Many years back Pankaj Mishra wrote the book on small town India. From what I remember of the book, it is there on my shelf but I won’t bother opening it and reading again, it is a fairly depressing book full of cynicism and snarky views on people in towns like Ludhiana, Ambala, Kottayam, etc. coming to terms in the conflict between their deep traditional values and the modern western influences. Where the average citizen is trying to marry the two into a purposive way of life, the author sees it as a confused, kitschy cacophony and proceeds to write it off. It was quite obvious after reading the first few pages that the author was simply trying to finish off his travel budget and be done with the book.
For me, everything outside Bombay is a small town. A city of 20 million people changes one’s perspective. Even a city like Pune which is, according to the last census, about 3 million looks small. Bijapur with a population of 326,000 is almost microscopic. There are these many people, maybe more, just in Andheri. Traveling extensively in the country over the last six years and poring over Google Maps & Google Earth, one was quite prepared for what I was going to see as the bus lumbered into Bijapur.
There are direct buses to Bijapur from Bombay. It is a fairly busy service. But it is a long ride. Buses, even the fancy Volvo ones, are quite comfortable for an overnighter. But anything more than that becomes quite a strain. However, with buses there is the inherent flexibility of just getting off midway, chilling out at a dhaba or a roadside cafe for a while and then hopping on to another bus once you are refreshed.
I did that. I took a bus to Belgaum. NH4, the national highway to Bangalore, is now a wide expressway having received the blessings of the golden quadrilateral. From Bombay to Belgaum, a distance of about 500 kms was done in 8 hours (caught the bus at 10pm near my house, got off at Belgaum bus stand a few minutes before 6 am). I made use of the cloakroom at the bus stand to keep my bags there while I walked around looking for breakfast as well as a place to just sit for a bit.
Around 8.30 am, I found myself on an NWKRTC inter-city bus to Bijapur. It was a three hour (and a bit more) ride through many small towns and villages with the bus stopping everywhere. But it was a comfortable ride and one is greeted by this colourful bus stand. Pankaj Mishra, had he been here, would have vomited out at least 10 pages of snark on this.
I did not make any hotel bookings. I had checked on Tripadvisor and made a mental list of a number of hotels on the main road between the Bus Stand and the railway station. Like all cities in India, this key arterial road is named Mahatma Gandhi Road. As walked with my backpack locating these hotels, the first three I checked were full. Not a problem. The next one I found had a room, a non-AC one for Rs 850 per night. The hotel had a nice bar, served non-vegetarian food and there was cricket on TV.
In the last post I wrote of the horse tanga that I used to travel around the city. I paid Rs 500 though the tangawala had agreed to a fare of Rs 350. I added the extra bit because I made him take a detour to the Sangeet Mahal, a few kilometres outside the city centre. Not that he himself had to put any extra effort, it was the horse that was doing all the donkey work. So I owed it to the fellow. While roaming around, I passed the tonga hub, so to speak.
In the next post which hopefully I shall put up tomorrow, I will write a bit about the different tombs and monuments of Bijapur. I have made this set of pictures as part of my Flickr collection of Historic Cities.