Saturday, May 16, 2009

Did I mention that my palace suite in Ooty had a fireplace and a jacuzzi? The Residency Towers room in Chennai has neither, it's more like an economy version of a Western Grand Hotel with lots of marble and columns. But it has a pool. Chennai (formerly Madras) itself is not very attractive; there are a few scattered temples with colorful statues piled high on the roof (the picture shows a small detail), and also a Ramakrishna temple with white columns with pink trim around a swami statue gaily hung with purple flower garlands.

It's 42 degrees and humid in Chennai. I really can't stand the heat, the humidity, the pollution, the garbage, the traffic and the incessant honking, the tenacious beggars, the slums, and the barefoot poverty anymore. I feel very tired of southern India, and I suspect I would even if it were 20 degrees cooler. I am told that the weather will stay unchanged for another two weeks, and then the monsoon rains begin.

So I have decided to take a vacation from my vacation and return to Berlin for a while. My flight leaves on Sunday. It's the wrong time of the year to forge ahead here in the tropics; Indonesia will still be there in the fall and much more pleasant. For many years my year was centered on the Siggraph convention; it's a nice thought to center this one on the monsoon season instead.

Also, my brain is full. I had a fantastic time during these two months, seeing so many places in China, Tibet, Nepal, and India, and I will surely return.

So, this blog will hibernate for a while until I return. Thanks for following me, and I'll be happy to answer questions at See you all later!
Made an excursion into the hills around Ooty. Wonderful views of the valley and the hills stretching to the horizon. There are many tea plantations. It's another warm sunny summer day, but I am told that in two weeks the monsoon will bring lots of snow, in June!

Took a local bus to Mettupalayam, a village at the bottom of the hills where my train to Chennai will depart. The bus is a decrepit wheezing dinosaur with flapping metal sheets that have come loose outside, dirty seats and dirtier windows, and it's packed with people. Seven of us squeezed into the back row, and when an eighth wanted to squeeze in, I suffered a momentarily lapse of understanding English and just smiled daftly. Tourists usually get away with that. The ride took two and a half hours for 51 kilometers and cost 17 rupees (27 euro cents).

The express train was one of those magnificent Indian trains that look like prison transports with barred windows. I got a 3AC bunk very similar to the one to Kunming in China; six bunks per compartment, which is open to the aisle. It's less modern than the Chinese one, but very few people in India smoke or spit, and nobody did on the train. It arrived in Chennai at 4:30 in the morning as the sun started to rise.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Amazing. I actually got a train ticket to Chennai tomorrow. Not the slightest bit sold out. The narrow-gauge mountain train, which somehow got Unesco World Heritage status, is booked solid well into June though.

You don't rush from one temple to the next in Ooty. It's too relaxed for that, and besides there aren't any temples. I spent most of the day in the botanical garden and the rose garden, watching people. Most Chinese women, who tend to wear practical Western clothes (they are all made there, after all), would look gorgeous in these brightly colored two-part saris popular here. But a large number of the Indian women wearing them look like boiled dumplings burst open in the middle. Not the lady in the picture though.

The rose garden is organized very methodically, but the botanical garden just drops lots of pretty flowers everywhere and leaves people to enjoy them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Maharaja of Mysore and I agree that Mysore is too hot in the summer. He owns another palace in Ooty, a hill station 100 km south at 2200m, where it is dry and cool. I like Ooty's palace much better than the one in Mysore - it's older, but a lot more cozy; everything is wood-paneled, lots of antiques, and a 45-acre garden around it. I like it so much that I got a suite there; the Maharaja owns the place but has turned it into a luxury hotel two years ago. It's hugely expensive in rupees and a steal in euros. The Maharaja can't join me today but a minister is here.

It's so good to walk around Ooty's lake in the cool dry air, smelling the pine forests and the flowers. There are absolutely no sights here besides the palace and the hill scenery, which suits me just fine.

The photo shows the palace's modest little salon.
Mysore's palace was rebuilt in 1912 after a fire, and it now looks as if they got a Victorian railroad engineer to do it. The steel structure is never completely hidden even though they hung tons of Indian ornamentation on it. It's grandiose all right, but it doesn't feel right. Only the throne room is a faithful reconstruction, it's gilded all over.

I am getting really tired of southern India, the inescapable heat and humidity, the chaos, noise, and poverty that seems the same everywhere, and the difficulty of finding good food. I had a pizza today, out of desperation (at least it was a Punjab mutton tikka pizza). I need to get out of here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Although I wasn't quite up to exploring Mysore after that 18-hour bus ride from hell, I did walk around town in the evening a little. It's the usual chaotic south Indian town, without much colonial atmosphere. They have a large partly covered bazaar where I walked for a while, striking up conversations with vendors. Most people speak English and are curious when they see a European face. It's really amazing how few Europeans I have met in the past two months of travelling.

One hour per week, the huge fairyland Maharaja Palace is lit up with a hundred thousand light bulbs, and today was the day, so I went there as well and watched the crowds.
Can't really spend time in Goa without hitting the beaches, so I hired a motorcycle driver for an excursion. Fort Aguada and Candolim are a little west of Panaji, looking out on the Arabian Sea. All the things one expects on any beach of that kind are there - beach pubs, huts for rent, white beaches with palm trees, paragliders and jet skis, and a sun so hot that it sends everyone running for cover. The lassis there are very good. What Candolim has and the others don't is a huge old rusty cargo ship grounded close to the beach.

Panaji's long-distance bus station is a long dusty strip along the Mumbai-Mangalore road. There are no signs anywhere, buses come and go and it took a while to find the right one late in the evening. I had booked a luxury bus but it turned out to be a fairly decrepit old sleeper bus with 22 body pods and some cramped seats. The motor is screaming at high rpm, and the bunks are too short, but at least is reasonably clean and the windows open. I must have managed to actually sleep a little during the ten hours to Mangalore, some 300km south.

They use a filthy hotel as a rest stop in Mangalore. I declined their offers of breakfast. The toilets - if a reeking hole in the ground in an unlit box deserves that name - are across a large courtyard; the space between the garbage piles is littered with garbage. I had decided that I don't really want to stay in Mangalore and gave the driver some cash so he'd let me stay on the bus for another eight hours to Mysore, 200km inland.

The scenery between Mangalore and Mysore is very nice, mostly dense forest with very few villages, up and down the hills called the Western Ghats. When I finally arrived in Mysore at 14:00, I felt exhausted and grubby and checked into a nice modern hotel with AC. I've had enough Indian atmosphere for today.