Tenderness in India.

Before I left for India, I was warned of the danger I would be in. “Don’t go out at night.” “You’re going to get pick pocketed.” “Don’t trust people.” These phrases huddled around me as the trip came closer and closer. It seemed almost as if I was stepping into a viper pit and there would be an Indian with a flute controlling the reptiles waiting to take me for every last penny I had. I think people often apply these horrible notions to things and places we don’t understand. What’s new and different is dangerous. That is the way we have been brought up. Not to trust people. Even every Halloween we grow weary of friendly neighbors sticking razor blades in our children’s candy. If this suspicion already colors neighbors a few times a year it is easy to see how it could change our expectations of a country that we know little to nothing about.

The perception of India that people warned me of was a sinister one. The reality of my trip to India could not have been farther from what I was told to expect. People were warm, welcoming, eager to help and even more so to share their own stories with us. Above all of this though I saw something in India that often goes forgotten in America. Basic human tenderness. Male friends with arms draped over each other’s shoulders as they walked through the street. Women walking by holding hands so delicately you’d think they were trying to carry a flower between them without losing a petal. Children playing with each other affectionately in the street and proud mothers watching smiling all the while. In India this tenderness goes by all the time. People displaying their adoration for one another in ways that would be scoffed at in America. And yet, across the world it seems as if they could not imagine walking down the street not intertwined in some way. It was strange going to India expecting harshness and being met with this gentleness shared between loving members of society.

Graduation glasses

Today is one of the last full days in India. I can feel it closing in. Most of the day was spent on our bus heading to Jaipur and I could not help but look out the window almost the entire four hour journey. I have those “graduation glasses” like when you are about to finish your senior year of high school. Those last couple of days where everything makes you almost sentimental. I cannot help but think about everything that has happened here in India. The people, beauty and pleasantries of everyday.

The beauty of India is truly great. As we drove through the Indian countryside I watched as fields of yellow mustard sprouts that grow over the height of a man rose and fell with each passing of a barrier marking one man’s land from another. These gave way to small towns where people worked busily and cattle roamed the street before returning to the yellow flowers that dot the countryside. Peacocks have made a large appearance in the past few days. Sitting gently on posts or walking quietly through fields before they fade into the fog as the bus rolls on by. Smoke stacks of brick factories rising up from the earth like minarets calling the faithful to labor. Mountains appearing with little warning and disappearing just as quickly. Rivers flow and white suds wash along the black rocks from women washing their laundry loads. Roadsides spotted with char from small fires people have built to keep warm. Trees that reach up to the sky and branch out like beautiful fractals spreading everything out in equal proportions. But for all the natural beauty of India, I find the people to possess the true beauty of it all.

Their beauty is in their compassion, labor and love. The calloused feet of a child warming his appendages gingerly above a fire on a foggy North India morning. Careful not to burn himself by drifting in to close. The sweat that runs like little streams down a man’s face from his headband as he toils away pulling in fish from a mighty net he has cast out. The colorful pattern formed by a group of women wearing head wraps as they walk away gossiping with each other. Creating a moving body of water, yellow, blue and orange all staying separate but cohesive like oil in water. The eyes of a man after they have long since fogged over from working away at a blowtorch with no mask day in and day out. Still trying to scrape a living selling magnets to tourists.

I cannot help but think what Hemingway would think of these people. THese people who keep fighting despite almost every odd and adversity. The labor put in and the little gained. I had just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea last night when we started our treck through the countryside. Surely if he can idolize a Cuban fisherman in such a manner we can hold the workers of India up in a similar fashion. From the farmers who sleep in the fields to the busboys that sleep on the roof. The woman who struggle through the city against a culture that holds them below that of their worth. The mothers raising children in slums and those appeasing the appetites of men to earn a living for their family. Against all reason they keep on living and hoping. I cannot fathom a life of such adversity. Yet for these people it is not a notion worth imagining but a reality placed on them through the luck of who gave birth to who.

This spirit becomes most apparent in the interaction. Everyone is willing to be approached even during their routine. No one is off limits to a conversation. In every city there has been an outstanding example of the spirit of the people of India. In Bangalore it was the kids who played so eagerly on the rooftops of the market while their parents sold their wares. Wanting to show us their dances and affections before we walked away. In Mysore it was the man in the market who saw I had a camera and asked without words to take his picture. I obliged and showed him. He returned the favor in the most thankful and honoring way he could. He took my arm in his hands, raised it to his mouth and kissed my forearm before placing his hand on his heart and walking away. In Hassan it was the child who spotted me a he loaded into his rickshaw after school. He leapt out and without warning began to pretend box with me. It would have been so rude not to join in. We exchanged blows while the crowd of his carpool watched on laughing. At the end of our bout he grinned ear to ear shook my hand and hopped in the rickshaw. In Delhi it was the boy no older than me at Jama Masjid. He spoke little English so we had to help each other find meaning in foreign tonges. After some time and a few pictures he shook my hand. THen drew my hand close into his heart and his on mine. He looked me in the eye and said “Friend.” I nodded in agreement.

