Tag Archives: night 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!

Night Bus to Mangalore

As we often do, Sellappan and I planned to take the night bus to Mangalore, and so my day really started when he came back from work and we picked up our backpacks and went out to get food and to buy sweets for our hosts.

We walked from the flat to a particular place that Sellappan knew that was a combined restaurant and sweet shop, which served our needs very well! We filled up for the journey and eventually Sellappan managed to stop a rickshaw after several drivers refused our journey. We crossed the city to the bus stand and boarded our bus.

I’ll describe the phases of a night bus journey for those of you who may be interested! The buses we have been travelling on are mainly air conditioned, large coaches, some with double rear axels. The seats recline quite a way, too. You board the bus by showing your ticket (which you can have texted to you) and showing ID, stash your luggage above your seat and settle in.

Blankets and water bottles are often provided, and once everyone has boarded, the bus will fight its way out of the station and out of the city. Our journeys usually start between 9 and 11pm, and most people immediately start to snooze, even if they haven’t reclined yet. The conductor will come around and check tickets again, and as the twisty city roads turn to flyovers out of the city, the interior lights are switched off.

Once the bus is on the highway (and for me, at least, depending on the bounciness of the roads) everyone chucks their seat back and dozes off, usually before midnight. Between 1 and 3am the bus will pause at a rest stop, which will awaken some of the passengers (like me). The light switch on will awaken more, and almost everyone will be woken up by the kerfuffle of people disentangling themselves from blankets and displaced layers of clothing and luggage to get down for a walk, a snack, a drink or a trip to the loo.

The rest stops are generally in the middle of nowhere and will have a snack shop or two with a tea stand, and maybe a few stalls selling hot food. There will also be toilet facilities which you can gamble on if you like – it’s not easy to judge a toilet from the outside of the building and I have been both pleasantly surprised and very disappointed by entering a toilet block on many occasions.

Pile back onto the bus if you bothered to get down, and resettle yourself in your blanket for the rest of the ride. You’ll cross through toll gates which might wake you up with their bright lights, creeping speed and triple speed bumps. Keep your eyes shut as you go from the highways to the outskirts of towns, and don’t bother trying to work out where you are by shop signs unless you know where the route goes. You’ll only end up squinting uncomprehendingly at bright lights from your dark chair. Eventually though you might spot a few with your destination city written on them.

The bus will stop many times before its terminus, and the conductor will beatbox the name of the stop repeatedly, and loudly, to make sure everyone gets off at the right place. Eventually your stop will be called and you dig yourself out of your blanket fort – even more of a challenge if the person in front of you is still present and reclined – and you wobble to the front on potentially dead legs, depending on how you slept.

I had my most triumphant night’s sleep on a bus yet, and Sellappan and I jumped down in Mangalore only a few minutes’ walk from Alka and Manu’s place. Alka had been with us in France, so I was really looking forward to seeing her again and to meeting her husband.

Once the lift reached their floor we were greeted with excited noises before we’d even opened the lift door! Alka and Manu gestured us in and we spent ages just chatting and catching up, before eventually tiring at about 7am. Alka and Manu went to work for the morning and we slept a little to catch up.

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.

Auroville, Mangroves and the Loud DJ

We started the day nice and early, leaving the house to get into a guided tour of Auroville. Balu had obtained passes for Sellappan, Jay and I to go on the tour. Children aren’t allowed to go on the tour, so Shalini looked after the bairn. Once we arrived we went into a small auditorium set up for videos. The 15 minute video explained the history and ideology behind the site. After the video we were herded onto minibuses and driven to the centre of the community, the Matrimandir.

image

The Matrimandir was only completed fairly recently, and had been designed over thirty years ago by a French architect, working to the specifications of Mother. We handed over our bags at the kiosk and then joined the rest of the group and listened to the correct procedures for going inside, what to do when inside and when and where to come out. Even the area leading up to the entrance was a designated quiet zone.

We took off our shoes and headed down between two of the brick ‘petals’ to the West entrance. Inside the light was very dim, and two spiral walkways starting at opposite sides of the circle curved up to the meditation hall. There were also four skinny sluices with water running down a golden channels to the lotus pool far below. The architecture here was white carpets, with walls of white granite or marble, and the walkways were lined by glass panels. The overall effect was certainly impressive. We were given white socks to cover our feet and the progressed up the spiral walkway to the main hall.

The main hall is huge, and all of the surfaces are white marble, except the floor which is carpeted in white. Twelve slim pillars hold up the ceiling, and in the centre of the room there is a big crystal ball, probably about twice the size of my head. Everyone sits facing this ball. This crystal ball serves as a focusing point – somewhere to put your eyes as you contemplate. This crystal ball is also the source of all the light in the room. When available, sunlight is focused down into as narrow ray and through the roof into the ball. This ray continues through the ball and down into a smaller ball placed in the centre of a white marble lotus flower with water running down the petals to the centre. After spending some time in the upper hall, we came down to the lotus pool and spent some time there.

