September 2010. This was probably the longest journey of my travels. Originally I was hoping to travel from India to Thailand overland, but unfortunately the military junta in Myanmar (Burma) doesn’t allow for that. The only other possible overland route would require me to backtrack through Tibet and then cross the dodgy China – Laos border. I don’t like to backtrack so I had to rule out that route as well. I sucked it up and bought a flight from Chennai (Madras) to Bangkok via Colombo on Sri Lankan Airways for about 170USD. Chennai is located on the east coast of India and Hampi is quite far away.
To get to Chennai I started walking from my guesthouse in Hampi to the bus park at around 6pm. Luckily a bus was already loading up and about to leave. That walk took about 10 minutes. The ride from Hampi to Hospet was another 40 minutes and luckily for me the bus attendant didn’t bother to collect my fare even though I was ready to pay him. After arriving in Hospet, the walk to the rail station took about 30 min down the main road, a distance of about 2km. My overnight train to Bangalore (Bengaluru) was delayed a bit but thankfully wasn’t too late. I had another train to catch from Bangalore to Chennai in the morning.
When the train arrived I didn’t have a reserved bed so I ended up sharing a bed (class AC3) with a very large Indian guy. Other than it being uncomfortable since the beds aren’t made for 2 people (let alone 2 very big men) I really didn’t mind since I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. He had a great idea and went to go sleep on the floor but in exchange for his sacrifice he took all the bedding and pillow. I improvised with what I had in my daypack and used my waterproof as a pillow. Luckily the train attendant came by later on and got me a fresh bedding set. I met some interesting people on the train such as some Chinese businessmen and their Indian counterpart in the granite trade. It also turns out they also were making the same connection to Chennai.
In Bangalore I had about 1 hour to kill before boarding the train to Chennai. I splurged and got a reserved seat in the aircon carriage. The only other option was to ride in the human cattle car which I would’ve done if I were carrying a smaller pack but after the already long journey I didn’t want to squeeze into an overstuffed rail car. I promptly fell asleep once the train got started on the 6 hour journey to Chennai. Luckily I did wake up in time to eat and got my last taste of the surprisingly delicious and very cheap food for sale on the train. The India Rail company also has a massive catering arm which serves up fresh hot meals at the stations and on the train.
From Chennai Central Station I walked over to the backpacker area called Egmore with the help of my compass and map which I saved onto my mobile. I should also note that I haven’t showered since yesterday morning and I’ve already done quite a bit of walking while carrying over 20kg. Oh and it’s summertime…in southern India. It took me some time but I finally found the post and sent out some postcards which I had been too lazy to send out in the past couple of weeks. Once I got that sorted I enjoyed my last 2 Kingfishers and then took the local train to the airport. I think the fare was like 10 rupees (appx 0.20 USD). I had a lovely chat with a local guy on the train who worked for the military. The friendliest people I’ve met in India have been on the trains and interestingly enough, many of them have been military personnel.
The Chennai airport is definitely on the disorganized side. Not quite chaotic, but definitely not very organized. First off, I had an e-ticket but to get into the airport they wanted to see a printout of the ticket. Seriously, what’s the point of an e-ticket if I have to print it out? After a bit of discussion, I had the security guy check the passenger manifest and showed him my passport, then he let me in. Next up was trying to check-in. The staff had no idea when the check-in opened nor where I should check in. They kept pointing me to the wrong queue. I got fed up with their stupidity and found the correct check-in area on my own. This confusion could’ve been avoided had there been proper signs posted…but it’s India.
After getting through that mess I finally got to the immigration desk. The officer looked at my passport for a while and said he couldn’t find my entry stamp. I found it for him and pointed it out to him. He then asked me where the port of entry is even though it’s clearly stated on the entry stamp. I said “Sonauli” and he asked me where that is. After explaining to him how I entered the country via the India – Nepal border and pointing out all the details on the stamp including the handwritten entry date he finally stamped me out. I’m still not sure to this day whether he was an idiot or he was looking for a bribe.
The rest of the journey went smoothly. I arrived in Sri Lanka for my layover and made use of the free internet kiosks till I boarded my flight for Bangkok. The airport in Colombo is one of the nicest I’ve ever been in. Really really nice. I, on the hand, was really really filthy after having traveled for so long on the Indian public transport network without a shower. It doesn’t happen often that I can actually smell myself, but today was one of those days. The plane landed in Bangkok on time and then after weaving through the heavy Bangkok traffic I finally arrived at my hostel in Silom around 10 or 11am. It was a long 2 days and rarely has a shower felt so good!