If you ask me, Kerala in my opinion is one of the unrivalled solo travellers’ destinations in India. Though I almost say the same thing whenever I visit any place, but Kerala is surely one of my top 5 on-the-priority list of re-visiting the panoply of a place again and again.
Culture or nature, spices with culinary diversity, organic greenery reflecting on the much talked about back water-body and of course, the unforgotten and unbroken tradition of Ayurveda. Kerala wears way too many feathers on the hat.
And the Keralites? How are they? Does my love for Kerala is inclusive of them or it’s without? Well, this entire series consists of my hands-on observation and education on pragmatism and expecting that many will agree with me, when I say that solo travel involves a lot of affiliation with the host community. Which plays a crucial role to help you decide how well you like a country or county and whether you want to come back here again or not? Are you with me?
Hopefully most of you are nodding.. So if it comes to exchange of words with any Keralite, they can melt your heart from ice-cream to milkshake; Keralians are adbhutam (awesome). My entire trip has been betokened (stand for) to it. Whenever I have looked for, there was a hand or there were hands to help me out (Oh yes! There are more than one or two stories, here’s one such)..
After Kochi, I had to go to a place called Vagamon. A little on Vagamon; it’s a small hill station in Idukki district of Kerala. Where people usually flock at Munnar or nowadays Wayanad is considered a little offbeat, Vagamon is generally a weekend escape for the locals. It’s a quiet village and exuding frothy greenery everywhere. The place is yet to be that tourist friendly but no one can complain a grain about this place. So from Kochi, the best way to reach Vagamon is by a private taxi, otherwise it’s painstakingly exhausting. Why? Because the other option is, you have to take local bus.. And how is that related to painful? Actually it’s buses. Still doesn’t seem to be a problem!! No the problem is, there are 5 buses to change.. Actually that is not even the problem, the real problem is how to know which bus to take?? All the name-plates on the buses are in Malayalam, and not all locals are fluent in English, I was adamant to go by local transport, I don’t understand an alphabet of Malayalam and I was finely and simply doomed.
So my connection from the first set of information was like this: Fort kochi- Kochi- Kotayam- Vagamon; buses are easily available respectively. From Kochi, finding the bus for Kotayam was super easy and I was super chilled. While in the bus, I tried asking few people, who would understand little English, on the connecting bus to Vagamon. But every-one seemed clueless and my at-peace started turning pale. However there were two young girls sat beside me, and wanted to help. From Kotayam, they consulted another bus conductor who informed that, from Kotayam to Vagamon, I had to change buses at Pala and Erattupetta and then finally I could reach my destination. The conductor helped me to get the bus to Pala and spoke to the driver to drop me at Erattupetta.
The local buses are always packed in Kerala and people are hopping in and hopping out. How could I be assured that he would remember to drop me at the right place? So again, the same strategy. I tried talking to the passengers next to me, while not everyone understood my English they understood one thing, I was in need of help. They spoke to the driver and the driver gestured that he knows where to drop me and he would. He did and pointed me the direction from where I had to take my next bus.
So far so good, I reached my point, but again, how to know which bus to take? I asked the officer at the bus station.
“You wait here; the bus will come in some time.”
“But I don’t understand Malayalam, I won’t know which bus to take?”
“ok you wait here, I will tell you.” and the next moment, “ that is the bus, take that one. Hurry up”
I took my second last bus, and I wasn’t aware of how I was feeling by then!!
At Erattupetta, scenario was the same. Buses are moving in and out of the stand every now and then, I am as usually clueless which one to take, so the simplest solution was to ask the conductors as there was no one at the office.. All were shaking their head to a No. ‘Am I at the right bus stop!!’ I couldn’t think of anything else. Though this trip was just recent past, local transport of Kerala still doesn’t have any tech savvy system, at least for the remote areas, to ease up the transportation for tourists or non-Malayali people.
Two students came and sat beside me at the bus station, and one of them could speak good English. She introduced me to her friend who doesn’t speak English but she would take the same bus as I would, so she was to help me through. And I was sorted, we took the last bus to Vagamon (luckily I spoke to them on time) and the bus was just like my suitcase, stuffed. The passengers were so eager to help me and curious about me, but wasn’t able to ask me anything as I wouldn’t know their language. Finally, spending a whole day, relying on my apprehension, over-confidence and sheer dumb luck I reached my destination safe, sound and with all my energy intact.
Later when I had told this to a friend, there was one obvious question, “will you do that everywhere you go?”
“No, I dare not, but it’s only possible in Kerala.”