"I believe that if one man gains spiritually the whole world gains with him." -Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Heaven, meet Earth (Hampi) + some reflection

Sundar means beautiful in Hindi

            Exactly a month ago I was leaving San Francisco for my new home in India.  With less than two weeks left in the study abroad program, people are beginning to talk about how to take even better advantage of their time here and brainstorming where reunions will take place (considering we are from all over the U.S.).

            There are so many wonderfully fantastic things about India: the people, the varying landscape, the food, the clothing, the music, the movies, and the culture in general. However, some of the issues I have seen here have made me realize how evident these issues are all over the world.  I guess being in a different setting is just enabling me to see these from a different perspective.  When I say “issues,” I am mostly referring to the gender inequality that is so evident here.  Being a woman, this is the most frustrating for me, especially when I am personally experiencing the biases and inequality on a regular basis.  I am so grateful for the progress that is so clearly taking place, but I know that the rate at which change will come is slower than I would like.

            Besides social issues getting me down, I had an awesome week.  It included learning the beginning of a new dance for my dance class (we perform this Friday already!), karaoke night with some new local friends, Indian pizza, the last Harry Potter, a solo walking tour of my neighborhood and other areas, lots of shopping (including a sari!), and of course more and more awesome food. 

            The week was topped off with one of the best weekends I could ever ask for.  My roommate, Kelsey, Marissa, and I planned a trip to Hampi, which is around 8 hours north west of Bangalore.  Hampi is one of the ancient Hindu centers of India and sounded pretty amazing according to review online and references from friends who had gone before.  We bought our bus tickets a couple days before to leave Friday night for the overnight journey.

            The trip started out a bit stressful.  We took a bus to the main bus station (Majestic) to catch our bus to Hampi.  After asking around a bit, we found out we were actually at the wrong station!  Turns out there are two Majestics, one is the bus station and one is the railroad station that some bus companies leave from.  After confirming that this was the case with a young Indian couple, they told us we needed to get in a rickshaw right away if we wanted to make our bus.  We hurried to a rickshaw and explained where we needed to go, showing the driver our ticket.  After some confusion, he figured out where we wanted to go.  He tried to finish his conversation with the other drivers nearby, but we all looked at him and demanded, “we need to go NOW!”   He instantly got into gear, realizing that these white girls meant business.  He got us there incredibly fast and after getting dropped off in the general area and wandering through the street of businesses, we figured out our bus was late anyway and waited with the other confused white people in the area.

            After a surprisingly delightful sleep in the AC sleeper bus (it will be tough for me to go back to a non-AC seater for an overnight ride), we got to Hampi at 6:30 am.  We had a hotel in mind and took a boat across the river, but noted that the temple elephant was going to be bathed in an hour. We checked in to our beautiful hotel, which was just a bunch of huts looking out on a rice paddy, the river, and a banana plantation in the background.  The landscape was covered in palm trees and awesome boulders, with tons of temple ruins scattered in.  We went back across the river to really get into our amazing day. 

            We watched the elephant get bathed, ate breakfast at the Mango Restaurant (recommended in Lonely Planet, but overpriced) wandered around the small shops with handmade clothes, jewelry, bags, etc and did some shopping.  Then we rented bikes and roads to some ruins where we climbed around and took tons of pictures.  We ate again and waited out a quick monsoon (aka it rained some) and went back to the main bazaar area.  I got a very oily massage (include on my face and in my hair), so I was walking around with hair wet with oil the rest of the weekend.  We walked up a rocky area above the main temple that is known for sunset watching.  Probably the best event of the day waited until the end.  We were walking back to the river to take a boat across and saw the temple elephant with two of its caretakers and three French guys.  Naturally we followed them and it turned out that the French guys convinced the caretakers to let them ride the elephant!  After watching them ride, we asked if we could too.  The caretakers said sure for 150 rupees each (less than $4 to ride an elephant bareback…yes please!).  I rode an elephant the first weekend of the trip, but this was so different.  Elephant rides were not common here, but since it isn’t tourist season, the guys didn’t mind.  I got to sit with my leg around Laksmi’s (the elephant) neck and lay on his head.  It was fantastic.

            Although we started the next day a bit later than planned, we still walked around our side of the river, did more shopping, were guided in a boat (Tappa) that looked like an upside down turtle shell down the river past more temples and ruins, sat with our feet in the water at an old temple, walked back along the river, and obviously ate a lot.  I also got henna done on my hand and we drove a mean bargain for some shirts we really wanted.  I talked to a man that sold us some jewelry and found out he is from Dharamsala, which I will be visiting in three weeks.  He gave me his contact information so he can help me and maybe get in contact with his family if we need a place to stay.

            We left Hampi Sunday night and got back to Bangalore in time for me to take a shower (and finally get the oil out of my hair) and go to class.  Hampi is by far my favorite place that I have been to so far.  I spent the entire weekend in awe of where I was and planning my return. 


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