Farewell Hyderabad

I live in India. I live in India as opposed to I am living in India. This distinction dawned on me recently, and I think it is an important thing to remember in order to have a good mindset here. I am not here for a few weeks travelling, I am not even like the others in my dorm building, come here for 5 month, a month of that being travelling after classes. Right now I live in India. In March I will move back to California and then I will live in California. But right now I am someone who lives in India. I’ve lived here for over 4 months now and I have 4 months to go. I am one more person in the one point twenty two billion plus who live in India…

But now I must say farewell to Hyderabad. I am deep into finals exams now, projects and papers and sit down exams for the next week. And then in a week I’m off to another place… First a 24 hour train right up to Agra with a friend, we’ll see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, the best time to see it apparently, and then catch another train 6 hours northwest to Delhi where I’ll spend a week sightseeing with her and attending the 2nd annual Delhi International Tango Festival! Then down to Rajasthan to try and hang out with some camels and Aimee and Lisa, then back up to Delhi to catch a train to the border with Nepal. I have to go to Nepal for visa issues. I’ll return to India hopefully in less than a week with a new visa, in time to attend a youth ecologist conference with some friends from Bangalore, then the long trek back down the western coast to the small town of Sirsi… And that will be my new home until the beginning of March. There I will be interning with an organization called Vanastree, which runs a women’s seed saving cooperative and organic farm. I’ll be working with them as an intern to complete my senior requirement for my Environmental Studies major.

But for now, I have to say my farewells to Hyderabad. I can’t say I loved Hyderabad. It is large and dirty and has far too many people. For me it does not represent India, I cannot say that I don’t like India, only that I did not enjoy living in a city with 8 million people. I think I might have similar feelings about any such large city. But I don’t think that any one thing or place can ever represent India, each state has different food, different clothes, a different  language! I have barely brushed the surface of knowing India…  Hyderabad though was a bit too much for me, I look forward to getting to spend three months in a village…

But for the past month now we’ve started to say our goodbyes! We had an awesome Halloween party, hosted (by me!) at the house of one of my program heads, the first time I’ve gotten to cook in over 4 months!  Heaven! (I made Mexican food 😉 ) .

Then last week was the SIP (Study in India Program) Cultural Show which we, all of the exchange students, put on for the whole school. Our Kuchipudi dance class did a dance (it took us 5 hours to get 12 people into makeup and costume, and that was with three people working on us!), the table and sitar classes did some pieces, the Bollywood class did a dance, my Hindi professor made us do a skit, which was a pain in the butt to sort out, but turned out to be quite a hit and was fun! There were also some video presentations and a slideshow of photography done for another student’s independent study among other things. The show was a hit and we were actually told it was the best and most creative one the administration could remember!

My Kuchipudi class in our outfits before the show!

Then this week my program, CIEE, took us to a nice restaurant for a private farewell dinner, so it was Saree time! Our program directors came over in the late afternoon to help us all tie our sarees on for the dinner!

My two bffs and I in our full Indian splendor 😉

And now all that is left is to finish up my assignments, mail the large heavy box of things I’ve accumulated and don’t absolutely need in the next 3 months back to California, pack up what’s left and…

Farewell Hyderabad!!

Hyderabad as seen from the top of Golconda Fort

Monsoon Milonga

So now you want to know what happened after I got to Auroville huh? Well first, what is Auroville? Auroville is a very, very interesting place. It’s just next to Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and it’s a very interesting town founded in 1968 by a Parisian woman and an Indian guru. The history of its founding makes it sound rather cult like, they founded it as a society that “no country could claim” and on spiritualism without religion and a strong worth ethic. The description in the Lonely Planet I think is awful, because it is clearly written with a cynical mocking tone, which prepares anyone visiting to expect perhaps a pretentious righteous unwelcome place, which it is absolutely not. I have never been in a community with a higher ratio of truly FRIENDLY people.

