Trains, buses and a weekend in Ooty – a travel blog

Namaste again! So I’m back in Bangalore, hopefully for the last time and have just booked my first overnight train journey which will take me down to Cochin in Kerala.

I’ve been on a few train journeys so far and it’s fair to say it’s a better, safer, cheaper and more fun way of travelling around India than by bus. On buses I’ve tried to tactically position myself towards the left back position so I can watch the scenery go by without having to watch the driver overtake three vehicles at once as two come head on. My theory is that what I don’t see can’t hurt me. This ploy didn’t work on my last journey though, when the ticket guy placed me on the front row without asking me. Luckily the driver only had to negotiate overflowing waterfalls, mini landslides and sheer drops….in a rain storm. I didn’t realise, but I’d done this journey already in the dark on the way to Ooty where I was going for the weekend. So now if I take the bus I have to weigh up between securing the left back position, being able to see (hopefully) death defying driving during the day or playing the ‘what I don’t see can’t hurt me’ theory at night.

But back to trains….the main drawback is the hassle of booking tickets. Now I’ve had the experience, I come fully armed with photocopies of passports, numerous pens, scrap pieces of paper and my excellent gormless foreigner look whilst repeating the word Tatkal over and over. Depending on the station, Tatkal is either a foreigner queue or foreigner quota for each train. Regardless of what it means, repeating it over and over seems to work. I don’t have to queue for ages like the Indians or the other travellers who I tell about Tatkal after I’ve watched them queue and I’ve got my ticket.

The trains I’ve been on so far though have had an average delay of 48 minutes. My first one was supposed to leave Bangalore for Mysore at 7.15am but didn’t leave until 8.30am. I was up at 5.00am, a bit worse for wear, and had positioned myself directly where my carriage was supposed to stop with elbows out ready to beat the mad rush to get on. Then the platform changed and I was at the back of the queue. I’d lost concentration when the changing platform announcement rang out because an episode of Tom and Jerry had caught my attention. From time-to-time the information screens and tannoy system are abruptly interrupted by Tom and Jerry, usually about the time I’ve nearly worked out what the screen or tannoy is saying or when they are about to announce something important, like a platform change. Still, it brightens up the train delays.

This last weekend (which involved the above bus story and theories) I’ve spent in Ooty, a town in the Nilgiri Hills. The Hills are surrounded by lush and dramatic tea plantations smothered by clouds that straggle the striking mountain range. I arrived in the dark (the bus was delayed by about three hours….anyone notice a theme here?) but being the organised guy I am, I had thought ahead and booked a hostel. But when I got there it was empty and no one there, not even the owner. So I ended up walking round four hotels until one was open. The next morning I went in search of another one when I was stopped by a man resembling Gandalf’s brother, to the point where he even had a stick and grey hood. He was a Welsh guy who had travelled and lived in India for about 35 years. Against my better judgement I stayed the weekend at his place with him and his son. Gandalf (or Alan), seemed pretty notorious around the town. He claimed that this was because he was the ‘white guy who married a local woman’ but I have reason to believe otherwise. He didn’t let me pay for anything, took me out on the beers, ordered the Ashes on an Indian pay-per-view channel and his son to drove me round the surrounding hills on his motorbike. Dropping down 1500m through 36 hairpins and ending up in an elephant corridor and tiger reserve in just 40 minutes was pretty damn good. I certainly didn’t foresee that when I first arrived in Ooty, tired and homeless.

People with Gandalf’s (don’t worry he won’t read this… he doesn’t like the internet) kindness have been common on my bus and train journeys. I’ve had loads of Indians of all ages come up to me offering help, places to stay and asking to take me round and so far just because their being nice. You wouldn’t get that in England!

I’m now waiting for my overnight train journey to begin and should be in Cochin for about midday tomorrow. I’ll report back in a few weeks!

Keep up-to-date with James’ travels round India on Twitter here!

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