On the road south

The first stop past Goa was Bangalore or Bengaluru which is now its correct name. It comes from the local Kannada language Benda-kaal-uru. It means essentially “place of the boiled beans”. There is a legend behind it but that is open to some debate. Follow that link if you want to delve deeper. It was surprisingly green and pleasant. The tree lined streets were not what I was expecting. It doesn’t seem as big as it is, at 12.3 million people it’s not very large by Indian standards but hardly small. It is one of the main centres of Indian IT so that should probably make it one of the centres of world IT. Not that I really saw much evidence of that. I had booked a stopover here for a couple of days with the thought of just having a look at the city itself but that was, in hindsight, a bit of a mistake. The neighbouring places of Mysore (Mysuru) and Ooty are attractive destinations in themselves. I knew we were not really going to make it to Ooty but only realised later how attractive the sights were in Mysuru. It is a pleasant place itself and has a famous palace. In the end we made a one-day trip there by hiring a taxi which included a stop off at a place called Srirangapatna, which is home to another old palace that was rather fascinating. I have included some pictures of it under the Mysore tab. It was about 150km to Mysore from Bangalore, a 300km round trip. That is quite long by Indian standards as roads are usually in poor condition and clogged. This road was better than usual but still was a bit of a slog. I was a victim of my own poor planning. It was worth the journey anyway but I left both places feeling I hadn’t really done them justice. Not to worry, we still saw quite a bit during our stay.

In the background of this has been the latest dust up between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This was triggered by a hideous loss of life (more that 40) in a suicide bombing of an Indian army convoy by a terrorist group in Pulwama, Kashmir in February. This led to an Indian incursion into Pakistani territory to bomb a supposed terrorist training camp, an Indian plane getting shot down followed by the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, handing the surviving captured pilot back to India in a gesture of supposed goodwill. Pakistan has been fairly conciliatory but the sabre rattling on the Indian side has been louder. This is not least because Indian elections are due soon and the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his BJP party are in danger of losing their parliamentary majority. This whole episode brings a largely welcome distraction from India’s inconvenient problems such as rising unemployment. These incidents can be a gift to incumbent politicians everywhere who are under pressure. I expect this to blow over but we are keeping travel plans up north to a minimum and seeing how it all goes.

From Bangalore we flew to Kochi (previously known as Cochin). These new names for places are seemingly used interchangeably. I haven’t met any Indians yet who feel particularly strongly about it. Bombay is still frequently used in Mumbai. It is largely the same with Bangalore and Mysore. These were essentially Anglicised names that have been officially dumped as an unwelcome vestige of imperialism. I’ve yet to hear anyone call Chennai by its old name of Madras but I haven’t been there yet so I’ll wait and see.

Kochi, at least the area of Fort Kochi is lovely. Pleasantly laid back and not overwhelmed with tourists. The places to eat and stay are largely decked out more tastefully than Goa, where the evidence of its Indo-Portuguese character has largely been wiped away by rapid development. There are a greater range of nationalities among the tourists with a more noticeable presence of French, Australians and even Americans. Although not the worst of your loud Yankee tourists by any means. One great advantage of this is the greater availability of halfway decent coffee.

I finally made good on my threat to hire a Royal Enfield motorbike for a day and rode out west of the city. The roads were a bit less clogged than Goa and not quite as infested with speed humps or speed breakers as they are called here. These are frequently not marked and take you by surprise and leading to hitting the breaks hard or being uncomfortably tossed in the air and threatening to break the suspension. Annoying as these are, they are really necessary because there would be terrible mayhem without them. There are few road rules here and stupid behaviour is common but it has some logic to it with an underlying code of practice. It is possible to ride here fairly comfortably as traffic is generally pretty slow. Even on the old Royal Enfield I barely got above 60kph. There are just too many daft drivers and other obstacles like stray cows, dogs and pedestrians who don’t mind walking three abreast and getting in the way of passing traffic.

This state, Kerala, currently has a communist led government and I have yet to investigate what changes they have brought here. There are numerous slogans and murals on walls concentrating on social issues and warnings about the dangers of drugs. The red flags with white hammer and sickle emblems fly in many places.

Now the plan is to head south through Kerala and then back north across to Madurai and Chennai before a side trip to Sri Lanka.

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