People are kind – they go all out to help a woman traveler. I remember hitting Karwar, west coast, Karnataka, without a hotel reservation. Karwar is an awesome 3-hour bus ride from Goa. Karnataka tourism has put out these fabulous ads with lines like ‘but for Karwar we wouldn’t have had the national anthem’, ‘the sands here inspired Tagore to pen his first play’ etc. All very bewitching and unsuspecting people fall for it. Not that the sea is not awesome – it is; and the shells larger than what one has seen anywhere else.
But, here’s the catch: There are no decent hotels on offer. One would imagine that a town by the sea will have hotel rooms looking out to the sea. I was disappointed. Lonely Planet in hand, I checked out the first hotel. Firstly, no sea view, no nothing. The more expensive rooms were okay – so I asked to have a look at the cheaper rooms. They led me through a narrow corridor on the first floor on the other side of the hotel. One of the doors was open. A board outside announced services of a palmist! I glance inside to see the fortune teller – pot bellied middle aged male, ochre robes beads, tilak and all. And I beat a hasty retreat. Strange men in strange robes as neighbours will not do. It doesn’t help that the room the boy shows me sheets with holes in them.
So, I leave my bags there, tell them I’ll be back soon, take some reccos from them where I can get a sea facing room and off I go, hopping into the first auto I see. Enter Karnataka and the language of signboards changes suddenly from English to Kannada. Men wear kumkum, women wear the orange flower in the hair, the bus has a puja with bright yellow flowers, the lungi appears. I see a non-descript building, I cannot read the board but I can tell it is a govt building. The auto man tells me it’s the PWD guest house. So we go have a chat. Yes, rooms are available – Rs 100 per day, but you must get persmission from the PWD office in town. The auto guy takes me willingly. About 11 am in the morning, the all male-office is surprised to see a female unescorted visitor. I tell them my request. First, they are bewildered. Then, they say its election time, so they are expecting guests, they need to check. A flurry of activity. Phone calls are made. A young man asks me to write an application. I do that. Couple of minutes later, he calls the guest house and I have a room.
I thought about it: The men could have said no, we don’t have room – too bad. But they made so much effort to see if it was possible to get me a room. Something like – a woman lands at your door seeking shelter – we cannot turn her away. With my metro mindset I would probably have done that if I was in their place. But they didn’t. When I reach the guest house I find the auto guy doesn’t overcharge for taking him on a spin around town, and the guest house has given me its best room.