So I went to Auroville for this two day Tango workshop. The workshop was being run by a Frenchman who now lives in Bangalore (in Karnataka, the province next to Andhra Pradesh, where I live). So I’d met all these Tango people on FB and had been communicating with them trying to get my butt to one of their tango events! So this week we had a holiday on Wednesday, and everyone in Tagore (my dorm) seemed to have the same idea, skip Monday, Tuesday and Thursday too, so the dorm emptied out and all the exchange students headed all over the south!
So my plan was to get down to Auroville for the Tango, and then Aimee was gonna meet me in Chennai on Monday and we were gonna train down to the very very south, the southernmost point of the peninsula. But we didn’t plan it out quite far enough in advance, and trains were full so we had to try this tadkal thing through the travel agent, basically the plan fell apart because it looked like we could maybe make it down to the cape, but would not necessarily have a way back, and it’s 30 hours from HYD! So Aimee stayed in Tagore and I stayed in Auroville for two more days after the Tango event and I’m glad I did!!

The French Tanguero had set me up to stay at the same hostel as some of his students from Bangalore (he teaches lessons at their University), so I met up with them and they were AMAZING! All PhD students, in their 20s like me, lovers of Tango, and one of the guys is also super into Natural History!!

So we all arrived on Saturday (once I freed myself from Mr. Handholder and made my way to the hostel) we headed over to the visitors center for lunch. And… I consumed an AMAZING salad. I never thought I’d get caught with the word amazing and salad in the same sentence… but it was amazing. (And was followed by many many more amazingly fantastic meals for the rest of the week…)

Said Amazing Avocado Salad

Then on to the Tango lesson! Of the 4 of us staying together in the hostel, the two guys had rented bikes and dragged me and the other girl around for the weekend :P. Riding around on the back of a motorcycle is quite addicting… ! [In India a “bike” is a motorcycle and a “cycle” is a bicycle…]

So we had a two hour Tango lesson in the afternoon, then a break for dinner, then on to the Milonga!! A “Milonga” is like a party, where you just dance Tango . It was held on the patio of a restaurant owned by a Swedish woman who also danced Tango. It was a gorgeous setting… except it’s still monsoon season in Tamil Nadu…!!! So even though the part where we were dancing was covered, both sides were open to the elements and most of our shoes got waaaay more wet than a leather soled dance shoe is ever even supposed to DREAM about getting…! But we persevered!! The Tango must continue!! I switched back into my sandals, which were HARD to dance in. My feet were swollen in the morning. But it was worth it, I barely sat down all night. 😀

Me dancing at the afternoon lesson (in a dance studio, not on the monsoony patio!)

Sunday there was another lesson and a practica, and danced despite the sore feet, my shoes were still damp but wearable. The Tango activities were done after Sunday, but my friends from Bangalore were staying until Monday night. I was thinking of heading back on Tuesday night (bus tickets you can buy right up till when the bus leaves because they rarely sell out) but my friends ended up changing their tickets to stay an extra day because we were having such a great time! So we all left Tuesday night.

So what did we do? We went to Pondicherry and sat at a café ON the ocean. We went and visited one of the “settlements” of Auroville, a quite rustic and removed one which runs as sort of co-op living, with strict schedules (everyone wakes up at 5:45, everyone has a different chore, then eat breakfast, then do more chores, then lunch, then free time, then dinner etc.. ) This community is based around the reforestation they are working on, when we arrived they had just started the post-breakfast chores and one group was heading out with some saplings to plant. There were about 40 people living there now, but we were told they can get up to 140 people in the dry season. There were Indians, a Frenchman, and American women, and many others I could not identify. Two girls, one Indian one white, probably 7 years old, were running around beating up on a guy who was on his day off, laying in the communal tent laughing at their attempts to beat up on him…

View from Oceanside Cafe!!

Kitchen and the lunch crew at the settlement we visited on the outskirts of Auroville

We went to the Botanical garden and walked around one of their loop trails. We did some shopping at the great shops in the visitor’s center, everything sold there is made there in Auroville! And we ate. We ate A LOT.

Erect Clematis — Ranunculaceae Clematis recta

BEST CAKE I’ve ever had. “Martina’s Special Cake”, sold at the restaurant owned by the Swedish woman where we had the Milonga!

So what about the people? Apart from the rustic community settlement we visited there are many other communities all over Auroville devoted to different things and with different themes. They almost all have renewable energy (wind, solar), and many grow their own food. There are very very fancy houses in Auroville, and there are huts with thatch roofs like the ones in the community we visited. There’s orchards and people producing jam, there’s cotton weaving and dyeing, people making incense and pottery and every other type of craft you can imagine, and there’s the best western food I’ve had anywhere in the world… (including the west). Auroville is considered by the government of Tamil Nadu to be their own independent city and have post offices and a town hall, which houses their various councils, which is their governing body, a series of councils with no one person in charge. Their population is about 2000, half are Indian and the other half represents 43 different countries. It might sound like a crazy hippy utopian society, and to me too the history of it sounded cult-ish, and hearing about it and how you can’t actually go into the main part of their temple unless you’re an Aurovillian, etc, it might sound a bit extreme.

