[Here I made some notes from information given to me by a guy on the bus from Hassan to Sravanbelagola. He's been working in Japan, and is now heading back towards the U.K. His folks live at Pannal, near Harrogate. It was useful, in a way, to talk to someone who had done a bit of travelling, but it meant that I didn't have as much chance to look out of the window as I usually do].
So, to begin at the beginning. The wash basin in the Hassan Ashok was as bad as the shower, the tap ran so slowly that the water trickled into the overflow, which in true Indian style, wasn't connected. So the floor got flooded. Luckily all Indian bathrooms have a tiled floor, so it was no great problem, and I solved it by sticking the soap wrapper over the overflow opening.
I rushed through breakfast hoping my insides would last out, I only had toast and tea, I drank a pint of tea for I forgot that the toast would be the terrible Indian bread. I went to the check-out and asked the guy to change a 100 rupee note, which he did, and then charged me 38 rupees for breakfast. I then had to run to the loo, and rushed to the bus station for the 8 a.m. bus, only to be told it was 8.30. By 9.a.m. I had been joined by the aforementioned traveller, who reckons Indonesia is better than India, and a middle aged couple who had come from Sri Lanka. The man was in a wheelchair and paralysed from the waist down, I thought it was very brave of him to tackle Indian buses, he just sat on his bum and dragged himself with his hands. The Indians of course, just stood and watched. They really are a load of selfish, ignorant peasants in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense.
The bus to Sravanbelagola left at 09:30 and took two hours. When we arrived, I found that the last bus left for Mysore at 13:15. I asked if I had time to get up the hill to see the statue, and everyone said "Oh yes, it only takes an hour" and for once they were right.
It was tough going, as I've hardly walked anywhere in India, and I was feeling very dehydrated, but I daren't drink for fear of re-awakening my insides. On the way down I succumbed and drank some water, and then had a Mango "Frooti" in the village, both of which were very welcome.
The temple was very pleasant, only a dozen or so people, none of the usual hassles, though there was a temple in the "grounds" i.e. the bare rock hill-top on which the temple stands, where a young brahmin called me to look round. There were two side chapels and a main chapel each with a cross-legged Buddha in them. The minder read aloud the name of each, which I could have done for myself as they were prominently displayed on a sign next to each image, and then demanded payment for his services as a guide. He didn't get any.
I wish I could have stayed longer in the village, it was quiet and sleepy, with lots of little temples, one with an enormous tank that was visible from the hill. The smaller hill looked interesting as well, with quite a big temple on the top. I wish Lonely Planet had given some idea of the bus times, though how I could have stayed longer I'm not sure.
The guy on the bus did tell me that the government Sandalwood oil factory has closed down, which is a big disappointment, that was my main reason for visiting Mysore. He said the auto driver took him all the way out there knowing it had closed eight months previously, and then waited at the end of the road for a return fare, I don't gather he got it!
Mysore: I can't decide whether to stay here tomorrow, I'm in a more expensive room in the main hotel, but its still noisy, possibly more so than the cottage, but I shall decide after I've eaten at the place the guy recommended.
21:45 Tuesday, 31/01/89 I am very tired and very thirsty. I think I've decided as follows; go to tourist office when it opens - reputedly at - Ah, another problem.....
Its funny, but as I was walking back from the bus station this afternoon, an American stopped me and asked where the tourist office was. I fished out Lonely Planet, looked at the map and said "It should be on that corner there". "Yes," he said, "That's what I thought". When I read the guide it actually says the tourist office is in the same road as this hotel, which is no where near the location shown on the map.
Just been to the loo again, I'm so thirsty I've succumbed to drinking the hotel's drinking water again, with a sterotab in it, of course. If it is the latter then I'm in for another dose of the runs again tomorrow.
When I went to get the bog-roll there was a mosquito on it, so that is somewhere in here with me, I've not had too much trouble from them so far.
I must keep things in order. I went back to town and had a really good meal at the Indira Bhavan Hotel. I had two giant koftas (Potato and spice balls) in a sauce which looked like anaemic diarrhoea but which tasted very good. At least it will save my stomach a job. They served very good lassi, I had two glasses to get my protein level up, 5 rupees a glass. The food cost 10 rupees, plus 3 rupees for a nan the size of a triangular bandage, and a gulab jam for another 2 rupees. Less than £1 for a full meal, amazing.
