Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Earthquake & Hampi

First off, I'm sure many of you are wondering about the impact of the recent earthquake in India. The mood is still somewhat frantic and chaotic among travelers. Sitting across from me right now is a group of 6 Israelis trying their best to access an email account to hear from a missing friend who was traveling in Tamil Nadu, a region badly hit. The man to my right is the owner of the cybercafe and now searches for pictures of his missing friend on his computer. Other travelers are rescheduling their travel plans to accommodate for the recent event and to stay away from coastal areas. Right now, it's as safe as possible in Hampi and I plan on staying here for some more time.
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On a different note...

HAMPI BACKGROUND: Hampi was founded in 1336 and hit the peak of its power in the 16th century, controlling the spice and cotton trade. Unfortunately for them, the town was ransacked by a "confederacy of Decan Sultanates" in 1565.

I am writing from one of the (usually, before the earthquake) most serene and peaceful places on Earth. To look around is to see life itself come alive. The landscape has been transformed from a once thriving empire into a city of scattered boulders (by the ransacking). The boulders stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions. In a miracle of empowerment, I woke up several days ago at 6am to watch the sunrise over the ruins. The experience captures the soul. As the sun slowly rises, you begin to hear the birds chattering in the sky. The due that covers the grass glistens and waves to greet the coming day. And with the passing of each moment, another outline of a distance place makes itself known. You feel yourself at the will of spirituality. One could fill pages describing a single infinite instant of time in Hampi.
The main city bazaar is catered to the tourists: hotels, restaurants and beggars crowd the streets. Yet away from the commotion and a bamboo-boat ride across the river, leaves me in the small community of travelers and locals where I'm currently staying. Of course, on the single street, I am but a short walk away from a cybercafe (OK, so it's a city of unspoiled beauty and a few satellite-linked cybercafe's). The Israeli women that comprise half of this community are both fertile and f..ashionable. I have been enjoying my day visiting temples, playing chess with the Hampi Chess Team (!), and thinking about everything and nothing at once...
How is it that most of us are so removed from what is real? Sure, our families are real. Our jobs are certainly real. But the substance that consumes the vast in between moments of the day often goes by unnoticed and unappreciated. In Hampi, clarity is plentiful.
One day, I climbed up 600 stairs to Monkey Temple, named for the dozens of monkeys that have made it their home. Another day, I met up with 2 American girls, rented bikes, and rode to a nearby waterfall. At night, there are sometimes bonfires and movies shown on small tv's. Night-time discussions tend to be on random subjects: speaking with a former government official who now owns a local restaurant about the rampant corruption, talking to 2 older 'proper' Oxford scholars about how to buy ancient Mogul artwork in India, listening to a Hamp cook till me how to cook a pizza.
I'm in no rush to leave. Since I have no set itinerary, I will probably stay here another week or two.






Monday, December 27, 2004

YES IM OK

For all those who are concerned, I'm FINE. The city that I'm in, Hampi, is 300 ft above sea level and away from the coastal region. News travels pretty slow in India, but I did find out about it early and emailed my mom, but she was in Miami so didn't receive the email. So I just responded to quite a few emails asking if I'm OK.

I have met quite a few travellers who were headed to Sri Lanka, it's incredibly scary to think about the speed and impact of the earthquake.

I'm planning on staying in Hampi for another 2 weeks, so I'm about as safe here as anywhere.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Where Did I Leave Off?

So much has happened since my last update, it's hard to know where to begin. Yesterday, while walking around the city of Mysore, I saw a few hundred people gathered around the street. As I approached, it became clear what as going on, they were shooting a music video. As I started taking pictures, one of the producers noticed me, said something to the choreographer, then promptly shouted at me "YOU WANT TO DANCE?" - My reply, "HELL YEAH". So guess what? They taught me the dance step (sort of flapping your arms while raising one leg, reminds me of the funky chicken dance...), put me on a horse & buggy type deal, and started filming me doing this weird dance. Well, that was fun.. They are sending me a copy too. (I'll post pictures of the event shortly)

Last week I was in Allappy for the backwaters, a massive network of rivers and islands only accessible by boat. Many tourists rent a houseboat for 24-hours which has a private cook on board ($120+), but I decided to just take the boat the locals take (.10 cents) and just enjoy the serene atmosphere. I had a great time meeting the native people, drinking from a coconut cut down from a tree by a local, and generally just relaxing and enjoying myself.

