High and dry at two in the morning

Yesterday we chose to leave Hampi. It can be easy to spend a long time in such a peaceful place and we both wanted to maintain a sense of momentum with our journey. Looking online for train tickets that could accommodate our escape was fruitless, all tickets were on waitlist, meaning that the chances of us getting a ticket were slim to none. So with this option behind us we resigned to catch a coach and so paid a visit to the nearest travel agency.

We had heard from other travellers that Gokarna was a pleasant coastal town with some beautiful beaches and a progressive attitude towards women’s independence, and thought that it would suit our schedule to head there next. The town is south of Goa and so would continue our trend of heading towards Kerala and give us chance to explore more of Karnataka.

The travel agent assured us that we could take a bus from Hampi direct to Gokarna, embarking at 6.30pm and arriving at 4.30am. So far so good.

Our journey started well, with the only problem being the general state of India’s road network, which shook and jostled the bus hour after hour. We had been assigned a double berth which was a fairly large bed behind a sliding door. We had a window which opened and amused ourselves watching some of the weird and wonderful Indian traffic go past. At one point, a tractor covered in tinsel and fairy lights steamed past playing bhangra music at top volume.

The staff on the bus had a faint grasp of English and tried to collect our tickets from us three times throughout the journey despite already having collected them at the door. This required some stern reasoning and we weren’t the only ones struggling to communicate. A Hollander was caught short and had to cajole the driver to pull over for respite; a conversation that got very animated.

Finally we drifted off to sleep, seemingly woken moments later with shouts of ‘Gokarna’ from the front. Stepping blearily off the bus, we waited to collect our bags and I flipped open my phone to check our current location. I waited a moment for the GPS to fix and took stock of our surroundings. It was 2am and we had been dropped in a service layby. A few shops and a grotty toilet block stood to one side, a road busy with heavy freight to the other. Looking back to my phone, I saw that we were only outside of Ankola, a town about ten miles to the north of our destination.

I turned to the driver who was busy unloading bags and demanded to know how we were to get on to Gokarna from here. He made a vague wave towards the shops and said ‘Bus’.

At this point other travellers were disembarking and word soon got around as to where we stood. Heated arguments started up as to the fact we were promised transit directly to Gokarna but the bus driver was not entertaining any of it. With the last of our bags removed from the back of the bus, he vaulted through the front door and the bus tore off into the distance leaving sixteen of us standing there aghast.

We looked around for a shuttle bus that *may* have been dispatched to collect us and take us onwards, but this notion quickly became dispelled and we realised we were all stuck.

I began talking to the only Indian traveller in our group who seemed quite resigned to what had just happened and suggested we find some different form of travel to take us onwards. Luckily he knew some of the local language and was able to negotiate a price to hire a minibus which would complete our journey. The next hurdle was getting everyone to agree on the RS160 per head, a task which I took on. Most of our group were Israeli and seemed quite content to sit on the side of the road till dawn when they assumed a bus would arrive to collect them. Eventually however everyone grew bored of standing around and consensus was reached. Ten minutes later the oldest, rustiest minibus I have ever seen lurched into view and we all clambered aboard apprehensively.

With our bags strapped to the top of the small bus and all sixteen of us crammed in like sardines we began the final leg of our journey down sandy and bumpy roads. As we pulled in to the final stop a cheer went up and we spilled out into the cool night’s air.