Had a walk round Dvantri market this afternoon. It is absolutely wonderful. It seems to have one aisle for fruit, one for coconuts, one for spices, another for vegetables, including wonderful things about the size of marrows but curved back on themselves at the thin end. Tried to buy sandalwood oil but guy wanted Rs7 for about 5mL. Asked back at hotel and was offered 25 mL for Rs180.
I must go and try the shower - it looks lethal so I'm going to switch it off before I enter.
(Later) I feel refreshed after my shower, but I'm still quite hot. I got very dirty on the buses, the windows are wide open, my eyes get sore with the wind, and as the farmers use the old-fashioned threshing methods, beating the stuff with sticks, or by letting the bus run over it, then winnowing by tipping the grain out of a wicker basket in a stiff breeze, my hair not only ends up feeling like straw but has bits of chaff in it as well.
When I washed my arms my hands ran black. This really is a filthy country.
The guy on the bus suggested I went from Coimbatore to Ernakalum, then took the backwater trip from Allepey to Quilon, and the train up to Madurai. I shall now work out the logistics of that.
01/02/89 "White Rabbits". I was woken at 05:40 by whatever it is that awakens me here, and its not always my insides! I managed to get back to sleep and re-awoke at 7 a.m. just as the siren was sounding at the railway plant.
Had breakfast and walked to the government silk factory. Lonely Planet have got it wrong again, not only is it on the other side of the road, but it doesn't open to visitors until 10 a.m. Of course, I arrived at 9 a.m. I couldn't face hanging around that long as it was getting very hot, so I walked back to the hotel, and as I did so I thought that as I had not seen Chaumundi hill, well I've seen it but not been up it, or the Maharaja's palace, or even found the tourist centre I decided to stay another night.
10 a.m. I shall now go and look for the tourist office. The "Sandalwood City" image is fading fast, though there were a lot of sawmills round the back of the silk factory.
I can't say I find the natives very friendly. "What is your name" in a chee-chee accent is not so much a pleasant enquiry as a taunt - in the end I treat it in the same way as I treat beggars, by ignoring them.
I feel as though I've been rushed everywhere, so I'm pleased that I've decided to stay another night, it will give me time for a bit more contemplation and an early start for Ooty.
13:30 01/02/89 I've just returned from a walk round Mysore. I have this terrible feeling that I've burnt my neck, no doubt I will find out later. I went to the tourist office, they said the only place in Mysore to get Sandalwood oil was the Kauvery Emporium, who needless to say had sold out. They didn't seem inclined to sell me any incense either, so I was not impressed. I looked at sandalwood carvings but decided they were a bit like Sue's ivories, quite good in places but not the sort of thing you'd want about the house, a bit like a pot-cat I suppose - bloody thing. I found a government silk place, if its still open this evening I might try for some silk.
I then went to the Maharaja's palace. Lonely Planet is wrong, you can't get a camera permit. There are guards all round the palace - one even had a rifle and he looked ready to use it, he wasn't just wearing it as part of his uniform.
The palace is stunning. Its set in its own walled grounds, about the size of a small town, with a temple in each corner, complete with intricately carved towers. I went in the wrong gate and had parked my shoes and lodged my camera when I found I had to buy a ticket at the south gate. I plodded back to the gate in my bare feet and bought a ticket. For once it was useful being white, all the hands thrust through the ticket window at once, and mine obviously showed up.
Inside the palace the rooms are beautiful, Moorish and neo-Saracenic, the scale is magnificent. Arched and vaulted with carvings everywhere, and the main reception area, facing south has beautiful painted ceilings and is open to the parade ground outside. Its three storeys high inside, and the floor steps down to the parade ground two storeys below. There are huge nets draped across the openings, presumably to stop birds flying in.
Another room has a glass ceiling like the palm house at Kew, but magnificently painted with peacocks and other subjects. Displayed inside the palace are solid silver thrones, statues of gods, an entire suite of cut-glass furniture, including a cut-glass chaise-longue. Mind boggling really, no wonder they have armed guards.
