After the horrors of my previous hotel, upon reaching Coimbatore, a swelteringly hot city in central Tamil Nadu, I checked myself into a 4-star place as curative pampering.
The concierge helped me with my bags and I offered him 50 rupees to thank him for his trouble. At this point, he came out with an ingenious ploy:
“I’m actually collecting foreign currency. Do you have any of your own currency?”
Harbouring suspicions that he was simply trying to get a better tip (a pound is c. 180INR and I had offered 50INR for his help) I nevertheless acquiesced to his request.
“As a collector you’ll definitely have British currency, so let me give you something less readily available. Here is a Mexican peso and a Japanese yen!”
The two coins combined have a current value of roughly 5p but would, no doubt, have been harder to come by in Coimbatore than a pound.
On realising his trick had backfired, he looked dejected, took the coins, thanked me with a forced smile and shuffled out.
This may seem fairly petty of me but, when you’ve been swindled on a regular basis for several weeks, try to tell me that you wouldn’t take the opportunity to exact a little vengeance.
Most of the next morning was spent hunting for a laundry shop that, unlike the hotel, wouldn’t charge me £15 for a wash. I found a “knobs” shop fairly easily, but took longer to locate the a laundry.
My search for a laundry was worthwhile. I was charged 10% of what the hotel wanted: £1.50
Coimbatore is a bit of a “nothing” town but I had to be there in a couple of days as I was flying from there to Chennai to visit friends. Best option in the meantime? Get out!
Fellow travellers had recommended the Anamalai Tiger Reserve some 100km south of Coimbatore. This sounded eminently more exciting than remaining in hot, sticky Coimbatore. But how to get there?? No trains, buses infrequent and uncomfortable; I would have to rent a car and drive. The mere thought filled me with dread. In a country where people fold in their wing-mirrors to get through smaller gaps and the sound of a bus’ horn means “Move now because I’m not stopping!” It was a daunting prospect.
I called a company who confirmed they had a car available. It wasn’t technically a rental car so, if stopped by the police, I could just say it belonged to my friend….. I was becoming inured to “dodgy” so didn’t bat an eyelid. “I’ll take it.”
A flame to a moth is as a golf course to me so, when I passed familiar looking flags in my friend’s car, I had to stop and play.
Diversion behind me, I carried on to a small town called Anamalai, within striking distance of the tiger reserve. I nearly died on the road so many times that, when I submitted my story to the writers of the Final Destination movies, they told me it was unrealistic!!
My lodgings in Anamalai were rudimentary but quaint. Head, pillow, sleep, alarm, shower, ignition, westward.
As my drowsy mind tried to grapple with the concept that my body had dragged me out of bed at a very early hour, without its permission, I arrived at the gate of the reserve.
“You’re too early. Please wait only, sir”
“We’re open now, sir. I’m afraid our elephant sanctuary is closed and we’re not running the tiger tours. You’ll have to drive on to Parambikulam Tiger Reserve.”
Not what Morning Me wanted to hear. But I had no option. On I drove. When, after several miles of suspension-knackering potholery, I arrived at the Parambikulam ticket office, I was informed that I would need to hire a safari bus to enter the reserve. An expensive 25-seater! For one person!
As I was processing this miserable news, two gentlemen were paying for a group of 50 that had just arrived on a coach. Overhearing my predicament they felt pity: “Would you like to join our group?” They ventured. “That would be amazing!” I replied, “Thanks!”
So, now that I’m on the minibus, let me give you more detail: the group turned out tmto consist of 50 environmental sciences students from Pune University on a field trip. I chatted at length to Dr. Pramod, the assistant professor on the trip while students looked on, bemused as to where this non-student had sprung from. (I chose to end this sentence with a preposition. I’m a wild child.)
Billed as a safari tour, the scenery in the park was undeniably beautiful. The only thing missing from the safari was….. well, the safari bit! During the three-hour tour we saw some common deer and a monkey – not quite the big five I had seen in Africa. That said, there was never a shortage of photo opportunities:
As the fauna were underwhelming, we resorted to flora. We were told this tree was the oldest in the region, although, how they could prove that I’m not too sure….
Bidding farewell to my new-found friends, I made the long, perilous journey back to Coimbatore, returned the car to my friend and made for the airport. The flight left on time with no hitch but, speaking of time, I thought Samsung’s use of the word “Timeless” in the in-flight magazine was probably poorly chosen.
Next stop: Chennai