A Typical Indian Odyssey #1

I stepped out of an AirAsia airplane into Bangalore’s Kempewgoda International Airport in the beginning of April 2019, unsure about what to expect. I would be in the city for a night before moving to the neighboring city Mysore the day after, in time for my yoga teacher training course.

I’ve learned some information about India. I’ve read various articles from the beauty of its northern area to its poor sanitation, discussed with my best friend about traveling there as a solo female traveler, saw pictures of beautiful henna hand painting. But I am on its soil now. Those information will matter less than my sight and intuition.

The cozy new airport was low-key at midnight. I quickly checked in with the immigration lady, who put a stamp in my passport after confirming the address of my yoga school. I could now stay in the country, exit and reenter one more time within three months. I passed security checks (more frequent than in most other airports), reached baggage pickup hall, and made a brief stop at a money exchange. I opted for cash exchange on this trip so that I can track my expenses better, although sadly I was defeated on this first trade. I lost USD 40 compared to XE estimate due to low rate and service charge. 

Moving to arrival hall, I found a Vodafone kiosk near the exit door. This is where we can buy sim card. I didn’t intend to go on Instagram Live or upload pictures on the go, but I prefer to be always connected rather than relying on WiFi. If you feel the same, I highly recommend getting a sim card here. That night my phone battery was dying so I worried more about not reaching to my hostel, so I decided to get a sim card in town later. “How hard could it be?” I thought.

Boy, was I naive. A few days later I went to an Airtel shop in Mysore. I brought the required documents for a sim card: copy of passport, visa, a photograph (yes!), and Rs. 500. I wrote my permanent address and information of a local contact person, and was sent home to wait. Activation would take max. two days, the guy said. Two days later, the card was still useless. Nothing changed after a week. I visited the shop twice within the next two weeks and cooperated, gave more information as requested. Long story short, after three weeks I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get a phone number – due to unknown reason. Those visits were the opportunity to practice “yoga” as I had to demand my rights while maintaining composure and non-attachment. 

I was lucky that I could use WiFi for a few hours a day at the ashram where I was staying, so I wasn’t completely disconnected to the outside world. Nonetheless, I found that mobile number is a staple to travel-living in the country. A hotel’s front office asked for it at check-in, a cash register officer at a supermarket asked (I thought the government watches citizens’ expenses through their number, but my friend said the supermarket just wants to send us advertisements). I could easily ignore them. But I couldn’t ignore the State Road Transport Corporation, India’s railway company, who won’t let us book train ticket without an Indian mobile number. I finally asked an Indian friend to help me buy a ticket.

Booking train tickets itself was also competitive. In a country of 1.3 billion people who seem to be actively moving around, getting tickets a few hours before departure for popular routes is challenging. It would be better to book online (see the list of websites and prices of transportation I took at the bottom of this post) or buy at the station a few days before. Tickets can also be bought at the station’s manned counters on the departure day, I recommend at least 4 hours before departure. If you opt for this last-minute purchase, be ready to fill out reservation forms with your name and address and to pay for a more expensive train class. Bring cash. There’s no need for an Indian phone number if you buy at the station.

My itinerary was Bangalore-Mysore-Hampi-Bangalore-Tokyo, spanning a little over one month. I did the first leg by train. Then I’d leave Mysore to Hampi on sleeper train and from Hampi back to Bangalore on AC sleeper bus. This sleeper bus assigned each passenger to a body-size mattress which were comfortable, but it doesn’t guarantee a quality sleep. I mean, the bus goes at full speed and the drivers constantly hit the brake so I had difficulty sleeping. Sleeper train is the best option for a restful overnight trip.

