Shaun Mehta

An informative blog that provides insight of my sometimes mundane, sometimes wacky life as a writer and teacher. To learn more, please go to: www.shaunmehta.com

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Travel Log #5 - Southern India



TRAVEL LOG #5
Internship at Infosys Technologies, Mysore Campus.
April 2002


I am an East Indian born and raised in Toronto who traveled to Southern India for the first time. As an aspiring writer the dynamic subcontinent fascinated and inspired me. During my 8-month stint in the country, I completed an exchange at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), an internship at Infosys Technologies in Mysore, and found some time to travel and write. Through my journey, I grew to love the people and land, despite having a few misadventures along the way. I hope you enjoy some of my travel logs:

A colleague at work told me that a Jungle Lodge Resort that he knew of was an incredible place to spend a weekend. Skeptical, I picked up a glossy brochure from a local travel agency and did some Internet research. Both the website and brochure convinced me that this was where I wanted to spend my last weekend in Southern India. Apparently British Royalty had stayed here, and I was excited at the thought of taking an elephant safari and boat ride through the jungle where wondrous exotic wildlife frolicked in their natural habitat.

I booked a tent – there were no rooms available – rented a car and went to “paradise.” After a 2-hour drive, my driver and I entered an enormous dead forest. And when I say dead, I mean apocalyptic dead. There was nothing but charred black bush and nasty crippled looking trees. It was as if a huge fire had ravaged everything. This was definitely no lush jungle.

After I had checked into my tent, I learned that the actual safari was another hour drive away from the resort. My excitement returned as I hoped the landscape would be less morbid. The safari jeep picked me up and we drove for an hour though, yup, more dead forest. We then circled around dirt roads for another 3 hours and saw a few scrawny monkeys. It was pathetic. Miserable, I kept thinking of the glossy brochure of the tiger sitting in the verdant foliage. We suddenly drove beside a river where in the far distance a group of elephants were bathing. I asked the driver whether we could drive closer so I take a photo. “No,” he said.

That night, I lay huddled in fear as a ferocious thunderstorm raged outside my tent. Red-eyed and exhausted, I was taken for my elephant and boat ride at 6:00 am the following morning. After an hour on the jeep, we reached a small camp where our elephant should have been waiting for us. I sat in the jeep for half an hour before the guide suddenly turned around and said: “The elephant escaped and ran deep into the forest last night because of the rain and joined a group of wild elephants. He will come in half an hour.”

I was impressed. Apparently our guide was telepathic. He also added a few minutes later: “When elephant comes you get 30 minute joy ride. No safari.” I wanted to toss the glossy brochure in his face but it was back home. I wanted to scream at the man, but it would have made absolutely no difference. In India, I have learned that you must merely accept.

After another 40 minutes the driver said: “Elephant not coming.” So we drove yet another hour through the lifeless woods until we reached the river. Actually, it was more like a muddy pool of water. I climbed into a circular skin-hide boat and my guide rowed to the center of the “river” and pointed to birds I could not see and said names that I could not begin to pronounce. The guide did point to a crocodile in the distance, its eyes and nostrils just above the brown surface. It seemed to me to look more like a dead stump of wood jutting out of the muddy water. I asked if we could move closer. “No,” he said.

That was my authentic Indian safari. I should not have been surprised as the colleague from work who had recommended that I go to the resort was a shady figure who was fired for sleeping with the staff. Personally, I am looking forward to visiting the Toronto Zoo and actually seeing real animals at fifty times less the cost. On the bright side, I did take some lovely pictures of dead trees.

Travel Log #4 - Southern India

TRAVEL LOG #4
Internship at Infosys Technologies, Mysore Campus.
February 2002


I am an East Indian born and raised in Toronto who traveled to Southern India for the first time. As an aspiring writer the dynamic subcontinent fascinated and inspired me. During my 8-month stint in the country, I completed an exchange at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), an internship at Infosys Technologies in Mysore, and found some time to travel and write. Through my journey, I grew to love the people and land, despite having a few misadventures along the way. I hope you enjoy some of my travel logs:

I was in Bangalore visiting my friends at IIMB this past weekend and after lunch realized that my express train to Mysore was leaving in 40 minutes. Not worried, since the train station was only 20 minutes away, I grabbed my stuff, said goodbye to my friends, and caught an autorickshaw. By the time the autorickshaw began chugging out of the IIMB campus, I had 30 minutes to catch my train.