On the way out, we passed one of the twelve smaller meditation rooms, each housed in one of the petals. As Balu had explained yesterday, each room has a theme such as power or bliss, different coloured lighting to promote that feeling and is egg-shaped inside. These themes were the extended to the gardens coming out from each petal. The gardens are still under construction.

When we came out we headed back to the bus and to the visitor centre to meet Shalini and the little one, and went for breakfast. We went to a Starbucks-style cafe with sandwiches and cakes, and got a veggie sandwich and chocolate brownie for breakfast. All that contemplation had been hard work after all.

Back at home, we waited for Balu to come back from his excursion to say goodbye to him and his family, then headed off in the car towards Picharvaram, a mangrove forest. On the way we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which conveniently had a playground right next to it! Around the playground there were some fallen unripe coconuts, so we played a few games of catch and there was juggling, of course. Turns out they’re the perfect size and weight for that!

The road to Picharvaram took us though lots of small, rural villages, past plenty of bright green rice fields, goats and cows. We got to Picharvaram at about 4pm, and were lucky enough to get a boat ride almost straight away. We went out in a row boat with a guide who looked like he’d spent his whole life rowing tourists around the place. From the boathouse on the shore it was about ten minutes to cross to the mangroves, and from there you could take any trail through the vegetation which grew straight out of the salty water. The water itself was only a couple of feet deep and at the bottom there was muddy silt, which occasionally sucked at the oars of the boat.

image

As we went up and down the green lanes, wading birds flapped away, and kingfisher type birds stayed motionless on the roots. Tiny bright silver fish leapt out of the water in sunny patches, and little gangs of silt brown crabs clambered over the roots and each other, hunting for food. In a quiet spot we came a cross a woman fishing by hand for these crabs, moving silently up to her neck in the water, with her catch net between her teeth, busily grabbing the crabs from the roots. I wonder how many nips she got as thanks!

Our ride lasted around an hour, and we got back to dry land and into the car, bound for Pondicherry. The sun set as we drive back through the rice fields and Sellappan and I said goodbye to Jay, Shalini and little Krishita outside the Hotel Accord in Pondicherry. We had a couple of hours to kill before our night bus left at ten, so we passed some time in the bar with plenty of snacks to replace dinner.

We had arrived fairly early and there was only us and another group in the bar. Nevertheless when the DJ turned up he switched on all the psychedelic lights and cranked up the dance music. The other group left, and Sellappan and I shouted at each other for a few minutes before realising the place was empty, so we asked the very attentive barman if the music could be turned down to a slightly less deafening level. He replied apologetically that unfortunately the DJ was hired to bring the party, so he wouldn’t be able to turn down the music. Sellappan and I both found this pretty funny, but didn’t press the issue!

We got to the bus station by rickshaw and boarded the bus, this one didn’t have air conditioning but it did have windows and you get a good breeze going on the highway! After chatting until about midnight I managed to get at least four hours sleep and a great deal more dozing besides. As usual, Sellappan did an excellent job of sleeping through the bounciest and noisiest sections of the drive. We arrived at Bangalore at around 6am and got a rickshaw back to the flat for a bit of proper sleep.

Off to Chennai

I had an easy day at the flat again, catching up on my writing and photographs, and enjoyed watching the birds flying by to roost as the sun went down. There are all kinds of birds in Bangalore – lots of crows, some bright green parrots, white cranes with black legs, huge buzzard-sized hawks and even pelicans, as well as the usual sparrows and pigeons. Sellappan arrived back from work and we made preparations to go to Chennai, his university town. We packed up and headed to the Food Point (where else?) for dinner and then took a rickshaw to the bus station. We were a a whole 30 minutes early for this bus!

Sellappan got some snacks for the journey, and we waited patiently for the driver to open the door so we could get on. He was doing a fine line in ignoring everyone until about two minutes before we were due to leave! Thankfully there were only a few passengers so we all got on quickly.

My experiences in taking the night buses have varied so far. On the way to Salem the first time I didn’t get any sleep at all. On the way to Coimbatore I did do a bit of dozing, but didn’t really sleep. From Coimbatore to Bangalore the road seemed smoother and I was able to get a couple of hours in late into the journey, much to my surprise!  This time I managed maybe an hour or two, and was just starting to wake up again as we entered the city.

She we stepped off the bus into the bus station the higher humidity was obvious, but not too bad as the sun was only just rising. We got on another bus through town and then finally walked to Jay and Shalini’s place. Where we crashed!