You can read the first part of the story here.
To recap, I reached Kalpetta, the biggest town in Wayanad district in Kerala in the dead of the night without any adventure or mischief. Next day in the morning, I found that this town hardly got any tourists. There was a small tourism booth next to the Inter-State bus stop that provided the brochure of tourist attractions in Wayanad. As Hero had predicted there were no tickets available towards Bangalore on Sunday. However, I was told that there are plenty of alternatives available. I could go to the next nearby town Sulthan Bathery; chances of getting a seat from there are very high. Or I could wait for some private buses from the evening and board one of the many buses that run to Karnataka. All of them go via Bangalore.
Now when you are on an “adventurous” solo trip, you don’t really want to plan ahead and prepare too much. You know, it kills the entire concept of “adventure”, “living in the moment”, etc. If the man at the tourism booth says, it is easily possible to get back to Bangalore without reservation, it would be so. Since I am here only for two days, I can’t afford to waste time on going around, getting a reservation. Worst case scenario, I would return on Monday. It was possible in those days to fall ‘sick’ and not show up for work. So I didn’t care much about Hero’s words. He was probably trying to act too smart.
I decided to get started with my trip at the earliest, which basically meant visiting touristy locations around Kalpetta. I decided to take a local bus to go to Edakkal Caves. Bless 100% literacy rate and Christian missionaries in Kerala, language was not a big problem. The bus was rickety and broken just like it is in the northern states; the difference was that here I clearly stood apart in the crowd. There were fisherwomen with daily harvest, men working on tea estates and I, a light skinned, girl from a big town. I finally understood how Shah Rukh must have felt in Swades during local commute to remote areas.
To be less dramatic, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I got a place to stand and swing as the bus went around the hilly curves on the route to the caves which were on a hill top.
The caves were a big disappointment. They were hardly comparable to Elephanta Caves near Mumbai which I had visited already. Plus, I am not a fan of caves anyways. They stink, they are dark, dirty, and you can’t do much there. So I was standing there looking at all the families who were out there on picnics, making happy noises and cheer. It felt kind of stupid for me to be standing alone in a place which was certainly not recommended for solo travellers.
So I decided to move on. I wanted to go to a place of natural beauty where I can sit and meditate as I have seen seasoned solo women travellers do in travel pictures such as the one below.
If I want to make that picture, the timing was going to be right as the sun was rapidly moving towards the West. All I needed was a water body. I asked a nice man at a food stall about a dam nearby, Karapuzha Dam, another tourist destination. It turned out this man owned a van and was traveling in that direction. He offered me a ride.
Now, let’s review the facts. First of all, I had never hitchhiked in life previously. Also, I had always wanted to hitchhike badly. It was a dream. Standing alone on a highway, with my backpack on my muscular shoulders, looking like this. Ummm…
As I was drifting in my dream world of being that super confident cool hippie girl, this man in front of me was waiting for my reply.
Anu: No no no, I won’t bother you. I will go on my own. Can you guide me how to reach there?
Man: blah blah blah…. (Gist of what he said was that there is no easy way to reach via public transport.)
Now, I was kind of stuck. One option was to take the bus back to Kalpetta and figure a way to the next destination. Another option was to take this ride to the dam. The image of dusty noisy road and forlorn hotel (which by no standard was 2 stars, forget 4!) in Kalpetta made me incline towards this ride with stranger.
So how does one decide whether or not to take a ride with a strange man?
“Appearances do matter.” [Quote: Me.] Though I usually don’t give a damn about my own appearance but that never stopped me from judging others by their appearances. I don’t care for brands or fashion, often that goes pretty low in my hierarchy of “trustworthiness”. Questions that I try to answer while looking at a stranger’s appearance are “Is he married?”, “Does he have kids?”, “What job would he have?”. I try to put a “no-nonsense” label: low, medium, high.
“93% of communication is non-verbal.” [Quote: Management School Prof who taught my husband.]
Based on the above two signals, I took the call and became this girl. (While editing this pic, I realized I am blessed for not being a blonde.)
It was one heck of a ride. Bumpy and Rough. Literally. There was no road. And I was in a strange man’s vehicle. All reasons to be supremely nervous and doubtful of the destination. However, this man was one gem of a person. Seriously, it is funny (& erroneous) how quickly we make impressions of a place based on small/tiny experiences/datasets. However, that is exactly what I did. Based on that one car ride, South India (especially Kerala) for me became the most reliable place in the country. If you know me, you must have heard me comparing the two parts of the country and vehemently stating how safer southern states were. This was an impressionable moment.
I will skip through some of the other details of my trip which included a visit to beautiful and enchanting Kuruva Islands, where you can walk the across river Kabini to reach islands in the middle of the river. However, let’s come back to the main story and fast forward to Sunday evening.
Now after two days of solo travel, I had quite enough of the adventure. Many a times, I ended up feeling quite lonely. A few times I remembered my office gang from Bangalore and wondered why I didn’t invite them along. By Sunday evening, I was quite packed and ready to get back to my friends and home. The only problem was that I had no reservation. I had exchanged a few smses with Hero in the meantime which more or less meant that there were no seats available.
There wasn’t enough time to go to Sultan Bathery, so I stationed myself at the bus stop on Kalpetta main road and would check with each and every bus, if they would go to Bangalore and if they would have a vacant seat. Starting at around 6 P.M., I did this till 10 P.M. By this time, everyone at the bus stop knew me. As it grew darker and late in to the night, number of people on the stop gradually decreased. Only others like me without reservation remained. None of them were girls.
Four hours is a long time to spend on a bus stop hoping to get a bus back to your home. It is a reasonable amount of time to retrospect and curse yourself. It is enough time to think about different possibilities that might occur. I might not get the bus after all. For how long would be I standing here out on the road? Yes, Kerala is safe, but until what time should I start searching for alternate stay arrangements? How will I go back tomorrow?
A little after 10, a private bus for Bangalore moved in. We, without reservation riders, all crowded in close to the bus door to plead the conductor to take us in. Just then, someone tapped me on my sounders. I turned around to see Hero standing there.
Hero: Are you still without a reservation?
Hero: You can come with me. I had reserved two seats in this bus. We can pay inside the bus after we get the seats.
Anu: thank you thank you
At the time, my status msg at FB would have been something like this: — feeling shocked relieved happy thankful grateful.
We got the two seats. I thanked him again and slept off.
It was 530 in the morning when our bus was gliding towards its platform on Majestic. I was still amazed how I reached back home safely, without any misadventures. All thanks to this guy. We, with all other passengers got down. I was wondering what to say to him. How should I express my gratitude? Should I ask him to meet me later in the week sometime.
We were standing near an auto, ready to go separate ways. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him out for lunch or coffee to show my thanks. We said byes and rode off. Until a few days later, I kept thinking about the whole thing. I was expecting a call from him. Usually guys do that. Especially if they know they have a favour on the girl. But he never called. And it was too late by then for me to call. Or so I thought.
I never really got to thank him properly at that time. However, after a decade, I understand that travel is all about meeting different people and helping them. We help strangers and friends, without expecting anything in return. It happens naturally. That is why travel is one of the most compassionate and patient teachers in life.