Even today we stopped briefly at a hotel in the middle of the Indian countryside to pump blood back into our legs. Cara and I wandered off down a road and we met a family of people who lived in a small thatch hut amongst their mustard plants. They eagerly drew us into their home while they labored away making bread. No one spoke the other’s language so we all sat in silence simply watching each other in an attentive and curious way. Exchanging bits of laughter at each awkward moment that passed by as we waited for each other to randomly learn the other’s language.

If all these do not seem to testify to the open and loving nature of the people of India there is still one more thing. When wandering through India, almost every person will look cold at first. Their face still and watching if they are not in discourse with someone else. And they will continue to look this way watching you until you make a move. All one has to do is smile and nod at them. As if to say “I see you and I understand.” The frozen face always cracks and a grin widens as they nod back or do the traditional head bob. This is the greeting I have found most often in India. A wide smile that surfaces when provoked by the slightest of gestures. This, to me, represents the people of India.

Hard, laborious, diligent and controlled as they watch out at you. But with little effort they become easy, open hearted, tender and willing to speak to anyone despite whatever language barrier may lay between you.

Taj Mahal

Yesterday we went to the Taj Mahal. Sadly, the internet was a little slow last night so I didn’t get a chance to post about it. To be honest I expected to be a little underwhelmed by the Taj Mahal. Cramped tourist sites are not exactly my favorite locations.

When you first enter the grounds the Taj Mahal is located on you can’t see it. At all. These past days as well ahve been exceedingly foggy so this did not help the visibility. you enter through a large red sandstone gate into a small courtyard and a path leads you through another sandstone gate to your right. But before you get there as you look out at the wall surrounding you, you can see a sliver of what is to come. A little peak before the big reveal. You see the very tip of the dome. It almost blended in completely with the fog and I would have walked right past it if it had not been pointed out to me.

There is a great deal of jostling and crowd maneuvering through the second set of gates. Such so you do not get a chance to look up and catch your breath before you are through them. And then you see it. A massive Structure. It looks almost as if someone took a white chocolate Hersey’s kiss and delicately placed it on a base of pure white. The bulbous dome draws you in instantly. It is a lot to take in and unfortunately you do not have much time to do so as you come through the gate. You are likely to get knocked over if you attempt to.

I walked up to the Taj and removed my boots to walk through barefoot. I hung my boots around my shoulders and made my way to the crowd lining up outside. You can only truly grasp how inordinately large it is standing below it. It towers over the skyline so much so you almost fall back trying to look up at it. There was a bit of breathnig room at first but it was quickly taken away.

The inside is just as beautiful and ornate as the exterior, so I’m told anyway. I did not get much of a chance to see it as you are prodded through like cattle as soon as you enter to when you leave. You are lead around a faux tomb for the late wife in the main chamber before being lead through a series of other little rooms along its sides. I stopped in one to pull out my little notebook so I could at least write what the main chamber was like lest I forget. No sooner had I stopped then a guard came up to me and reminded me that writing is not allowed. Which was a rule I had never heard before.

The scariest thing about India so far is the large number of heavily armed guards at every slightly highly traveled site in the North. EVery guard wields an AK-47 or some other automatic machine gun and directs you everywhere. It is a little unnerving. At the birthplace of the God Krishna there were actual turrets set up. And every single one was manned. They had at least seven of them there. All prepared in case their was a fallout with Pakistan or something of a sort.

Once through the Taj, I paused outside of it along the back wall to do some sketching. The beauty is always in the details, doubly so in India. The walls were covered in panels adorned with beautiful carvings of flowers and tile work of embroidered designs. The thing that struck me the most here was that while I stood sketching a guard ran his hand along the marbled exterior. He was an older guard who said he had worked there for some time and even still was moved by the beauty of the building. He ran his fingers so delicately along each line and traced over the joints where the marble met. One might almost forget that he was a full grown man with a large rifle strapped to his back. But even seeing it everyday did not wear out the power of it to him. I thought that was a rather nice sentiment.

Around each frame of the Taj is an inscription in beautiful calligraphy of Arabic texts of the Qur’an. I wondered what they meant when I was at the site and have just recently looked it up. “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”

Now one thing I was never told about the Taj is that it actually has two rather large mosques on either side. Built of red sandstone. These mosques are breathtaking. They are beautiful in their design and intricate. Sadly they are completely overshadowed by the fact that they are literally right next door to one of the seven wonders of the world.