Now, the autorickshaw driver, who speaks little Hindi and about 10 words of English, comprehended that I have to go to the train station. The problem, however, is that he did not realize the time constraints that I was under. For instance, after going about 15 km/hour, he suddenly stopped at the side of the road without explanation. I watched with disbelief as he ran across the street and disappeared into a small store. He returned a few moments later with chewing tobacco. As he jumped back into the tiny vehicle, he gave me a goofy smile and offered me some. I declined and impatiently tapped my watch.

He gave me another goofy smile and nodded. He turned on the autorickshaw and continued to drive at 15 km/hour. People on their bicycles were moving past us. I muttered a curse as he suddenly pulled into the gas station to get some petrol. He parked behind an enormous line of autorickshaws waiting to fill their empty tanks.

Finally we were back on the road and I am happy to say that we were keeping pace with the bicycles. A few kilometers from the school campus we stopped at a red traffic light of a major intersection (incidentally, this is one of the few intersections in Bangalore that I have seen with a functioning traffic light). The traffic light turned green and every car, motorcycle, truck, bicycle, goat, dog, and cow moved past us. I glared venomously at the rickshaw driver who was busy studying something in his side mirror. He waited as a woman walked up beside the autorickshaw and then began an animated conversation with her. After two or three of the longest minutes in my life, I watched with horror as the woman squeezed into the autorickshaw beside me with a shy smile. He turned to me, gave me another infuriating goofy smile, and simply said: “Family.”

I pointed desperately to my watch and he looked at it thoughtfully. He then turned the autorickshaw on, and made a left turn away from the train station. As the woman and driver begin talking again in Kannada, I stared at the sky and asked why.

After 10 minutes, the driver dropped the woman in some part of the city that I had never seen before. I looked at my watch. 10 minutes left. To my relief, the autorickshaw driver actually began to drive recklessly, taking the three-wheeler to the limit of 30 km/hour. Now it was merely a race against time. So did I catch the train? Ha! Not only did I miss the train, but also worse, the next one came 2 hours later and was not an express train. This meant that I was wedged with 25 other people into a compartment designed to hold 10 patrons. But hey, that’s what I deserve for spending 26 rupees (87 cents Canadian) for the train ride. In short, a 4-hour journey took me 8 hours to complete. And Mysore is only 165 km away from Bangalore. I could have flown from Toronto to Paris in less time.

Travel Log #3 - Southern India


TRAVEL LOG #3
Internship at Infosys Technologies, Mysore Campus.
January 2002


I am an East Indian born and raised in Toronto who traveled to Southern India for the first time. As an aspiring writer the dynamic subcontinent fascinated and inspired me. During my 8-month stint in the country, I completed an exchange at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), an internship at Infosys Technologies in Mysore, and found some time to travel and write. Through my journey, I grew to love the people and land, despite having a few misadventures along the way. I hope you enjoy some of my travel logs:

After 2-weeks of staying in Mysore, I had gathered up enough courage to leave the beautiful sanctuary of the Infosys campus, and travel back to Bangalore to see my friends. This would be my third trip to Bangalore and I was dreading taking autorickshaws and trains. Only God knew how long such a trip would take me and what stresses I would encounter. A fellow work colleague suggested I take a luxury bus. He explained that the buses were air-conditioned, the seats reclined, were cushioned and I would get my own seat without having to share it with a dozen other Indians. I was convinced!

I went to the bus station, bought my ticket, and boarded the bus. As promised, it was half full, cushioned, and cool. Most people were clustered in the middle and front of the bus. The entire back of the bus was empty and I suddenly had happy visions of lying across the four back cushioned seats, reading and sleeping blissfully during the 3.5-hour journey. I practically skipped to the back seat, spread out, and opened my book. I sighed contently.

