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Clare’s Travel Diary

Monday, 07 Jan 2008

Location: Mysore, India

MapWell Happy New Year everyone..

I know its been a while since my last update but (to all those who have pointed this out to me) if you read my last entry I said it would be around the 10th Jan that I would next blog, so here you go!

Its been quite a journey up from the coast in Kerala. I had a lovely, but quiet New Year in Varkala having a brandy with the nice couple who ran the guesthouse I was staying in, and then shipped out the next day. I headed north to the 'Queen of Hill-stations' - Ooty (its short for some long and unpronounceable name in Tamil). It was quite a difference, Ooty is at nearly 2000 mtrs above sea level and there are blissfully no mosquitos, but it means its cold at night (nearly freezing). At least I got the chance to break out my cold weather clothing I've been carting around for nearly three months though!

To get there you take a lovely little old steam train which slowly chugs up the hills on a dramatic route through the valleys and over little bridges, I met some English girls (Rohanna & Leila) on the train and we managed to get some cancelled seats in First Class for the trip (basically means a padded seat!) which was handy as its a 5 hour slog up to the station. On the way up you go through tea plantations which look like jigsaw pieces because of how the bushes grow and its a really beautiful, rural journey. Ooty itself is much like any other indian town, rammed full of people, dirty, smelly and loud but in a gorgeous setting of hills and farmland.

The girls and I stuck together for the few days we were there, trekking into the countryside with our brilliant guide Sherriff, cosying up over Horlicks after dinner, having the same old arguements with the rickshaw drivers over the same attempt to extort double the cost of the actual journey, watching the Cows and Goats pick through the remains of the days produce at the Fruit and Veg market and being mobbed by school children at the Botanic (or perhaps just Pathetic) gardens. All in all it was a lovely few days, its hot in the sun during the day but the temperature plummets at night. I moved from my dorm accommodation on the first night, which more resembled a barn than sleeping rooms to a guest house where I was promised a room with a fire, only to discover in true indian style with a little head wobble and enthusiatic grin that all the rooms with fires were occupied. Brilliant. Actually the room was fine and I wasn't cold but its a perfect example of dealing with life on the road in India.

Mum and Jane have said that I don't write enough about what its actually like here so I'm going to try and give you a flavour. Its a teeming mass of contradictions, incredibly frustrating alot of the time but you get to see things here you do not see elsewhere - and it is an education to see just how many people there are in this country - it makes you re-examine what you think is the 'norm' and 'how people think' because what you really mean is how we Europeans think.

As a single woman (though even in a group or twosome) I am a walking entertainment system for the thousands of men on the streets everywhere I go. They will actually stop walking in the opposite direction to turn around and gawp at you as you walk past. This effect increases exponentially if on a train or carrying my not insubstantial luggage. Every other person wants to talk to you (though again only men and kids as no women will open their mouths) so all day, every few steps you get "yes, madam hello, Rickshaw? What is your good name?" or from the kids "give me one pen" or "give me one coin". There is no word for Please in Hindi apparently so they don't bother with it in English either. Rickshaw drivers are officially the scum of the earth and will unashamedly try to rip you off for up to ten times the actual cost of the journey. I am yet to meet a rickshaw driver who will actually use the metre - they are required to do so by law of course. Most of my daily annoyance comes from having to deal with these idiots. That said, everything is still incredibly cheap here, especially once you are away from places like Varkala and Goa which are the tourist havens. Some examples below:
Tea Rs 3.5 = 2p
Average cost of a room Rs 300 = 3.50GBP
Dinner Rs 50-150 = 1.90 GBP
Water 1l Rs10-15 = 18p
Train (8hrs Sleeper berth) 125Rs = 1.56GBP

India does not smell like jasmine and spices, though the women in the south wear fresh Jasmine flowers in their hair everyday and the girls wear ribbons which match their school uniform in their plaits everyday. Sadly India generally stinks, and is covered with rubbish. There is no organised litter collection and everyone throws rubbish on the street where they stand. You can tell when you are appraching a river/stream in a town because it absolutely reeks, the sewerage system is also largely non-existent which no doubt is the major contributing factor to that. Having said that, everyday the shops sweep up the area in front of their pavement and I did see people litter picking by the road in Bangalore. This to me is the biggest put off for future tourism, they have GOT to clean up the un-holy mess which is their waste infra-stucture.

The roads are best described as total chaos or out and out war. The horn is a method of communication and is used more than it isn't. Being in a bus is terrfying because you wonder how you are not going to kill something barrelling down the road at top speed - but then you are thankful that you at least are in a bus and not on a bike or Rickshaw. Once in the Rickshaw its best not to look out of the sides - I don't think they know about mirror - signal - manouvre here. Priority is assigned strictly by size of vehicle and speed of travel and road markings such as crossings or lanes are totally and utterly redundant. Amazingly however it seems to work and no-one, but no-one, gets annoyed at anyone else, its bizarre really.

So I think thats all for today - I write this from Mysore where I came down to from Ooty on the bus.... I think its best that we don't discuss that journey (which had 36 hairpin bends and descended over 1000mtrs) ever again.