When we finally yanaged to leave Munnar after 10 days, we decided to visit another Keralan hill station – Wayanad. There were plenty of options to see and do, and we went for Chembra peak, the highest peak of Wayanad. But since going there straight from Munnar would have been a really long journey, we broke our trip in Thrissur, which is considered the cultural capital of Kerala. Well, arriving to Thrissur, we didn’t find anything really “cultural” there. We searched for the accommodation next to the bus station and it was so far the worst room we’ve ever had in India. It was cheap indeed, but still it was quite tough to handle: dirty sheets, dirty bathroom, humidity and bad smell were the ” qualities” of that local lodge we stayed at. But being a budget traveller also means getting through that kind of experience.
The whole city of Thrissur is built around the main temple in which only Hindus are allowed to enter, and we could only walk to the main gate to get a glimpse of it. We walked around the city and found a great place to eat with delicious local food where they don’t even have cutlery to serve you. We were still looking for something “cultural” in the city, but we only managed to see thousands of shops one next to another, which is actually the second main attraction of the city. Shopping is supposed to be the main hobby of the locals, and they even organize a shopping festival once a year. However, we didn’t buy anything apart from some snacks for the day and afterwards we tried to return to our “beautiful” room as late as possible.
The next day we boarded our bus towards Kalpetta, Wayanad, and the journey was long and tiring. We started early in the morning and it took us about seven hours to get there. The landscape was much more drier than in Munnar, and it seemed we weren’t about to see anything interesting in the district. When we finally arrived to Wayanad, we had to take another bus to Kalpetta where we were supposed to stay, and felt quite disappointed after arriving there. Kalpetta is a crowded and dirty city, apparently with no hills and trekking opportunities around. We started to think about spending only one night there and continue our journey the next morning, but after a long trip we just wouldn’t give up so easily.
The highlight of the day was finding a KFC in the center, and we were really happy to have some expensive chicken nuggets there. One really starts to appreciate small things while travelling around. Besides, the snack in the KFC was a good choice as the waiter told us it was really worth going to Meppady, a small village a few km from Kalpetta, to go to the Chembra peak. He told us that the accommodation there was likely to be very expensive, but we didn’t have much choice, so we took another bus to our final destination.
It turned out that the waiter was right about the prices, so we went to the first lodge we thought would be the cheapest one where they offered us a room of quite the same rang as the one of Thrissur. The sheets had that typical smell of at least 20 Indians having slept there before, the bathroom was still dirty from the last visitor, but, again, we didn’t have much choice. The owner wanted 800Rs for the room, which was the highest price we were about to pay for a room in India, but we managed to negotiate it to get it for 550Rs, which was still waaaaaay too much. Anyway, we took the room and went out to have some dinner. We had been told that Meppady was a very famous tourist destination, so we were expecting to see lots of white people around there, but we were really surprised to find out that we were the only ones. There were no typical tourist shops offering their products for overwhelmingly high prices, no restaurants with western food; we could only find small local shops, supermarkets and only one typical Indian hotel (cafeteria) with excellent food and for amazingly low prices. It was by then when we found out we were actually staying at a typical INDIAN tourist destination where most of the students from high schools come to visit the lake of the Chembra peak. And it somehow started to feel really nice there, all the locals were so friendly with us because they’re not used to seeing white people walking around. They were curious and asking us about Slovenia, and the most impressive thing of all was that they didn’t try to sell us anything. It felt strange to see that they are nice just for the sake of it and charging us for everything at the local price. It was by then when I began to understand why people say that most of the travellers enter in a love-hate relationship with India. You’ll hate the crowd, rushing, honking and everybody trying to rip you off, but you’ll simply love the kindness of those who just try to become your friends.
Travelling in this country can definitely be very challenging. When you arrive to a new destination, most of the time you won’t feel comfortable with all that trash on the streets, and bad smells, rushing people and tuk tuk drivers offering a lift. And India always seems too big to have control of it. But it is just amazing how quickly you get familiar with everything in an Indian village. You just need to spend an afternoon somewhere and you’ll get to know all of the stores, all of the hotels and lots of local people who’ll be always ready to help you. After that, all those uncomfortable feelings from the beginning will somehow turn into a nice coexistence with the locals, trash and bad smells.
