* The first indication that all’s not well between Andhra Pradesh and its neighbour, Karnataka, is when I start chatting with the girl seated next to me on the bus. Hailing from Hubli in Karnataka, she studies in an engineering college in Hyderabad which she describes as being located in ‘the back of beyond’. When I tell her I’d missed my bus earlier, she says disdainfully, “They’ll never tell you when the bus is leaving. At least you know the Karnataka State Transport buses will leave on time.” She goes on to say that when she got a chance, especially on the weekend, she hopped on to the first bus – the first Karnataka State Transport bus – and headed home.
* The 12-hour ride in a non-air-conditioned bus passes comfortably enough, although my neck feels like someone twisted it into a knot while I was sleeping. I reach the Hubli airport at 9 a.m. and realize glumly that I have a 3-hour wait before my friend P arrives. There’s nothing to do but wait, read and people-watch.
* I’m reading Pico Iyer’s Sun After Dark, and there’s this chapter titled ‘Nightwalking’ about his experience dealing with jet lag. ‘It’s not quite a dream state and yet it’s certainly not wakefulness, and though it seems another continent that we’re visiting, there are no maps or guidebooks yet to this other world. There are not even any clocks.’ Sitting bleary eyed outside an airport located in the heartland of Nowhere Familiar, I get an idea of what he means.
* The Hubli airport is quite unlike any airport I’ve known. It’s small, cosy and unbelievably quiet. A man stands on tiptoe and peers over the wall to check if the flight has arrived. A Buddhist monk in deep red robes arrives with a small suitcase, takes off his slippers and puts on a pair of shoes before entering the terminal. There are 2-3 security guards with the rakish-looking hats which turn up on one side, and a few more airport personnel. The sky is a gentle blue, and there’s even a mild nip in the air. It’s almost too placid for an airport.
* Two men arrive in a van and disembark with a flat, elongated package which they deposit right next to where I’m sitting. The soporific airport witnesses an unexpected burst of activity. Three airport personnel troop out, followed by three more. Even the security guards leave their stations to investigate the hubbub. “Chidiya aya?” (Has the sparrow arrived?) asks one of the airport staff. When the white wrapping is torn aside, I see a mount board with a picture of a kingfisher and the logo of the Kingfisher airlines. I notice the staff are dressed in the blue and white colours of Air Deccan, an airline that has recently merged with Kingfisher. From the ‘sparrow’ quip, I gather that the staff don’t think much of the merger.
* P finally troops out of the airport just after I’ve looked at my watch for the 5001st time. We head to the Hubli bus depot to catch the bus to Dandeli. Unlike the bustling Hyderabad bus terminus, the Hubli depot resembles a ghost town. There’s no one behind the ticket counters, and the forlorn guard shakes his head sadly when we ask him about the next bus to Dandeli. Maybe in 5 hours’ time, he says. P and I look at each other in dismay. We ask the man at the small snack shop, and he says, 15 minutes. There are two American tourists trying to get information to travel to Gokarna, and ask us if we know how to get there. We express ignorance, and later wonder if they will ever get to their destination.
* The snack shop with its array of food is rather tempting. Against my better judgment, I opt for the veg patty, which turns out to be so good that I order another. There’s a colourful sweetmeat which looks like a cross between a biscuit and a pastry, which I’m tempted to try. It’s called ‘manpasand’ and is a thin-crusted pastry filled with fruit peel and coconut. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking, but the resident canine doesn’t mind it at all.
* A red bus trundles in, and people in different corners of the depot holler out to us with a finger thrust in the direction of the bus. We take it to mean that it’s the bus to Dandeli. We gratefully clamber aboard and get ready for a long, bumpy ride.