Our last few days in Ooty had us keeping it almost unfeasibly real and
plumbing new depths of traveller verisimilitude by taking buses
everywhere. Indian bus journeys differ from their UK counterparts in
that the drivers are convinced that their vehicles have the performance
characteristics and road handling of Ferraris, rather than skips on
wheels. The local sineage is also fun - 'You are on hairpin bend no.2.
of 36' and 'Accident zone'. And, if you can't read the signs, there are
also plenty of upturned buses on the side which add spice to your
journey by reminding you that there is a small but real possibility that
every hairpin bend will be your last.
After our 36 bends, we pitched up in Mysore which, in spite of its
rather venereal sounding name is a charming and verdant place (by Indian
metropolitan standards anyway); it's also the only city in India I have
seen pavements actually used for walking on. As well as being generally
agreeable, Mysore has an spectacular and highly ornate palace which,
like so many other places in India is far more attractive and
interesting than the Taj Mahal; it also costs about a tenth as much to
visit. I'm not sure when it happened, but clearly at some point in the
60s a group of Indian grandees decided that the Taj was their country's
most interesting monument, even though its interior is about as
fascinating as the loo at McDonald's. Mysore's charms were further
enhanced because we had company. At our hotel (The Ritz, where else?) we
met a Mancunian couple called Ed and Sam. Not only were they good
company, but they also gave us a few copies of Esquire and OK! This may
not sound like much, but after a month on The Hindu Times and water,
exclusive in depth Interviews with Liz Hurley and Brooklyn Beckham are
not to be sniffed at.
The World's most Hopeless Man
Mysore 'done' to our satisfaction, the four of us decided to head up to
Hampi, an immense collection of ruined temples somewhere vaguely to the
north. And it was on our train we met the world's most hopeless man.
After settling into our second class sleeper compartment (keeping it
hyperreal, natch) with an extremely stout Indian fellow whose jewellery
suggested he shopped at the same place as Mr T, Ed, Sam and I left the
train to get some water. There was a rather lost looking English bloke
on the station and, being kind hearted types, we asked him if he was
lost. He told us he'd missed his connection, something which is
surprisingly difficult to do in India. No problem, I replied, you're
going to the same place as us - just get on this train and sort it out
with the ticket inspector. Matthew, as he was called then went to get
some food and we offered to watch his bags. This was the first sign of
trouble. He handed Ed an unpleasant looking towel saying it contained a
dog. We laughed but when we looked inside and, sure enough, there was an
adorable two week old baby puppy.
Matthew then followed us back to our carriage and he and 'Munchie' -
what sort of dope addled moron calls their dog Munchie? - decided to
share our compartment. We began chatting to Matthew and shortly
afterwards began regretting our earlier kindness, but what what the heck
- he had a cute puppy and Ed loved dogs. A few minutes later I was idly
wondering at what age dogs became housebroken, when I heard a shout and
saw Ed holding up a still-dribbling pup to reveal an incontinence-sized
wet patch on his shorts.
But Ed freshened up like a man, conversation resumed and Matthew started
putting flesh on the bones of his peculiarities. Sam, due to her
proximity to our new chum, did most of the talking and, from what I
could gather he was deeply committed to the Tibettan cause and highly
critical of India's stance, though his understanding of what India's
stance might be was incredibly vague. He then explained that his goal
was to come to India and live like an aristocrat; his physical
appearance suggested that his notions of how the artistocracy live were
even more vague than his knowledge of Tibet. Sam asked him what sense of
achievement this would result in and he replied that this would be 'an
achievement in itself'; to be fair, I guess you could apply this
description to going to the toilet successfully. Then he added that he
was running from the person he'd become. Finally something we could all
Conversation turned back to 'Munchie' who Matthew claimed to have
'rescued', saying he'd found her under a tree; the way he explained it
had me wondering if Munchie had been 'rescued' from her mother, who had
been off looking for food. He then demonstrated his canine know-how by
feeding the puppy an orange which would later cause it to shit all over
the carriage. Which Ed would then clean up; unfortunately Matthew's
loco-parentis duties did not extend to the pooper scooper. Having given
the dog diarrhoea he then told us that later this year he would be
escorting a Tibetan child home across the Himalayas. I am very glad that
he was almost certainly talking a pile of crap as having seen him in
action with a puppy, I wouldn't let him near a child.
Six o'clock in the morning and Matthew was on wake up duty: 'We're here.
