I’m back in India attempting to go from the very south up to Nepal overland (i.e. via train and bus). To facilitate this little adventure, I booked my flight from Bangkok to Thiruvananthapuram, India (try saying that three times fast… I don’t even know how to say it properly once… luckily locals still refer to it by it’s older name, Trivandrum), which is the southernmost airport in India that accommodates international flights. I figured from there, it was a pretty short hop to the very southern tip of India, from which I could start my journey north (why not go all the way south if I could right?). Now, when I really finally made up my mind to do this, I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand… so it turned out that just getting to the southernmost point in India was going to be a journey all in of itself.
To kick things off, I boarded the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at 4 PM on the afternoon on March 1st. I arrived at Bangkok the next morning at 7 AM (March 2nd)… for the record, a distance of 750 kilometers over 15 hours. Upon arrival in Bangkok I was a bit woozy (I seem to alternate between sleeping really well and really poorly on overnight trains… and this one was in the latter category), but, luckily, Bangkok’s main train station has no shortage of food and coffee places so I could fuel up for my day (one nice thing is that they also have a public shower facility, which, for $3.25, inclusive of towel and soap, I gladly took advantage of). Why, of why am I using the term “fuel up for my day here?” Well, let me tell you… I had a mission… a mission to track down a package somewhere in Bangkok… and I had to get the sucker done before 1 PM that same day as my flight to India was leaving at 7 PM that night (1 PM being the closing time of the main Bangkok post office that day as it was a Saturday). You see, my friends had shipped me a new kindle as a birthday present (to replace the one stolen from my room in Goa), and I had them send it to Bangkok as I knew I’d be back that way at some point for a flight out of Thailand… so I gave them the address of my old hotel to have it sent there. According to the tracking system (USPS and Thai Post), delivery had been attempted, but, since I needed to pay some excise taxes and I wasn’t present for delivery, the package was being held. The only problem with the information was that I couldn’t figure out exactly where the package was being held. I made the assumption that it had to be at the central post office, and, since I got in so early, I figured I’d have plenty of time to get online, figure out where the central post office was, go there and pick it up… no problem right? Well… easier said then done as it turned out, and maybe I’ll tell the whole story in another post someday, but getting that kindle came down to sweet talking/convincing/cash compensating a post office employee 30 minutes after closing time at a non-central post office location… mission accomplished though.
Kindle in hand, after grabbing a bite to eat. I get back on the metro and head back to an internet cafe near the main train station to lunch, cool off and book a hotel in India for two nights hence. At the appropriate time, I get my bags and take the train out to the Bangkok airport for my flight. Now… I’ve been running around Bangkok all day and it’s hot here… so frankly, I’m pretty stinky at this point. But when I’m in need, Bangkok seems to provide, as once I’m into the terminal (past security, check-in and immigration), I see a spa service advertising showers… yes. Now, I had already taken one shower at a public facility that morning in the train station, but I definitely needed another. And let me tell you, that airport shower was was night and day compared to the shower earlier at the train station… man, oh man… the airport shower was heaven. I think it was the nicest shower I’ve had since the first hotel I stayed in upon my arrival in Thailand three weeks prior… luxury even… hot water, nice soap, towels, an actual private room… so, so nice (granted it was much more expensive than the one in the train station… about $20.00… but it was worth every penny). Feeling clean and refreshed, I got something to eat and got on my flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka (yes… not quite to India yet).
So here’s the thing about flying cheaply… you don’t always get the best scheduling… and this was no exception. My 7 PM flight from Bangkok took about 4 hours to arrive in Sri Lanka around 9 PM (time changes and all), but my flight from Colombo to Thiruvananthapuram, India didn’t depart until 7:45 AM the following day… necessitating spending the night in the airport (you can’t leave the airport as that requires clearing immigration, which requires obtaining a Sri Lankan visa prior to arrival in Sri Lanka). Now, upon arrival, I found out there was a transit hotel in the airport terminal, but 6 hours in a room was $65 USD… and since I’m telling myself that I’m on an adventure, I figured I’d just sleep in the terminal. To that end, I found some appropriate looking benches and did just that. I only had my small carry-on bag (in which I’d packed some toiletries and extra clothes as I know I was likely going to be spending the night in the airport) and my sleeping bag to use as a pillow. I found an empty bench, used the nearby bathroom to clean up a bit, read until I was tired, then put in my ear plugs, wrapped my scarf over my eyes and went to bed (I kept the strap of my bag wrapped around my arm to prevent theft) and I actually ended up sleeping pretty well… waking up only to turn over a couple of times… I even slept until my alarm went off at 6:15 AM. At this point, I’m really thankful for that shower in the Bangkok airport the night before as I feel pretty clean (being in only air conditioned places since then). I clean up a bit, have breakfast, and board my plane to India… but… it’s not quite over yet.
