Traveling in South India
The first place we went to was Goa. Goa is the smallest state of India, a former colony of the Portuguese. In face, Goa was not part of independent India until 1961, when Nehru had the Indian army invade Goa and take it forcibly from the Portuguese!
So, on Friday we took a train from Pune to Margao, Goa. Same thing as always--long train ride, reading and sleeping. We got to our hotel, Nanu Resort, and it's pretty fabulous. This is like 8 in the morning, and our rooms won't be available until noon. So, we have some breakfast and head out to the beach, which is right outside the hotel. The beach is amazing, and I don't even like beaches. The ocean is SO warm, the sand is soft, and it's warm and sunny all day long. I spent that day swimming, reading, eating (room service and meals were all paid for by the program), and napping.
Elephant on the beach:
Now, the hotel's clientele have... what I would call 'character'. The majority of them are senior citizen Russians. There was Russian on a lot of the signs, next to the English. So, we're the youngest people in this hotel, but we were OK with that--we made our own fun.
The next day (Saturday), we actually went out. Ugh, leaving at 8 am sucks big time, and we leave at this time every day. Anyway, we go to the old city of Goa, and we check out a bunch of churches. It brought back lots of memories from high school humanities class--church after church after church. They were different enough, though, and some of them incorporated Indian decorative motifs, which was pretty cool. We also went to a museum and a temple complex, too, which were also decently interesting.
Cool old gate that was of an old temple, but then became the Portuguese viceroy's palace:
An altar in a pretty cool church, of the Theotine order of monks:
Sunday we also had free time, which was very nice. I got to read and swim and eat and hang out and all sorts of good stuff. My weirdest experience--getting my ears cleaned. There's this 'ear cleaner' that walks up and down the beach and cleans your ears for a (very high) fee. At the time it seemed like a great idea--my ears are always bothering me, maybe cleaning them thoroughly would make me feel better. In retrospect, it was a really stupid idea. It cost a ton of money, and it wasn't very pleasant, and doctors always say you shouldn't put anything in your ears... I guess you live and learn.
I also got to check out the nearby town, Colva Beach. Did some shopping and intarwebbing, which was a nice change of pace. All in all, Goa was nice. I didn't go to any crazy parties or hang out with crazy foreigners, but it was relaxing and interesting.
HOSPET and VIJAYANAGARA
So, Monday we took a bus to our new destination--Hospet. So, this bus ride turned out to be 13 hours long... oy vay, it was a pain. And I got a little motion sickness, but then I learned that cough drops settled my stomach! I slept a good chunk of the way, and I daydreamed and stared out the window for the rest.
Hospet's a pretty cool town, with lots of internet cafes and shoe stores and other crazy things. Our hotel was pretty neat--it had an open-air courtyard that all the rooms led into, with six stories and a glass elevator overlooking the courtyard and rooms. The restaurant at the hotel was actually pretty good, but the hotel in general was weird. The rooms were big, with marble floors and lots of chairs and sofas. But at the same time, the sheets and pillows were yucky, and there were bugs in a lot of the rooms.
Anyway, I didn't spend a lot of waking time in the hotel--most of our time was spent on the field. Tuesday, we headed out to the 15th century city of Vijayanagra to see some temples and ruins (it's pronounced something like Vij-a-na-gra). We went and saw the 'sacred center' of the city and a few of the suburbs. For those of you interested in Vijayanagaran temples--I'm sorry, I just don't want to talk about them. I'll put up pictures later, but suffice it to say that I saw a LOT of things that all looked the same to me. Big and small temples in crazy walled temple complexes, with lots of statues and friezes. Sometimes all we could see were the foundations of 15th century buildings, and other times we could see whole temples, seemingly untouched for centuries.
This is all of us, getting lectures at a Vijayanagaran temple:
A big giant Ganesha:
Wednesday was definitely different from the rest of the trip. We went mountain climbing. We had to get to the top of this big hill made out of boulders, and there was no definite trail. Therefore, Mark (our professor) led us up different animal trails, up and over boulders and rocks and trees. The most treacherous part of the journey were the big boulders on the way down. The most annoying and painful part of the journey were these crazy thorn plants, thorns that can get into your shoes, socks, pants, and underwear with very little effort. Apparently these plants evolved to resist the goats, which can eat anything. Damn evolution!
So we get to the top of this crazy mountain, and we see these megaliths. Megaliths are big flat rocks that are arranged in special ways. These megaliths looked like huts from the Flintstones. In fact, I was singing the Flintstones theme song while walking around the megalith field. These megaliths were probably made 2000 years ago, and they were burial grounds. The traditions of temple Hinduism never quite subsumed these megaliths--the explanation of the locals is that they are "the houses of the ancients" or "the houses of the characters in the Mahabharata (an ancient epic)". So, we walked around the megaliths, took some notes and headed back the mountain (carefully).