In an outbuilding there is a museum, run by the ex-Maharajah, in which various Howdahs and other carrying cases are on display. Even this building was opulent by most standards. Opposite the museum was a temple. I peered in and was beckoned in by an acolyte. He ushered me through about three doorways and finally handed me over to a priest. The latter told me the statue, Laxmi I think, was very ancient and solid gold. Then he lit a lamp, waved it in front of the deity so I could see the gold, and asked for a "donation". I fished out a Rs1 note and he said "Two rupees". I chucked in two 50 paise pieces and left.
At the next temple the priest beckoned me in, but I shook my head, one temple is enough, even at ten pence a go.
I took a few photos of the outside and bought some postcards of the bits I wasn't allowed to photograph, and then decided to return to the hotel before I'd had too much sun. I went a bit far north but did find a stand selling Frooti. Mango Frooti is delicious. I also saw a lassi stand but I didn't want to push my luck too far. Instead I got a delicious fig and honey ice-cream from the place next to the Indira Bhavan hotel.
The Maharaja's palace cost Rs2 for admission, Rs2 for camera deposit, Rs1 for the shoe minder, Rs2 for the museum, Rs2 for the temple and Rs3 for postcards. I seem to be a 50 rupee note short somewhere, I'm beginning to wonder if these trousers are safe, I know coins can fall from the pockets when I sit down, but notes are a more important matter.
I have just found that I have blisters on the soles of my feet, that makes a change from having them on the top. I have been trying to fathom out metric shoe sizes so I can buy some more sandals, but have had no joy as yet.
The button came off the flies of my green trousers and I meant to sew it back on, and now the next one is fraying so I will have to do something about it.
I've just realised I've got Rs4/20 in loose change
I have been trying to get some sleep for the last hour, but as soon as I drop off the hooting autos wake me again.
Last night I walked into the zone on the map which is unmarked in "Lonely Planet" and it was great fun. A lot of little shops, many of them selling motor car and scooter bits.
This morning, when I found the silk factory closed, I walked round the side streets looking at the shops and houses. At one shop they were selling petrol or paraffin out of 30 gallon drums to people who were queuing, or rather shoving, with their one gallon cans.
One of the little streets off the main rod in Mysore centre has a whole area devoted to pressure stoves and Tilley lamps.
I would like to go into Dhavantri market and take some photos, but I'm not sure I can stand the hassle, somehow it also seems as much a cheat as taking photos from your hotel balcony with a telephoto lens, a bit corny or something.
(Later) I am now the proud owner of two bottles of perfume, Jasmine and "Garden King" whatever that is, a pair of sandals, and 15 bananas. I went back to the market and while I was looking at perfume stalls a young boy called me over. I asked about Jasmin oil and Sandalwood oil and he said a 25 mg bottle of sandalwood oil was over Rs 100 and was not available locally. He was a very good salesman, dunking me in all kinds of perfumes, some of which smelt like air freshener. Eventually I settled on a Rs7 bottle of each of the aforementioned oils. Then the fun started. He poured the jasmin into a little bottle. Then he plunged his hand into a box of assorted plugs and caps. None of the plugs fitted, then, when he got a near miss he started the game over again with screw caps. Ditto for the other bottle. Then he fished a label out of a box of labels - no problem there, wrapped the label round the bottle, and held it in place with a bit of clear plastic which he put right round the bottle, sealing at the bottom and one edge with gum. The top was just twisted closed. When the other bottle had been similarly wrapped, both went into a plastic bag, which was folded over and tied with several yards of string. Finally I paid my Rs14 and left, well worth it for the performance alone.
The shoes were simpler, I went to a shoe shop, where I saw some plastic sandals for Rs49. No problem, except for the local tax which put it up to Rs55.
Yesterday when I shopped for bananas the best I could achieve was Rs 3-50 a dozen. Today a guy held out a bunch, "Five rupees". I said "Four", he said "Four fifty". I said "No, four" thinking there was a dozen. We settled for four, he looked pleased, and I was pleased, but on the way back to the hotel a child was selling them for Rs2. Oh well, India I suppose!
I don't think I've mentioned the room here, have I? Its on the first floor verandah, has a 20' high barrelled ceiling, and an antique bathroom. At the back of the bathroom is a door that opens onto another verandah presumably so that the servants can come in that way.
I just went outside to see how the sunset was progressing and now I can't see a thing.
The bananas are delicious, about 4 inches long, slightly over ripe, but very sweet. I'll probably get tummy-ache soon!
