Well, our sedate first week in India had us fearing we might be just too old and jaded to really be captivated this trip.
And then we took the bus to Munnar.
Actually, we took the bus from our hotel in Trichy to the Central bus station, then we took the bus to Madurai, then an auto rickshaw to the other bus station in Madurai. Here we asked directions just twice to be ushered on to a “super fast” (hard) class bus direct to Munnar. We’d read that direct busses didn’t exist, and we would have to make yet another connection so we were pretty pleased.
All these connections happened so fast that we didn’t even get a toilet stop, 3.5 hours in. So when the conductor calmly explained this was a 6 hr journey (obvs no toilet on bus) we knew we’d be keen for the first rest stop. But we had seats and our stuff was safely stowed and we could sort of see out the windows (top half plastered with adverts) and out the door as there was no door.
Then, 15 minutes in bang!hiss!! A rear tyre blew! Dual axle, we were able to get to the tyre guy 500 m up the road. How many Indians does it take to change a tyre? All the men on the bus, though some did a lot more pointing and laughing than helping. Around 35 min later (and no toilet near the tyre guy) our driver set off on a mission to make up for lost time.
Eventually we got to a big station, and our conductor allowed 2 minutes! for a toilet stop. We could relax and enjoy the amazing views of luscious tea plantations from crazy mountain roads with a rather competent driver. Fritz even saw a monkey!
But 30 minutes before our original arrival time, we came to a roadblock of some sort we couldn’t see. Much discussion, and then the decision to turn around. Turn a bus around on a cliffside road where two busses squeek past each other! An amazing reverse down to a drive, a 10 point turn (cars and scooters wedging past all the while) and we were off to the alternate route.
Along with everyone else. And this road was not even wide enough for two busses. And of course we soon came across another bus.
Once again we were reversing, finding a spot just wide enough for them to eek by, and then CRUNCH! Because of course other cars immediately slipped into the gap while our driver was still avoiding the other bus…
Drivers out, heated exchange of words, dozens of onlooker/witness/participants, and we got a very first hand view of mob justice in action. Apparently this was our driver’s fault and R1500 was the fair payment. For a few minutes our driver and conductor looked very small in the crowd, so it was reassuring to see them all disperse after cash changed hands, and the one guy who wasn’t completely satisfied with the result getting ushered away by the majority.
By now, however, dozens of cars and a few more busses had backed up but eventually we reached the main road.
Dusk was approaching, and we had just one more delay. A temple festival procession of several dozen drummers, dancers, fringed umbrella? twirlers, and of course the gilded elephant blocked the main road for several justifiable minutes.
Munnar accomplished, just 2 hours later than expected, but we weren’t to our hotel yet. Peak Indian tourist season here, it was a madhouse after dark.
Afraid to walk, we took our final auto rickshaw of the day– young Franklin seemed a bit too aggressive but his price was fair, so we let him fetch his vehicle – so blinged out with every interior inch covered in flashing lights that it would stand out at Burning Man! We laughed, piled in and after 12 hours and 5 conveyances, we were ready to check in then find our first meal of the day.