Axles of Choice

I promised my son the final choice on our mother-son train trip across India from Bangalore. Not just a real choice, as opposed to one of those demands politely phrased as “choices” we’ve spent so much time arguing about lately (could you please clean your room? how about you sit over there rather than on top of your sister’s head? would you mind terribly if I asked you to stop beating me across the face with that surprisingly-wieldy stick?), but the actual, final one.

First, I laid out our options. “The clear winner is Hampi,” I said, because he’s five, and the words “actual” and “final” do not preclude the words “heavily steered”. “Hampi is a village at the site of the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, and its ruins form an important religious and historical centre, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It’s incredibly scenic, with hilltop views extending over the nearby Tungabhadra River, and it invites energetic exploration in the fresh air and sunshine.

“Not only that, but people who have power over the Indian Rail Network have conspired to make it simple and convenient to visit from Bangalore. We’d get on the Hampi Express around 10pm, and arrive at Hospet Junction, fresh as daisies and ready for sightseeing, just after breakfast the next morning. The return leg is equally well-timed, giving a full day’s stop (or two, if you follow the advice of Partha Sarathi Baral from Lifetree, who went with his wife and son and was very helpful with logistical details when I asked for further information). And really – check out these google images! Who wouldn’t want to take a closer look at all that? Ooh, wow. That looks just incredibly interesting. No wonder UNESCO has listed it. (And so on.)

(Update: more tips on Hampi, for our next visit.)

“Now, option two is Madurai, which is a city with beautiful temples and monuments and only slightly less-well-timed rail connections (thanks for the tip, Travelling Frenchies), although no UNESCO listing. Then there’s Udupi, which sounds nice, but the train journey is longer and you’d get bored and fidgety and it’d be a rush at the other end with barely any time for what we’d like to see.

“Or there’s Hampi,” I reiterated for good measure, just in case it had escaped him.

“Definitely Udupi,” he said. And he couldn’t be convinced otherwise, no matter how lyrical I waxed about Option Pick-this-one-really.

With train tickets selling fast, I soon ran out of time to try and bend him to my will, and was stuck having to decide between the sensible path and my word of honour – which didn’t take long because obviously if sensible was my strong suit I wouldn’t have got myself into that position in the first place. So we are going to Udupi, for a day, from Bangalore, so we can ride a sleeper train in India. And we will have fun, if it’s the last thing we do. But if you’re looking for advice on overnight railway and sightseeing journeys out of Bangalore, I suggest heading for Hampi, and I promise I won’t drown you out with wistful noises if you try to tell me about it on your return.

These Rajasthani children wave at my camera in 2002, as if to say, "Have an awesome train ride in eleven years with your future son!"

These Rajasthani children wave at my camera in 2002, as if to say, “Have an awesome train ride in eleven and a half years’ time with your future son!”

Here are some more suggestions for side-trips from Bangalore (don’t forget to check the comments), including some details on Udupi and a couple of pointers about booking trains in India. There are many more options than I’ve mentioned here, especially if you add an overnight stay at your destination (which we don’t have time for), and for the benefit of any future travellers who may stumble across these posts, please feel free to add your own.

Of course any further advice on either Indian Rail travel or Udupi is welcome, too.