For inner-city transport in Bangalore, Mysore, and Hampi I tried probably all of the options: city buses, auto, Ola, Uber, Metro, and taxi. City buses are convenient, have ladies and men sections, and cheap. There was a sign saying beware of pickpockets. Auto (pronounced ‘oto’) are the three-wheeled small car which foreign tourists ignorantly call tuktuk. They’re easy to hail and the drivers – surprisingly – didn’t try too hard to rip me off. A mobile application called Ola helps you call auto and gives you discounted price. It’s almost always cheaper than the final prices offered directly by the drivers. Using Uber was a breeze. I took it to go from Bangalore airport to my hostel in downtown area: I made an order on the app inside the airport and showed a generated one-time-code to the driver. The Metro was clean, on-time, fast, and frequent. Passengers were polite and calm, there were escalators everywhere. The only downside to the Metro was the inoperable ticket machine. Queue lines to the manned counters were long at some stations and they often don’t have small change (in fact, they put up a sign to tell us this). Finally, I asked my hotel in Bangalore to book me a taxi for the airport. It was a rental car paid at a fixed price, which was certainly more expensive than the Metro. It had nothing special.

My stay in Bangalore was too short to let me learn much about the city. But I remember being cheered up in the first morning of my stay by the soothing sight of leafy gulmohar trees as I enjoyed a cup of ginger coffee and samosa (Rs. 10 each). I also remember the simple stand-up restaurants that sell vada, dosa, and rice with unlimited curry and sambar on the table.

Out of the restaurants I tried, I recommend a chain called Maiyas. I drowned myself in the atmosphere in their Jayanagar district one Saturday night. Mothers in their colorful saris and fathers in their white kurta, holding their children, enjoy their day off with dosa and curry set. Couples savor a scoop of ice cream or two. Every single person standing up, chattering away.

Every now and then I cringe at an older brother who hit their little brother for apparently doing something wrong. Sometimes I see brothers or male friends walk hand in hand or with their arms around each other. These are habits in India.

Many people come to Maiyas for their masala dosa. It’s hands-down the best dosa I had in India, and probably for as long as I’ll live — it’s soo yummy! I think the amount of ghee they put in the bread is key, and there’s no way this chain can be beaten by hotel restaurants who tend to be modest in spices and flavors. Don’t ask or judge me about the fat content, though.

DSC_1396
The masala dosa

 

I left Bangalore in the afternoon of my second day on a 12641 Tippu Express train to Mysore. From my cushioned seat in the AC car I watched Bangalore, a city of 12 million people with a thriving IT business and active nightlife, disappear as we move southwest. High-rise office buildings change into small houses and garbage disposal areas become lonely trees and cracked land.

It was 36 degrees Celsius outside. But it was cool inside the train. Occasionally, someone will stop one of the passing hawkers to buy chai or rice. Kids will demand unhealthy fried snack only to be distracted by their mothers’ swiftness. I fought against temptation from the milk tea. I love it, of course, but the sensible side of me told the gourmand side that its milk and sugar (which constitute half of the cup) will harrow my hips. It was part of my mission to resist food and shopping indulgence as much as possible during this trip, and I emerged victorious that afternoon.

Around me, passengers relaxed as they read English newspapers, disappear into laptops and earplugs, or entertain their children while charging phones on the wall-mounted plugs. Halfway through the trip I sat back and played “Parks and Recreations”, drinking my cold Jeera. Suppressing my laughter at the good ol’ show, pretending not to notice the neighboring mother’s watching eyes, I began to enjoy my adventure. 

DSC_2699
Waiting for boarding at Bangalore train station

 

 

Highlights on the transportation I used

Booking tickets online:
Train: 
KSRTC website for south India
Bus: redbus.in website (for whole country)
Train and bus: third-party app MakeMyTrip (for whole country)

Prices of the trips I made (Rs./INR 1 = roughly USD 0.014)
Mysore to Hampi on sleeper train: Rs. 2,000 for first class
Hampi to Bangalore on sleeper bus: Rs. 790 for air-conditioned (AC) bus
City bus (Mysore): Rs. 15 for a roughly 30-minutes ride
Uber (Bangalore): Rs. 800 from airport to downtown
Auto (Bangalore and Mysore): Rs. 30-50 within downtown area. Negotiation usually reduced the price by around Rs. 10.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s