Day 66: Gokarna-Mysore
At 3.30pm, the Bangalore Express pulled out of Gokarna destined for Mysore, 550kms away. To steal a quote from a book I’m reading, Around India in 80 Trains:
“Taking trains in India involves a process wholly different from taking trains in England. At home it is not uncommon to arrive at London Euston 10 minutes before a Virgin Pendolino departs to Birmingham New Street, slip a credit card into a machine, grab a ham and cheese baguette from Upper Crust, and hop onto the train with a saver return ticket in hand. The booking system in India opens 90 days in advance and is instantly flooded with reservations, building up endless waiting lists. Fortunately Indian Railways has a useful system in place for latecomers, emergencies and the disorganised.”
It was into this first category that we fell. Three hours before our train was due to depart, we made the snap decision to leave magnificent Gokarna. All the decent class a/c tickets had been snapped up already, but somehow we managed to bag ourselves general class sleeper tickets for 680rps (~£6) each, which is basically code for “anything can happen”.
With much excitement, we boarded the train and held our breath about what was to come – as it turns out, Indian trains and General Sleeper Class is ACE, and there’s even space to hang a travel hammock! Satisfyingly the windows open, making what could have been an uncomfortable 14 hours very pleasant and airy.
The main carriage doors also remain unlocked for the duration of the journey, meaning you can sit in the doorway and watch the world go by with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, and no one bats an eyelid. The air, the loud clackety clack of the train and the lack of any real health and safety concerns fills me with exhilaration for The Go, the journey, and admiration for India’s general approach to stuff like this.
Chai wallas, biryani and various food sellers march through the train at break-neck speed, or up and down the platform from window to window at each stop, refuelling hungry, weary passengers for minimal fare. All quite civilised, and a world away from those regimented trolleys yielding extortionately priced beige goods in the UK.
We touched down at Mysore Station at 5.30am this morning, urghhhh, but in a change to recent energy levels we were ready to smash whatever Mysore had to offer, just needed a snooze first.
“One of South India’s most famous tourist destinations, Mysuru (which recently changed its name from Mysore) is known for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. Its World Heritage–listed palace may be what brings most travellers here, but it’s also a thriving centre for the production of premium silk, sandalwood and incense.”
Unfortunately for us, the night we’d arrived a VHP activist (the Indian equivalent to the IRA) had been murdered. As a result, this morning a bandh (Hindi word for “strike”) had been called in protest. That meant processions in the street, shops shut, businesses closed, and everyone advised to stay in doors for their own safety. So, we’ve been on curfew at our hostel alllllll day. Mysore says No. Balls.