WanderlustOr just plain lust?

The following is an extract from the travel book A River of Life: Travels through Modern India.

It is good to get back on the road, good too to get back to the type of travel I know and love: short hops. Mamallapuram lies 60km from Chennai, straight down the coast. I will be there before noon.

My head pounding from a bad night's sleep, I leave the hotel in dour spirits, that a testing half an hour with awkward autorickshaw men does nothing to brighten. But there is something about the knot of people on the street corner, bustling and expectant as they wait for their bus, that rekindles the spirit of adventure in me that illness and drab days in Chennai have all but snuffed out. We are all going somewhere. New encounters lie ahead. Energies that have been at a low ebb suddenly swell in me as the bus I want rounds the corner and rumbles towards me. I step on toes, I nudge, I jostle, until finally I am through the crowd and hailing the bus. It is stopping anyway: others are getting on.

There are few seats left. I sit beside a man in grubby trousers, clean shirt. He is smoking a bidi in contravention of the sign at the front of the bus. On the other side of me, across the aisle, is a young woman, typically Tamil, with slight shoulders and slender, graceful arms. She is wearing a sari of printed green cotton with a lilac bodice beneath. There are jasmine blossoms braided into her plaited, oiled hair. Her skin is as deliriously dark as dark chocolate, her hips are as wide and inviting as her eyes.

I want to speak to her, nothing seductive, just words, conversation. It is so hard, almost impossible, for a male Western traveller to strike up a conversation with an Indian woman, although the men are always very forthcoming. I try to assemble a suitable opening gambit, struggle to recall the fragments of Tamil I have learnt in case she lacks English. I have Vanakkam (good morning) on my tongue and "Very hot today", when she rises to her feet and gets off, with the bus still in the thick of the city. But I am glad. It is better this way. Words would have lead to knowledge, knowledge to disappointment. Just as with the lush landscapes that are soon filling the windows, a wash of green paddies beneath a clear wash of blue, it is often better to admire from afar, charging the soul with romantic impressions that can be called upon in grey moments, making me wish to be there, wherever there is, wherever I am, whether stuck in some Indian city I have grown weary of or back home perhaps. Brief encounters, fleeting glimpses, the promise of something without the fulfilment: these are the seeds of wanderlust, the lingering incompletenesses that will return to tantalize and tempt me in later days.

Read on...

Read the next article about bicycle hire in Thanjavur.

Earlier on in my travels, at Puri, I had thought about hiring a bicycle; I had demurred, chosen to walk instead, feeling that life was too precious. I am more emboldened today. As I pass a stall hiring bicycles, I decide the time is ripe for taking my life in my own hands.

Go back...

Read the previous article about the overnight train to Hyderabad.

The journey to Hyderabad is a long one, my longest to date in fact, twenty one hours. Tack on the three hours it took me to get from my guesthouse in Puri to Bhubaneswar Station and you have a whole day. To say it is the most gruelling day's travel I have ever known would be something of a bland statement, uncoloured as it would be by memories of other unsavoury journeys I have taken in the past.

Available for purchase now

Sheldon's account of his overland travels around India, A River of Life, is available for purchase now. Buy the e-book from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, or the paperback from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (also available in other countries, search Amazon for more information).

The first instalment, A River of Life, Book 1: Travels in the North, is available separately (e-book format only) via Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. The second instalment, A River of Life, Book 2: A Tour of the South, is available via Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.


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