Mosques, Mists and Mystique

Today we got up around 7:30 and I made it downstairs just in time to grab a piece of toast before we left for the day. Our first stop was the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It is said that this is the site that the Prophet Muhammad will return to Earth at. Upon walking through the perimeter you are greeted with an exceptionally large square, a small fountain and a large mosque off to your side. The square is filled with pigeons and ravens as there is a massive pile of bird feed out to the side of the square. I sat down to one corner of the square and began to sketch the mosque. I wasn’t very far in when a little girl comes up to me to see what I was sketching. She was pretty interested so I ripped some paper out of my little notebook and gave it to her and a pen so she could sketch too. She immediately brought her little brother over and gave it to him to draw on. I finished up sketching and began to head off. There was one groundskeeper of the mosque who seemed to do every job at the place. He folded prayer mats, scrubbed bird poop off the floors and swept the square in the most beautiful way I have ever seen. He had a tatter of old clothes roped at one end and loose at the other. He would twirl the loose end over his head and bring it down before him in this circular motion. It was like a very strange dance he was performing in lines all over the square. We soon went up to one of the minarets that overlooks Delhi. Up there the view was so surreal. Delhi did not end. It simply faded into the fog. You truly realized just how large the city was up there.

After the mosque we walked through a Bazar before we went to the Red Fort. An absolutely beautiful walled in structure in the center of Delhi. One of the places I was most fascinated by was the gardens. Beautifully square plots of greenery dissected by canals of carved stone. At wither end of the gardens sat two marble pavilions. Each faced each other and was connected by a canal that met at a beautiful pool in between the two. The pavilions were built expressly to be enjoyed during India’s rainy season. Each had a small nice along the floor in the center of the structure where water would flow out along the floor into the canal below. They would feed into the pool where a beautiful red sandstone structure sat. An old place where poetry was said to be written by the last Emperor of India. Here he would get some of the best poets of India together and they would simply write poetry. In a room built in the center of a pool.

After the for we were shipped off to a rather nice restaurant for lunch. We were served a delicious delicacy of BBQ Chicken Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza and so on. Honestly it was a nice break. I love Indian food but I did not realize how much I missed the nasty food of America until it was gone. It was here that I also realized I am not a fan of the tour bus. I can understand why we have it. Certainly easier than the fleets of taxis and rickshaws we’ve had in the past. We are all together and there is one driver so we all get lost instead of groups of us which is a nice unifying feeling. But I dislike it all the same. I feel as if at times it becomes more of a safari vehicle. Which is a notion I don’t find particularly nice. It seems as if quite frequently we just shoot off cameras at people from behind the large windows and they can’t say no. We are gone before they can. It also rides quite high. Elevating us above literally everyone so every picture taken you are looking down on the people. We are just so isolated in the van. I heard it called “the fortress” today. Didn’t like that name. Fortress from what? The people of India who have been nothing but welcoming to us? It just is so isolating from the whole experience of what’s happening around us. We surf by above the crowds of people riding in luxury. Again, I can understand why we have it. If I was in charge I’d get one too. But I still don’t like it.

But enough about that. The post would not be complete without mentioning the Indian Archeological Survey. A beautiful expanse of land near the heart of Delhi. For what must be a square half mile you are taken back into the India of the past. Jungle grows wild among old ruins from emperors long since dead and buried. Their tombs serving as a reminder of such. The fogs stick heavy in the air and you feel much how the explorers of Africa must have felt exploring what they called “The Dark Continent”. Completely uncharted. Just paths rambling through ruins of mosques, forts and domiciles. THere are intermittent uncapped sewer tunnels and as you peak into each one you fully expect to see a body slowly float past you. There was a strangely ominous feeling to the place. After a while your eyes begin to see things in the fog. People moving among the ruins. There are people that live in the park who make a game out of running down wild animals that somehow have remained to exist in the heart of one of the biggest cities on Earth. As we slowly walked through and the sun began to set, our nerves began to be rattled. A wild boar off to our left gave us a fright as two people racing past us on motorcycles haunted us as a sort of Deliverance of the subcontinent. But they, as usual, were exceptionally friendly. Perhaps the eeriest time in there was around the time of prayer of the Muslim people who lived there. We were thick in the bush, surrounded by fog that wouldn’t let up and out of nowhere voices rang out from every direction around us. We had not even seen people at that point. It was frightening and wonderful and intriguing all at the same time.