Model of Auroville in the Town Hall

View of the Matrimandir (their temple) from town hall.

But sitting in the visitor’s center cafeteria with my friends from Bangalore, our waiter had just brought over our food, and my friend says “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a waiter smiling, because they wanted to”. And it’s true. I’ve never met such welcoming, friendly, happy people. I told this to someone back in Tagore and they also seemed doubtful, saying maybe they are all brainwashed. But no, that’s not it. It’s something I can’t describe, try and describe happiness, it’s hard huh? The first day I arrived, driving through in the taxi, I actually had some culture shock, it just looked so strange. A city built in a forest of trees, with mostly dirt roads, well kept ones though, people of all different colors flying by on motorbikes. Blonde kids running around, western food restaurants everywhere… It was weird. And by the next day, I, and my friend from Bangalore too, said that we could stay there for a long time and not mind so much…

The Beginning of the End

Well I’ve been in India more than 12 weeks now, and in three days it’ll have been 3 months. And I have 5.5 to go so I will say this is the beginning of the end!

Today I went out into the city with Kevin to search for a Nehru jacket. Halloween is fast approachin, my favourite holiday. I suggested to Kate, the American who works here in the CIEE office, that she have a party at her house, and now I’ve been given a budget and put in charge of making it happen 😉 ;). And I will make costumes mandatory! Kevin says he hasn’t dressed up since the 5th grade (14 years ago) and will only dress up if he gets a Nehru jacket, so off we go to look for one! Our search was unsuccessful but we found some other fun things!

For example, this billboard, that doesn’t seem to actually be advertising a product…

And inside a men’s ware shop trying to get a Nehru jacket the stairs in the shop had this hilarious but confusing mural!

And then finishing up with dinner in Lingampally, possible the most delicious thing I’ve had in India so far (regardless of the fact that I was STARVING, do NOT take the 218D to get from town to get to Lingampally everrrrrr unless you want to spend your entire life on the bus…). They were like spicy vegetable tempura!

And then a few randoms just left over from the past three months:

Lisa and I were in Hyper City (the Costco-esq store in the mall) during Ganesh and saw this Ganesh! Made of “Gems”, the Indian M&M. The blatant marketing was slightly appalling to me, but people didn’t seem to mind and still left offerings to the “Gem” idol….

And…. Roxane wears a Sari! I got this Sari ages ago to go to a wedding our dance teacher invited us to, but something came up and our teacher didn’t make it, so neither did I. Well one night I was bored so I told Aimee, let’s put on my Sari! So we watched several youtube videos and… success!! (Aimee did most of the work I won’t lie, I just sort of stood there ;P )…

And for my friends back in the map room who I miss and actually talk about fairly frequently (:P) you can be proud to see that I have four maps now in my room… One of north India (with south India on the back, this one’s from Barnes and Noble back at home), one of Hyderabad that they gave us here, and one of India that I just bought today on the street  while out in Nampally looking for the Nehru jackets, it was a whooping Rs150 ($3). And on my desk you can see the laminated map of campus that I am using to work on my independent study and procured through complicated means from the campus engineer. I ❤ maps. 😉 😉

Well 3 months have flown by… My adventure today out in to the city was exhausting as it always is to go out to the city, it’s just simply overwhelming to live in such a HUGE place, where you can be on a bus for an hour and a half to go from the MIDDLE of the city to edge, not even leaving the city or going fromone extreme to the other! The size, the amount of people, the smells, waiting on the train for 40 minutes for it to just pull out of the station… a hassel, a royal hassel, but the feeling of being out, and learning and talking to people (our rickshaw driver from Lingampally back to campus was about 15 and spoke nahi (no) English, but I know some Hindi now and he laughed but was pleased with the few words I could say…)… it’s worth it.

How to Take a Train to Chennai

Instructions on How to Get from Hyderabad to Auroville for a Tango Workshop:

First, attempt to book your tickets 2 weeks in advance. You want to book TRAIN tickets, (even though your final destination is Pondicherry and the train doesn’t go there so you’ll have to take a bus from Chennai, you still want the train not the bus because the bus is 4 times as expensive and is BUMPY.). So try and book your tickets in advance.