That afternoon we headed to a site that Mark actually found. We went up another big hill (but this one had an actual trail!) and at the top of this mountain we had a great view. We also were walking on tons of Iron Age pottery fragments, countless pieces all over the place. Mark said they'll excavate it starting this coming year, with a team of U of C, University of Michigan, and the Karnataka State Archeology group.
Me, with hat hair, and a beautiful view:
Thursday was a lot like Tuesday, except we were looking at the 'royal center' instead of the 'sacred center'. Just to give you a feeling for the names of these places, one of the suburbs of Vijayanagara is called Viradadeviamanatapatma (try saying that ten times fast). We saw a temple complex there, along with other places and other temple complexes. We did go to a museum, which had an amazing miniature version of the city as a map on the floor. It was about 10 x 10 yards, and it had matchbox cars and toy cows along with accurate miniatures of the temples and the landscape. Amusingly, the cows were bigger than many of the temples (ushi-zilla), and a lizard was also terrorizing the city, climbing over fortification walls as if they weren't there (Godzilla).
Many, many more temples. Thursday night, the program bought us relatively decent wine for our Thanksgiving celebration. Dinner was good, as was the wine. I wish I could have spent Thanksgiving with family, but I will see my family soon!
Thursday's moon, while waiting for the sun to set:
BADAMI (rhymes with Salami)
Friday morning we drove to Badami (~ 4 hours), which has pretty much the best hotel we've stayed at. It's clean, it doesn't smell too weird, and the food at this hotel is really really good. We had lunch, then headed out to the old part of Badami village. We saw some sixth century cave temples (like the ones at Ellora). We saw some other, free-standing temples too. All this stuff was built by the Early Chalukyan empire (I like their name). Nothing really amazing--a little slower paced than Vijayanagara, and we even did some walking through the old village, children yelling at us.
This is me in front of a statue in Badami. One of us isn't wearing any clothes...
So, everywhere we've gone all across Karnataka (this would include Vij and Badami), little kids follow us everywhere. There are some hawkers trying to sell postcards, but they usually give up after ten minutes, when they realize that we're getting lectures. The kids, though, some of them will follow you everywhere, asking for "school pen" or "ten rupees". It's crazy. Sometimes they sing songs or ask questions ("What is your name?" "Which country are you from?"), but most of the time they just say "Hi" and "Bye".
Saturday was pretty unremarkable--excellent box lunch provided by the hotel. The lunches we usually have on the field suck--white bread and cheese, potato chips, oranges, and cookies. One day we had peanut butter and honey, and it made my day. Saturday, though, the box lunch was even better, with chicken and prakora (breaded fried vegies) and samosa and finger chips (french fries) and other stuff! Dinner was also great. Everything before, after, and in between lunch and dinner was just sorta meh. Lots of... you guessed it, temples! They were old and temple-y.
Here's one example:
On a slightly more spiritual note, I experienced something that Mark said has never happened to him in his 15 years of temple-exploring. We were at an old Shiva temple that is still in worship, and we were blessed by the priest there and given prasad (food-substance that was placed on the god). He was talking about the daily puja (prayer), in very broken English, and then he showed us his own personal manifestation of Shiva. He let me hold it, along with Mark and Andrea, who were also present. It was a small stone, a linga (one of the representations of Shiva), which is the shape of a cylinder with a sperical ending on one side. It wasn't moving at the time, but when Mark said that that rarely happens, letting someone hold your representation of God, I was quite touched and honored.
Bijapur was pretty cool, relatively speaking. The hotel was so-so, the food really sucked, but the monuments were different that the other zillions of things we've seen. We saw a tomb/mosque complex, which was like the Taj Mahal only not as well maintained and not made of marble. We saw a really awesome mosque that was actually built out of destroyed Hindu temples (the buzz words of the class: appropriation and incorporation). We also saw the second largest free-standing dome in the world (44 meters diameter) in another tomb. I climbed up the eight flights of stairs to see the the dome closer up, which was really friggin' scary for me. We spent the night there and at 7:30 AM we headed back to Pune.
Cool mosque/tomb complex:
Here, the dome isn't actually connected to the building you see; the building is actually just a frame for the (much) larger dome building/tomb.
In the close-up, you can see a good chunk of the dome. Those red and purple blurs--they're people. This is a really big dome!
Well, that's my field trip. More pictures will come later, if I can bring myself to post them.