Read Part 1 of the story here!
I got back on the bus. At 3 a.m, we began our journey back to Dharmapuri. The conductor came to ask me for bus fare, and I barked at him: “I’m not paying you! It is your bloody fault I’m in the middle of nowhere! I asked you if it was going to Salem and you said yes! You were wrong! You owe me, so I am not going to pay you! I am the only passenger on your bus anyway! Go away!” He probably thought I was crazy (he did not understand English) and he backed off slowly.
We arrived back at Dharmapuri at 3.30a.m. The bus driver dropped me off at a lodge, and said they would be open. I walked in, and found all the workers asleep on the floor. I hit one on the back, he woke up and I asked him if he had a room. He said it was full. Not again, I thought. I went to the second lodge, where I had to wake the receptionist up, again. He had some rooms. Each was 300 rupees. I asked him to show me one. It was shabby, with stained sheets and tiles, but it would have to do. I began settling in, and he told me it was going to be 315 rupees. I asked him whether the price increased as we went up the stairs, but he did not get it.
I had to go downstairs and register. I started writing my details in the hotel’s guest book, and the man asked me for 400 rupees. I had just about had enough. How did the price keep increasing with each minute? I told him I was not stupid, and asked him why the price kept increasing. He kept mumbling in Tamil. He also did not speak much English, and after some time, he shouted “No Tamil, no room!” I was actually being denied accommodation because I could not speak Tamil.
I went straight to the police post, which was five minutes away, after that. I burst in, and there was another policeman along with the one I had interacted with. I screamed: “Do you speak English?” He said “Little.” I shouted back “Well, when does the damn bus to Hogenakkal come here? This other man said it would come at 1a.m, it never came! Do you know when it comes? Do you know anything about that bus?” To which he responded with a head bob.
A head bob is probably the most infuriating response you can get at such a moment, because it means absolutely nothing. It is non-committal, both hot and cold. Both yes and no. Sometimes maybe. It is what you do to avoid having to say anything else, to get rid of the person speaking to you, or when you have not understood a single thing and you want the person speaking to you to think you have. Later on, when they ask why you said yes when you did not understand anything, you can say that you bobbed your head, you did not nod it. Big difference! Never take a head bob for an answer. It will be your undoing.
I was furious. I began to scream at the policemen. I just needed an outlet for all my fury. It is a universal unspoken rule that you do not go mouthing off at policemen, but at that point, I just did not care. I started by listing to them the ways in which they were inefficient, ineffective and quite possibly useless. They were better off not being there, since one of them even gave me the wrong information. I asked them what sort of state this is they were running, one where people who spoke neither Tamil nor Telugu were better off dead than walking. At first, they had a look on their faces that suggested they thought I was insane. The look changed to that of worry, which quickly morphed into that of fear. That was after about 10 minutes of my shouting. They said something to each other, and slowly stood up and walked out of the police post. They left me shouting at myself.
When I was done shouting (I continued even after they left), I felt relief. It was great to have gotten my anger off my chest. I turned to leave the police post, and a small crowd had gathered outside, possibly hoping to be entertained. “Too bad for you, you don’t even understand what I’m saying!” I thought. It was 3.50 a.m.
It turns out the chai guy was correct. The bus did come at 4 a.m. Everyone ran towards it in a frenzy, and by the time I made it to the door, people were already hanging from it. I would have to wait for the next bus. It came in 20 minutes, and this time, I managed to beat most of the people into the bus and get myself a chair. The conductor came to collect bus fare, and I asked him: “Hogenakkal?” to which he nodded. I was finally going to see the waterfalls!
I awoke to calls of “Last stop! Last stop!” half an hour later, and I stretched and got off the bus. It was 5.30 a.m, probably too early to be allowed into the waterfalls, so I thought I’d go to a hotel to freshen up, and then go to the falls at 7 a.m. There was only one recommended hotel in Hogenakkal, Hotel Tamil Nadu. I flagged down an auto driver and told him where I wanted to go. He told me there was no such hotel in that area.
I thought he was just ignorant, so I told him I would find another rickshaw, which I did. Only that he did not even know how to say “Yes” or “No” in English; we could not communicate because he could only speak Tamil. Not even a word of Hindi. I finally came across some old men who seemed like they would know a thing or two about the place. I told them I was looking for Hotel Tamil Nadu. They asked me where it was, and I said “Hogenakkal, here!” to which they responded “This not Hogenakkal! This Pennagram! Hogenakkal 16 kilometres!”
At that moment, I knew that I was going to lose my mind. It was 6.30 a.m. This was the second time I had been to Pennagram unintentionally. As I was fuming, a kind young man walked up to me to ask what I was looking for, and I asked him to stay away from me if he could not speak good English. He told me he could, and asked me what was wrong. I proceeded to rant about my experience and why Tamil Nadu was the worst state I had ever been to in India, and how they should have a huge sign at all entry points saying “No foreigners allowed!” because it was clear they did not want any. I told him I regretted coming, and all I wanted was to get over and done with my sightseeing and head back to Bangalore.
He apologized on behalf of his state, and told me he would tell me when my bus came. Then, he left me to my woes. At 7 a.m, he came back and told me to get on the bus that had just arrived. I was hesitant, and he swore to me that it was the correct bus. He told me that if it was not, I could come back and scold him. Fair enough, I thought. I got on the bus, and at 7.30 a.m, we left for Hogenakkal, which was 16 kilometres away.
One hour later, we were there. Just to be sure, I asked a street vendor at the bus stop: “Hogenakkal?” and he nodded. I was finally there, but I could not smile. I was too worn out. The usual cheers and jeers at foreigners being directed at me were met with nonchalance, and a stone face. I honestly could not care less. Those asking for a photograph were ignored without as much as a look in the face. The ones who really got on my nerves got the finger. I just wanted to see those waterfalls, get my feet wet, take some pictures, enjoy my quiet time and head back home.
As always, all bad experiences teach you something. This one also made for particularly beautiful pictures, and peace of mind when I toured the waterfalls. Severally, throughout the whole experience, I had thought of calling it quits and going back to Bangalore, but that would have rendered all my troubles pointless. I stuck it through, and learnt a lesson in perseverance. I also learnt that spontaneity in Tamil Nadu is liable for punishment, when going there I would advise that you plan in advance. Lastly, I learnt that bad decisions sometimes make for good stories.