Moving into Dehli

We woke up around 6:30 to pack our things in preparation to head to Bangalore to catch a plane to Delhi. While we waited Jessica and I played a bit of table tennis, neither of is were particularly gifted to the excitement in the morning was at a minimum as some of our grouped watched su continually miss shots. But we were soon packed and headed to the airport.

We made our way onto the plane to Delhi and truth be told I don’t remember much about the flight. I was pretty asleep most of the trip. I do know however we did it a bit of turbulance that even seemed tot ake the crew by surprise and that around us sat a group of Buddhist monks and people that worked for the Free Tibet organization. However, I realized this after I woke up and we were about to get off the plane. Too late.

We made our way to the hotel and settled in. Had some toast to put something in our stomachs before receiving a quick tour of Delhi. We wanted to seem non conspicuous. Luckily our van took care of that. It was a massive van with the word TOURIST scrawled out across the windshield in large bubble letters. We fit right in. We saw the India Gate, the Vice President’s house, the High Court and we stopped in at the biggest temple in India.

Built in 2000 and is still being finished up. It was almost like this strange Hindu Disney Worls. They even had an animatronic boat ride that took you through the marvels of India’s past. I think some minor fact checking is in order about just how far in the past the Indians developed Atomic Theory, Aerodynamics and Space travel. SOme of the claims seemed a little unreasonable. But it definitely bought up some debate about the public rhetoric of animatronic lazy river guides through history. They even served Coca-Cola products in the food court! The official light beverage of the Hindu deities. But for all of it’s strangeness, the temple was breathtaking. Massive murals, carvings mimicking life and it just seemed to go on and on. When you were inside and faced up it almost looked like you were staring into an optical illusion carved in stone. It was gorgeous.

But I have come all this way without bringing up the security of the place. Which was…intense to put it mildly. We were asked to wait for a security check where we were divided up between boys and girls. While in line we read over the things we were prohibited to take in. Every one thing we were caught with was a 100 rupee fine. There was the standard things: guns, knives, etc. But then it got strange, no pens, outside food or beverage, notepads, cameras, drawings, anything of mild usage really. We had to scarff down my Goldfish crackers in line and thrown away our pens. As we entered the checkpoint we stepped through a metal detector that went off on every person and we were all frisked. Quite generously at that. The security here was tighter than some prisons.

At the end of the day we ate in the Hotel restaurant and walked around Delhi for about an hour. And alright day I’d say.

Gomateshwara, Brick Factories, Coconuts and Treehouses

Today was the day we leave Hassan and head to Bangalore. With a stop along the way at Shravanabelagola. We were in route for a bout thirty minutes to our first destination. 600 steps up a mountain and we were in one of the most beautifully crafted places I have ever seen. Walls built to appear to simply disappear into a stone. Beautifully intricate temples and shrines and the largest free standing structure in the world. Gomateshwara. A massive white giant towering over the valley. Upright and his head held high to the clouds. At his feet priests labored away pouring offerings of milk and oils on him. Rice and flowers and coconut. One priest spoke over a loudspeaker leading the crowd in a united psalm of wondrous proportions made mysterious by a foreign tongue. The crowd united and as the priest would ask so the crowd would answer him. I wanted to desperately to ask someone what the hymns meant but I was to afraid of disrupting the ritual at hand. After sometime of watching on curiously the ritual seemed to have come to an end and i approached a priest to ask about the hymns who directed me to the manager as he could not speak English quite as well. He told me that the psalms serves as a devotional to Gomateshwara.

I stepped outside of the walls of the temple to explore the mountain top a little. I found a perch on a wall that overlooked the valley. I sat above the small neighborhood in the bottom for a long time. Listening to the sounds that echoed out to my perch on the mountain. I could hear everything. A baby crying somewhere for its mother, men conversing in the square, saws working away at lumber, motorcycles accelerating down the street, drills spinning on drywall, chickens clucking in their roost, goats calling out to anyone. Even a school called out. What must have been a mile away, students were gathering in the schoolyard and singing songs that sounded out throughout the area. I felt oddly like my own rhythms had become part of theirs. That somehow I added to the symphony that rang out through the valley. I began to daydream about if I lived in that valley. Walking across the small rock hill in between the village and the school each day. Passing the little shrine on top of the hill on my way to teach each day. I began to fall in love with this place.

India is a place that cries out to every sense you possess. It’s colors intrigue you and entice you to move forwards. There is always a faint smell of smoke in the air, similar to when you come home after a long visit. The smell that was always there but only notice upon its absence. Everyone reaches out to shake your hand and in their calloused hands you can feel their life story. A brick factory owner, a mother trying to sell wares in the market, a child who plays badminton with his friends all day. Your ears fill up with sounds of car horns, sizzling foods from street vendors, cows mooing as they make their way down the road, men calling out and goats making their presence just as known. And to top it all off, the taste. Every dish of food fills your palette. Flat bread run through sauces of spice and sweetness. Nothing is left untouched in your senses.

