Never in a million years would I think of going to India.
Not because I’m snooty or anything. It’s just that I wouldn’t know if I could survive Mother India, after all the stories I’ve heard about “don’t drink the water”, “don’t get ripped off by porters” etc. My best friend travelled to India many years ago and she told me that they had to do their toilet business somewhere in some bushes, covered only by opened umbrellas!
So I didn’t really have that much expectation when Nic and I went to Kerala, India recently with our client, the team and management of Paul Penders Co. We were invited to tag along as they were doing a feasibility tour of a new business they intend to embark on in the state of Kerala.
I wasn’t even excited. I was thinking, OK, this is for work. Hopefully I won’t get dysentery or some stomach bug.
The AirAsia flight from KL to Bangalore took 4 hours. The thing is, we travelled to the west so we gained time. Though we left KL at 3.05pm and the plane actually took off much later (after some dawdling on the runway), we arrived in the ultra-modern Bengaluru Airport about 6pm India time. Bengaluru is the local name for Bangalore. For our Malaysian stomachs, it was 8.30pm and we were thinking of dinner.
Before we could exit the airport, we had to fill in the immigration forms. I felt a bit peeved because the form asked for so many details. Fortunately the Indian customs officers are not as rude or curt as the HK ones.
It was here that we met an Indian national who had completed his work contract in Malaysia. He was smart; he heard us speak BM and pounced on us in a friendly way. He wanted me to help him fill in his entry form because he was illiterate.
Anyway, what with the form filling and etc, we finally got out of the airport and Joji and Jegan, our Indian hosts for the one-week trip welcomed us with fresh roses. So there we were, a huge group of different nationalities – Dutch, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian and Chinese. We were going to be travel mates for the next 6 days, exploring the Ayurvedic-herbal route.
According to Joji, we were going to travel in a convoy of 4 Toyota Innova’s from Bangalore to this place called VanaMoolika in Wayanad district, Kerala where we would be staying for 3 days.
What we didn’t know was the car journey from Bangalore to Wayanad was going to take 6 hours. In the end, we found out that it is possibly 6 hours if the roads are like our PLUS highways. On Indian roads which are pot-holed and narrow and in some places, without adequate street lights, the journey took us 12 hours!
(At this point, I am glad we gobbled our ‘dinner’ aboard AirAsia. A travel tip: Eat first if possible. One never knows how long some journeys are. It is better to eat dinner twice than not to have one at all. Even going by local time, we figured we would arrive in VanaMoolika at midnight. Someone said there was going to be a feast for us! By Malaysian time, that would be 3am. Could I even eat at that hour?)
As we left the airport, we headed straight into the city and by that time, it was the evening rush hour where people were getting off work. Jegan, who sat in our car, told us that some 27 million people lived and worked in Bangalore. That’s like the entire Malaysian population in one city.
The most eye-opening experience for me was the fact that honking is very much a driver’s pleasure and pastime. The second was their utter disregard for traffic. Cars, autos (resembling tuk-tuk’s in Thailand), lorries, buses and animals all wove their way on the roads, honking, swerving and driving too close to each other. I didn’t know if it was our driver who drove badly or the traffic was horrible but the start and stop jerks of our Toyota Innova made Hong car-sick.
The third eye-opening experience was everywhere is your personal rubbish bin. When Hong puked into a plastic bag, she was gripping tightly to it and told us she was going to throw it at our next toilet stop. Our Indian guide told her to wind down the car window and chuck it out of the car! (Over the next few days, I found out that it is so hard to locate a rubbish bin. You see people throwing rubbish everywhere!)
Finally our Indian hosts decided to make a quick stop at a local hotel so we could go for our toilet break and have some tea and snacks before the really long car journey. I thought, “OK, this is where we get some food!” By then we had all but digested our airplane food.
They still insisted that we would be having our ‘dinner’ some 5 hours later so some snacks would be good. In the end, we really had tiny morsels of food, samosas which were tasty but too small to make a dent in our tummies. Luckily I downed it all with a cup of masala chai, a very silky smooth milk tea scented with cardamom.
We packed ourselves back into the Toyota, bracing ourselves for the next 5 hours.
To be continued….