Although in Meppady you will rarely see white visitors, the government doesn’t have any pity for us. The prices of the entrance fees for foreign tourists are doubled or even tripled by law in the whole of India, and doing the Chembra peak meant paying 1000Rs for us. Since we arrived so far and we were staying in such an ugly room, we were not willing to pay that amount. We checked out the route, and started walking towards the peak the very next morning. It took us just a few minutes to get out of the loud village and start walking in a quiet and beautiful path that led us to the ticket counter. India, here we come again: as the season had already started, the price for foreign tourists wasn’t 1000Rs, but 1500Rs, and we felt cheated not only because of the high entrance fee, but because we saw that the price for Indians was half of that amount, and for the locals from Meppady only … 50Rs!!! Feeling disappointed and a little angry, we decided to only buy a ticket for the park and see how far we could get.
Despite the fact that we didn’t manage to get to the Chembra heart-shaped lake (it is now prohibited to climb to the very peak of Chembra due to some endangered species), we were allowed to walk about five more km to the viewpoint. It is quite a pity to see that the whole of India and its air is so polluted that it is basically impossible to get a nice view of the landscape from almost anywhere. But we enjoyed our walk a lot; meeting only local highs school students to whom we seemed to be a much bigger attraction than the Chembra Lake itself. We spent the whole morning walking around and stopping in some beautiful spots that can be found on the way. We arrived back to the village quite tired and spent the rest of the day in the room fighting with cockroaches.
Our next destination was Mysore, a nice city on the south of Karnataka. We were expecting to get there in about three hours, but getting the right bus, and especially getting the one that will take you straight to your destination can be very challenging in India. First, we spent about two hours to get to Kalpetta and find the right bus station to get the bus to Mysore. There are two bigger bus stations, and on each of them they were giving us different directions where to wait for the bus. Some of them were telling us it was leaving in half an hour, some in two hours; some were saying it wasn’t stopping on the bus station at all. After asking about a dozen of people, we finally found out it was actually on the third stop where the bus for Mysore was about to arrive, and we felt much more relaxed when we managed to board it. But we already learnt that getting information about buses, trains and schedules can take you forever, and you’ll have to ask at least ten people before getting the right one. When you find at least three that say the same thing, you’ll know you’re on the right way. Otherwise just keep asking.
It was a long journey from Wayanad to Mysore, and for some reason we had to change the bus in the middle of our way. But getting to Mysore felt really relaxing. It is considered the second cleanest city of India, and it has a bit of a European spirit, which felt really good. We were staying with some Couchsurfers in Mysore, and as soon as we arrived to the central bus station, we had to take another bus to our Couchsurfer’s place. We were surprised at not having any problems getting to the house. Everybody knew where the bus stops, and the buses actually had numbers on them. Also on the bus there was a recorded voice telling which was the next stop, which was really helpful. We could see from the beginning that Mysore is one of the most developed cities of India.
Aseem, our host, lives in a nice remote house away from every city noise. He shares the place with his roommates, and we really enjoyed their company. One of them, Siddhart, was also a very nice and interesting person to spend time with. Once settled at their place, we made plans for the evening, and another really interesting thing happened then.
On our second day in Sri Lanka, when we were Couchsurfing in Colombo at Vajira’s place, we met a couple from Lithuania, Olga and her boyfriend Vaidas who were leaving for India the next day. We exchanged our contacts, but never heard each other while we were travelling in Sri Lanka. We actually contacted them when we arrived to India to ask them how they managed to get the Indian SIM card, and kept in contact ever since then, as they were just a step ahead of us and could provide us some good information about the places we were planning to visit. As we already told, we got stuck in India two times, first in Varkala and then in Munnar, and we never imagined we could have caught them. Well, it happened in Mysore where they were Couchsurfing at Assem’s friend’s place. It was a nice and surprising encounter.
When we setteled down at Assem’s, we took a cold shower and headed back to the city centre. Mysore is mostly known for its pompous palace, and we were very fortunate to arrive on sunday when the palace is entirely decorated with lights which only turn on on saturday and sunday nights for one hour. It was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen during my travels. We spent the whole hour there, admiring the palace and enjoying the atmosphere.
Later in the evening we went to Mayuk’s place where the Lithuanian couple was preparing Lithuanian pancakes. Mayuk is Aseem’s friend and they are used to hanging together with their friends at least three times a week. Soon we found out that we fell into a very student atmosphere where everybody was drinking beer and smoking weed. It was nice to be twenty again, although we didn’t feel like partying that way every single night. The night was full of interesting conversations, especially the one between Nejc and Mayuk who is really familiar with India and he recommended us some interesting places to visit. And it was definitely interesting to exchange some travelling information with Olga and Vaidas and finding out we are having basically the same route planned and that we would certainly meet again.
