Thursday 8 February 2007

Ooty. Cold!

The YWCA may be in an old 1920's colonial bungalow, but the budget wing is a long, institutional corridor with basic, spartan rooms on one side and bathrooms on the other (cold, very cold, water only).

I had been warned it would be cold up in the hills, but was not prepared to freeze! I had comed armed with silk things against the cold (squashes up in my rucksack) so I went to bed dressed in my silk thermal underwear, a silk polo sweater - and my silk nightie on top (for decency's sake, since my bathroom is across the corridor). I was surrounded by very noisy young Indians, but still managed to fall asleep. After a couple of hours I was freezing, despite the extra blankets I had ordered. This is apparently an exceptionally cold snap (reminds me of my time in Varanasi) with temperatures down to 6 degrees in the night. It feels like even less, partly because I am now accustomed to the tropical heat of the coast, but also because the roof is a basic corrugated iron affair with absolutely no insulation (not to mention the ill-fitting windows). There are coal firegrates in the bedrooms - relics from a more opulent past, unfortunately.

At breakfast I met a young American who has just spent two years teaching in China (a system which she says is an absolute scandal, as there is no quality control and an awful lot of western cranks and weirdos sign up. Interestingly, despite the fact she had no time for the kids in her school, who were for the most part the children of party apparatchiks who had failed the entrance to public schools, she reckoned that it was thanks to the Communist Party that China has the edge over India on education, health and birth control. Anyhow, she said the trick here is to go to bed wearing absolutely everything you have in your rucksack. (We were eating breakfast wearing not just fleeces but our rain jackets.) It's now midday and I have shed my fleece and am considering removing my socks :-}

My travel plans have hit a major snag. The idea was to take a bus from Ooty to Mysore, then train to Bangalore, train to Goa, spend a day recovering with Claire on the beach, before catching a train for the last leg up to Mumbai (the train is already full, but I was allowing on getting a tourist quota ticket).

The problem is that Ooty is in the state of Tamil Nadu, and Mysore and Bangalore on in the state of Karnataka. I had already learned last night from a young French/Brit lawyer that there is currently a major water dispute between the two states: Karnataka has apparently been refusing to release water downstream to Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu state government has taken them to court, and a tribunal has just ruled that the agreement between the two states, dating from the 19th century, is still valid, and Karnataka has been ordered to release the water.

The state of Karnataka is apparently going to appeal against the decision, but meanwhile there is obviously quite a lot of unrest, with strikes and demonstrations. The bus services between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are operating. The lawyer and his friend are going to take a local bus to the border, walk across the border, and then hitch to the nearest town, to pick up another local bus to Mysore. I clearly cannot risk this, so I'm in the midst of revising my travel plans.

One thing about travelling in India is that you do get to know the travel agents and railway systems, sometimes with just a little too much familiarity. However, I have just been to a very nice travel agent (computer system, impeccable English, helpful) and have bought an air ticket from Bangalore to Mumbai - my final destination - on the 11th (I had wanted to travel the next day, but there will apparently be an all-out strike then). And to get to Bangalore, I will now have to train all day to Coimbatore and then all night to Bangalore. Since I have a day to spare, I will then continue on to Mysore, do an afternoon's sightseeing, and then return to Bangalore the following morening! The travel agent was helpful, giving my train numbers and names and times, but I'm now on my way to the station to book these trains. The key one is already full, but I should hopefully get a seat on the tourist quota.

Meanwhile, I have stopped off at the internet place, GlobalNet. It took me half an hour walking backwards and forwards yesterday before I found this place down a dark passage. But it was worth the effort: the machines are managed impeccably and I have had two CDs of photos burnt by one of the staff, who teaches computing at Ooty's International School (international because it does International Baccalaureat exams). He spent a lot of time trying to rescue my photos of Varkala from the contaminated compact flash card, browsing the internet for the latest anti virus software, but eventually confirmed that there is no solution other than to reformat the card. The virus is called 'moonlight'. I dont know whether to murder virus writers or Bill Gates first.


Got the tickets at the station OK. I'm now booked back to Coimbatore, but am 18th on the waiting list on the sleeper train to Bangalore.

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