When I arrived in India almost six weeks ago,I decided I wanted to travel with different forms of transportation so I could understand the different levels of the society. Instead of experimenting with the most basic first,I began my travels flying from Dhaka to Kolkatta. I was told that the bus trip overland,which cost less than a movie ticket in the States,was at least a twelve hour journey,crossing the Bangladesh-Indian border. So I opted for a plane ticket with Bangladeshi airlines. As I recounted in my early travels,my plane was delayed 8 hours and including travel time,I probably spent twelve hours and over $125. I was still hopeful,so when I was ready to leave Kolkota,and none to soon, I went online and found Air Indigo,a new discount airline. I was able to travel over 2000 miles from Kolkatta to Chennia,for less than $66. After conversing with many travelers,I was sure I wanted to avoid Chennai, so I grabbed a taxi from the airport to Mamalapurram,a two hour drive,for a twenty dollar bill.
Still afraid of buses and trains, I made a deal with a rickshaw driver in Mamalapurran to take me to Pondicherry,another two hour drive. This trip,as recounted in the French were here ended in a violent verbal barage. After several more private cars and drivers,and my frustration with not being able to stop when I saw something I wanted to photograph, I decided it was time to try the Indian train. I knew that a first class ticket would give me comfortable conditions but the Mysore Express from Tansjavour, had only a 2nd class AC sleeping car. I took the chance and for 720 rupees,less than twenty dollars,I traveled fourteen hours and had my own little bed and clean sheets. It was about 6 am when I opened my eyes and heard an English voice. A very attractive,western dressed woman wanted to know when we arrived in Mysore.. Half awake,I said about 9:30. A few hours later before our arrival, I wandered through the train car,looking for my early morning visitor. I found Sarah and her mom Kamila,sitting in the first cabin,preparing for our arrival. This was the beginning of a five day friendship,our rooms across the hall from each other at the Ginger Hotel.( The Ginger Hotel is a chain of elegant, moderately priced business hotels which have changed the look of India. The design and furnishings were very Ikea….) When they left to fly back home to London, I really missed the intimacy and companionship.. My next three destinations gave me the option of only the public bus. I hoped if I bought the super deluxe bus ticket,I would be traveling in comfort. Unfortunatley the only luxury bus in India is the Volvo which travels between a few large prosperous cities so I suffered through several tortuous,sweaty,tedious bus rides. I never again took an Indian bus.
Finally arriving in the beautiful state of Kerala,I traveled from Calicut to Cochin by 2nd class coach,trouble free. I gave English lessons to two young sisters, age 9 and 12,sitting next to me.They were so excited to be talking to a foreigner. Deciding to be extravagant, I hired a car and driver for three days to go up to the tea gardens in Munnar..The temperature dropped about 20 degrees and the garbage disappeared. I was booked into a small hotel named Camelot and it lived up to its name.. I was sure the owner had chosen the name because of the legend and the location of the hotel.. But I was the first to recount the story of King Arthur,Gueniviere and Camelot. The season was over and Camelot was almost empty except for two Indian families,husbands and wives in their 60’s and 70’s ,all doctors from Delhi. As usual I engaged them in socio political conversations about India today. They were pleasant,but distant so I knew when to take my leave..When they left the next day, I was the only guest,so I went into the kitchen and taught the cook and owner how to make potato carrot soup and vanilla custard. Apart from driving me up to Munnar and back to Cochin, my driver had a mini vacation. My last train trip from Cochin to Varkala,convinced me the best way to travel was by private car. The train was scheduled to leave at 10:10am and each time I went back to check it was later and later..I left the station to look for an internet cafe and a cappucino. Again when I got back, there was still no train.. Running around the train stations in their mini saris are the baggage carriers,usually completely illerate from the lowest caste in Indian society..They refuse to use the wheels on my luggage and instead put the bag on their head. I always give them a large payment so they hang around and help me drag my four bags on the train. My last train in India arrived three hours late. We arrived in Varkala in the rain and I before I could say yes or no,the rickshaw driver had jumped up on the platform from the tracks and grabbed two of my bags. I had no choice but to follow him,jumping down on the railroad tracks in the rain and mud with the rest of my stuff.
After six weeks of using buses,trains,cars and planes,I can definitely say that cars are the preferred form of travel in India. Overnight trains are good for long distances so you can still look out the window and see where you are,but they must be first or second AC sleeping cars. Indian buses get a zero on all counts,unless you get a Volvo,which I never did. Flying in India has become competitive and inexpensive because of the internet. I flew to Columbo,Sri Lanka on friday april 20,2007 to begin the last two weeks of my pilgrimage through Asia.
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