Arriving in Bombay was like going straight from Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here on a walkman to having Johnny Rotten singing in your face. I’d think it a privilege if Johnny would do that, but I’d have to be in the right mood and when I arrived in Bombay I wasn’t, so I muttered my way to an overpriced hotel and battened down the hatches until I felt cheerful enough to make the journey to see my daughter at her college near Pune.
My hotel, the Sea Green Hotel, just around the corner from ‘all That Jazz’ was where I had my first dose of Indian bureaucracy, that little book with horizontal and vertical lines that makes you list utterly useless information. I felt at war with the country, unwilling to submit to it yet, simple things were irking me.
Next day I decided to book my ticket to Pune and plowed through the humid heat to Queen Vic station (yes it’s Bombay and Queen Vic station. To most people living in Mumbai it is too, which confuses Rickshaw drivers and tourists alike as we try to be right on with the adjusted names and get lost in the process) to get an unreserved ticket in cattle class.
I’m not sure that was a good idea, but I was gradually calming to India and waited a few hours to be shown a seat on a train by a handle bar mustache wielding, old school sergeant major, who jabbed a stick into the end of a wooden bench on an overcrowded train stating firmly ‘you sit down here’. I did, I was one of the few on the train with a seat and now very aware of my privilege as people jostled with that very Indian of jostles. I snapped a few times as some youngsters were bundling my bag around to make room on an upper bench to sit down, my neighbour quickly reminded me that ‘even in India that is a bad word sir’ and by the end of the short journey the whole carriage had bonded over that fact that I come from London and can count to Ten in Hindi. We patted each other on the backs and parted after the short four hour journey, the train trundled on to Chennai and I left to go in search of what was described as a ‘YHA’ on their little website, only 2km from major amenities.
When I asked the Rickshaw driver about the whereabouts of this, surely, well know YHA nobody knew. So we phoned them up and found out that this conveniently located YHA was actually about 28km away. I didn’t mind, the picture of the lake and it’s rural location attracted me as did the idea of a night spent in the comfort of an organisation that is united across continents, that has maps on it’s wall, facilities.
The journey was endless. We had arranged a charge that would have bought this chap a new Rickshaw as we were heading into unknown territory, but it became clear after a while that it was also unknown territory to him too. We stopped everywhere for him to ask directions, sometimes after every 20 metres on the same street, asking strangers, rickshaw drivers, children, dogs, divining sticks, asking the stars that were getting brighter as the town slowly left us behind.
After an age we came to a place that I can only describe as being like Mordor from Lord of the Rings (the Tolkien book not the porn flick). Industry was at work, the sounds of digging, rhythmic sounds, deep, slightly disturbing as my driver would dive into yeat another shack to ask where he was. I left my driver as we labored up a track so steep that his rickshaw was going to break. He tried upping the charge saying that wobbly roads shook his petrol up which was extra, but didn’t pursue it when he saw that my face resembled that of someone on the edge of reason, stuck in middle earth looking for somewhere that should be somewhere a little more similar to The Lake District.
And so it was that I struggled those final steps up to what was a little beacon and the top of the hill, Pune’s YHA in waiting.
I didn’t know if I should be angry or overjoyed by the place. Sure it was in the middle of a building site, sure it had open cast mining going on a few hundred meters away and sure it had a four lane motorway on the other side of the supposedly idyllic lake, but it is a lovely building, is quirky and has a small team of people to tend to your needs. I was the only person there, it felt personal.
The Pune ‘not quite a YHA as they haven’t got status, but would like to, but hasn’t got the facilities to, would be in a nice place if they would just stop bloody mining’ is one of those little gems that you can either just smile and enjoy or grumble and huff off from. The view of Pune is quite stunning and you can see that the lake was, at one time, a little idyll. There are palm trees down by the lake, it’s rolling hills would have been a retreat, sadly someone spoiled the party and decided to extend Pune, but I enjoyed my night there.
One things to be aware of is that the online booking is confusing. I thought I had paid in full but the receipt you get actually gives you the total due, yet takes only a deposit from you. I tried to leave without paying the next day due to this and only understood after a chat with the owner on the phone. They also have absolutely no English at all, unless you talk to the owner on his mobile. This is charming, but a little frustrating when trying to do simple things like figure out exactly where you are. They didn’t have any maps, but the building has won awards. You’d love it if you like a giggle and it started to mellow me to India’s charms again, The Pune YHA had done me a great service.