the stars and speculating what was happening, yet another half-full bus turned up and there was space for some passengers to jump on and continue their journey, which Sellappan and I did. We ended up on the conductor’s hard sideways seat at the front of the bus.

I watched out of the front for the rest of the journey, denied the joy of reclining by having to sit on the strange seat. Sellappan got some sleep (of highly dubious quality) before we arrived at around 4am in Bangalore. After the usual rickshaw ride home we did our standard catch up nap.

Wash It

While I have had the luxury of some quiet times in Bangalore between trips, Sellappan has been working those hours to ensure he has enough leave to travel with me – and to keep his manager on side! This weekend being just over halfway through my visit it seemed reasonable to have a more chilled out weekend at home. That, and he really needed to wash the dog. And his clothes.

We woke up at Ashwini and Naveen’s place at 6 and caught a rickshaw to where the buses stop. This was at a flower market, and we stood on the corner as people were laying out their metres and metres of garlands behind us. The combination of the thick jasmine scent and the diesel of the buses was very odd indeed!

Plenty of buses sailed past until Sellappan chose the one he wanted to flag down, the 3.33, so numbered because that’s how long it takes the bus to get from Electronic City back to Salem. Sellappan caught some extra sleep while I watched the world go by outside, which was interesting as it was only the second daylight trip I’ve taken by bus in India.

We arrived to the house late in the morning, and had a lazy day to top all lazy days. Sellappan washed the bikes with minimal interference from me, and I made a call home while he polished them. Sellappan ran some errands in the evening.

Head for the Hills

Not wanting to do anything by halves, Sellappan planned to arrive at 3am and then depart for Coimbatore at 5am. Unluckily for him, his bus was diverted and then he had to change buses… He was delayed until 5am. He must have been pretty tired, as he hadn’t had much sleep on the buses. Luckily for me, I got two hours more sleep than I had expected!

We got ready for the off and packed up all our bags from Salem and headed for the bus stop to go to Coimbatore. The bus to Coimbatore was quite busy, and took longer than it should have to get to Coimbatore. With this, and the dubious suspension of the vehicle, Sellappan wasn’t really able to get much sleep on that journey either. Somehow we got there, and jumped in a rickshaw to visit Naveen and Ashwini for a quick but substantial meal and to wait for Mohan (a different Mohan, Coimbatore Mohan) and Bindhu to arrive. I took the opportunity to have a nap while Sellappan caught up with two former colleagues who lived around the corner.

By 3pm we were all on the way to the Nilgiris hills with John Paul, Mohan’s friend, who drove us. We left Coimbatore behind and headed for the hills, which again seemed to rise suddenly from the ground, covered in vegetation. As we got closer to the hills the shops and concrete lining the roads gave way to tall trees which arched over us. Before starting the climb we stopped at a shop for refreshment and watched a monkey casually eating a packet of snacks sitting on a signpost. Looking up, another couple dangled from the shop front and yet more bounced around in the tree above the car park. Snack monkey finished munching and leapt up to join his friends.

Once we started to drive again the hill suddenly appeared and the hairpin bends started up too. Again, monkeys formed the guard of honour as we went up, with trucks and buses joining the flow of cars and bikes heading for the top. The further we climbed the more the temperatures dropped in the most welcome way. The other occupants of the car piled on the layers as we got to the top, but I was thoroughly enjoying the low temperatures! The journey was long and very winding, but finally the trees thinned and we popped out into Coonoor, the centre of which is built and a flat area surrounded by yet more hills. Naturally we had to stop for food, and so had a meal in the town centre.

Our plan for the evening was to have a campfire, but first we headed to the cottage where we were stating to dump our luggage and freshen up. The cottage overlooked a spectacular valley of tea plantations, which rose high above us on the other side. The tea came up almost to the cottage road itself, and was a stunning vivid green in the late afternoon light. Next on the list was a drive to the viewpoint Dolphin’s Nose. By the time we got there it was dark, and so we could only really see the edges of the hills by the moonlight, and the city lights far, far below. It was very peaceful and the air was very clear, with no clouds to obscure the stars above us.

We came back down from the vertiginous Dolphin’s Nose and gathered supplies for our campfire. When we got back to the cottage a nice fire had already been prepared for us, and so we gathered around the fire, lit it and chatted the night away. As we were eating at about 1am, three wild bison lumbered peacefully through the tea plants right next to us and off into the distance. Mohan, being a photographer, followed them carefully with Sellappan and John in tow to try and get a picture. The bison couldn’t have been more disinterested in our presence, and Mohan got a few photos of them to add to his collection.

The fire burned down by 3am, and we got some rest.

Rest and Travel to Salem

As always, the first priority of the day was food! We went to Sellappan’s regular breakfast spot near his place. This is called Food Point and comprises an open kitchen and some standing tables, as well as a drinking water tank and a hand wash sink.

Sellappan had idly and I had chapatis, and we helped ourselves to chutney and sauce. We grabbed a pizza for my lunch later, and picked up Sellappan’s laptop from Mohan and Kowshalya’s place.

I spent a very restful day at Sellappan’s place in preparation for the journey to Salem. The pizza had been selected from the fusion menu and was paneer, coriander, fried onion and curry leaves which worked well. The tomato sauce definitely had some chilli in it, and a small sachet of chilli flakes was provided just in case you needed any more of a kick.

When Sellappan got back we packed up and went to the Food Point for dinner. I had dosa and there was more idly for Sellappan. Mohan swung by as well and then Sellappan and I caught an autorickshaw to get to the bus stop. When we arrived at the stop Sellappan called the bus driver to make sure we were not missed! It was about 11.30pm by this time and the roads were still busy. When the bus arrived we jumped on and got in our allocated seats.

The journey was about 4 hours and most people slept for a lot of the way. The seats reclined really far back so it was possible to get some rest in between the horns honking, which wasn’t that much thankfully! We paused at a rest stop where there was music playing and people eating and drinking.

We finally arrived at about 3.30am and the taxi was waiting for us. It was a short journey across town to Sellappan’s place, where we went to sleep almost straight away!