Monday, November 21, 2011

bus to Munnar

Shelley and I came to the point where our itineraries went in separate directions, she became interested in an opportunity to do some volunteering with children back in Hampi, and I had the mountains of Kerala calling me up to Munnar.

 I got dropped off at the bus station and we said a bit of a difficult goodbye. I think we were both excited to be doing our own thing but it was also a little scary to be parting ways. I knew she would have Kiran, Ramesh, and the rest of Hampi to look out for her but I knew at least some of the nervousness I felt was mutually.

I grabbed my bag, which always seemed disproportionately heavy for the amount I had in it, and waved goodbye as the auto-rickshaw putted Shelley over to the train terminal.

The bus drove east for about an hour, then stopped in gravelly market place. I didn't know how long we'd be there and I was nervous to leave my bag unattended and didn't want to lug it around, so I sat, and sat, and sat as the started feeling like an oven. Eventually, someone came over to the window and sold me some bananas through the window. A few minutes later, the other passengers started piling back in, followed by the driver, then we spent the next two and a half hours slowly crawly up the small winding road into the mountain.

At each twist, the bus would honk its horn to let any on coming traffic know the road would suddenly be to thin for the both of them. Occasionally, we would get honked at right back, as it was our turn to lean halfway over the edge and let a huge, brightly decorated Tata truck roll by.

Just as I starting thinking this bus ride would last until next week, the trees thinned out and the view through the window opened up to the sight of tea plantations which seemed to stretch into eternity as they faded into the sky on one side and into the mist on the other. It was more beautiful than I'd tried to imagine, especially to someone who loves tea the way I do.

We wound through the tea hills until we arrived in the busy center of Munnar. I was the only non-Indian on the bus, so I didn't even get both feet on the ground before I was surrounded by rickshaw drivers. I immediately refused all of them, saying I would walk, which wasn't too persuading as I tried to waddled away hunched under the weight of my backpack. One man, tall, bearded, and muscular looking man was especially persistent, so I climbed into his auto-rickshaw and we drove back towards where I'd come, to the JJ Cottage guesthouse I'd chosen from the Lonely Planet, tucked on a quiet little side road leading into tea hills.

I learned two things from this;
1 - the guesthouses pay the driver a commission for bring you there, then they raise the price of the room to make up the difference.
2 - once the driver knows where you're staying, he can keep coming back to the guesthouse until you agree to have him drive you somewhere.

I told him that the next morning I was going to do some walking but after that he could take me around.

I went up to my room and decided to try to sleep early. Going from mid 30º weather in Kochi to a bit below 20º at night in Munnar, 2000+ meters above, felt much colder than I expected it would. It was the coldest night I'd felt since leaving Korea nearly six weeks earlier.

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