The last week has seen us leave the sun-dappled sands of Om Beach and resume our journey into India. The beaches at Gokarna were, for me, particularly idyllic and whilst I was at first reluctant to consider moving on with much of the coast still unexplored, it began to feel like we were treading water a little, and so we set our sights once again further south and onwards into neighbouring states.
One poignant problem with India is that it is so vast, and even with a six-month tourist visa granted, it seems unlikely we will get chance to visit everything we have earmarked so far. Logistically, we have had a few conundrums, especially with respect to train travel. For instance, it can often be incredibly hard to secure tickets out of places, and several times we have been effectively stuck till a reservation becomes available. We could get around this by ordering a couple of weeks ahead each time, but then you have no real idea of how long a particular place requires your attention to get the most out of it… very frustrating.
Our next halt was in Mangalore to the very south of Karnataka. This small port city was chosen to help break up the travel to Kerala and weirdly I was feeling the urge to get back into the thick of it (which is very unlike me as I get rather twitchy in large populations). This feeling did not last long though as our first foray into the city took us into the strangest neighbourhood I have ever encountered. The entire district was full of scrap metal and broken cars. Piles and rows of rusting parts lay stacked aside houses and small garages. From the windows unfriendly faces stared out, confused by our presence. It was like an industrialised western movie, a ball of barbed wire tumbled listlessly along the dusty road. Even the rickshaws seemed to know enough to stay out and for the first time in any Indian city I encountered a very real silence, free of the incessant blaring and barking of horns.
After a while, we made our way free of the strange district and found ourselves coming back into civilisation. We grabbed the first rickshaw driver we came across and had him take us to the chapel of St. Aloysius which had frescos and paintings adorning every wall and ceiling. Antonio Moscheni – the Italian Jesuit who painted it – had worked wonders and both Nicole and I stood slack-jawed looking at the stories each wall told.
Leaving the chapel we were back into the traffic, the people and the pollution. We decided that rather than tarry any longer in Mangalore, we should move on. Unfortunately there were no trains available for another two days so we searched around for something to do. Luckily we found a cinema, and as we were both feeling a little like India had swallowed us whole, felt that watching an English language film might be just the ointment. We bought two tickets to see Gravity. I was expecting the experience to mellow out the experience of the city a little, to take our minds off the fact that we were immersed in such a different culture. Well the film sure took my mind off of everything but what was on screen. The move was a roller-coaster ride and I left the cinema with my heart still pounding.
We found a few nice places to eat, including an ice cream parlour which Nicole didn’t want to leave. Finally however our time was up, and we made our way back down to the station.
We are on the train at the moment, we have crossed the border into Kerala, but the train will take us out east into Tamil Nadu. We change at Coimbatore for Mettupalayam, and then again for our destination of Ooty. Colloquially named Snooty Ooty, this hill fort settlement was once the retreat of the British gentry who would seek refuge from the summer heat in the cities. Elevated high up in mountainous terrain there are many hill walks and a leisurely pace of life to be found from all accounts. After Mangalore, I cant wait.