On this day I have fallen in love with India and I’m not sure if I will be able to give it up easily. Before it intrigued me. But sitting alone on that hill and feeling myself work into the fabric of the area I fell in love. Though no one in that town knew I watched them quietly from a distance, I felt like I could feel each of them.

And this was not even the end of the day! As wee rode into Bangalore I felt so refreshed. Which was good, because we were about half way to bangalore when something went wrong with a tire. Shiva pulled to the side of the road while we got out. I hopped over the guard rail and saw a man approaching the side of the road from a long dirt road. I went down to talk to him and he was very eager to meet everyone and show us his brick factory. Our group collected slowly as he took us for a tour of his brick factory. The clay deposits, kilns, worker’s lodging and office. The thing is, the brick factory seemed not to have been in work for some time. But the man kept referring to everything in the present tense. This is where the workers live. This is how many brick we make a day. THis is how we fire them. No one was there but him. Soon I realized that this man lived in a brick factory that had once been quite productive all alone. We must have been the first people to stop by in some time. And he wanted to share everything with us. Roasted nuts, tea, he would not let us leave empty handed. We took pictures with him under the promise we would send them to him someway. He was such a sweet man and as we loaded back up into the bus I could not help but think of what he would do when we left. I hope our mail reaches him.

We slowly made our way into Bangalore seeking out The Fantasy Golf Resort. It seemed as if no one knew where it was. We pulled to the side of the road many times asking about it but it seemed as if the resort was just as its named suggested. A fantasy. I was close to giving up hope when we found it on a long side road off the highway. We turned into a strange, small resort like hotel that was immaculate but seemed sparsely populated. We unpacked and checked into our rooms. We were rather disappointed we didn’t get the treehouse suite. I found my way to the putput course with Adam and Mike and played a round of 9 holes with the navigationable help of Suni (an employee of the hotel). He informed us once we finished up the staff was quite eager to play us in volleyball. Lucky we had Shelby, a volleyball superstar fo our own. When we met up with them only Adam, Mike, Shelby and I played so we split up inbetween the two teams already started by the staff. Shelby soon made her strength well known. Jaws dropped as she decimated one serve after another. Both sides won one match and we had to call it quits to eat.

We sat around a couple of round tables drawn in together in a courtyard adorned with some strange disco like lights that hung from the trees. A fire was started next to us and as we waited we pulled our chairs up around it and listened to the oddest playlist I have heard. It started as a sweet love song ballad meant to inspire romance in visitors I suppose. It spanned many artists that I would not have thought to put together. Bruce Springsteen, Guns and Roses, Crowded House and an extremely misplaced “Mmmmmmmm” by Crash Test Dummies. Nothing like winding up the night with a song about people’s troubled lives early in their school careers.

Internet’s slow again. Pictures will just have to come later I suppose.

Police constables, Badminton and Banana Cakes: Day 5: Hassan

Today we started off at 7 and packed up our things for Hassan. We were about to leave the hotel but before we could we were each gifted the set of three local papers we had been featured in. And one rickshaw driver informed us we even made it on the television news segment! But we can’t find it sadly.

Our bus driver’s name was Shiva. He said “My god is Shiva, I am my god.” Right off the bat we knew he was going to be a pretty cool guy. He took us two hours through the beautiful Indian countryside from Mysore until we reached Hassan. We stopped in at our hotel. The sweetly named Southern Star Candy by Peppermint. It’s pretty fancy pantsy actually. We do not belong in a place like this. Our bags were delivered to our hotel rooms, newly refurbished granite bathrooms, delicious in house restaurant and some of the best views of the city. After settling in we took off for two very old temples in the local area. Belur and Halebi. One fascinating thing about Halebi is that it features old images from the Kama Sutra on its walls. So we had our eyes out for that. Also there is supposedly a frog that got sealed up in the wall during construction. I have a feeling said frog is no longer with us.

While photographing at both of these locations our stardom in India made itself apparent again. After being swarmed by a couple groups of 20+ Indian school children and sitting in on a couple class pictures it begins to go to your head . Even more so after appearing in the news. At Halebi I walked around the temple grounds for a bit but made my way down to the edges of the enclosure. Where a wall divided the temple grounds from a river bank where men were fishing. I decided I would hop the wall and walk on down to take some pictures. The only problem was I had to do it barefoot. You have to remove your shoes when entering sacred places in India and I was too excited to go back and fetch them. So down I went to the beach.

