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Strika! Strika!

Tamil Nadu -> Karnataka
4/5/08: 

Thank God Alex & I recharged our batteries yesterday we needed to have enough fuel in the tank for today’s eventful trip to Bangalore. Our journey started at 4AM. We were eager to catch the first outbound bus with hopes to arrive in Bangalore by lunchtime. The travel time from Tiruvannamalai to Bangalore is supposed to be 6 hours.

Alex & I were the 1st passengers on board. the bus driver was preparing for departure by first playing a music video with a man chanting Om Namo Shivaya with clips of scenes from the local temple. Next, he placed flowers and incense in front of the mini photo and figurine of Shiva resting atop the dashboard. When he turned around, Alex noticed our bus driver was the same man chanting in the video. Later along the journey, the driver stopped twice to pray and give offerings at roadside shrines. If this helps us get to our destination safely, I was in total support of the driver’s devotion.

Before leaving Tiruvannamalai, the conductor made the trip down the aisle to collect the fare. Alex held up 2 fingers, “Bangalore.” In response the conductor said, “Strika. Strika. Hosa. Hosa.” Alex repeated himself as did the conductor before collecting our fare. We looked at each other and shrugged. Based on the fare and the amount of kilometers needed to get to Bangalore it seemed about right. Signs along the journey indicated we were headed in the right direction. When we approached the boarder of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka we finally understood what the conductor was trying to convey with his limited English ability, “Transportation strike. Stopping at Hosur.”

Our bus stopped in the middle of the highway once we reached the Hosur, the Tamil Nadu border town. Everyone was ordered to disembark. Alex &I followed a mob of confused people. A handful of people were boarding another bus that was supposed to transport us to the border. The bus did not make it very far before a mob of men in white surrounded the bus with 3 of the angry men jumping on board and starting to pull the driver off with force. Alex & I grabbed our packs and rushed out of the bus through the back door. Numerous buses and trucks were stopped in a chaotic jumble the middle of the road.

In the heat, we walked down the highway along with other not so happy Indian passengers toward the border. Alex & I tried to hide walking in the cover of the stopped Goods Carriers and other large vehicles to shield us from the interactions between the crazed rebel men in the white dhotis and the police in beige uniforms. This was the first time we’ve seen police actually carrying rifles. Alex & I were the only Western backpackers. I wondered if there was a way to look less conspicuous.

Despite feeling a bit dizzy from the heat and possible dehydration, I had to pee and would not be able to hold it much longer. There has never been a time I wished to be a man more. Alex spotted what looked to be an abandoned school. In front of the building, a half demolished enclosure with a walls only shoulder height at it’s tallest sans roof close to the street. I went inside. It was in fact a restroom facility with squat toilets. I hoped the school was indeed defunct so that no child ever had to use this facility in its current state. This is the most fowl sight I have ever seen. Inside weeds were growing through the cracks in the cement and some of the toilets. Shit was smeared on the walls in more places than it was not. Critters scurried about. When you have to go, you have to go. Why did I choose to not wear a skirt today? In Laos I would squat on the side of the road with the other ladies. Today, I was wearing shorts. I pulled down enough to aim and shoot just inside the walls for no one to see my lady parts. I’ve never been more disgusted and relieved at the same time!

A 5K walk usually is no problem for me and Alex. However, we were walking laden with our heavy packs in what felt like to be an oven heated by the sun baking us alive with its unrelenting rays. Roughly 3 kilometers into our walk I spotted what I thought to be a mirage, a stand with a man selling soft drinks. Alex & I were thrilled to discover it was not an illusion. The first day in India when I was recovering from food poisoning, Alex balked at buying me a Sprite for 40 Rs ($1) I wanted to help sooth my nausea. Today without blinking, he handed over 150 rupees for 2 Coca-Cola’s to an entrepreneurial angel.

Others with misery written all over their faces also approached the stand. Alex & I stood with an Indian family and an Indian couple dressed in Western clothing drinking the sweet sugary beverage delivered from whatever god the lot of us believed in. Everyone’s frowning faces were transformed into blissful smiles. This moment surely could be exploited by the marketing department in Atlanta to update the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad. Sadly, I would agree Coca-Cola is truly a global drink that connects us all despite cultural differences. Drinking a Coke (or Pepsi) has opened the door for me and Alex to interact with locals on multiple occasions throughout our travels.  Although I rarely drink Coca-Cola, it has also been a lifesaver when I’ve been overheated and dehydrated.

After replenishing with fluid filled with simple sugars, Alex and I got the energy boost we needed to walk 2 more kilometers to the Tamil Nadu border and the extra kilometer tacked on once in Karnataka to catch a bus. Thankfully we did not have to trudge the entire way to the bus station. We were able to flag down a Bangalore bound bus on the road as it was leaving town and hop aboard.

Theoretically Bangalore is only an hour away. As we got closer to the city, our speed gradually slowed to a crawl in the congested traffic. Neither Alex nor I minded this too much. We were just happy to just be sitting on transportation and out of the sun. Although completely spent, I felt alive. Having to navigate to the border on foot was fun because it made an adventure out of our voyage. Of course this is after the fact.

Bangalore or Bengaluru is the 4th largest city in India but the second fastest growing metropolis. This rampant growth is thanks to the information technology boom making it the Silicon Valley of India. As we approached, we were able to observe this urban sprawl. There was a mix of slums, colonial buildings and modern high-rises.

Finally, we made it to the heart of the city at the bus terminal. Alex did not make an attempt to walk to our target accommodation and immediately accepted a ride from the first rickshaw driver that approached us. There was no energy needed to haggle for the fare thanks to the rickshaw being metered. The short ride to our hotel was a nail biter. It felt like the 1st time we took a tuk-tuk in Thailand. The traffic is more chaotic than usual. It’s every man for himself. No one yields. Our rickshaw driver plowed through traffic and had a few close calls with much larger vehicles. Thanks to the congestion, the traffic does not move very quickly. I am sure any collision feels just like a tap. Regardless, I was not eager to have this type of experience.

Alex & I were thrilled our target hotel had 1 room left with air-conditioning, hot water and a TV. Once in our room, we dropped our packs and plopped onto the bed happy to be off our feet and in ice-cold AC. Our 6 turned 12 hour journey was now finished. We were ravenous but our bodies were now on strike. Fortunately, our hotel was connected to a restaurant more then happy to provide room service. We remained horizontal for the remainder of the evening doing the only activity our bodies permitted: channel surfing.

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