Over the Western Ghats to Mysore (Laura)
Jan 22, 2007
|We are a bit sad to leave Calicut as the adventure has been quite extraordinary and we suspect it might be a highlight of the trip. But, more adventures await and we know this is our last bus trip for a while as trains will become our mode of transport for some time ahead. Buses are much less comfortable and we want to get this last trip over with.
Luckily we have reserved seats so we are at the front of the bus. I find this really helps with the potential motion sickness that can begin as the bus careens along mountain roads. We manage to get our bags stored in the seat underneath us and in front of us, not leaving us much leg room. We are not exactly clear how long the trip is so we just settle in to watch the view go by.
We first pass through several towns packed with people, cows, autorickshaws, cars and our bus trying to squeeze between it all. In the midst of all this activity, there are road paving crews at work. Unlike at home, all the work here is done by hand: someone boils the tar in big drums, others dump it onto the rocks being raked into smooth piles and finally a woman is tasked with walking beside the roller and pouring water over it. Keep in mind, all this is happening under the scorching noon-day sun with thick, black smoke belching from the burning tar drums. It gives us a much greater appreciation of the paved mountain road that lies before us.
Then we begin to enter the forest as we start the steep climb up never-ending switchbacks. We pass the sign for the Wayanad Animal Sanctuary and we enjoy the idea of wild animals lurking in the greenery that spreads out in every direction. As we climb over the Western Ghats mountain range, we notice that the edges of the hillsides have been burned and then come across active burning. We assume it is to keep the forest litter down and control wildfires. It doesn't seem to bother the wild monkeys who congregate along the roadside and stare as eagerly at me as I do at them. I even see a tiny baby clinging to its mom - so sweet. After all the lonely monkeys we saw chained to trees outside bus rest stations in Vietnam and Laos, it is so refreshing to see them living in their natural habitat here.
Over the top of the mountains and down the other side brings us into a rainshadow where the land is more dominated by scrub and smaller trees. We enter the Bandipur National Park and my eyes are on high alert. Signs warn vehicles not to honk and to watch for animals crossing the road. I joke with Matt that I am watching out for tigers, fully expecting to see nothing at all, but then out the left hand side of the bus five elephants, including one baby, appear. In my excitement, I actually only see one, but Matt assures me the baby is a cutie. We cannot believe it - we went all the way to Periyar in search of wild elephants and here they are outside the bus! Then, not ten minutes later, is another one. Wow! What a treat. I am happy that the locals on the bus are excited too as perhaps there is hope for maintaining these precious pockets of wild space.
The bus rolls on leaving the park behind and moving toward human settlements again. We pass buses so crammed full with people that men hang off the outside from the doorframe. Inside, children are pressed up against the windshield as they are the only ones small enough to fit on the dashboard. We narrowly miss hitting the cows that are herded down the road and veer out of the way of oncoming buses. Throughout all of this, oxen carts slowly pull bales of hay with the drivers perched way up top.
Suddenly the rural scenes turn to urban chaos and Mysore appears before us. It is certainly the biggest city we have been in so far. We pass large buildings are navigate huge roundabouts. We end our trip at the bus station and then realize why the town is called Mysore: when you get off the cramped bus after almost seven hours, the first thing out of your mouth is "ow, my sore ass". We decide to stretch our legs and get some much needed circulation going by putting the packs on our backs.We walk past about 50 autorickshaws lined up outside the station. We have never seen so many in one place before. A 15 minute walk brings us to tonight's home, the Hotel Bombay Tiffany's. It is a hotel that offers us a clean room at a decent rate and it is right in the heart of the action.
We watch a few minutes of satellite tv as English television is a major treat after not understanding anyone all day. We learn that there has been some tension in Bangalore (our next stop) due to the death of Sadam Hussein. It is not quite clear to us what the problem is exactly, but it is clear that British and American involvement in Iraq is a hot topic here. We are thankful, once again, for the Canadian flags on our bags.
Matt leads us to a recommended spot for dinner at the RRR restaurant (no, I am not sure what the Rs stand for). We eat delicious vegetarian fare on banana leaves with our hands. We are getting better at it, but the locals still stare at us. We are wondering where the other travelers are as we always seem to be the only foreigners every place we go.
A quick visit to the market ends our evening and I finally get my set of bangles that I have been after. We find a row of about six sellers and I have an overwhelming choice of colours and styles. Finally I let my favourite salesman put a set on me (he had to dig around to find the extra large ones for the big Canadian girl - argh). They are silver, gold and purple and I just love them. And, for $3, this is a pretty cheap night out! We venture into the market a bit further and pass the stalls of brightly-coloured Tikka powders used by Hindus on their foreheads. We are befriended by a very well-spoken young boy who surprises us with his French and his questions about Canadians who speak only English. He leads us to his Father's incense stall but we escape before the demonstration and the expected purchase.
The market is full of brightly coloured flowers, most being woven into garlands to be given as offerings at the many temples and shrines that dot the city. Roses, marigolds, and chrysanthamums seem the most frequently used. We look forward to learning more about the religions here, their rituals and practice which are so different from what we have seen in our previous travels.
The market is an incredible array of colours and products and we look forward to returning and exploring further. But first, I have a birthday to celebrate tomorrow!