I caught up with a fisherman who had just pulled a net out of the water before I began to head back tot he wall . I climbed up and walked along the wall for a while until I found ruins of an old temple that was in disrepair and in a very secluded part of the grounds. So I hung out there for a while before walking back to the main section. This space was easily about 20 acres or so. I think. I’m no land surveyor. But I spotted some of my group sitting on the lawn a few yards from what looked to be a school field trip. So I sat down and as I was looking around I made eye contact with one of the people doling out food for the school. He made the unmistakable gesture, raising his hand to his mouth holding an invisible article of food and raising his eyebrows. They want to feed me. So I went over and followed up with him. Which drew quite a bit of attention from the school kids. They gave me a metal plate and loaded me up with some delicious foods, took a goofy picture for them of who I presume to be the cook feeding me a biscuit by hand. The food was delicious. Sadly we were pressed for time so i had to take off before finishing. Not without dozens of handshakes though.

When we got back to the hotel we lounged about for a while and I decided to walk around the neighborhood and take some pictures. I met a very energetic young man who loved to high five and smash fists . Pretty cool kid. While walking around I stopped to talk to a guy on a motorcycle who turned out to be none other than the police constable for Hassan. We chatted for a while and he gave me my number in case anything dreadful were to happen. I started off back down the street and smelled a delicious sent of baked bananas. I’m a sucker for banana baked into things (as I am with most foods I have come to believe) so I had to sniff out the location. My nose lead me to a little bakery where they had fresh made banana bread. And boy let me tell you it is amazing. I’m saving it to eat on the road tomorrow morning but every hour it is becoming harder not to devour it. I also ran into a group of kids playing badminton in the street. So I figured I’d try my hand at it. I don’t know what possessed me to think this was a good idea as I have a tenuous grasp on hand-eye coordination without a elongated racket in my hand. I was laughed at but it was ok. I was just creamed in a game by a bunch of Indian middle and elementary schoolers.

Last day in Mysore

Today was the last day in Mysore before we leave. We woke up and met around 7:30. Today was the first day that I honestly felt the temptation to simply lay in bed. So this could be a crucial turning point in the India experience. But we got up and went out to the market we went to yesterday. And the atmosphere could not have been anymore different. The market was empty. The few people were that were there were fresh to the morning themselves and slowly worked themselves around fumbling to stack piles of coconuts and potatoes. No one was trying to make us buy anything. The few people there buying things seemed to be stocking up wholesale. Loading mounds and mounds of bananas into the backseats of rickshaws and so on. It was much more relaxing then the mid day rush. Of course being that it was the morning after New Year’s probably didn’t hurt that much either. I wandered around with Cara and Adam and we took a quick tour of the meat market, met a few kids and kept on walking.

It had been a running little discussion within the India group about getting haircuts in India. So as Adam, Cara and I walked through the market what do we find but a lovely little barber shop. So it was only natural of us to check it out. I decided to go ahead and get a hair cut and what followed was the greatest haircut I have ever received. Done entirely with scissors, no razor except for the back of the neck and brushing up the remainder of my beard. Hair was brushed off via a strange noogie method I was unfamiliar with and in the end the whole deal was only the equivalent of about 4 bucks. Not too shabby at all.

After exploring the market we went ahead and had a nice brunch at a hotel on the other side of town before heading out to St. Philomena’s Catholic Church . Which is really much more like a cathedral. The place is massive. And beautifully ornate. After we explored the grounds and what not we sat along the steps outside the church. A group of about five middle school boys rushed up to shake our hands and take pictures with us. Then a couple more, and a couple more and before we knew it we were swarmed by easily forty or so boys all hollering and taking pictures. It was needless to say a bit overwhelming. But luckily there was a security officer who quickly brought the situation down a bit.

Later on we found out we had made it into three local papers! We have becoming quite famous in Mysore and I don’t know if I should leave.

After a quick break we went to the mall with the delicious ice cream to shoot some pictures. Adam, Carson and I loaded up into this 4D experience ride simulator thing and it was amazing. It was like riding a video game from the 90’s. No real set motion just a shmorgus board of graphics they were able to kind of pull off. It was awesome.

After we returned to the market again where Cara and I made our way up to the roof of the meat market and watched some dogs, ravens and falcons pick apart the remains of chickens for the day. I have never seen so many falcons in my life. They were everywhere .

Chamundi Hill and Mysore

Today I was drastically shaken from my sleep again by the sound of the call to prayer at the mosque a couple buildings over from us. But it has become this nice sort of alarm clock so I really didn’t mind. Just a little shocking to have a man chanting at you at a truly incredible volume first thing in the morning. Today was the day that we all go to Chamundi Hills and I present to the group on the significance of the area. I was informed by Mike that it would probably be just us there, I’d give a brief presentation and then we would start our hike up. However, things never seem to go exactly according to plan in India.

