Archive for December, 2009

Cough, sneeze. Repeat.

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Mumbai was an interesting place to end up after a long flight. Forced acclimation — to the weather, the crowds, traffic and incessant honking. Akb and I took our time and wandered the streets and beaches, taking turns feeling exhausted and cranky. We saw (some) sights, enjoyed good food and settled into a travel rhythm. What a sprawling, packed city. Its past splendors are all black with pollution, yet it retains a certain charm. Well, charming isn’t exactly the adjective that comes to mind when you think you’re about to get run over for the eighth time, but it’s easy to imagine the city’s former splendor. Once, long ago, probably.

Akb and I realized the hard way that it’s easy to get cocky. Time and again, we were forced to eat crow as soon as we thought we’d had things figured out (most likely, due to taking off the good-luck red/yellow string bracelets we were given in front of a temple.) The worst example of this was missing our 6:10am onward train. Sigh. Lesson learned — always double check the information you are given, no matter the uniform of the giver (in this case, something like a white doctor’s robe, worn by train station employees.) Eventually, we said some hasty goodbyes to Mumbai, a city I may one day visit again, but not any time soon.

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We eventually got on another train, and I quickly discovered the delicious world of Indian train food. At every station hawkers sell fresh chaat, chai and coffee, and every station has its delicacies. One station was in Indian wine country and grapes were sold by the bunch, but I passed on the fresh fruit in favor of Wada Pav, my new favorite snack. Deep-fried potato thing + hot chili pepper all wrapped up in bread. Yum. And every station is slightly different — my favorite slightly roasted(?) the pepper and coated it in salt, and wrapped the whole thing in a focaccia-like bread. drool……

[Needless to say, the food here is, by and large, pretty fucking delicious. Akb and I are starting to write down our favorite items so far. Maybe we’ll write up a food post later.]

Eventually, we made it to Aurangabad – a sprawling township several hours east of Mumbai. Its claims to fame are a cotton/silk blend fabric and some tourist sites, some better than others. Bibi Ka Maqbara, a 16th-century “mini Taj Mahal” was neat (though I still feel like I should visit the real thing), and the large Daulatabad Fort was worth a visit (“one of the best forts in the world”, if one of the touts there was to be believed), but our main draw to this part of the country was the ancient caves at Ellora. These were built over several centuries by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains, each with different styles and representations. Wishing I’d taken more interest in archaeology in college (beyond a 9am class first-semester) freshman year, I snapped a few magic hour photos to content myself.

But beyond the rock carvings, the fun that day was being approached by dozens of Indian kids who wanted to have their photos taken. They were happy to just have us take pictures of them, but ecstatic to have us pose with them. In a book I recently read the protagonist repeatedly talks of Indians being entrepreneurial. Well, here we saw it first hand, as on-site photographers seized the opportunity to have us pose with gaggles of school kids and print out the pictures for them on the spot, using portable printers. I guess it’s only fair, what with my taking pictures of strangers all the time and all…

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That night we took a train (a second-class sleeper, for which i was badly underdressed, froze on, catching a cold) to Hyderabad, in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Oh Hyderabad – ye of sprawling size and awful pollution. Your exhaust hath shaved at least five years off my life expectancy. Thank you.

The city’s massive bazaar and Islamic architecture were impressive to see, and Akb and I enjoyed a few delicious meals here. However, we simply could not get used to the pollution — dark clouds of diesel exhaust and unrelenting congestion nearly made us pass out on a couple of occasions, and we finally caved in and hit up a posh multiplex for an opening-day screening of Paa, for which we had been seeing advertisements all week (good acting despite some slow parts, and easy-to-understand story made knowledge of Hindi largely unnecessary.)

We were quick to leave Hyderabad, but before I do so here, let me just note that for a “high-tech city” dubbed Cyberabad, it’s remarkably difficult to find an internet cafe (and don’t get me started on the draconian rules making me give passport information just to check my email…) If these blog updates are lacking in frequency, let’s blame it partly on this.

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This morning we flew from Hyderabad to Chennai (which we are skipping), and quickly found a bus to Pondichery. I’ve been looking forward to spending my birthday here, and so far it’s been a very pleasant experience. Our french-flavored guest house is lovely, Tamil Nadu is pleasant, and this manageable town is a welcome respite from the last few days. It’s going to be a good birthday 😉

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More updates soon, I hope. We go to Sri Lanka on the 8th, then back to India for New Year’s. In the meantime, I’m going to tuck into some required reading, including a tome I just picked up that may shed some light on mysterious modern Bombay. Bye.