The semester has ended, and so I headed off to India! I arrived on Dec 14 and I’m staying till Jan 12 – and I’ll try to write something here once in a while :) Even some photos may eventually appear here, but not today. And I’m a bit tired, so the text might not make much sense and contain lots of typos :) Whoo – but it’s pretty long!
So: on Wednesday at 4 in the morning I finally arrived to Mumbai after a 20 hour flight from Chicago via Istanbul (and with 10.5 hour time difference from Lafayette). Fortunately I was able to get exit row seats for my both flights – and that meant more leg space and more sleep. When thinking about where to go, I decided in the end to take two flights also in India, to be able to see a bit more without too much suffering in trains or buses. And the first of them was the same day in the evening.
I felt reasonably fresh when I arrived and didn’t want to spend the day just lazing around the airport (mainly because it seems to me that being active at day is the best way to quickly overcome the jet lag) – so I went to Sanjay Gandhi National Park near Mumbai for the day. On the way I got my first healthy dose of a thickly polluted air around the roads, but the park is quite big and nice. I was almost the only non-Indian there, the nature is really nice, a bit jungle-like – but now it’s all dry (except some lakes and rivers), the rainy season is far away. They have a bus running inside the park and a tiger and lion safari – but both need at least 15 people to run, which was simply too much (there were many more, but not interested). So I walked some 6 km to Kalheri caves, which were dug by Buddhist monks who used to live there sometimes in the past. It was hot (above 30 C) and tiring, but the caves are interesting – there are over 100 of them! In the afternoon there were even enough people for the safari, so we saw some lazy tigers and a lion… And then I hurried to take an autorikshaw to the airport, together with the usual joys of bargaining about the price.
I flew south to Hubli, where I just spent the night in a cheap hotel Ajanta, most of whose guests were Indians. In fact, in whole Hubli I saw only very few foreigners (but quite a few Buddhist monks), staff in restaurants don’t know almost any English, etc. On Th I took a train to Hospet and from there a rickshaw to Hampi – that I consider one of my big bargaining successes, going for 70 rupees when the usual “after-bargaining” price is 100 :) But the price for an Indian would be even lower, maybe even a lot, I can hardly know.
I’m staying in a guest house in Virupapur Gaddi, a village at the quieter side of the river from Hampi. There are no bridges (the one they were building a few years ago collapsed) across the river nearby, which means that people have to take a small boat across – when I took it back here 2 hours ago, they fit in 25 people – in the US, the boat wouldn’t run with more than 12, I guess :)
Hampi has quite shortly been the capitol of a kingdom in the 16th century, you can read a lot about it and see some nice pictures on wikipedia.
Already on the train I was surprised how many foreigners I’ve seen there. And (not surprisingly), there are even more of them in Hampi. And probably more than half of them are from Israel. As far as I know, they quite like going to India, expecially to get some rest after finishing the long (2 or 3 year) military service. Some of the hotels are even advertising themselves primarily in Hebrew; my guesthouse has an Israeli owner. But there are even more Indian tourists here. It is both an important historic place and a sacred one.
I’m glad haven’t suffered much from jet lag! Clearly my (not so original :) ) strategy of sleeping as much as I can on the plan and then being active at day worked. However, very quickly I got a nice cold, with throat-ache going partly down to the lungs or something… no doubt the shock from the (terrible) air. Fortunately, Hampi is much cleaner and I’m feeling fine now.
Yesterday I’ve been a bit tired from the cold, so I didn’t do much, just went to the main temple here (Virupaksha Temple), looked around, had a massage, some nice Indian food and papayas and bananas. There are growing the bananas right here, you can see them still green on the trees! Also there are lots of palms with coconuts.
Today I walked around the ruins for most of the day. Among them there are also lots of huge rocks, it all looks even better than at the wikipedia pictures.
Well, I’m getting tired, so I’ll end soon and go get some dinner. I had lots of fun today with Indian kids on school trips here, they get easily excited by crying “Hi!” to you, especially if you reply or smile back. Most fun it is with pretty girls ;) And the English I’m using is getting some bad influence from the locals – as I’m trying to communicate with them as well as I can, using the few Hindi words I know (although Hindi is not the local language, here they use one of the South Indian languages, which use different script and are not similar).
But it is very touristy here. Sort of “standard touristy India”, with the same restaurants as for example in Leh. I guess that’s what most people want and expect, for me it’s also more comfortably than dealing with people who don’t know English – but that is much more challenging… and authentic as well, hopefully :)
Another thing I remembered: This village has electricity only between 6.30 pm and 11 am – and almost no places have generators.