The bus driver boarded the bus and turned on the powerful diesel engine. Like a bear awakening from hibernation, the bus roared to life. The bus shook so badly that I could not read one word in my book. With a combination of bad suspensions and the fact that the main state highway had more craters than Berlin after World War II, I was tossed around my seat like fruit in a blender. I cannot even begin to describe how much I shook. I was jerking as if I was being electrocuted. Although it took considerable concentration to focus my thoughts because of the earthquake like vibrations it finally dawned upon me why no one was sitting in the back. It was where the bus shook the most! I also realized why the seats were cushioned. The back of my head was slamming into the back of my seat so often that if the seats were not cushioned, I would have reached Bangalore with my skull cracked open.

But the shaking was only nothing compared to how the bus driver drove. I was sitting where the center aisle ended and watched the rushing landscape through the front windshield with horror. The bus driver was driving through the twisting road as if he was challenging death. This man seemed to want to die and had no remorse if he took us all along with him. I wondered if this was a government conspiracy to control India’s exploding population.

I remembered that time I was in Ooty, sitting on the ledge by a waterfall, and tried to find that peaceful meditative state of mind that I had felt then. And after 3 hours of my brain rattling around my aching head, I actually began to fall asleep. That was when the bus driver actually accelerated over a massive speed bump, and launched the bus into the air. As the bus soared, time, and my heart, seemed to freeze. When the bus struck pavement, passengers flew. One couple had their child sleeping across their laps in front of me. Their heads smashed against the ceiling and the child was airborne. I was jolted so badly that I felt as if I had cracked a rib. It felt as if my hipbone and lower ribs had smashed together and I thanked God that I had not bitten my tongue off from the impact.

I know I have complained about trains and autorickshaws, but never again. The bus was definitely the most traumatizing traveling experience I’ve had so far. And I still have the pleasure of traveling back to Mysore after this weekend. What mode of transportation should I take, a plane perhaps? Hmmm….what’s the worst that could happen?

Travel Log #2 - Southern India

TRAVEL LOG #2
Exchange at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB)
November 2001

I am an East Indian born and raised in Toronto who traveled to Southern India for the first time. As an aspiring writer the dynamic subcontinent fascinated and inspired me. During my 8-month stint in the country, I completed an exchange at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), an internship at Infosys Technologies in Mysore, and found some time to travel and write. Through my journey, I grew to love the people and land, despite having a few misadventures along the way. I hope you enjoy some of my travel logs:



After 5 weeks of recovering from my last trip – which included a 9 hour train ride in each direction on a second class non-air-conditioned where the squatting bathrooms were covered in human refuse and I shared a sleeping compartment without a pillow or blanket with 72 of my newest Indian friends – I gathered enough courage to leave the verdant school campus and traveled to the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

I visited Hogenakkal Falls, spectacular cataracts that make Niagara Falls look like a leaky facet. Unlike Niagara Falls, there was absolutely no commercialization and my European friends and I were completely surrounded in wilderness. And because I am in India, and safety is rarely a concern, I actually was encouraged by my guide (who received his payment in advance) to stand on the rock and peak over the edge of the cliff to admire the raging descending water. I actually took a photograph of my feet hanging over the edge—cool!

To get to the waterfalls we had to take circular skin-hide boats called coracles. Every few minutes we would reach an island and have to carry the boat across it until we reached another river as if we were living in prehistoric times.

The final leg of the journey to the falls was a huge sea of jagged rocks and pools of stagnant water that we had to cross before we reached the main river that plummeted to the major swirling chasm below. During this hike, I slipped off the mossy-covered rocks several times and into the pools of water until my socks and shoes were soaking wet. Thinking I was very smart, I took off my shoes and socks, and decided to go barefoot like a true adventurer! That was when I discovered that the rocks absorbed the rays of the sun like the inside of a car in the midst of a heat wave. By the time I reached the falls my aching blistering feet felt as if they had walked over a path of burning coal.

