There is constant, non-stop rain.
I do not exaggerate when I say that it rains at least for 20-22 hours in a day. Most of the time, it is an incessant heavy downpour, and on some occasions it is a mild drizzle. So on the rare day that there was a lull, I decided to venture to the neighboring town of Koppa. Just to give an idea on how this qualifies as a ‘town’ is relative to the little hamlet where the ashram is situated. Anyway, beggars cant be choosers, and so Koppa it was for my first outing.
You have to understand that 90% of clientele here is foreigners from USA, Brazil, Australia, and Europe. As a foreign tourist there isn’t a realistic yardstick of disparity of lifestyles in India. Most people come here either to find God, health, or, just the unique cultural experience. And to that end, they go really native and accept everything that comes their way as being quintessentially Indian. As an Indian, and that too a spoilt Punjabi, going native was not really even a thought in my head.
I enquired about mode of transpiration to Koppa, and was informed that I could either take the public bus, or go in the tuk-tuk. My eyebrows almost disappeared into my hairline. Moi? Take the bus? I don’t even recall the last time I was in a bus in India. And Tuk-tuk! On this narrow road, alone, with the language barrier – nope that was not happening either. I enquired about a taxi and was told that the taxi service had to be informed a day before and there was protocol around it. So I decided to take the local bus on the road to Koppa.
After breakfast, I actually wore jeans after almost 10 days of being in jammies, and felt so incredibly sexy (how the mighty have fallen), my flip-flops, scrunched my oily hair into a bun, and picked up my umbrella – all set for my adventure in Koppa. I have to tell you that I was actually excited about this outing, and found myself enjoying the utter non-Priya’ness of it. Before setting out, I decided to inform Papaji that I was going, and if I was not back by lunchtime, they should probably raise the alarm. He expression told me that he thought I was mad.
The local bus stop is next to a Banyan tree circled by a bench, on which some local people sat very patiently waiting for their bus. It had started drizzling by then, and I stood with my umbrella waiting for the bus. Imagine a giraffe amidst a herd of ponies, there I was, standing there, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. A very wizened old man sitting on the bench took some interest in me, and asked a question, I obviously did not know what he was asking, so I just kept shaking my head and saying ‘Koppa’ over and over again. The sweet little thing gave me a toothless smile and pointed in the direction of Koppa. I think we had a successful conversation.
Finally the dilapidated bus arrived, and screeched to a halt close to the tree. After the passengers disembarked, I and some other people climbed on board. I hastened to grab the first seat because I get very nauseous on hilly roads, so it helps to sit upfront. The bus driver was wearing a uniform khaki shirt, and you guessed it, the rolled up lungi, and a baseball cap. That baseball ‘look’ threw me - was he trying to ‘dress up’ or ‘dress down’ his outfit?? The fact that I could not figure out the ‘look’ is still bothering me. Anyway, the minute he saw me, he reached up and changed the blaring local music to Hindi Bollywood songs. And off we went.
The bus ride was hairy to say the least, because the driver was chatting and looking at the ticket collector more than he was looking in front. I just said a silent prayer and gave myself up to the absolute ludicrousness of the moment. If someone had told me that I would be riding a local transport bus in the hills of Karnataka listening to Bollywood music, I would have just laughed. But hey, I decided to make the most of the moment and started enjoying the passing scenery. The foliage here is just beautiful, dense, green, shiny leaves, tall coconut trees; actually really beautiful landscape comparable to any place in the world.
We reached in about 20 minutes, and I disembarked at what looked like the main market area. I don’t know what I was looking for, there was nothing that I wanted to buy, and I certainly did not feel safe eating anything from the market vendors. I walked around town for about 20 minutes, found a vendor selling fresh coconut water and bought one. He sliced the green coconut open and put in a straw for me to drink from. By this time I realized that it was time to hop onto the return bus as they left every 30 minutes.
Carrying my coconut along, I went and sat in the bus next to a muslim lady dressed in a black burqa, only her eyes were visible. Sitting there, sipping on my coconut water, I generally turned and asked this lady if this was the bus to Hariharapur. And she said something and gesticulated, so I nodded and continued sipping. Turns out I was sitting in the wrong bus! Luckily for me, another lady behind us spoke Hindi and had heard my question. She prodded me and pointed to a bus that was heading away and said “Hariharapur bus go there”, whoa, that was not what I was expecting. I held on to the coconut and my purse and ran out, the burqa lady ran after me because I forgot my umbrella on the seat. In retrospect it was such a hilarious sight, me running in my flip-flops trying not to spill the damn coconut water, yelling to the leaving bus, burqa lady running after me waving the umbrella, bus driver honking away – Oh God!
Thankfully the bus stopped, and I handed the coconut to the ticket collector, grabbed my umbrella from this kind woman, and hopped on the bus heading back to Hariharapur. Phew. It was an adventure and I am glad I went. And I will admit that I am suitably impressed with the decent way people behave here, very unlike North India. This driver did not have Bollywood music unfortunately, and he was a speed maniac, but we got back in 15 minutes. I very gratefully tramped back to the ashram, feeling quite relieved at being in familiar surroundings once again.