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Matt & Mercaders - The World Tour

TRAVEL NOTES: The Journey to Cochin was the Worst Journey of my Life

INDIA | Wednesday, 14 January 2009 | Views [1746]

Rickshaw – Train – Train – Rickshaw – Taxi – Taxi – Train – Rickshaw – Ferry – Rickshaw (29 hours)

The above summary breaks down the only way we could get to Cochin. The reason was typically Indian so I will spare you the details. What happened en route is far more interesting anyway.

It began at 6 am in Hampi. The rickshaw driver didn't show up. Probably so affronted that I had negotiated him down to 20p he'd decided it wasn't worth it. Luckily, Restaurant-Gopi rang Rickshaw-Gopi and we were on our way. The next two trains were uneventful. The usual shenanigans on Indian Rail but nothing out of the ordinary. We got off the second train at 8pm in an insanely remote town called Birur – we were 14 hours in. This is when things got weird.

No trains from here so we had to resort to a taxi for what should have been a 2 hour drive to Mangalore. Here we were supposedly going to spend the night before carrying on our journey. No sign of any taxis at Birur station. We're hussled into a rickshaw and driven to a taxi rank. As soon as we got out of the rickshaw a gaggle of taxi drivers surrounded us. Its really dark and foreign and frankly a bit unsettling. And so the negotiation begins.

It was a strange scene. Two white English tourists facing 8-10 male Indian taxi drivers (they were working as a team so my usual trick of playing one off another was useless) trying to work out a deal. Once that was struck the atmosphere instantly changed and they turned into their alter ego - ultra friendly Indians. They get all fascinated by you, all trying to carry your bags for you, opening doors for you. There was some lively banter as they worked out who was the most suitable driver in the group to take us the distance. The significance of this banter was soon to be realised. This was not a journey for an amateur.

The road was a shambles as soon as we set off. I am not exaggerating when I tell you we were grinding to a near halt every 50 metres to negotiate huge holes in the surface. The map showed the distance to go as roughly 2-3 hours. It was going to be a long journey if the quality of the road carried on like this...

And it did. For 7 hours. The reasons for the staggering amount of time it took us from start to finish is threefold. One – the road did not improve. Stop, start, stop, start, stop, start, you get the picture; two – what appeared a relatively easy stretch of road on the map was actually a mountain. No indication of this on the map of course. Endless winding bends (and stopping of starting) and 10 metre visibility thrown into the bargain because now we're in the clouds. Three – when we got there the driver didn't know Mangalore from Manchester.

(Further reasons include; the driver stopping for some food “last chance before mountain – no turning back”; the driver getting out to pray to the mountain Gods at a shrine; and the road only being wide enough for one and a half vehicles so when buses and trucks came careering towards us priority goes to the biggest vehicle i.e. not us. The driver played a dangerous game of chicken on every occasion. Terrifying.)

In Managalore we stopped 3 times to ask for directions. First guy – no idea. Next up, two lads who were fascinated by Chloe (being a white girl) who used the time when the driver was asking them for directions by staring through the back window at her. I wound up the window. Undeterred, they changed tack and peered through the front passenger seat window to get a better look. I shined my torch in their eyes. Their little squinting faces is a memory I will cherish forever. The third and final time we pulled up next to another two lads. They were typically passionate, in an Indian way, about getting us to our destination. So persistent were they that they insisted on getting in the taxi with us and accompanying us to the hotel. When they opened the back door they saw Chloe (a white girl) for the first time so panicked and instead chose – both of them – to sit in the front passenger seat rather than use the ample room around us in the back. Amazing scenes at this stage as Chloe and I sit in the back whilst 3 Indian men crammed into the front of our taxi animatedly direct us towards our hotel.

'The Journey' had left just enough time for 2 hours kip before our early morning train to Cochin. Of course, we overslept - luckily by only 25 minutes. The next half hour of will-we, wont-we make the train was pretty fraught. Mangalore is not a city to be stuck in. We made it and, after arriving we had one final kick 'em while they're down incident - our rickshaw driver wouldn't take us to our destination (a trait we're now seeing the world over). Every place we wanted to stay was either full, closed for refurbishment or permanently shut. Resistance is futile - and it genuinely is with these guys - so we settled for a nice little venue recommended by our lying driver where he could earn a few pence comission. We had a few further incidents with this very same rickshaw driver over the next few days, but these tales can wait for another day. So that's it. 29 hours.


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