The next day we went to the city center to visit the central market and its surroundings. The market was amazing; you could see people selling so many different fruits and vegetables, and also other typical Indian products. Most of them were incense and probably a hundred different types of oils for which Mysore in very well known. Of course we couldn’t avoid people trying to sell us their stuff, so we were pulled in one of the shops to be explained what are all this oils for. If you have a headache, there is oil for it. If you are depressed, there is oil for it, too. If you want to loose weight or get rid of your wrinkles, if you have dry hair, and even if you want bigger breasts, there is also oil for it. You can always find oil for whatever condition you are in. Pretty amazing. But we knew that most of the oils are mixed with water, so we resisted ourselves from buying anything, but they certainly smelled really nice. Anyway, we did buy some incense from the same salesman, and I admit those were the best sticks I’ve ever tried so far because they smell exactly the same when they are fresh and when they burn. But the most interesting thing was to see how they are made. They just take a thin bamboo stick and roll in a mixture of glue and powder of some natural ingredient that gives it its smell.
We then continued our wandering around the market, but we soon got tired of so many people yelling around and trying to sell things, so we decided to go out and find a place to eat. We bought some things there though, as we were planning to prepare dinner for our hosts and their friends. At first we were actually thinking about preparing something Slovenian, but it turned out to be quite impossible to find ingredients for any Slovenian dish for India is a vegetarian country and it is not at all recommendable to buy any kind of meat here. Chicken meat is basically the only type of meat available in India, but once you see how they grow chickens you just wouldn’t want to try it. Anyway, we had plenty more things to buy, and shopping in India isn’t an easy task at all! For example, we needed milk, but you won’t find milk in an ordinary supermarket. They have special shops where they sell milk. Then, if you need eggs, you have to go to a shop where they sell eggs. (It took us about two hours to find one of those, seriously!). Then we needed alcohol, which is, as you might already know, very difficult to find here. We were also looking for the Lonely Planet, which is not difficult to find, but it is recommendable to ask in a few shops instead of buying it in the first one, as the price can be very different from one shop to another. So, shopping in a big crowded Indian city is tiring as hell especially if you want to get things for a good price, which not only means finding a shop where they sell what you need, but find a few shops to compare the prices and finally decide where to buy it. Oh, another mission impossible was finding a small water heater coil. We entered in about twenty shops before we finally found the right one. And now we can drink home made tea. Yeeey
After spending a long afternoon in the city, we returned to Aseem’s and started preparing the dinner. As we couldn’t think of any typical Slovenian dish, I decided to make a Spanish potato tortilla. There were 13 people eating our tortilla, so it was quite a pressure. But the guests were satisfied, the dinner successful. Mission accomplished.
The next day we went to the center, again, with the intention to see the palace from the inside, but some rickshaw driver changed our planes. He stopped us on our way to the palace, saying that the day before there was some celebration going on, and that for that reason the entrance fee to the palace after 5.30p.m. that day was free. That meant that we had to wait another three hours to get in, but Nejc wasn’t very happy about it as he got some allergy reaction and his nose was stuff and his head was aching. But the driver offered us to show us some old Muslim bazar and craft workshops for only 30Rs, and I managed to convince Nejc that the experience was worth taking another couple of hours of our time. It turned out to be so, as we could see how they make carved wooden furniture, beedies (local cigarettes rolled in a tobacco leaf), he took us to another oil shop and to the only place where we were supposed to be able to buy real silk shawls.
Mysore is also very well known for its silk products, but just as oils, it is difficult to find a place where they don’t sell fake scarfs. Anyway, I decided to believe the driver for it was supposed to be a shop owned by the government, and bought a nice shawl there. At the end of the sightseeing, the rickshaw driver dropped us in front of the palace, and we were finally ready to get in, for free, of course. Well, no free entrance fee was available there, and we found out that the driver tricked us to give us a tour for which he received a commission. We weren’t too angry anyway since the tour was interesting enough to be cheated for.
We spent the evening calmly at Assem’s, no partying this time. The next morning Nejc and Siddarth arranged a basketball match, so they had to wake up at 6 a.m. as Sid had to go to work shortly after. It was an amazing experience for Nejc playing basketball in India and it made him very happy.
That was the end of our staying in Mysore. We said good-bye to our new friends and boarded our train to Hampi. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the ticket for the basic sleeper wagon, but only for the AC2 one, so we overpaid the ticket. But the good part of travelling in an AC train is that only educated and rich Indians travel in it, so basically there are no worries of any kind of inconvenient incident happening while your journey. We were lucky to meet a very nice retired couple that was also going to Hampi. They knew a lot about India. The gentleman was a retired tourist guide and gave us so many useful information about places to visit.
After a long overnight ride we finally arrived to Hampi, a magical ancient place on the east of Karnataka.