Home from vacation, a long entry

My vacation has come to a very peaceful end. After a 14 hour bus ride home, I did a nice cleaning of my flat, picked up my dog and some milk, made an omelet and coffee, and sat to read the inserted NYTimes into my Asian Age newspaper. I still have one more day of relaxation. I can say it’s been a great vacation.
On the last day in Hampi, we forwent going across to the other side where there are shacks and the monkey temple to just ride around on our bicycles and enjoy the town one last time. We had the most amazing cashew nut curry. It reminded me about when I left when all of my friends said I would come back smelling of curry. After I thought about it for some time I realized that it was the first curry dish I’ve had since being here. Curry is more of a South Indian thing. Here we have different masalas and sabzis but not curry. After lunch we went back to our pretty hotel, checked out and took the bus back to Hospet. There’s not too much in Hospet so we were a little confused on what to do with the massive amount of time we had left over; we managed to fill our time with coffee and finding out where our respective busses left from. Manoj’s bus left a few hours before mine so as soon as he left I found an internet café where I finally was able to check a few emails and chat with some folks. I went back to the same place where we went the first day, had some coffee, idily sambar, and still needed to kill time so I walked around and sat in a little ice cream shop. The guys there changed the channel to an English channel even though they didn’t speak English. They barely spoke Hindi. My limited Hindi was useless in Karnataka.
Overnight busses are never really that nice, but the ones here aren’t bad at all. They give you blankets and the chairs recline quite a bit. Arriving in Banglore at 5am, my friend Sharath picked me up and we headed straight to Mysore. Parts of Banglore remind me of Queens. It was like having a weird flashback.
I was nervous about spending time with his family. They also don’t speak English very well, his dad can speak a lot, but like most Indians, he has a very difficult time understanding my accent. One thing that hasn’t gone away is my fast speech and New York accent; only when speaking with some of the kids at work do I slow down and annunciate a lot more. If not I either forget or feel silly for speaking funny. His parents and I met briefly when they came to visit him in Mumbai and I happened to be there at the same time. They’re really sweet and greeted me with smiles, coffee and yummy South Indian food. They eat more rice in the south. And even their rotis are made out of rice. I learned that by watching his mom the next morning.
We went up to the highest hill, the name totally eludes me right now. You should be able to see the entire city from there, including the Mysore Palace, which is lit up every night. It was so foggy that it looked like the entire city was experiencing a black out; this was also cool in its own respect. We went back down, rode a bit around the city and went home for relaxation and dinner. The next morning I woke up and learned how to make rice roti and chutney. I can’t wait to try them at home. We explored much of the city for the rest of the day including the Mysore Palace. It was built after electricity and before the British were kicked out so it has a lot of European influence as well as electricity throughout. It was absolutely beautiful. At all tourist sights (like in Hampi which I did on my own) Sharath made sure I got in for the Indian price. There’s a huge difference in price. The audio tour was free for foreigners so we were able to get a full tour. The paintings that aligned the corridor showed processions of the Raj. They said that each person in the painting represents someone different. It was incredible. The work in each of the rooms was also quite mesmerizing. One hall where the Raj used to throw parties had pillars all over it to make it seem like the room was ever expanding. When the raj was no more, the family took over as governors of the city. It appears, with barely any info that it was a smooth transition.
We played capoeira in one of the adjoining temples after walking around and then went on our way. I was a bit hesitant on going to the zoo, but Sharath convinced me that the animals were there on a rotating basis. What I figured out after touring the zoo is that I think it’s just the tigers that are there on that rotating basis. I can’t deny that it was fascinating seeing so many different types of exotic birds and monkeys, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and elephants. It also made me sad, as most zoos do. What I think was most upsetting was that even though the zoo had a great tour, with informational signs about each of the animals, about protecting the wild, respecting nature, not throwing trash (as most of India does), how to protect the environment, and one of my favorites that went something like “let me live in my environment, stop polluting and destroying forests,” people still managed to disrespect the environment within the zoo. There were set up food areas, rest stops – the entire zoo tour was 3kms. At each rest stop there were a plethora of trash bins, and even within the tour; although they said don’t take food past the rest areas. Trash was thrown anyway. It hurts me. I tried to explain to Sharath why they shouldn’t, and his rebuttal was the same as I’ve heard others say, that it provides jobs to people; please disregard the environment. After I explained a bit more, I think he gave up. The best part was outside of the rhino cage someone threw their paper cup and Sharath yelled at him (in Kanada) saying there was a trash bin right there. The guy looked at him like he was nuts, Sharath repeated himself and the guy picked it up and threw it in the bin. Hopefully there will be a lightbulb in someone’s head.
After the zoo we got some famous grape juice and headed home for lunch and rest, after which we went to an exhibition, a mix between an outside market and a fair. It was impressive. Tired and full we went home. Because it was Diwali, there are certain rituals and ceremonies different families conduct. For the first time in a while, Sharath’s family was doing a special pooja that involved killing a chicken. We went to a field, lit different candles, put different items including a coconut (brown) different flowers and other items out in a certain order while lighting incense and pouring milk into three holes. After the main part of the ceremony, they took a chicken and cut the head off and walked clockwise around the area. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be until they placed the chicken down and it still squawked and ran around. I wonder what will happen to these kinds of traditions as the younger generation, Sharath included, don’t really believe in the same sorts of religious ceremonies and superstitions.

