Thursday, July 4, 2013

We get to Aurangabad, or (1000 miles/4 days)^(Indian transport + Monsoon) = Craziness

Okay, so it's not exactly a secret we're behind schedule on our posts, mostly because “updating the blog” falls far below “visiting 14th century fortresses,” and only slightly above “underpants hand-washing time,” So I'm going to make this post as brief as possible. Well, as brief as my verbose, excessively articulated self will permit.

So we traveled from Wayanad to Aurangabad, which is a distance of approximately one thousand miles, or an estimated driving time of 25 hours according to googlemaps. Did we fly like normal, rational people? No, no, we did not. Flying is just too quick, too efficient, and because—apparently—we are neither normal nor rational people. Plus, just think of all that fun we would miss along the way!* 

So it ended up taking us 4 days/nights to make our way overland, and in a nutshell, our journey went a little like this: Walk, Bus, Train, Rickshaw, Rickshaw, Rickshaw, Bus, Train, Train, Train, Walk, Rickshaw, Train, Taxi. A slightly longer explanation follows, in which I switch to present tense to let our trip unfold in 'real time.' Yes, I like to flout grammatical conventions, because I'm crazy like that.

  1. We walk the mile or so to bus station. This is not too bad, it's cool and reasonably early in the morning, and our packs are light. 
  2. We get on the local bus from Manathavadi to Kannur. The seats are so narrow, I decide this vehicle is must be some kind of decommissioned school bus specifically sized for children. A man sits next to me, and his elbow is uncomfortably close to my hipbone, then my chest, then my hipbone, then my chest. I spend the next two hours engaging in the near-impossible task of positioning myself so there is no accidental touching, whilst trying to decide if I am paranoid or if he's some sort of disgusting miscreant. An answer that becomes abundantly clear to me in the last ten minutes of his journey time, when he leans across my seat and attempts to directly touch my breasts. Yay.

  3. We are sitting on a train from Kannur to Mangalore in unreserved second class. It is rainy, and otherwise thankfully uneventful. We chat a bit with our seatmates, a friendly family of three. It is also our first exposure to a beggar who looks like he has been intentionally maimed and disfigured. This is very tough to see.

  4. We try to get tickets for the sleeper train to Mumbai. We do this by waiting in the (very long) main ticket queue. After we finally arrive to the front, they direct us to information desk. The person at the information desk tells us there are no tickets at this office, but to go to a different train station 7km away, and there may be tickets there. Thirty minutes down the drain, we hop in a rickshaw to train station #2. 
  5. We wait in the main queue for ticketing. A man finally appears at the window, who seems irritated by our request. He directs us to a second (closed) window. We wait another twenty minutes. The same man appears at the second window, and without accessing any information, informs us that all sleeper trains to Mumbai are booked solid for the next week. Apparently the lack of space on this train is simply “common knowledge,” which could have been communicated at the first train station, or even the first window at the second train station. 
  6. I experience some quandary over who I should punch in the face first. 
  7. We pay 50% over the odds for a rickshaw back to Mangalore city center due to collusion among the drivers and complete lack of options.

  8. I ponder the meaning of “justifiable homicide.” 
  9. Naturally, our preferred hotel is full, as is our second, third, and fourth option. So we wander about in the rain, not finding a hotel, but an extremely helpful travel agency, who suggests a sleeper bus option. We finally find a hotel that is across from a mall. A lovely lovely mall.

  10. We eat at Pizza Hut for dinner, and we amble about the mall. We love the lovely mall. We swoon at its many stores, air-conditioning, and Westernized vibe. When we leave the following afternoon, we have no compunctions about how we spent our time in Mangalore. After the butt-kicking we received in the past few days, such delights were greatly needed.
  11. We get on our sleeper bus from Mangalore to Mumbai, which we have booked online. We are pretty sure we have arrived in paradise. AC, power outlets, smooth suspension, bottom bunk, and television screens featuring our friend—Amir Khan—in a variety of music videos. We watch Side Effects on our laptop, which we thoroughly enjoy until the actors begin speaking in Arabic for the last fifteen minutes of the film. We actually get some proper sleep. 
  12. We are dropped off in Mumbai in the middle of Nowheresville. After some kind assistance from locals, we are directed to a train station. Walking toward the train platform, we see approximately 20 people clinging to the doorframe of each train carriage. As we gawp, a man runs past us, jumps onto the mass of passengers riding outside the carriage and begins punching them in the head in an effort to clear a handhold. These people are clinging to the outside of the speeding train with their fingertips. In the torrential downpour of a monsoon. We decide to wait until we can get some space inside (v. outside) the train, because it shouldn't take too long.

  13. An hour and a half passes, and we are still here. Finally, we make a break for it. I'm able to secure a space in the ladies carriage, while Jon is mostly inside an adjacent carriage, a fact that doesn't matter much, given the vertical river moving in the sky. He emerges drenched, but has successfully protected our laptop from the deluge. 
  14. We change trains and hop on a blissfully empty carriage, but almost instantly regret it because it smells of rotten fish. We debate getting off to switch carriages at the next stop, but are actually thrown off the train by security because we are in the ladies' carriage. And Jon ain't no lady. 
  15. We wait for our third train of the morning, which is indeed lucky, because we take this baby all the way to the final station. We are shell-shocked, and the rain is not letting up. Jon says, “This is like Mumbai is telling Kochi, 'That's not a monsoon, this is a monsoon.'”
  16. We walk to our hotel in the rain, which is superfuntimes, particularly because it has been billed as “exceedingly difficult to find” We get there, dry out, relax, and then spend the next 24 hours enjoying Mumbai despite the weather. We check out an art exhibition, eat dinner at one of our old favorite restaurants off Colaba, and walk along the seawall during an intermission in the rain. It's all very pleasantly familiar. The next day we visit the Prince of Wales museum (v. good) before grabbing a (blissfully metered) taxi to the train station for our trip to Aurangabad. 
  17. We find our seats on the train. Jon and I are seated across the aisle, but we are simply happy to have assigned seats. I am next to a family of four with two small children of ages 1 and 3. The parents are lovely, and do their best to keep their kids content on the long journey, although—like every family we've seen in India—they have brought nothing for the children in the way of entertainments. Jon sits behind a massive family of six who appear to have only purchased four seats for the journey. We are amused by the contrast between the patriarchs of the families. The father next to me stands in the crowded aisle so his son will have room to sleep, rocks the baby, and is in charge of toilet trips. The father in front of Jon does not appear to take notice of the comfort of his brood, who are all stacked on top of each other. In fact, he appears to not notice them at all. Jon reads National Geographic along with the man next to him, who peers over his shoulder the whole time. After he finishes the magazine, I suggest offering it to Nosy Neighbor, who—naturally—is no longer interested. 
  18. We have a free pickup from our hotel, a small luxury, but a delightful one. The driver makes a beeline for us... we are the only Caucasians on the train. After a short drive, we arrive at our hotel. It looks clean, and we are happy. We have finally arrived. The journey of a thousand miles may have begun in eagerness, but it has ended in exhaustion. I'll leave it to Jon to let you know whether it was worth it. In the meantime, here are a few snaps from Mumbai. 

    * (In fairness, there were no direct flights to Aurangabad, those flights that did exist were prohibitively expensive, and we just couldn't make up our minds about when to move on.)

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