November 26, 2012

Udupi'd Your Pants If You Were On This Bus (Udupi, Karnataka, India)

First of all, I'm very proud of this blog post title. Thank you for reading. We mentioned in our posts about Mysore (here, here, and here), that we took a bus to and from Mysore. This was a change from our usual transportation style via train, and it's worth sharing.

By the time we reached Fort Cochin (read about it here), we'd mastered the train system and felt pretty comfortable buying, boarding and riding on India trains. (More on trains later.) We had even started to enjoy them a bit. But there wasn't an easy way to get to and from Mysore via train, so we decided to take the bus instead, having been told that the government-run bus system had Airavat Volvo busses with air conditioning. The ride from Ernakulam (near Fort Cochin) to Mysore was 9 hours long, so we booked a night bus (leaving at 11:45pm) and chose our seats on the online booking system (KSRTC). 

After killing a day of extra time in Fort Cochin, we took a rickshaw to the bus station and found that, unlike the train stations we'd visited, the bus station was not a tourist-friendly place. No one spoke English, we were given lots of strange looks, and we were the only foreigners there. We weren't even sure we were in the right place, but stood around, hoping for the best and trying to come up with a backup plan if we'd really screwed up. As other (local) busses started entering the station, our anxiety levels went higher and higher because IT WAS CHAOS! People would run alongside the busses, fling open the doors, and jump onto the bus long before it was stopped. And I'm not talking about 1 or 2 people…I'm talking about 20-30-50 people all rushing after the bus and clamoring for a spot on the bus, throwing elbows and completely without sympathy. And the busses were in bad shape - only a few seats, spewing smoke, and absolutely packed with people. We started preparing ourselves to do the same when our bus arrived. 

This isn't our video, but I found it on YouTube and it's what the bus station looked like in Ernakulam. Pure chaos.

Finally, 30 minutes late, our bus pulled up and we were thrilled that it looked like a normal tourist bus you'd see anywhere….just a little more banged up, and we were so relieved that boarding this bus happened in a more orderly fashion, though still more chaotic than we would have liked. 

Luckily, we found seats together on the bus, put on our eye masks and attempted to sleep, though the driving was insane and the ride was bumpy. After our time in Mysore, we booked another bus to Mangalore, where we planned to take a local bus to Udupi (Oo-da-pee). When this (day) bus got going, we realized just how much we missed while half-sleeping on the first bus. The driving was absolutely terrifying. We were barreling down highways, passing cars and oxcarts with ongoing traffic coming our way. Our bus was constantly honking for cars to get out its way and we were regularly coming within inches of dump trucks and freighters, sometimes loaded with propane or petrol. We came so close to these trucks that, if I'd had my elbow bent out the window, I probably would have lost an arm a few times. And I'm not even joking. We spent most of the ride white-knuckle gripping our arm rests and convinced our minutes were numbered. Somehow, once we arrive in Mangalore 6 hours later, we persuaded ourselves to hop on the local (un-airconditioned, very dingy, lower class) bus for the hour ride to Udupi. This ride was even crazier and Tom and I exchanged terrified glances the entire ride. New York City cabs have nothing on these bus drivers. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was the scariest ride either of us has ever had and was truly awful. These bus rides made us realize how much we all exaggerate at home about our experiences or, rather, how tame they are in comparison. We might say something like, "This car ran the light and I had to slam on the brakes and they came 'within inches' of hitting me." But I'm telling you….it's very unlikely that the car was "within inches" of you. I thought I'd come "within inches" of car accidents before, but they weren't nearly as close as these busses came to hitting massive trucks. After these rides, we vowed to each other to take trains whenever possible and to avoid busses at all costs. There will definitely be a few times when busses are the only option, and we'll do it, but we won't like it! The best parts about the bus ride were laughing at Tom snoring and seeing elephants on the side of the road.

Tom, snoozing on the scary bus

One of many roadside elephants

In Udupi, we checked into the Swadesh Heritage Hotel (not recommended) and spent a short 2 nights there. Udupi is known for its Krishna temples, and we really enjoyed walking around the city center, closed to cars, to marvel at the beautiful temples and look at the shops without cars and rickshaws speeding by. I bought a tunic at a market there for 100 rupees ($2 USD) and had a tailor turn it from long-sleeves to short-sleeves for 10 rupees (20 cents). We spent an embarrassing amount of time there at a restaurant called Woodlands, which was constantly packed and had delicious food! I was introduced to Banana Buns, which became my favorite breakfast for the next week.

60 rupee ($1.20) thali lunch at Woodlands
10 rupee (20 cent) alterations

Krishna temple in Udupi

Enjoying the A/C in the ATM booth...we didn't need any cash
From Udupi, it was on to Gokarna - on the beach and our last stop in Karnataka - which we'll talk about soon. Check out all our photos from Udupi here. (There are only a handful.)

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