Despite being the end of November, it was 35 degrees and brilliantly sunny, so my friends and I also went for a refreshing dip in the streams 50 feet from the edge of the falls. One of my European friends stayed ashore and was confronted by a band of aggressive monkeys who methodically harassed him and stole our bananas. I watched with amazement as each monkey would grab a banana and throw a perfect quarterback type pass to its companions perched on the branches of the surrounding trees.

On the way back from our daytrip, the tire of our rented van blew and we were suddenly stranded in the middle of the night at a Punjabi Dhaba (little hut in the middle of nowhere that serves Punjabi food and is roughly equivalent to a truck stop).

For an hour we sat waiting for our driver to repair the damaged tire. During that time, I had a staring match with five South Indians. The five locals gawked at my European friends and I as if we were from another planet. Actually, I am not being completely honest. Two live chickens tied together and sitting in a cardboard box beside me were also staring at me. The one good thing about the situation was that if we had ordered chicken curry, I knew that it would have been cooked fresh.

Oh, if you are wondering, the Indians won the staring match.

Travel Log #1 - Southern India


TRAVEL LOG #1
Exchange at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB)
September – October 2001

I am an East Indian born and raised in Toronto who traveled to Southern India for the first time. As an aspiring writer the dynamic subcontinent fascinated and inspired me. During my 8-month stint in the country, I completed an exchange at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), an internship at Infosys Technologies in Mysore, and found some time to travel and write. Through my journey, I grew to love the people and land, despite having a few misadventures along the way. I hope you enjoy some of my travel logs:

I was in the mess (cafeteria) the day I had arrived to the campus, and a man with a curly bushy mustache wearing army fatigues drove in on a motorcycle, and roared straight into the kitchen. I seemed to be the only one perturbed by this, and asked a fellow student who told me nonchalantly that the driver was a retired Indian commando who had become the head chef. This man used the kitchen as a garage. I paused for a moment to digest this news and thought of the diesel fumes that were probably embedded in my curry. I shrugged and continued eating. I am realizing that anything is possible in India.

On my way from a job interview I was taking a public non-air-conditioned bus and I swore that I must have lost a few months of my life. All the windows and doors to the bus were open because of the incredible heat. I was suffocating from the black fumes spewing from the traffic. It was so bad that I felt dizzy and nauseous, and I felt that I had consumed a carton of unfiltered cigarettes. As the bus drove past an intersection, I found myself envying a police officer wearing an air filter mask as he directed traffic.

Last night, I woke up at 3:00 am to use the bathroom. As I stepped out of my room and walked towards the common bathrooms I was disturbed to hear scurrying and squeaking behind the large garbage can by the doorway. A black shape that seemed to be the size of a small cat suddenly darted towards me. I screamed like a little girl as I felt wet fur brush against my bare foot. The filthy mammoth rodent dashed into the shadows as I ran back into my room, suppressing my urge to go. The following morning, I was comforted that the garbage can was no longer vibrating or squeaking. Eager to relieve myself, I entered the bathroom to the sound of splashing, which I assumed was from someone taking a bath. How wrong I was. As I approached the toilet I was horrified to see a great rat trying to stay afloat in the wash bucket. The bucket was full of water and the rat was struggling to avoid drowning, only its quivering nose sticking above the surface. Terrified, I slowly backed out of the room, suddenly content with the cramps I had.

There is only one sports facility on campus—a badminton court. It is located within a large metal barn constructed with corrugated sheets of gray metal that is covered by small punctures reminiscent to bullet-holes. Despite being covered by a roof, the court is flooded when it rains because of all the gaps and holes in the barn. One afternoon when I was playing badminton, I heard the sound of water splashing against the concrete floor. When I looked at the roof above my opponent I only saw the bright dots of sunlight. Perplexed, I turned behind me where a pool of water was collecting around the heel of my running shoes. And suddenly I knew what had happened. I looked straight with disgust and astonishment to find 3 monkeys bouncing on the rafters and urinating on me.

To get anything done here takes much patience. I still do not have textbooks or a student ID card because the bookstore and office is always closed. I received business cards from the school and my information is wrong. In one class, the professor gave us his home phone number if we had any questions. When I called, the number did not exist. Ah, India.