Wake up! Wake up!' 'No Matthew, we don't reach our station until 8:00
and by the way, has Munchie left us any more prezzies?' Two hours later,
when we finally did reach our stop, he had rather inexplicably (and to
our considerable relief) decided he was going elsewhere though he didn't
seem to know where. As we bade him an unfond farewell my only wish was
that Munchie would survive long enough savage him as he slept.
The World's most Irritating Man
Tired, but glad to be shot of the world's most hopeless man, we set off
to Hampi in high spirits; little did we know that there, lying in wait
for us, was the world's most irritating man (WMIN). Hampi is bisected by
a river that must be crossed by boat and when our driver dropped us off,
we asked the WMIM for directions to the crossing. He said he'd take us
there. No, we just wanted directions; he insisted his brother owned the
boat. OK, we said, but we're not paying your to take us to a hotel so
you can collect a comission for following us. At the boat he wouldn't
leave, at the far side of river he wouldn't leave. Look, said Ed, you
showed us your brother's boat, we didn't ask for you to come - now go.
No dice. In fact all he would say was 'Bo! Ashanti!(the name of our
hotel)' We asked him rather more forcefully: 'Bo! Ashanti!' As we walked
down a dusty track with heavy rucksacks under a boiling sun he continued
to bounce along trying to drag us into hotels which would pay him a
Anyone overhearing our conversation would have heard the following.
Me: Look, please will you leave us alone.
WMIM: Bo! Ashanti!
Ed: Look mate, just fuck off will you.
WMIM: Bo! Ashanti!
Me: We'll pay you. Just go away.
WMIM: Bo! Ashanti!
Me: It's a shame he's quite old. I'd threaten to hit him.
WMIM: Bo! Ashanti!
Ed: Fuck off will you.
WMIM: Bo! Ashanti!
Me: Will you PLEASE just fuck off! At which point everyone started
wetting themselves; I guess if you're telling someone to fuck off,
'please' is a little redunant.
When we reached our hotel (not the Ashanti, which didn't look that
great) we explained to the owner that the WMIM was also the world's
biggest pain in the arse and should, under no circumstances, be given
any commission; the owner told him to bugger off. No prizes for guessing
the WMIM's response. While we ate breakfast, he sat down five meters
away, wearing us down, emanating thermonuclear irritation. Much as we
didn't want to crumble the WMIM was made of sterner (or perhaps just
more irritating) stuff than we and we eventually we paid him to go away.
Not much though, and something in Ed's voice must have convinced him
that if he hung around much longer somebody might actually hit him.
For all this, Hampi was a charming little place. Rice paddies so green
they look artificial, surreal rock formations and ancient temples dotted
all over the place. Staring at this wonderful, magical vista I was moved
to comment that the rocks reminded me of the wild west ride at
Disneyland; Sam added that the whole vista reminded her of the
Flintstones. I don't know what it says our generation's cultural
goalposts, that when required to describe a timeless eastern landscape,
one of us reaches for an tacky American theme park while another cites a
Hampi is, of course, all about ancient monuments and we tried hard to
culture ourselves though we were hampered by the temperatures which were
in the 40s. I'm quite sure we didn't do the site any real justice, but,
before we wilted, we did manage to see a number of very fine temples. I
found one of these particularly impressive, dedicated as it was to an
extremely stylish looking god with six arms and his seven headed serpent
familiar. When you think about it, it's hardly surprising that British
schools only teach Christianity in RE lessons. If, as a ten-year old,
you were given the choice between worshipping an old guy who lives in
the sky and a really smart monster with a seven headed snake, which
would you go for?
Hampi's heat was a problem though, as were its mosquitoes. And the same
day that Ed and Sam headed off to ctach a plane from Bombay/Mumbai we
left for Goa. But before we say farewell to Hampi, it's worth noting
that if you ever want to really, really drop out, you could do far worse
than become a boatman in Hampi. The river is about 50 metres wide and
all they do is row people across in hemispherical coracles all day.
Well, that and smoke the most enormous amount of weed: every time we
went to get a boat, one of them would have a jazz cigarette or hash pipe
on the go. A lot has been written about the dangers and problems drugs
cause in the workplace, but I have seen few folk happier and more
fulfilled in their jobs than the Hampi boatmen.
Dropping out is all very well, but I'd like to end on a note of personal
triumph and achievement. Anyone who's been reading these dispatches
since the beginning may remember that in our first week in Delhi we were
shafted good and hard by one of the capital's innumerable dishonest
travel agents. Wewll, I'm pleased to say, after an email battle that has
lasted the duration of my stay in India, the slimy git has finally
agreed to refund our money. In his last email, he says, that this type
of situation has 'never arisen' before. I presume that by this, he means
he has never had to refund money to anyome he's conned before.