Indian Travel Diary Chapter 10: Madikeri
March 7th, Mysore/Madikeri
I wake at 7:30 a.m. The usual breakfast of OJ, boiled eggs and pot of coffee. I pack, go down and pay the hotel bill, then head for the internet place for a quick mail check. But they can't connect to their ISP. As I'm returning I take a couple of photos of the beggar who spends his days outside the RRR Restaurant, though this morning he's not sitting leaning against the lamppost, having just woken up, I suppose.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
I get an autorickshaw, collect my luggage, then it's on to the Central Bus Station. I find my bus and get on board. It's a "luxury" bus, which means that the luggage rack over the seats is actually big enough to hold my rucksack. I'm the only Westerner on the bus.
We depart on time at 10 a.m., travelling through Mysore's north-east suburbs. There are plenty of educational and research institutions here, and it's cleaner and less crowded, though there are still plenty of piles of rubbish to be seen.
We pass through the town of Hansur. Some policemen get on, one is carrying a rifle. They are transporting four prisoners, handcuffed to each other in pairs. The bus travels on and the policemen and prisoners get off at the court house at Periya Patna, presumably for the arraignment, trial or sentencing.
The bus travels on through an undulating landscape, though not exactly "scenic". We pass Bylakuppe, where thousands of Tibetans settled in the 1960s and 70s and now make a living by farming. There's little evidence of Tibetans except some signs saying "Tibetan Cooperative" and a mantra painted in big white Tibetan letters on a rocky outcrop in the river.
We come to the town of Kushalnagar, just within the boundaries of Kodagu. Here there are quite a few Tibetan monks around, and I spot a Western monk sitting on the step of a shop, looking somewhat forlorn, as if he wasn't sure what he was doing here. Presumably he is stoically enduring the privations of life as a monk in India for the sake of obtaining freedom from the sufferings of this world, if not in this life then in some future one.
A quarter-hour out of Kushalnaga the bus slows as it starts the ascent toward Madikeri. The vegetation becomes thicker, and there are morning glories to be seen beside the road.
At about 1 p.m. we arrive in Madikeri. It's a bustling township, though not large. I've consulted the Rough Guide and decided that the Hotel Mani looks like a good possibility. I emerge from the bus station with no idea where it is. I get an autorickshaw for ten rupees, which takes me the short distance to the hotel. No-one except the manager understands English well. They show me a couple of rooms, not bad, but a bit basic. I'm thirsty, and get a welcome fresh lime soda while considering what to do. I decide to check another hotel mentioned by the guidebook, the Hotel Mayura Valley View, which I imagine might be considerably more confortable, although it's some distance up the hill from the town center. I get an autorickshaw to it. It seems deserted except for one guest, it doesn't look much better than the Mani, and there are no autorickshaws waiting around for guests going into town, so I decide to return to the Mani. A few other Westerners are also staying at the Mani, since it seems there's not much choice in Madikeri.
After checking a couple more rooms I decide on one that I can live with for a few days, then go to the hotel restaurant for lunch. I get another fresh lime soda and order "peas fry", fried green peas. The waiter brings me a green pea, just to make sure I know what I'm ordering, "peas fry", not "fish fry". Yes, I say. Eventually they bring the peas fry. Quite tasty, though a bit difficult to digest.
Power is out. It comes back on after an hour.
Around 5 p.m. I go for a walk around the town center. The usual Indian shops, nothing much to see. But I do find an internet place with a decent connection.
After a shower back at the hotel I go down to the restaurant for dinner. There's a TV at the reception desk showing an international cricket match; this has been on all afternoon, and a dozen men are sitting around with their eyes glued to the screen. I can only watch it for a few minutes. Cricket is such a boring game, but for some reason Indians love it.
For dinner I order fish tikka, dal and chapati, and a fresh lime soda. The food is edible but nothing to write home about.
Power goes off a few times, coming back on soon after.
The ceiling fan has only two settings, off and full-blast-on, since the speed regulator doesn't work. Fortunately Madikeri is at a sufficiently high altitude that it's cool in the evening, so the fan is not needed.
March 8th, Madikeri
I wake at 8:30 a.m. after strange dreams.
This hotel, surprise!, has hot water in the mornings. And they have slipped the local newspaper under the door.
I go for breakfast to the hotel restaurant, but they don't do breakfast, so I go out to a restaurant nearby. I get a good pineapple juice, a decent plate of fried eggs and some so-so coffee and buttered toast, all for 41 rupees, less than US$1.
