So to spice up our story we would like to introduce to you Richard, the author of this and the next post.This incredible guy just showed up in India as a big surprise and decided to share the road with us. Enjoy!
India has always been a location that was on the list of places to go but not really that high a priority due to I guess pre-concieved ideas about it that didn’t really interest me as much as other places. But suddenly the perfect opportunity came up to go there. I was wanting to go from my new home of Europe to my old home of New Zealand and friends were currently traveling around India for half a year and I as usual had plenty of time on my hands without much to do.
Without thinking about it too much I found out where my friends were and booked a ticket for the coming Monday to India. Anto and Ania were around Bangalore, so after a 10 hour delay in London airport and a pretty two comfortable flights I arrived at the home of their host. I had kept my arrival secret from Ania. Together with Anto we hatched a plan to make my arrival a rather big surprise for her. So I knocked on the hosts front door around 10 in the evening and Ania opens the door. It took her at least 20 seconds to realize who I was.
I guess the last thing you expect at 10pm in Bangalore is a good friend who you had been chatting to online only a few days before from London to be there. But once she realized it was me the smile on her face couldn’t be erased for hours. Some excellent covert operations skills from Anto and myself demonstrated.
So with a month ahead and no plans at all we spent a day in Bangalore discussing what to do. Pretty soon we had found a person to host us in a small town named Thirthalli in the hilly Western Ghat rain forest. Being the first time in India it was also the first time hitchhiking in India to get there. It turns out it is quite adventurous especially compared to Western Europe. The hardest part was getting to the road out of Bangalore. The bus system is pretty amazing in India, as in you never have to wait more than a few minutes for a bus and it is ridiculously cheap, but the bus out to the highway in Bangalore isn’t really easy to find the stop it begins from and is rather slow. So it took about three hours to reach our starting point.
Bangalore fortunately has a pretty modern highway leading out of it in the direction of Mumbai, and three travelers standing pretty much in the middle of it waving and thumbing at the cars quickly receives attention. Within five minutes we were packed into a car heading 40km out of town. All along the highway rides were very easy to come by. Just wait until you see a private car, avoiding taxis and buses, then thumb out and if it has space it will nearly always stop. The next part is a bit more difficult. Fortunately in this part of India English is common, but the concept of hitchhiking isn’t. So patience is needed to explain that you want a ride as far as the driver is going up the road, and you don’t want to take a bus or a taxi and that hitching does work as obviously this driver just stopped just like everyone else does. So a few hours later we were at the end of the section of highway we were traveling on. This is where hitching gets rather bad in India. We were dropped off at the edge of a small town and needed to get to the other side. Unfortunately nearly all the traffic inside of towns is rickshaws/taxis/buses and a lot of them. So hitching a ride across town is nearly impossible as if you put your arm out even to a private car, it will think you are actually waving down a rickshaw as there is always one within 20 meters of you. And the rickshaw will pull over instead of the car. So the only option to avoid rickshaws is to walk. Even though it was a small town it still took an hour of walking, and with a heavy backpack and the blazing sun especially compared to the winter in England I was just in, and the lack of footpath and piles of rubbish and cows and kids wanting to shake your hand makes the walk rather arduous.
After a delicious and crazy cheap thali lunch, we were across the town and off hitching again. This 50km ride would be the final one of the day as the sun was setting and we didn’t feel like being stuck in the unknown that night. So we took the bus the rest of the way, which is nearly just as adventurous as hitchhiking. Full of men chewing paan (a beatle nut/tabacco chewing thing that gets you a little high) who want to know everything they can think of to say in English about you. Crowded and doors wide open, swerving oncoming traffic at a breakneck speed, for 100km and about half the price of the bus that was going 3km in London.
We stayed for around a week in Thirthalli with our really generous host Aprova. It was such a pleasant town, so quiet compared to the bustling metropolis of Bangalore. But it still retained the essence of India, that is cows everywhere, no footpaths and incredible food. Aporva got carried away with showing off his region. Any time he had away from his rubber farm was spent taking us to all the secret gems of the near by Western Ghats. I was so impressed by the nature and old fortresses and how it was all so easy to access yet with a complete lack of tourism.
To really top it off Aporva took us for two nights out to some cottages his family owned deep in the rain forest near the town of Agumbe. It was a beautiful few days, we connected with nature and ate amazing cheap food. Plenty of buns! These fried banana bread things, served with a little curry and coconut chutney. AMAZING! Then at night sat around a fire and listened to stories told by one another, cooked sweet potatoes in the fire and dreamed about the tigers in the surrounding forest while staring at the stars overhead.
During the day around Agumbe we did some hiking in the rain forest. It is really strange just how different it is from European forests considering the amount of people there. It is truly wild and everything grows explosively from after the monsoons. There isn’t much of a visible human fingerprint on the forests. At the end of each walk we did we were welcomed by some amazing views.
Agumbe is quite high compared to the near by coast so you get large panoramas down over the valleys below that are lush with greenery and massive waterfalls running down the cliff faces. The highlight was arriving at the end of one trail to where we could sit in a small pond metres before a 100m high waterfall and over look the forests below as the sun set in the distance.