Saturday, June 13, 2009

One Long Night in the Indian Monsoon!

Badami – Hampi’s less well known but no less brilliant cousin. Green hillsides covered in crags and freestanding pillars of red sandstone, crimps, jugs, edges, vines and monkeys. The crags stand sentry over the small but bustling village and its characteristically crazy traffic – pedestrians give way to bikes, bikes to motorbikes, motorbikes to rickshaws, rickshaws to cars, cars to trucks, and the trucks to buses. Buses will give way to one thing and one thing only – the king of the road – the Holy Cow.

The main street is lined with small shops. Cafes peddle dirty glasses filled with sweet lassi while the dhabas do a roaring trade in ready-made and sure-to-make-you-sprint-to-the-toilet food. Men sit under the shade of the Banyan trees, unsure what to do with their day and seemingly unperturbed by the rotting rubbish that surrounds them and is the most ubiquitous feature of India . Tuk tuks block the traffic as they compete for each fare while street vendors hawk onions and flowers, broken watches and phones with no batteries. Touts try and sell you bus tickets to places you don’t want to go and the only two internet cafes have one working computer between them. Here, pigs are the street cleaners, dogs are the villains and the monkeys are the thieves.

And in amongst the bedlam, cows stroll and lie in the shade, or lie in the middle of the road as the traffic waits. Untouched, unscathed, unbothered, just waiting for a passing Hindu to scratch their ears and swat the flies from their rump.

We’d arrived in Badami late one night after taking 17 hours to cover 230km. Steep mountain passes slowed us down, the unspeakably pot holed roads jarred our bones, and the traffic terrified us. Seemingly death defying, sadly this is the one thing the traffic is all too often not - as we drive, we tend to pass one twisted metal carcass after another, each wrapped around another, or wrapped around a tree, or rolled off the side of a precipice, or crushed under something bigger than itself.

It was 2am before we finally pulled into the forecourt of a swish hotel, woke up the staff and wearily pitched our tents in the garden as the post-monsoon drizzle fell softly.

The following day, we climbed in a dry heat, the sun managing to burn away the humidity we’d gotten so used to recently. And boy were we happy to be there, with climbing in such abundance, route after route on great rock, bolts waiting to be clipped and boulder fields waiting to be explored. We found easy walk-ins, flat landings and awesome moves, with water buffalo and monkeys providing an ever-amusing back drop.

After a glorious day, we lit a campfire and cooked up some sloppy egg fried rice with an assortment of unidentified vegetables. We’d had cake for pudding and then told stories and jokes over a few beers before I crawled into bed early, delightfully relaxed after such a happy day.

It was dry. I read a little although the pages passed slowly. I listened to cheesy tunes on my iPod and zoned out from the laughter outside.

A few drops of rain started to patter on my tent - one of my favourite sounds. I was cocooned, cozy and enjoying the night-time cool. And I was dry. I even lay there for a while marveling at how waterproof my tent was. And the rain continued.

And it became heavier. I lay there staring up at the yellow pertex stretched tightly between the poles, watching the stitches for signs of water droplets, and none came. Still the tent didn’t leak. I marveled some more. And the rain continued.

And it became heavier. But still no rain came through the roof of my tent. Awesome! And the rain continued.

And it became heavier. And then I felt my toes getting a little wet. Sitting bolt upright in shock that my tent would do such a thing, I prodded at the groundsheet to see how wet it was.

And it wobbled.

Now, I may not know a lot in this life but I do know that the ground is not supposed to wobble.

Hmmm. Opening my inner a little, just enough to poke one eye through to survey the outside world, I couldn’t help but notice that my yellow bag seemed to be swimming in 2 inches of lovely brown water.

And the rain became heavier, and I gradually I was forced to notice how torrential it really was. Somehow I’d managed to block most of this out in my drowsy reverie, but listening now, my ears filled with an ominous roaring. The thunder had started now too, and its deafening booms were the only sound breaking through the thrashing rain. Lightning was becoming ever more frequent until I had my own disco light show inside my tent. A minute later, the thunder was no longer discrete – just one deafeningly continuous growl.

But I was cozy, and warm, and the groundsheet was only leaking a little bit. So I ignored the rain like I’d ignored it before and went back to sleep.

Believe it or not, I actually got away with this for about 3 minutes. But then reality hit and I could no longer ignore the fact that not only was the ground wobbling like it ought not to, but I was floating. Maybe not properly, maybe some parts of me touched the ground but there was definitely too great an element of ‘float’ for comfort. Bugger.

Time to poke my head out of the tent again, just to survey, just to see what was going and see if I could get away with another 40 winks. Only this time, opened the fly just a wee bit was all the welcome that the flood waters needed. Before I knew it, the tent was a foot deep in water. Just like the field outside was.

Ok. No more denying it. I was going to have to get up. Dammit.

Scrambling to find my clothes in my new swimming pool and managing to find only the sodden rags that they'd become, I crawled out into carnage. The entire campsite was knee-deep in water. It had risen from 2 inches to 2 feet in less than 40 minutes and still the rain sheeted down.

Between the lashing rain, I could see people legging it around all over the place, dragging their things into the only dry, which soon became very wet. We were falling, crawling, desperately trying to rescue the few fragile possessions left inside our tents – down sleeping bags, iPods, phones, cameras, books, precious diaries, that kind of thing…

And at that point, the night truly turned to shit with the bursting of sewers that further flooded our already flooded field. No longer were we walking in knee deep water. Now we were walking through knee deep piss with brown floaters to make the brown water browner.

What to do, what to do? Rescue possessions and walk through shit or leave possessions and avoid wading through poo.

We spent a while trying to decide before we gave in, accepted what was, huddled in the dry room kindly donated by the hotel, drank what brandy we could find (really quite a lot) and passed out surrounded by wet clothes, wet tents, wet sleeping bags, wet everything, not to mention the all-pervading smell of poo.

Let’s just say that our use of detergent has been on an industrial scale over recent weeks, and now, finally, my possessions have finally reverted to their original un-brown state.