Once I arrive India, I clear immigration with no problems and find myself outside the Trivandrum airport .. now I just need to find my way 90 kilometers south to the southern tip of India (aka, the town of Kanyakumari). I bargain with a taxi guy to get me down to the bus/train station in the middle of town (they’re right across the street from each other according to my guidebook)… fun note on bargaining, I got the taxi ride down to below the pre-paid taxi stand price, but the cost was having two locals ride in the cab with me… I’ve noticed this happens quite a bit in developing countries. You’ll agree to a price with the driver (maybe you get a good price too easily in retrospect), and as you’re getting in the cab, some locals (or at least someone from that country) will get in with you… these folks having already made a deal with the driver to pay much less than you are paying for the same ride… so you know you’re kinda getting screwed, but there’s not much you can do about it. I really only made a big deal about it once, in Ethiopia, where myself and another tourist were sharing a taxi with a local who was riding in the front. The driver was whinging the whole time about having to make an extra stop to drop me off (it was only slightly out of the way but this guy was bitching like a fat kid who got his cup cake stolen) so I told him that he could collect the difference from the passenger in the front seat as we know she’s paying less than us for the same ride… that shut him up at least (until about five minutes before he dropped me off when he, all the sudden, became super friendly… you can see where this is going right… only to ask me for a tip once we got to my destination… I told him, again, to get it from the girl in the front seat). Anyways… back to India. The cab driver drops me off at the correct place (the bus station just being the sidewalk across the street from the train station)… now, based on the train schedule I had looked up in Bangkok, I missed the morning train to Kanyakumari, and the next one didn’t come through until 5 PMish… so I decided to look for a bus. I asked some dudes in uniform who looked official a and they told me the next bus left in 20 minutes… perfect… bus it is then. I wait for about 5 minutes when an old man approaches me… he points at me, says Kanyakumari, and then points at a bus just up the road. I say yes, Kanyakumari, but then look over at the official looking folks to confirm what this guy is saying. They give me the Indian head wobble… and I have no idea what it means this time. I look at the old man, who says the same things again, only louder, and then look over at the officials, who continue to wobble at me. We all do about three takes of this dance, me glancing back and forth like I’m watching a tennis match, the old man shouting and the officials head wobbling… finally, to break the stalemate, the old man just grabs my arm and starts dragging me to the bus. For some reason, this doesn’t feel hostile at all… and I’m comforted by the fact that he really doesn’t speak good English (I find that people who approach you on the street anywhere that speak English well are generally trying to scam you somehow)… he drags me over to a bus, points and shouts Kanyakumari at me. I ask a guy, who appears to be the driver, if this is the bus to Kanyakumari (I actually point to the bus and just say Kanyakumari), to which he head wobbles, but it’s a seemingly affirmative wobble this time. I thank the old man and begin to get out some rupees for a tip, but the guy wanders off before I can even look up. I get on the bus… I didn’t take a picture, but just picture a bus in a similar condition to the old yellow school buses we sued to ride… hard seats, no frills, sliding windows (which, in this case, are metal, not glass)… only packed cheek to jowl with Indians. Luckily, I’m one of the first ones on, so I score a seat (about 15 people ended up standing in the aisle), put my bag underneath and wait for the lucky person who gets to sit next to me (as you can imagine, seats on an Indian public bus are rather small, and I’m not, so I tend to take up about a seat and half, and, given how crowded these things get, I always manage to get someone crammed in the seat next to me… generally the last guy on the bus to take the last available seat before having to stand). One lucky guy plops down next to me, some folks crowd into the aisle and we are off. Now… it’s not the fastest ride ever… as the way south is only a two-lane road that is constantly winding through villages, and the bus stops every now and again to pick up and drop off passengers… so it takes about 2 and a half hours to drive the 90 kilometers (quite the bargain actually at 58 Rupees, or about $1.05)… but I arrive just fine and check into my hotel. I clean up, eat and take a nap waiting for the afternoon heat to wear off before going out and exploring.
Now, as I found out, India’s southernmost point is home to the town of Kanyakumari and is a sacred site for Hindus. It’s where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean all meet, and it’s maybe one of the handful of places in the world where one can, from the same spot, see the sunrise and sunset over the water. The town itself isn’t all that appealing… there’s a couple of nice temples, about 100 crap hotels, tons of little roadside shops and restaurants and lots of tourists (primarily Indian and on day trips). I spent some time checking in with travel agents about transport to Madurai the following day, but then wandered all over town… checking out a couple temples, some street-side food stalls and a museum dedicated to Swami Vivikanada. After that, I made my way down to the actual southernmost point in India to watch the sunset. An easy dinner, a beer at bar (one of the few), some route planning and early to bed as I was pretty tired from just getting here (plus I had to wake up early for sunrise). At 6 AM (it’s now March 4th) I was up and out the door to the same spot where I had watched the sunset the night before to watch the sunrise over the water (from the other direction of course)… quite lovely. Then some exercise cleaning up, breakfast, packing and some reading and I was off at noon to catch my mini-bus up to Madurai…
A short recap:
3/1: Train from Chaing Mai to Bangkok, 15 hours, 750 kilometers.
3/2: Flight from Bangkok to Colombo, 4 hours, 5,770 kilometers.
3/3: Flight from Colombo to Thiruvananthapuram, 1.5 Hours, 1,410 kilometers.
3/3: Bus from Thiruvavavthapuram to Kanyakumari, 2.5 hours 90 kilometers.
Totals (3/1-3/3): 23 hours of actual transit time over three days to go 8,020 kilometers (and I’m just getting started)…