As our rickshaws approached the base of Chamundi Hill I began to see more and more motorcycles and people and the combination of stirred up dust and predawn fog lingered heavy in the air. This wasn’t quite the audience I had expected to hear my little speech. So we stuck to the back of the pack and I gave my presentation and afterward our rickshaw drivers explained to us that there was actually a race up the hill today being put on by the local government. A race we were free to compete in! At first we were a little skeptical and just wanted to go up on our own accord but soon it was clear that wasn’t really going to happen. So we signed up, got some free T-shirts and got behind of the rest of the pack. AT one point the government officials were on a stage saying things that us Americans couldn’t understand so Adam leans into one of the rickshaw drivers and asks “What are they saying?” He just sighed and answered “Politics.” By age and gender they launched groups of runners up the mountain. When it was clear we just wanted to stick together we were given our own special “foreigners” category to compete in. So they announced us, threw the green flag and we began to slowly walk up the hill. Which I’m sure was a little anticlimactic for those in charge. But Adam did a good job posing to run for some pictures. We were even being filmed so he would sprint at the camera guy a few steps then instantly slow to this slow motion jog pace. THroughly confusing the guy trying to walk backwards up the steps and film us.

1001 steps later we were at the top. A little ceremony had been drawn and the competitors were divided up by age and gender brackets and they sat waiting to hear who the winners were. So once again, we tended towards the back. Which of course would yet again not stand. We were hauled up to the front and on stage where we were each awarded certificates for our participation as well as a slew of pictures with the government officials. It was the most bizarre situation I have ever been a part of. After we were presented with awards we were promptly swarmed by crowds of kids. All wanting to shake our hands and talk to us. So I obliged them on the sole condition that they in turn write their names in my notebook. They were incredibly sweet.

After the celbration we made our way to the top of Chamundi Hill. With intermitant stops along the way for pictures of course. There is also a small village on Chamundi Hill where some people live. I was passing by one and this little girl darts out of her house and looks up the stairs at me. So I walk down to her house and soon everyone is out and ready to be photogrpahed! THe first boy and his mother went very smoothly. But when the second mother brought her child out to take a picture. Well…things didn’t go quite as well. After that I gradually made it to the top. Chamundi Temple. We walked around a bit before heading back by rickshaw to the hotel.

ALl of this happened before 9 in the morning! Soon we broke for lunch and some time to unwind before going out again. We ventured out to the Mysore Spice Market where we split up. Shelby and I wandered around the streets and found our way to a meat market that was surprisingly hospitable to us. They took time to tell us how they cut the meat and what meat is which animal and how you can tell and so on. After some time in there we went down to the larger market. A place I can’t say I was fully prepared for. Rows and rows of stands under a tapestry of multicolored tarps that illuminated every square foot a different color. And it was packed. Maneuvering was similar to trying to climb through a rock crevasse. People were everywhere. We spent some time wandering through before we were quickly busted out of 6 bucks.

A kid came up to us quite instant he show us how to make the incense he makes. So we followed and as he is demonstrating to Shelby and I, Adam and Caleb find their way into the place as well. So he makes incense and we all buy some fragrance oils that smelled delightful and truthfully weren’t that expensive. Which makes me feel a bit better about being scammed I suppose. Anyway we all buy some and head out. Not four feet from that stand another kid comes up to us and gives us the exact same talk about showing us how to make incense and what not. We were no longer special. But honestly I could not help but feel that I would do the exact same thing to tourists. In reality there is no way in hell most tourists would fork over 6 bucks to someone for nothing. And really 6 bucks is not that much to us. But that could feed people for days in India. I would tell every story I could to weasel an extra buck out tourists who don’t know any better. It was just one of those experiences that really made you realize the relationship between visitors and hosts in places such as India. Even I, someone of very modes income, make over 7 bucks an hour. More than many people selling things in that market may see in a week! I cannot be upset by that. They are simply trying ti survive.

I was getting sidetracked. Anyway after the market we cut through a local mall where we found the most delicious ice cream stand in the world. We bled 34 dollars on that Ice cream. and every scoop was a little over one dollar. That is a lot of very delicious ice cream. I’m talking ginger, orangello, mocha, lemon zest, raspberry, blueberry, rum rasin and the very illusive mixed flavor. 30 plus scoops of ice cream. 12 people. And some people only got one scoop, the poor bastards. We literally had a scoop of every flavor they offered. It was amazing.