I've just been to find out about bus times to Ooty. I start off "What times are the buses to Ooty?" The guy says "Coach will come here at 7 a.m.". I think this is a bit early, but still I say "O.K." and he picks up the phone. When he has finished he says "Ninety rupees". I say "ninety rupees, I thought it was only" - quick mental calculations, seven hours at about 5 rupees an hour "Thirty five rupees". "Oh yes" he replies, "Its that on the bus, this is a tour on a luxury coach". "I don't want a tour on a luxury coach, I want to get to Ooty". "You want to cancel?". "Yes". He returns to the 'phone. Finally I say to him "So, what time are the buses to Ooty?" He says "seven o'clock, eight o'clock, and 10 o'clock through to 2 o'clock". I thank him and return to my room.
01/02/89 20:00 Tonight I went back to the Indra Bhavan restaurant. The waiter said I could have stayed in the hotel for 60 rupees a night. If i ever come again I think I will. Excellent food, found out triangular bandage sized bread is a roti, tonight I had nan, about the size of a dinner plate. My main course was Paneer Muglai, I think, similar sauce to last night, but with big lumps of something like tofu in it. With two glasses of lassi it came to Rs25 again. I didn't have a sweet 'cos I've still got the bananas. When I asked them to change a 100 rupee note I realised that is where I had spent the Rs50 note last night.
I had a slight panic when I left the restaurant because I hadn't picked up my bag. I'm usually very careful with it after having left it in the restaurant at the Metropol, I now hook the strap round my knee or something. Great relief when I get back to hotel room and find it here, though very silly to leave it behind.
I bought $20 worth of sandalwood oil from the guy at the tourist desk at the hotel. If you can't get it any more it must be worth having some. I cashed two of my Thomas Cook traveller's cheques for which I got 528 rupees, the oil cost Rs 540.
I bought 5 postcards of Mysore at Rs2 each and wrote to my friends back home.
I'm getting quite used to this early-to-bed and early-to-rise bit. I shall rinse out a few clothes now and get to bed.
Boxer shorts were a wonderful idea, much less trouble with seams rubbing under my bum, especially on long bus rides.
I think it must be disco night at the Metro, there's Indian style pop music coming from somewhere, I think from the servants' quarters behind the bathroom, but I daren't open the door to check because of the mosquitoes. I have a nasty bite on the back of my right hand which has been itching badly all day and now looks red and angry.
I'm feeling quite sort of anticipatory, off on another adventure tomorrow, its a pity about pot-cat, I don't like carrying three bags, I wonder if I can cram everything into two?
I awoke at 04:30 and arose around 06:30. I don't remember taking my malaria tablet yesterday, so I take one now just in case.
By the time I have washed and shaved it is 07:15. I forgot that breakfast would take nearly half an hour, so decide that aiming for the 08:00 bus will be a mad panic so will take it easy and leave around 09:00 if I can. I found a gecko behind my waste bin this morning, that's probably what has been keeping down the mosquitoes.
I used my expanding clothes line last night, running it from the bed to the door frame. Those items hung directly below the fan have dried, but the others are still slightly damp.
My insides are fast again, I'm sure it must be this hotel.
I finally depart from Mysore at 10:30 after the usual wait. I was ripped off Rs10 by the auto driver. At Mysore bus station I met a Gujurati-speaker from London. I suspect his family back home are Indian, his wife certainly is. He was going to Ooty too, so by sticking by him I got the right bus fairly easily. The bus to Ooty cost 22 rupees, and I'm sitting next to a West German "religious believer". There are an assortment of backpackers on board, including Australians and English (and boring Germans).
14:20 Have stopped only 45 minutes out of Ooty, presumably at chai shop owned by bus driver's family. The German religious guy has been driving me potty. Having realised that I wasn't going to rise to his bait, he tackled the English-speaking Hindu at the other side of him. I thought I might escape people like this in India, how ironic that one should come and sit next to me. I'm afraid my god is not one who will be intolerant of the ideas and beliefs of others. The religious freak has no food or water and keeps saying "God will provide". When asked where he is going he says "God will lead me". He's been here 11 months already, but it seems that God cannot get his visa extended for a further three months. He used to a V.D.U. operator in an insurance office, then resigned to preach the word of God, and I thought V.D.U.s just sent your eyes funny.
The climb up to Ooty was terrific, tea plantations, pine forests, really green and lush. In the National Park I saw an elephant cross the road in front of the bus.
