Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Hampi, India

Hampi was my second to last stop in India.  The city is an archeologist's paradise.

Indiana Jones would L-O-V-E Hampi.

I was told that this was an ancient table setting (note the indentations for dinner plates and glasses).

Everywhere in Hampi there are temple ruins, interspersed with bright green rice paddies.  And on the horizon, there are rock formations similar to what you might find in Arizona or New Mexico.

Rice paddies.  I do not see workers wearing plastic baggies on their heads in Hampi (see Kerala Backwaters post).

The horizon in Hampi reminds me of my favorite place in the USA:  the Four Corners region.

Picture of a temple taken from within another temple.

Fantastic, huh?

With my trip almost over, I had some time in Hampi to reflect back on India.  One thing I've not done a good job with on this blog is describing some of the sensory overload.  The sights, sounds, and smells of India are very much in-your-face...and not all of it is pleasant.  I've seen, heard and smelled some downright nasty stuff, to be honest. 

Lotus Mahal

Riding a sleeper train in India is a great example of some of this inherent nastiness.  For instance...As I'm trying to fall asleep, a bug is crawling on the wall next to my triple-stacked bunk bed.  I try to smash the bug repeatedly with my sandal (I've got 200 mosquito bites and my histamines are in overdrive, making me feel anxiety over this bug) but it keeps on evading me...and crawling all over the wall by my face.  Bugs don't usually bother me, but this one is giving me the creeps. 

Ancient elephant stables. 

Multiple times at night, I'm awaken by people getting on and off the train at various stops.  The curtain in front of our bunks is repeatedly thrown back as people peer inside at six slumbering western girls, talking loudly in Hindi (I suppose they're trying to figure out if we're sleeping in their assigned seats...we're not).  The train stops and starts abruptly.  Sometimes the train goes around sharp curves and I literally feel like I'm on a rollercoaster. 

Our "took took" (taxi) drove underneath this archway on the way to the temples.

When I awake a few hours later, the men in the same cabin as us are airing their dirty, cracked and callused feet.  Most feet in India could use a long, long pedicure and I admit that mine, too, have become filthy and deformed beyond belief on this trip. 

One man in our cabin is adjusting his ballsack.  Two men hold hands as though they are lovers (they're just brothers, and this is socially acceptable).  Vendors pass loudly through our cabin trying to sell us chai, meals, name it.  I go to the bathroom, and squat over the Asian toilet, watching my pee spiral downward to the train tracks visible below. 

OK, final temple picture...I swear.

Returning to the cabin after going wee, it's me and the six girls squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder.  We've only met three weeks ago, but we act like it's been three years.  My sweat intermingles with their sweat.  One of them takes a nap and rests her head on my hot shoulder.  In the cabin next to us, there is a couple holding a baby that has four fingers.  At one point, the toddler stands up with the help of his father and proceeds to pee all over the floor of the train.  His parents don't try to mop it up, and his urine trickles across the floor and into our cabin.  

In the cabin on the other side, a fat, retarded man is sloppily eating some type of curry with his fingers (it is common to eat meals in India without utensils).  Some of the food falls on his wife beater t-shirt which is stretched tight over his potbelly.  Some of it stays on his face.  For some reason, the sight of this retarded man makes me so sad that I cry for the first time in maybe six months, tears falling silently behind my sunglasses.  One of my travelmates offers me popcorn she's purchased from a train vendor, and I pretend to be sleeping because I don't want her to know that I'm crying over the sight of a mentally challenged man eating curry in the adjoining cabin. 

The train finally reaches our stop and we disembark into a human sea.  People packed so close that I wonder how it's physically possible.  We walk out of the train station and through a tunnel under the road where it's dark and one of the girls gets "petted" by a transvestite in a sari who loves her blond, curly hair and just wants to feel it.  

Hmmm...I could continue detailing all of the nastiness for quite some time but hopefully I've given you a little better of idea of what you should expect if you visit India.  

So much of what I saw here reminds me of the Army.  And I'm grateful for the Army for introducing me to "hard living."  In India, I almost felt like I could anticipate the nastiness and nothing particularly shocked me after what I'd seen, heard and smelled during my nine years in the military.  

I want to reiterate, however, that I love this country.  I love it more than any other country I've ever visited.  I love it because it's sensory overload.  Because it's nasty and shocking.  Because it's everything.  It's joy and sorrow.  It's love and hate.  It's beauty and ugliness. 

It's the entire spectrum of human emotions and experiences encapsulated in one place.  And it never once tries to apologize for that fact.  

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