After all that we reconvened at the hotel for a quick photo critique and pizza dinner in mine and Caleb’s room. And after we adjourned to the roof where we stayed up as late as we could for the new year. About 11. The days we have had have just been exhausting but exhilarating to say the least. It was also Jade’s birthday so we had to help her enjoy that as well.

Bangalore to Mysore

Today was the day we travelled from Bangalore to Mysore. Another early morning and photographing before we packed up our things and set out to the train station in Bangalore. Over breakfast Cara had informed me that there seemed to be two types of times at the train station. Empty or sardine style crowds.

Upon reaching the train station it felt like we were most likely going to be set up like sardines. We stuck out like painfully white sore thumbs. 12 white people with large bags in the middle of a densely populated Indian train station. There was no hiding that we did not belong there under normal day-to-day pretenses. We arrived at the station about an hour and a half early so we could spend some time photographing before we set out by train. The train station was organized by a series of 10 platforms and a walkway above connecting them all. Some of us head up to the walkway above the train yard. We were met with a strange wave like frequency of crowds. Every so often a train would come in and the walkway would be packed for a good five minutes. Then no one. Then a train would be departing soon and a massive crowd would flood in from the opposite direction. When the two met on the rare occurrence it seemed like a navigational nightmare. I just stood next to the wall and waited for the waves to pass. And of course being there wouldn’t be complete without more people wanting to take pictures with us.

After a bit we loaded up into the train and set out for Mysore. Traveling through India by train is truly an amazing experience. It was so wonderful to watch as the city and urban sprawl slowly receded into nothing as they became replaced by small farms, streams and mountains in the distance. Apart from this you see so many people near the tracks as you pass through small towns in the rural areas. A man teaching his children to harvest their crops, a woman washing her clothes in the river, kids playing volleyball and people simply walking down the tracks. I found these little instances to be beautifully crafted in a way. You saw such a short snippit of these people’s lives and were forced to somewhat invent a story or at least a reason behind their actions. It was truly a snapshot that passed too quickly to even take a picture of. Every second away from the window and you missed something breath taking.

However, I could not ignore the environment of the train. I decided to get up and snoop around the train cars a bit. I found that each train car was painted with a surprisingly different and refreshing color palette. Where one would be a mint like green, another would be a muted pink or an underwater blue.

In seemingly no time at all we were in Mysore, or as one man called it “the Beverly Hills of India”. Mysore is quite a popular destination for those studying yoga. So the sight of white people did not seem as shocking here. Which, I must admit, hurt my ego. A whole day and no one asked for a picture with me. Just when I thought I was developing quite a following in India. Anyway, we came into Mysore and were greeted at the train station by three cabs. So the group split up and I landed a cab with Emily, Kelsey and Jessica. And it was glorious. We weren’t a minute away from the train station when the driver looks at me, slowly turns up the volume to the radio and begins to serenade all of us. Grinning ear to ear he went on for almost the entire car ride. Only stopping at the end to finally make introductions and small talk. Even when we had come to a stop in traffic he would begin to play air guitar to the song and nod me on as I tapped my hands to the beat.

We reached our destination, a small residence in the suburb of Bangalore. We went in and were greeted by the two most gentlemanly dogs I have ever met. One of the owners, Anu Ganesh, led us in a cooking class where learned how to make Indian cheese, a spinach and cheese entree and a delicious chocolate dessert. After the class we sat down and enjoyed a meal. One of of the dogs lay on the floor with his front paws crossed over one another as a man would cross his legs and sit back in relaxation.

We ventured out into Mysore to take some pictures around dusk. I teamed up with Jade again as we made our way down the main street where we turned off and found a small neighborhood park where a group of kids were playing cricket. We took some pictures before a ball was hit our way and I embarrassed myself trying to throw it back. Cricket balls are not quite like baseballs I found. At least not the one they were using. As we walked our way back to the house we saw so many kids playing in the streets and it was the most enjoyable thing to watch. A sight that seems to have become less frequent back home for some reason. But it was just lovely to watch kids have fun without anyone worrying about the new flu strand everyone has or people stealing kids away from their parents.

We met back up at the house so we could be shuttled to out hotel. Two cabs arrived and a group of four of us had to hang back while they dropped off the rest for the class. SO we sat on the roof of the house drinking chai and eating some of the most delicious pie I have ever had. Adam had brought up my pies before to Anu earlier as she taught us how to cook so she insisted we try her pie. I humbly admit defeat. The pie was amazing. Chocolate, banana, cinnamon and crust living together in perfect harmony.

When we finally made it to the hotel I found my way up to a spectacular 360 degree view from the roof. A nice quiet spot to gaze out on the bumbling city as I watched on in a sort of exhausted silence.