Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trains, Planes, Automobiles and Camels and Elephants and Hijras

I've done a lot of traveling since my last post. I met up with some fellow Michigan RAs, Eun Mi, Nithya J and Allison in Bangalore and we took a 24 hour train ride (without A/C) to Mumbai. While on the train a very peppy, loud Gujurati couple (Ashwin) with their two children came on a little after midnight when everyone was asleep. They proceeded to be really loud, yelling and trying to break open walnuts on a metal windowsill.
After 24 hours on the train we reached Mumbai where Allison and Eun Mi stayed with another RA named Priyanka and Nithya and I stayed with NIthya's friend Puneet. Mumbai reminds me a lot of New York City with a strong financial district, expensive real estate and celebrity sightings. We saw this guy named Kailash Kher whom I had never heard of but is apparently slightly famous. See his video here. We also saw the Taj Hotel, the trainstation from Slumdog Millionaire and many museums and other attractions. We met up with my friend, Pranav, and went to several different night clubs and lounges. We went to this really cool place called the Blue Frog that the New York Times recommended. It was really fun and with a live band and reasonal cover charge.
One of the most interesting experiences was on the train into downtown (Puneet and Priyanka live in Juhu). We were sitting in the car of the train and a Hijra got on the train. As soon as I saw her I looked down because I knew that she would come to me to beg since I was the only white guy on the train. Sure enough, she came directly over to me despite Priyanka's pleadings in Hindi. Repeatedly touching my shoulders, head and thighs the Hijra demanded money. Frozen in shock I sat there for seconds that felt like hours, waitingfor the sense of relief that came when she moved on to the next person.
After Mumbai we flew to Delhi by way of Ahmedabad (Ashwin). In Delhi we stayed with my friend Shitij. We took a day trip to Agra where we saw the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. We also spent a day looking at the historical sights in Old Delhi. After Eun Mi and Allison went back to the United States, Shitij and I went to Jaipur in Rajistan (5 Hour Bus). He took me around to see some old forts and we went to visit his cousins jewelry store and house, both of which were really nice. At night they took me to a fancy restaraunt in a hotel owned by the Taj which was also fun.
I have a lot more to update and will do so soon hopefully. I am currently in Dharamsala (I'll update the rest when I have more time!) and am flying to Calcutta on the 7th. Hope all is well!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Motorcycle Diaries- India Style

Sumday night I caught a bus from Bangalore to Hampi at 11 pm. I got in Monday morning at around 6:30 and found a little guest house near the river. I had to register with the police and then went to sleep because I hadn't slept all night. After sleeping a couple of hours I went to this restaraunt called Mango Tree. It was a beautiful little place that overlooked the people praying in the ruins by the river. I had Dal, chapatti and veg. noodles and the bill came to 115 rp. (under $2.50 USD). Afterwards I went to a motorcycle shop and rented a motorcycle. I've never actually driven a motorcycle before so I knew it would be interesting. But, for 100 rp. ($2ish) for the whole day I knew I couldn't go wrong. I got on a big one and the guy showed me how to turn it on. I touched the throttle and shot forward just missing a street cow and the guy chased after me. He then only let me take out this tiny little one that was more of a glorified dirt bike. Mr. Minello would be ashamed if he saw me on this bike. I spent the rest of the day cruising around the ancient ruins on my bike. I almost crashed five or six times but managed to survive until 6:30 when I returned it. I met two Americans from Chicago who were former college hockey players and were making their way up to Everest and were planning on climbing it. The ruins are spectacular with all sorts of tunnels and caves to explore.

One of my friends in Bangalore told me that the temple to Ganesh was her favorite place in the whole world. Though I was initially unimpressed by the temple itself, I walked past it and found an amazing system of ruins built onto the hill. I found this rock jutting out over the rest and climbed to the edge. Despite a slight fear of heights I stood at the very edge overlooking a pasture of goats with my arms out, feeling the wind flow through my short hair and across my body. As I climbed down I saw a monkey standing exactly where I had stood, looking out where I had looked. I stood there watching for a moment until I heard a strange thumping sound and quickly looked to my left. I instinctively hopped out of the way of the bull that was charging me with his horns down. My heart fluttering I looked back to see that he had turned around and was looking at me. I broke eye contact and walked away. A little bit further down I saw two dogs attacking one of the giant lizards that are so common here. It was actually sad, they would bite it, shake their head a few times and then throw it and it would turn back to try to bite one of them. I thought about intervening but decided that it was simply nature and was best left alone.

After I returned my bike I went to a rooftop restaraunt where I met an interesting Polish guy named Arek who was in love with a French woman in an Ashram in Bangalore, so much in love that he abandoned his wife and kids in Poland to babysit her son while she was in the Ashram all day. He was a pretty funny guy who drank the tap water (a brave and stupid guy too apparently) and hadn't cut his hair or shaved his beard in months.

Today I woke up and went back to Mango Tree for more Dal. After lunch I trekked across Matanga hill to the Sooli Bazaar. I saw a cool little temple on the top of Matanga hill (a very steep hill, arguably a small mountain) and decided to trek it. I climbed for what felt like hours but was probably more like 45 minutes, stopping rarely just to drink water and think about how hot it was. There were some very narrow points where I walked along a drop off of several hundred feet or climbed over slippery rocks being pushed around by the wind. I got to the top and sat in the ruin (only about 6 by 6 feet) and looked out over all of Hampi, the river and the surrounding countryside. This was definitely the tallest point in the area and I later found out it is reffered to as "sunset point" and is considered very difficult to reach. The wind at the top was one of the strongest winds I had ever felt. As I sat there my watched beeped and looked down to see that it was noon and I laughed asI thought that I climbed it during the point when the sun was least forgiving.

When I came back down I went to this internet cafe where I'm sitting now. I began to write this post when all of a sudden my body gave me the annoyingly short 5 minute notice that it gives me in India that I had better find a toilet soon. I sprinted to a nasty, public restroom and had my first experience with a squat toilet, which makes the toilets at Philmont seem luxorious.

Now I'm back at the cafe, sunburned, slightly annoyed because the attendant keeps talking to me and asking questions about what I'm doing ("Is that your brother?" "Monthly salary?") and ready to catch my 8 p.m. bus back to Bangalore where I'll be for one day before taking a train to Mumbai. I should update again once I'm there.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I'm finally leaving Bangalore. I'm actually going to miss it. Overnight bus to Hampi tonight and then Mumbai on Thursday. More complete post to come soon.