From Allapy I headed back north to Kochi and then east to Munnar, a hill-station (high in the mountains, highest point 3.9 miles up-- in the clouds) which I heard about from some college student's I met in Kochi. The bus ride was pretty exhilarating, considering the old bus going up the mountain side without any guard rails and only a few feet away from imminent death, but the other Indians didn't seem too nervous about the situation, so I tried not to worry (I did notice other foreigners were quite nervous as well).

I spent 3 days in Munnar, in a cabin with 2 Swiss students I met on the bus. The cabin was really great, located far away from the city. The Swiss (1 guy, 1 girl, not together) were fun to hang out with, and one of the nights we made a campfire and ate dinner under the brightly lit stars. Another day was spent walking up & down a nearby mountain (3 miles up, 3 miles down), visiting a tea factory (Munnar has tea plantations as far as the eye can see), and more relaxing.

Another long bus ride down the mountain left me in Coimbature, a transit city with not much to see or do. However, I was content with spending the day on the internet. From there I took a train to Mysore... (I'm exhausted just writing this...)... I visited the Majarahas Palace among other places, and gave one of the security guards $3 to take me upstairs to the 2nd floor not accessible or ever seen by the public..

Arriving in Bangalore this morning, I checked into a hotel with a TV (although no showerhead, hot water from 5am-10am, no a/c of course, $8), and spent the day walking around the city. In a few hours I'm going to check out the posh(?) Bangalore nightlife.



Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Some More Pictures

I uploaded some pictures, but didn't have time to organize them. Be warned: they will probably take a long time to load, I'm not in most of them, and they are mostly people, trees, and beaches. When I get back home I will organize them.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 I2 I3 I4 I5 I6 I7 I8 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Mangalore

(By the request of Steve and Lori I'll try to be more detail specific).

I left Goa 2 days ago with baggage and train tickets in hand. The travel agent managed to convince me that if I did not book the southern-leg of my trip all at once the trains would be booked and I would be stuck (ie. if you book all your tickets at once my commission will be larger). I hate holding myself to traveling on specific dates set by a train ticket schedule, but at least I have some sort of itinerary which makes travelling a little easier (rather then my style of showing up and figuring out what to do next).

The Goa experience was something quite unique. The last few days were probably the best, because I decided to rent a Scooter and boogy all over Goa. For $5/day and $3 in petrol, I went from beach to beach throughout the coastline.

From Goa I came down the coast to Mangalore by train, arriving at 8am. (not to be confused with Bangalore, the IT capital). I stepped off, opened my Lonely Planet to the Mangalore section, and treated myself to a hotel with a TV and hot water (although, the hot-water is only hot before 8am, which would have been nice if someone told me).

Mangalore is anything but a destination resort. It smells. Everything closes at 11:30... Maybe planning isn't my speciality. However, there is a zoo. The zoo was actually quite spectacular and massive. I was practically the only one there and got a personal tour-- seeing bear's, holding snakes, feeding deer, petting baby leopards and seeing all sorts of other animals up close (it's amazing how close you can get when there are no safety standards in place).

Some highlights of the last 2 days:
- Met 2 Indian's from Udapi, a town 1 1/2 hours from Mangalore who invited me to come to their town (which I woke up early and did today). We took a boat to St. Mary's island, founded by Vasco De Gama. I took lots of pics, mainly of rocks and me standing next to rocks. If you are reading this Prameela-Angus, sorry, I'm not Christian but Jewish.
- I went to a "Dancing-bar" - This is nightlife in Mangalore. Basically the way it works is the guys all sit down, order a beer, and watch the 6 fully clothed girls on stage sing and dance to karaoke songs. I never quite figured out what the hell was going on, although I did figure out this place also closes at 11:30.
- I argued for 10 minutes with a Rickshaw driver that took me in a complete circle then demanded 10 ruppees (.25 cents). I told him "YOU IDIOT, YOU TOOK ME IN A DAMN CIRCLE." His response: "10 ruppees, no english." After 3 other Indian's got involved, I apparently gave the man 10 ruppees, dropped my head and sighed. " (Definition of Rickshaw: a 3-wheeled suicidal car which can out-manuever buses, cars, and mopeds. The tradeoff.. if you get in crash you will promptly and swiftly die, sry mom).

Tonight at 4am I head to Kerala by train. A.. nother... beach resort. Although this one is not to be missed because of the highly touted 'backwaters.' We shall see.