Have arrived in Ooty. Avoided all the touts in the bus station and set off purposefully in completely the wrong direction. Slunk back past the touts when I realised my mistake. I realize why all the natives walk along the railway track, the road goes miles out of the way. Finally find hotel which is amazing, it looks like an English cottage hospital from the outside - like a gentleman's club inside.
My nose is running like a tap, so have started on New Era tissue salts.
I can't decide whether to spend another night here or to press on. I do wonder if I am pushing myself a bit hard, as Harry Chapin sings "You can travel 10,000 miles and still stay where you are". According to the guide there's only one train out in the afternoon, in which case a second night here may be a bit much as I wouldn't really get very far on Saturday. It also depends how cold it gets tonight!
I've just had a walk up Ooty, it seems quite a nice little place. I could buy some eucalyptus and citronella oil here.
When the guy showed me the room he switched on the water heater. I've just peered inside it 'cos I could see a red glow, and found that there's like an electric fire element running up the middle. I suppose all immersion heaters are like that but you usually don't see inside!
An animal just scampered past, I think it was a mouse.
I've just checked and there is only one train a day, and I can leave my stuff in the hotel until I want to leave, so I will do some morning shopping, post my cards and letters, and then go to Coimbatore.
It is getting very cold, so just a brief note then I'll go to bed.
Dinner was amazing, had Malai Koftas again, but the sauce was really rich, tasty and colourful, with smells I haven't come across since I dined at "Asha" in Liverpool. For sweet I had what turned out to be Indian bread-pudding. The waiters all wear blue tunics with red cummerbunds, and red turbans trimmed with gold. The meal, with lassi and coffee, cost Rs52.
I just went to the loo to find that the tiled wall to my left was radiating heat - I hoped it was the hot water pipe as I had left the heater on to try and warm the room, but the thought had crossed my mind that it might be the supply cable. I turned on the tap to wash my hands and steam, plus a gurgling noise came from the bath (i.e. bucket) tap. I turned this on and more steam issued forth. I finally turned on the shower and eventually got scalding hot water. Its a shame really because I daren't leave the water heater on all night now.
My insides are at it again. I'm sure its that bloody Hotel Metropol, while I was in Hassan they resumed what passes for normality in these parts. As I only drank their orange juice at breakfast all I can think is that they water it down with the local water.
01:45 My insides erupt again.
06:00 Woken by another siren. My insides are still lively but not quite so explosive. I switch on the blast-furnace in the bathroom. I finally arise at 8 a.m., have breakfast, then a two and a half hour walk around Ooty. It was cold when I set off, but quite hot by the end.
I changed a 100 rupee note at the post office, paying 33 rupees to post my cards and letters. I then spent Rs225 on various oils, one of which is leaking slightly, and I also got a useful leaflet on what they all do.
As I thought, I was ripped off over the sandalwood oil, its half the price here, though I'm not sure the quality is as good.
I also bought quite good (looking) Yale-type padlock for "Twelve rupees" which turned out to be Rs10. It makes a change for it to be that way round!
I was tempted by a sandalwood carving of a couple embracing, but worried about carrying it.
I am now going to ask if I can take photographs of hotel interior and get a cup of tea - then I'm off to the railway station.
Decide to risk the hotel drinking water with two sterotabs.
Just had a bit of a blow, went to photograph reception area, took out flash gun and found it was switched on. The last time I came to use it I found it on and thought I had been careless but I'm sure I checked that time. Decide switch might get pushed on when flash gun is in my bag. I now have two duff sets of batteries, I don't know if they will recover.
19:20 I'm on the train to Coimbatore. The ride down was as amazing as everyone claimed it was. The best views are from the right on the way down though there are one or two good ones to the left as well.
I had granny, dad and two late-teenage boys with me in the carriage. Youngest son wanted to buy camera film from me, but I explained I had only a limited amount. Father offered me a banana, which I thought was rather nice of him. I've got a sunburnt elbow from leaning out of the window to take photos, unfortunately the trip down starts at 15:00 and I was photographing into the sun. Also the light started to fade just as we got to the banana and coconut level.
Still, I've survived a week on my own, and am feeling fairly satisfied with myself. I still hate buses with all this luggage, but Indrail pass seems to work wonders on the trains.
Content copyright Jon Rouse 1997