Something quite amazing close to Mysore is Bylakuppe. It’s one of the 52 Tibetan settlements throughout India. I had to go there, so I woke up and took the 2 hour journey by bus by myself. It’s always good to have a bit of alone time on a vacation as well. The city was like walking into Tibet. There are several monasteries and nunneries, inside of which there are many temples; the Golden Temple is one and the most famous in terms of tourist attractions. I couldn’t get over how around me signs were in Tibetan, people were Tibetan, and there were monks all over. It was just beyond me. The landscape there, as in much of Karnataka was lush and green. It was also silent. Besides the tourists and a few temple sessions that were in progress (which were amazing because of the chanting the instruments and the sheer trance-likeness of it) there was barely any noise. The Golden Temple has three smaller temples on three sides of it, all of which are stunning. Before entering each one you have to remove your shoes. There are signs inside the temples saying that they are a place of worship and not for recreational activity, please be quiet. I became upset several times when people walked in an moseyed around like it was a park, touching the walls. Outside I twice saw a group of people try to harass two Tibetan monk kids. I missed the first part on each account but it looked like they were trying to grab them. I wanted to yell at them but was too far and was unsure if they even spoke English. How could people do that, to kids especially?
After the Golden Temple I had some momos (what we would call dumplings) in the cafeteria within the walls of the monastery. I walked from one area to another, about 4kms and stopped to check out a crafts shop where they make the different mantelpieces. There were several men whittling intricate designs for different parts of temples. The detail was immaculate. A little further down the road was an art shop where another group of men painting posters of gods and scenery. It reminded me of a super complicated and master level paint by numbers where each brush stroke was a different combination of the same color. I feel like we never think that someone actually paints that kind of detail anymore.
The next area, Sera Mey was another small town with several other monasteries and houses. I spent some time walking around absorbing the calmness and silence of a small city, meditated, and walked a while back to the commercial are of the city before a rickshaw picked me up and I obliged the ride, sharing it with 2 monks. In the commercial area I picked up several souvenirs sat down to have some noodles and soup. I first stopped at a café and had to leave because it only served coffee and cake, promising I’d be back. Prayer flags are a beautiful concept. They flood the trees and houses of Bylakuppe. You’re suppoed to put them outside and when they blow in the wind they spread peace. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also beautiful.
Figuring I had time and I was on vacation I walked by the café again and decided to uphold my promise. This made the owner happy. After ordering and speaking them a bit about how adding the word organic in front of the teas would be more appealing to foreigners (because one man who worked there said they were organic so they should put the sign there), I chose a piece of chocolate cheese cake and he gave me a slice of the carrot cake for fun. Both were delicious as well as the organic jasmine tea. After asking me where I was from and what I was doing here, he pulled his chair up to mine and we engaged in great conversation about politics and the world. He said that I could be happy because I have a country. If anything happened my country would help me out (generically speaking). Him and the Tibetans, on the other hand, don’t have such a luxury; so they can never be completely happy. Throughout the settlement they have signs and posters of people who have given their lives speaking out against the Chinese. Many people are still missing. Many have been tortured out in the open. They live oppressed lives. He was a really interesting man. He had been living in Bylakuppe for 50 years, before which he lived in Tsuglagkhan, the main settlement where the Dali Lama lives in Himachal Pradesh. I’d love to find out a bit more about how these settlements work. It’s pretty amazing. I asked him if he got frustrated at people who gawked at them and the temples as if it were an amusement park but of course he said no. I finished my tea and cake, said my goodbyes and began my walk to the main road to take the bus back to Mysore. At first the droplets of rain didn’t bother me but it started to rain harder and I sought refuge underneath a small tree with big leaves. During my run there a car drove by, slowed down, and a Tibetan man poked his head out and asked if I wanted a ride. Of course I took it. Am I too trusting? I don’t think so. We spoke about what I was doing in India while his friend drove to the bus stop. It’s weird not being able to ask back the same questions, although I would have loved to start a whole political conversation with him as well. I waited for the bus and popped back into Sharath’s house in time for the Diwali party.
Many of his aunts, uncles and cousins were there for the festivities. We burst crackers, much to my chagrin (pollution, noise pollution, and child labor are all a part of crackers), ate amazing food, and tried to have conversations. Everyone was super nice. One of his relatives spoke Hindi so when Sharath wasn’t around she befriended me and spoke to me in Hindi. I couldn’t follow it all but I got a lot of it. They all invited me to their respective houses the next time I was around. It was awesome.
The next day I said goodbye and headed to Banglore to meet a few friends who live there, but not before I had some rice roti and left over sambar from the night before. Banglore is much more European in terms of larger buildings and city planning than Pune. It’s also much greener. I don’t think I would mind living there at all. I got a mini tour of some of the city on my friend’s bike, ate some lunch, met another 2 friends and headed back on my 14 hour bus ride home. There were two foreigners on the bus, sitting right behind me, who work for an NGO in Banglore that fights for the rights of people who have taken out different loans. It sounded interesting. It was nice to talk to some foreigners. It also made me realize how Indianized I’ve become. We spoke of silly things that happen to our English while being here like repeating a word twice (small small). I can say I was quite happy to reach my house, give it a nice scrub down, pick up my dog from my friend’s house, prepare a huge brunch and relax. I’m super refreshed and ready to go again. Vacationing, I must say, is great.

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