It all began with an idea…as all silly experiences do. I had been looking to reinvent myself, to recapture the spirit of adventure, and September was going to be the month I did this.
The idea was to travel with as little planning as possible. I would decide where I was going on the day of travel, book my ticket (or not), run home and pack, then run to the bus station to catch the bus. It was a brilliant plan. For the past 6 months, I have been an adventurer who plans her travels to the “t” so I wanted to see if, for once, I could re-enact all those crazy travel stories told by adventurers I admire.
I had it down to two options by Saturday 1st September at 4pm: Hogenakkal Falls or Yelagiri Hills. I packed my bag in five minutes, and ran off to catch a bus to Majestic Bus Terminus. I was going to take whichever bus I found first that would go to either of the two places. I arrived at Majestic at 5 p.m, to find that there was no bus to Yelagiri Hills, and that the last bus to Hogenakkal Falls had left some hours back.
Not to worry though, one of the enquiry officers told me. I was advised to take a bus to Mysore Road Satellite Station, which is an hour outside Bangalore. There, I would find a bus to Hogenakkal. So I did, and at 6pm, we arrived at the Satellite Bus Station. I asked around for my bus, and was told there was no direct bus to Hogenakkal at that time. Thankfully, the bus conductor I asked was a quick thinker.
He told me to go to Dharmapuri, which is just 46 kilometres away from Hogenakkal. From there, I would definitely find a bus to Hogenakkal. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and Google agreed with him. I hopped on the bus, and to my dismay, we went in the exact same direction I had come from in Bangalore, meaning I had just wasted two hours on a completely unnecessary up-and-down journey. We left Bangalore at 8pm for what was supposed to be a three-hour journey to Dharmapuri.
I was happy though; this spontaneous travel thing was really working out! In retrospect, that was when I should have done the smart thing: asked to alight the bus and go home for no apparent reason. Or burst into tears. I did not know any better, so I went to Dharmapuri anyway.
We arrived there at 11.30pm. Not a single sign in the whole bus station was written in English, neither were the directions nor the timings. Everything was in Tamil or Telugu. This made no difference to me, they both looked like gibberish. I went to the police post to ask what time the next bus to Hogenakkal was, and he told me it would come between 1.00 – 1.15 a.m. This was too late, I thought, so I decided to look for a place to stay in Dharmapuri. The policeman sent a man to accompany me, so off we went to look for a lodge.
We went to over 10 lodges, and each of them claimed to be fully booked. At the last one, I was lucky to find that they had one last room. I asked them how much it was, they said 300 rupees. I told them I was going across the road to buy a packet of Oreos (I had not had supper) and then I’d be back for the room. They told me to take my time. I came back, and was told the lodge was fully booked.
I almost lost my mind. How was it possible to cross the road to buy a packet of Oreos, then come back and find the lodge fully booked? What was worst was that no one there could speak English. This conversation was carried out mostly through gestures. I gave up and went back to the bus station. It seemed I was going to have to wait for the bus. The bus station was the filthiest I have been to so far, so I preferred to stand with my bags on my back as opposed to sitting down.
Each time a bus came by, I would ask: Hogennakal? The answer would always be something I did not want to hear: Salem, Bangalore, Pennagram. The man selling chai had been looking at me with pity in his eyes. He came over and said: “Hogenakkal bus 4a.m.” I thought he was wrong, so I politely said thank you and continued minding my business.
1a.m came and passed, still no sign of the bus. 1.15a.m, nothing. At 1.30a.m, my patience ran out and I went back to the police post to ask when the bus would come, and the policeman said he had no idea. What a useless policeman, I thought. I went back to where I was standing and asked a man if he could read the signs. He told me he also was not from around and could not understand a single word…in English! I had found my golden egg! I was so happy, and I narrated to him what had happened, and how I did not know what to do since no lodge would take me in and my bus would only come at 4a.m.
He took me back to the police post, and translated my English to Hindi for the policeman, and vice versa. The policeman had no idea when the next bus would come. He also said that the reason I was unable to find a place to stay was because two weeks before, a young African man had committed suicide in a lodge at the town, so they were wary of accepting another African, lest I did the same.
I was dumbfounded: even at such a moment gone horribly wrong, I thought it was obvious from the look on my face that I love my life. I would never take it away. Secondly, that was the dumbest reasoning I had ever come across. It was so dumb, in fact, that I was not going to try to counter it. I was half annoyed at the dead young man. He really chose a bad time to die, in such a silly, small town where people are prone to such dumb logic that would lead them to believe that I would commit suicide because we happened to have the same skin colour. I also felt sorry for him. Whatever it was that would lead him to end his life was beyond my understanding. It was a very unfortunate situation.
I asked the policeman if I could sit in his office until my bus came, he said women were not allowed to be there with him. I mentioned that it was odd, given that there was a woman sleeping right there on the floor of the police post. He said she was elderly, she did not count. My golden egg and I went back to where we were standing before. He suggested that I go to another town called Salem. It was much bigger, he said, and I would not encounter the sort of obstacles that I had met in Dharmapuri when it came to finding a lodge.
At 2.30a.m, a bus came, and when I asked the conductor whether he was going to Salem, he nodded. I thanked the gentleman who had been so kind to me, and boarded the bus. I sat, somehow still stupidly positive, knowing that all was going to work out after all. The conductor came soon after to collect the bus fare. “Salem”, I said. “No Salem” he replied, and gestured that I should get off the bus. I was shocked. “Where is it going then?” I asked, to which he replied “Pennagram”.
I had two options: to get off the bus in the middle of nowhere in pitch darkness and wait for another bus (which may never have come) or to go until Pennagram and see what was there. If I liked it, I would stay. If I did not, I would get back on the bus and go back to Dharmapuri. I handed him the 14 rupees bus fare and dozed off. I was awoken when we reached Pennagram. It was a small, dusty village, one of those where you can tell that nothing happens. I asked the bus driver if there was a lodge in Pennagram. He said “No lodge. This village. Not city. Not town. No lodge.”
Read Part 2 of the story here!