It's been years since I've carried my pack on my back. I sit it on the edge of my bed and I line my back up with it carefully, making sure all the straps are pulled tight. It's damned heavy but it's sitting properly on my hips and I balance out the weight by hanging my book-and-water-bottle-stuffed day bag off my front. It's only a shortish walk to the train station anyway.
The walk might be short but my shoulders don’t realise this. The stupid thing is my unexercised legs are fine but my shoulders that swim a few ks every week are not. You just cannot exercise every muscle!
Finding the platform and the train is all extremely logical and easy. I have two seats to myself on a very clean train. I am surrounded by couples and grandparents with little children. Family is everything in India, as I found out last time when people quickly ran out of things to say to me when they realised I was unmarried and childless (and too old to do anything about either). But it is nice to see how much they love their kids. Adore them, in fact. Some of the little monkeys have got together to cause havoc up the aisles but the most amusing for me is the little brother and sister playing peep-o with me over the back of their seat. I'm not the most patient person with kids but I can’t help but smile at the two pairs of sparkling brown eyes and bright white-toothed smiles. What a lark making eyes at the stranger and reaching out to touch her hair while she's reading - ooh-ah!
The funniest thing about the trip is that it has cost the equivalent of $6 and I was asked at the ticketing station the requisite 'veg or non-veg?' 'But it's only two hours?' I said. I received a head wobble and a smile in reply, 'just standard question.'
But low and behold, after we've all received a two-litre bottle of water each, out come some little trays with bread sticks and a pat of butter. 'This is nice,' I think, munching on the crunchy sticks as I read my book. It isn’t till a few moments later that I realise there is more. We are also given some little cups of a very tasty orange soup, that my fellow passengers are now dipping their bread sticks into. Oh well. Doesn't matter - poor starving backpackers who can't wait, they must be thinking. Not bad for six bucks, eh, I congratulate myself. But there is still more! Out come larger trays with a container of savoury rice and another with a yoghurty style spicy sauce (and a sachet of green mango chutney). I am tucking into this delicious meal and starting to wonder if we'll get some chai, when the next course arrives: a cup of thick savoury yoghurt drink with herbs and onions in it. I am totally at a loss as to how they make any money, but it has certainly sorted me out for lunch.
Since the foggy pall on my first day in built-up Bangalore I have been much heartened by less anaemic skies, but it is on the train ride to Mysore that my spirits truly lift. I look out the window to see what I have been looking for: bright blue skies, fresh greenery, clear air, rural land and a few less people. Colour and space to breathe.
On the tuk-tuk ride from the station to my hotel I begin to recall why Mysore is so popular. Apart from the obvious palace and historical buildings, the roads are wide, buildings are not tall and the people are friendly. To be fair, Bangalore is a Big City these days (and Lonely Planet exhorts its many attractions), but I didn't come here to see Big Cities. I now feel like my trip is on track.
The Hotel Dasaprakash is a large, run down havali-like edifice surrounding a large courtyard. I am on the second floor with a view of a huge pile of logs that look newly ripped from some forest and waiting to be cut up. Cars and trucks are parked around the perimeter. My room is spartan but exactly right for my purposes. A dresser and a desk as well as a pallet for my bag, a single bed and an en suite (consisting of a toilet, a basin and a shower hanging from the ceiling (hot water 5-10am according to reception, but I'm less concerned now I'm in warmer climes). My only worry is the ultra thin mattress which looks like it's meant for a much more ascetic-like person than myself. My hips and back are hurting just looking at it. Which is a damned shame as this set up is costing me...wait for it...$6 per night. Yup. And for the excellent writing spaces I'd pay more to get a better mattress, but the beds are doubtless consistent throughout.
In the evening I request a blanket and after an hour-and-a-half of no blanket I go out in search of someone to help. In doing so I pass a pile of rolled-up mattresses presumably waiting for the attention of a room-cleaner. Naturally, I do what anyone would: look quickly both ways, grab one and high-tail it back to my room. It is now underneath the original mattress propping up the sag. I don't think the combination is any softer, but it is the best I can do. Meanwhile I hope some cleaner is not scratching his head wondering if he's going mad.
As I sit in my room typing away - having discovered I'd written a lot more of my second draft of Forests of the Night then I'd remembered – what I thought was the call to prayer started up; but as it still seems to be going on two hours later, I can only conclude it's an exuberant night life around here. Oh...goody.