And the award for Worst Train in India goes to: The Hampi Express from Hampi to Mysore!
Oh, what a night.
For starters, the train was packed. Matt and I were in a 6-bed compartment, sharing 4 of them. It turned out however, that it never remained the same 4 people as the crowd continued to change throughout the night. I was hoping that by the time we went to bed, the movement would settle down until the morning, but travelers kept reaching their destinations quickly and we would get another set of roommates. This came with constant turning on and off of the light and chatter also.
I couldn’t sleep at all. Matt, on the other hand snored contently (with his usual mask, ear plugs and pillow in between his knees).
We arrived in Mysore around 9:00am where we were greeted by a bunch of rickshaw drivers offering their services while trying to overcharge. Thankfully, the owner of the guest house we were about to stay at, let us know that there was a kiosk outside the station where we could get transportation at a flat rate. We went from 300 to 80 rupees by doing that.
The guest house was located in an area called Siddhartha Layout. Being that Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is one of my favorite books, I loved the idea of staying there.
When we got there, we were welcomed by smiley friendly faces belonging to Manjula, a kind Indian woman and Stephen, an English man that decided to make Mysore his home. Together they own Mysore Bed & Breakfast, where we would stay for the next 2 nights.
After checking in, Matt and I decided to have lunch at Depth ‘n’ Green, a vegetarian cafe popular among the waves of yoga students that come to Mysore to learn Ashtanga, from one of the specialized schools that are located in the city.
There was a guy and a girl sitting next to us and having a conversation. I recognized the accent.
“Are you from Mexico?” I said in excitement and in my very thick Mexican accent.
“Yes! From Mexico City” she said with a big smile.
That developed into a long chat about our country, India, life and so on. It turned out, we even knew people in common. I love when that happens. This world is just to small!
After lunch we went back to the guest house to rest. I was nothing more than a zombie and needed to catch up on some sleep.
We woke up around 7:00pm, just in time to get ready for dinner. Manjula was cooking for us. We were excited to have a homemade Indian meal. Every dish was fantastic! Daal, rice, chapati – the same Indian diet but one of the best versions we’ve had.
The next day, we arranged to go on a bike tour with Stephen. From the three different routes he offered, we chose to explore Srirangapatna Island.
Once we arrived on the island by rickshaw, we got on the bikes and off we went. It had been a while since I rode a bike (I think the last time was 3 years ago in Central Park) but I was excited to see an Indian city while working out a little.
We rode through a village where we had the opportunity to meet some of the people that live there.
We stopped by a carpenter’s workshop where Stephen showed us the pretty painted carriages they make there for the merchants to transport their products.
We saw ghats (steps leading to a river) where a combination of things happen at the same time: people bathing, washing dishes, throwing the ashes of a dead relative away or just hanging out close to the water. The scene is fascinating. India is the land of paradox, not absolute like in western culture. Here, all these different activities can easily co-exist in the same space with no issues. If we were in America, we would have a place for each thing because as Stephen pointed out, we label and put things in boxes. And it’s true, we do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s only one of many ways of living. Indians are the opposite. Anything goes everywhere. Think for example of Hinduism. There is not one way of practicing the religion – there are as many versions of Hinduism as there are Hinduism followers. Not only that, some Hindu gods morph into other things, they have different names and some are reincarnations of other gods. Labels don’t apply here so when we see a river with different things happening at the same time and we understand the mentality, we can appreciated it for what it is.
Next we visited a sugar refinery where we learned about the process – from cane to cube.
After that, Stephen showed us the site of an important battle between the British and the kingdom of Mysore. It took 60,000 British troops to defeat the local leader (and the 4th attempt). For the American history buff you should know that it was General Cornwallis that commanded the British (the same Cornwallis that George Washington defeated in the war for Independence – I guess everybody deserves a second chance).
In between all this biking we stopped for both a fresh coconut to rehydrate and a chai with masala cookies at a tea stall.
After 5 hours, we went back to the city and took it easy for the rest of the day.
In the morning at breakfast, we met a family from Germany that was traveling the south of India together. It was the mom, the two sons and the girlfriends of the sons. After sharing our itineraries we realized we would have the same stops and hotels at the next 3 destinations, so for parts of it, we became part of their group.
That day, Matt and I went to explore the Mysore Palace. It was packed and hard to walk inside of it, so we did what we could and then got out of there.
For lunch, we went to The Green Hotel which is housed in an old palace and has some nice Indian food in an outdoor space.
For the afternoon we walked through a bazaar located at the center of town.
When we came back to the guest house, Stephen let us know the Germans and him were walking to a nearby hotel called Lalitha Mahal for some drinks and food.
“It looks like the Budapest Hotel from Wes Anderson’s film” Stephen assured enthusiastically. We tagged along.
The facade was gorgeous.
When we crossed the main gate and were walking towards the building entrance, there was a light show, loud music and a Cinderella carriage in the front garden. We had stumbled upon an Indian wedding.
We headed inside and went straight to the bar. It was empty except for our party – while the Indian wedding raged outside. Matt spotted an old pool table and like that, we were having a night to remember, filled with beverages, gaming and good conversation. It was ironic. We had gone from being backpackers to having a palace all to ourselves.
The next morning, a driver picked us up to take us to Wayanad, a coffee plantation in the southern state of Kerala.