End part of a trip I made to the holy South Indian pilgrimage town of Tiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu where I stayed at the Athithi Ashram which is run by devotees of the great twentieth century spiritual master Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Once my time at the ashram was done it was just a question of taking a taxi ride back to the city of Bengaluru in the state of Karnataka.
So the interstate swing back from 19/2 went something like this. First of all I knew that was it, my week in Tiruvannamalai at the Athithi Ashram was over and now there was to be no lookin’ back. I had done all that I could do and really in all honesty it had gone better than I could have ever expected – the meditation, the talks with Swami Hamsananda, the mesmeric shrine times at the end of the day in the dual temples of Ramanasramam, staying fit, staying healthy, no bad stomachs or stuff like that – which had meant that I was happy, more than happy as a matter of fact. Turned out to be a bit of a rush after my parting talk with Swami as my taxi was already waiting outside the ashram gates and I still had a bit of this and that to do with regards to packing my case and clearing up which meant I would have to get my skates on. Before going back up to my room I told my driver who was sitting in the car on the other side of the gates that I would be about 10 minutes or so and bounded back up the stairs to my room in order to get myself together.
The ride from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore turned out to be a bit of a fast one as once we got to the town of Krishnagiri we joined the main highway which more or less runs the length of the country, with more than one or two pinch points in between, and where signs to Varanasi indicate it is over 1700 km away in a direction which was pretty much due north. So it was speedy, a Grand Prix shakedown on a four lane highway where weaving in and out of the traffic in front of you whilst travelling at high velocity was very much the order of the day. It was one of those rides where I sat in the car with the back windows wide open instead of in a nicely chilled a/c bubble, and the reason for this was that my driver had a stinkin’ cold which I most definitely wouldn’t have minded not picking up in any way whatsoever. In fact, although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, paranoid thoughts that he might have Coronavirus passed through my mind, making me wonder if it was worth asking him if he’d driven any or many people from the Chinese part of the world recently. Glad to say I managed to resist the temptation, mainly because I knew that with his very limited English and my non-existent Tamil, it would have been too damn complicated for me to break on through and get him to understand what the fuck I was talking about. So anyway, we rocked on through the Tamil countryside with the warm air blasting through the open windows of the car from any direction you might care to choose, no problem with that really, sure the air was warm but it wasn’t hot and within that lies a very big difference.
So here we are in India again, me and Dawa Dolkar my wife. Time switch on arrival at the Southern Star on Lavell Road in Bengaluru means 6.55 London becomes 10.35 India as we jump ahead 4 and a half hours in consequence. Sense of dislocation rolls over in waves as I’m sitting by the coffee table in our room with an Indian Railways advertisement flyer on the glass top in front of me – Food Journeys / Hubli Rice Bath – or to break that one down, take a train to Hubli and have a dish there called a rice bath and pretty tasty I’m sure it would be too, except of course we were not going to Hubli but later in the day instead to Mysore on the Tippu Express and from there to the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe by car. Hubli by the way is an eight or nine train journey north of Bengaluru into the heart of Karnataka and the nearest town of any size to the Tibetan settlement of Mungod which is just up the road from the sunshine state of Goa. Further on up the track from Hubli is a town called Hospet and if you get at Hospet you are then not too far from the magical ancient city of ruins called Hampi which is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in India. Need to find the time to get up to Hampi again, last visit I made that was back in ’89 in another life.
By the time we got to Bangalore it was indeed just gone 7 and with the baggage claim scenario to go through we could both chill in the knowledge that the 7.15 Flybus was gonna be impossible to catch. We would just have to settle for the one at 9, take our time in gettin’ on through before the last stages of a journey which started early morning in the misty hill city of Gangtok capital of Sikkim. Of course it was barely an inconvenience, the extra wait that is, as we were able to have a little bit to eat an’ drink after sorting out our Flybus tickets by way of buying them at the Flybus kiosk, storing our luggage in the hold of the bus which was on the stand fully parked up, ready an’ waitin’ to take us west. Turned out to be a pleasant hour or two, sittin’ outside the airport enjoying the balmy evening weather, plenty of seats, plenty of tasty lookin’ food and drinks stands busy with people. It was fun to be chillin’ after the thrill of having made it outta the hills, back to the heat, back to the plains of the south. Back to Bangalore, Indian mega city with serious splashes of high tech around its edges, a city which was now an overwhelming experience to drive through in terms of size – highway chaos, endless crowds, a million high rise apartment blocks – as if every time you blink your eyes another ten new vistas of the inexplicable appear on the horizon.
Scrum bubble of a journey saw us take 19.5 hours to get back down to the settlement of Bylakuppe in the state of Karnataka from the city of Gangtok in the state of Sikkim. Day previous was the last day of our hill tour, a time of checking out a couple of sight-see places on the edge of town, Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok with its views of the city, along with the usual strollin’ down MG Marg, although we didn’t spend as much time down there as the day before because it was a Saturday, the day when the shops are shut on the MG Marg because they are open on Sunday instead. So it was an end of journey day, energies now runnin’ a little bit low after a week of roamin’ from here to there up the hills – Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok – taking in the views, rock n’ rollin’ rides and all that goes with those rides such as a bad stomach from food eaten the day before and an achin’ nut because of the altitude.
An account of a journey made on the Shatabdi Express from Mysore to Chennai in March 2017 with Anita for company and Black Ice from AC/DC on the cans.
The ride from the Tibetan settlement to Mysore was a quick one, as the road was relatively clear, it was a Sunday morning and the traffic seemed a little lighter than usual, although I knew that being in India things could change very quickly, that from almost out of nowhere you could suddenly feel you were slap bang in the middle of the busiest place in the world. We had a short stop at the Anapoorna, a well used restaurant which was by the side of the road in Hunsur, a town about halfway to Mysore from Bylakuppe. There both Anita and I had a double coffee which tasted pretty good – hot, strong and sweet – in the mid morning highway heat. It would keep us going until lunch time in Mysore that as for sure.
This is an account of a journey by sleeper bus from the Tamil Nadu city of Madurai to the mega city of Bengaluru in Karnataka and occurred in February 2017.
It was early evening when we got back to the Residency in the centre of Madurai, time had moved on quite quickly if truth be told, it hadn’t been such a drag after all, my fears of it being an unmitigated bore fest had turned out to be unfounded. After all we were not due to catch our sleeper bus to Bengaluru until 9.45 pm and yet we had officially checked out of the Residency at 1 pm, leaving our bags there behind the reception leaving us with over 8 hours to fill.
In fact it was not long after I had settled back down in one of the comfy chairs in the lobby, stomach still full from the meal we’d eaten, that our man from the travel desk came over and advised us that we take the taxi ride over to the Maduthavani bus stand sooner rather than later, due to the fact that some parts of Madurai were likely to disrupted because of the thunderstorms from earlier on. This kind of made sense to the both of us, me and Anita, as there was simply no point in hanging around the lobby anymore if truth be told, we might just as well get on with it, and thus avoid any last minute hiccups. We had agreed a price of 500 IR with the man from the travel desk earlier on in the day for the ride over to the Maduthavani which, although well above what we could have got a ride for if we had stepped outside to negotiate with one of the numerous street taxis, was OK for us. This was mainly due to the fact that we had been able to hang around the lobby and safely store our cases behind the reception until it was time to go.