Monday, 14 March 2011

Indian buses, taking the rough with the smooth

Can you guess which type this is ?  - This is the De-Luxe A/C bus

Buses in India can be heaven or hell depending which one you end up on.  In our early ignorance we took local buses which were very cheap but uncomfortable and crowded.  They have 2 seats on one side and 3 on the other so designed for the smaller Indian bodies.  Luggage racks are very shallow so even carry on size baggage will not fit there.  We found out the best solution was to take a 2 seat each and sit by the window with the bag between our legs and our feet towards the centre.  This way a local can still take the adjoining seat. 
Next up the scale and a little more expensive are the run down coaches with 2 seats each side, reclining or not depending on which position they broke.  These have deeper luggage racks and more leg room and are considerably more comfortable. 
At the top of the scale we found A/C coaches with proper reclining seats, deep luggage racks and power sockets but at a much higher price.
Arriving at the bus station we found we were nearly always directed to the local bus unless we asked if there was a de-luxe one.  We also found the A/C coaches travelled faster with few stops and often made a 10 minute break at a restaurant.       

Saturday, 12 March 2011

INDIA Tiruvannamalai special mountain

In Tiruvannamalai the Lonely Planet focuses on the temple but we were lucky enough to know people who lived there who recommended us taking accommodation out near the Ramana Ashram.  This area is at the bottom of Mount Arunachala and favoured by spiritualists from around the world.  We had a very modern comfortable room at Mountain Breeze for Rs 450.  From there you can walk through the gate at the back of the ashram and then either up the mountain (around 2 miles for fine views and to see Ramanas home) or by taking the left hand turn off you can go around it.  The red markers show the way for the inner track but part way along you can detour to the yellow track which goes over a hill for a more interesting walk.  Even at a gentle pace the circuit should take less than 5-hours.  There are chances to spot wildlife, many impromptu shrines, a tank, a visitor centre and a temple with magnificent warrior statues. It is also good to take a rickshaw on the main round around the mountain to see the other temples and lingams.  Leaving Tiruvannamalai for Mamallapuram you can take the Chennai A/C luxury bus (Rs 144) and asked to be dropped off at Chengapattu (3-hours).  From the motorway off ramp a rickshaw will take you 2km to the bus station, Rs50.  Finally a local bus does the last 23km to Mamallapuram Rs9 approx 1 hour.  Alternatively return to Pondicherry and take the bus up from there. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

INDIA Pondicherry tour

If you are visiting Pondicherry it is very easy to walk around and see the main sights.  A great way to see things further afield is to take the day trip from the tourist office leaving each day at 9.45am.  At Rs 200 it is very good value.  Even if you just want to see the Matrimandir dome at Auroville this trip is cheaper than doing it yourself.  You also visit the botanical gardens, government museum, sacred heart church, the botanical gardens (recently used for filming of “The life of Pi”) and Chunnambar.  The additional boat trip at Rs40 is not great as you just got down stream for about 15 minute and see nothing of interest.  Lunch is at a posh hotel restaurant and you get a good southern Indian thali and the toilets are western and clean.  The tour is supposed to include the temple and ashram but in fact this is where they drop you so you can do these 2 sights yourself.  Our tour also ended early at 3.45pm but was still excellent.