Back at the hotel the power is off again. Seems that electricity is in short supply around here. I ask the manager and he says that the power always goes off for an hour or so at different times during the day, and you can never be sure when it will go off and when it will come back on again.
I can't use my laptop because the battery is flat and there's no electricity. Around 1 p.m. I go out to the internet place, but, although they have power, all PCs are occupied. I wander toward the other side of town, and go up toward the fort. I find another internet place, and get an hour or so in.
I continue on to the fort, which is certainly an imposing structure and looks fairly impregnable. But inside there's nothing much to see except the local jail (showing no sign of being occupied), a Hindu temple with a woman praying fervently before the shrine and two life-sized black statues of male elephants.
Clearly Madikeri is not likely to become a major tourist attraction any time soon. The internet is about the most exciting thing in town. Its best feature is that it's cooler than Mysore and the other areas at lower altitude, and is a convenient stopover for one night when travelling between Mysore and Mangalore.
I go to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I fancy fried fish. But "fish fry" is not available tonight. Nor is mutton rogan josh. So I go to the same restaurant as this morning. They have "fish fry" (with chips). It turns out to be a small slice of fish, but quite good and only 25 rupees. Best dinner I've had so far in Madikeri.
March 9th, Madikeri
Breakfast of fried eggs, lackluster toast and weak coffee at the nearby restaurant. Fortunately the hotel has a coffee machine which dispenses decent coffee in plastic cups for five rupees, at least, when there is electricity.
A hundred meters further down the street past the Hotel Mani there is a larger hotel, the National Hotel. I walk over to take a look, and it turns out to be quite an upscale affair, with good rooms and 24-hour hot water, and at 202 rupees for a single it's even cheaper than the Mani. But I'm only staying one or two nights more; I don't know if it's worth the effort of moving.
At 11:45 a.m. the power goes off again. My laptop battery is getting low, soon it will become comatose. I decide to move to the National Hotel. I pack and walk over. The new room is good, and there's electricity, since the hotel has its own generator. This hotel, built just two years ago, is much better than the Hotel Mani.
The power goes off. Does this hotel have the same problems with electricity as the last one?
Reception calls. The room I'm in is a double, and they say that they mistakenly quoted me the single price of 202 rupees instead of 400 or so. They send up a hotel boy to show me a single, which is quite small. I go down to reception and we agree on 300 rupees for the room I'm in. It's still good value.
The power comes back on again. I sleep for a couple of hours and around 8 p.m. go for dinner: chicken rice (not bad) and pistachio icecream (good).
March 10th, Madikeri
Strange and unpleasant dreams.
I go for breakfast in the hotel: pineapple juice (good), omelette (OK), coffee (weak) and toast (at first only warm bread but when requested the waiter took it away and made it into toast).
More erratic power. Goes off and comes back on after awhile. Also the voltage seems to vary, since sometimes the fan speeds up or slows down. In the West one takes for granted a reliable electricity supply. Not so in India.
Around 2 p.m. I go out and buy a pineapple juice and peanuts. I walk up the hill and get an hour on the net, but it's so slow I can only do half of what I want to do.
I return to the hotel. I'm reading John Pilger's The New Rulers of the World. What the U.S. and Britain have done to Iraq over the last fourteen years is not only criminal and immoral but positively depraved. The people responsible for this genocide are unworthy of the name "human".
I sleep for a couple of hours, then go down for dinner. The waiters use the opportunity of my presence (I am, as last night, the only diner) to turn on the TV and watch the continuing international cricket match. All the waiters and hotel boys come and watch. It's the most interesting thing happening today (for them). Dinner consists of fried fish (in a spicy batter), finger chips and a fresh lime soda, followed by a vanilla icecream. All quite OK, and only 75 rupees (US$1.60).
The hotel has a "showcase" full of toiletries (shaving cream, etc.) and local Kodagu products such as packets of tea and coffee and bottles of arack. I notice a 30-gram jar of Tiger Balm priced at 135 rupees, and since the 15-gram jar I got two weeks ago in Mamallapuram is almost empty I buy it.
I have a hot shower (yes, this hotel actually has 24-hour hot water) and go to bed. The Tiger Balm is soothing.
March 11th, Madikeri
I wake and go down for breakfast. It's time to move on from this place. I pack and lug my rucksack a couple of hundred meters to the bus stand. A "semi-luxury" bus for Mangalore, according to the ticket-seller, is due at 9:30 a.m. It arrives on time. It's the same type as I got from Mysore, so (in contrast to the local buses) there's again room for my rucksack in the overhead luggage rack.
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