But they’ll be full so get on a waitlist. (also, you’re credit card probably won’t work online in India, and you’ll have to make some strange RCTC account anyways which is a hassle so just have an Indian do it…). It doesn’t look like you’re moving up in the waitlist so have your Indian friend book you a tadkal ticket. That means that you go online at 10am the day before you leave to try and get a one of the few tickets that they open up for every train at 10 am the day before it leaves. The server will be SWAMPED and the site may or may not even work. Pray to Ganesh.

After an hour you get a tadkal ticket! Then you find out the event you were going to Chennai for was cancelled and moved to two weeks from now. And you can’t cancel your ticket because you can’t cancel tadkal tickets… Stay in Hyderabad.

Then try and book your ticket for the event in two weeks! But wait a few days, to be sure there’ll be a giant waitlist. Because it’s a holiday the weekend you are trying to go, there are 626 people on the waitlist, your Indian friend says he’s never even seen so many people on a waitlist in his life. It’s hopeless to even try. So instead ask another Indian, a guy going from HYD to Puducherry for the event too, to try and book you a ticket when he gets his. He somehow miraculously (Ganesh?) manages to get two tadkal tickets for a train that leaves from Warangal to Chennai. Warangal is 3 hours by bus from HYD.

So… pack your bags.

Take a shared auto from campus to LIngampally railway station (10 minutes away), the take the train to the Secundrabad train station (an hour away). Meet this guy there and take a bus part way across the city to where a bus will take you to Warangal. Only… because of the festival buses have been moved around and they kindly are giving out leaflets in Telegu saying the buses to Warangal are leaving from a different part of the city! Well you’re running out of time so take a rickshaw 15 minutes to the new place. Run to the bus!

On the bus, this Indian guy basically asks you to be his girlfriend, even though you JUST MET HIM in person and only met him a few weeks ago on the Tango group on Facebook and have only talked to arrange the tickets. So tell him all about your boyfriend here in HYD that you’re gonna move in with back in the US. This guy tells you that all his female friends who are married or have boyfriends are like his sisters, and its ok for him to hold hands with his sisters so he tries to hold your hand. Uh… NO!??!? What about linking arms? NO NO LINKING ARMS EITHER. Spend the rest of the trip extremely uncomfortable trying not to be too friendly…

After 3 hours arrive in Warangal. Have an awkward dinner. Wait for the train which is almost 3 hours late. Get on the train. Go to sleep. 9 hours later arrive in Chennai. Get on a bus. The bus will take you to where you can catch another bus to Pondicherry! On the bus there are about half of the Indian’s of southern India so it’s a bit crowded and luckily mr.handholder gets swept to the back. Have a lovely chat with another exchange student from Tunisia! A very nice guy, doesn’t try to hold your hand…

3 hours later arrive in Pondicherry! The event you are going to is actually in Auroville, so since your bus is on the ECR highway you want to get off at the Auroville main road crossing. It would be nice to get off the bus without telling mr.handholder (who is staying in Puducherry at a friends house, not in your hostel thank god), but he’s been going on about how if something happens to you he’s going to be responsible since you’re a pathetic helpless white GIRL… so you should just notify him I guess, so shout round the bus till someone pulls him up from nowhere and tell him “Bye! Getting off here!”. SOMEHOW he manages to extract himself from the bus after you. Good god.

Wait for the taxi that the nice guy who’s running the workshop has called for you and become increasingly frustrated with mr.handholder who really thinks you are incapable of doing anything and if left alone will become lost, kidnapped, robbed and rapped, probably all at once.

But!! There’s the taxi driver!! Escape in the taxi to Auroville… only 458 miles and 24 hours from HYD you’re finally in the peace and quiet of your Auroville hostel…

Tirumala Pilgrimage

Tirumala is a small town on the top of a hill with a temple devoted to Vishnu which receives on average 40,000 visitors, A DAY. Many of the devotees get their heads shaved there as an offering to Vishnu (the service is offered free of charge! Well yea because then they sell the hair to wig companies in the west and make tons of money…). The temple, in Tirumala is 18km from Tiruphati, which is where most people stay when they go to the temple.

So Lisa, who is more of a fan of temples than I am (I’m more into the natural side of things), wanted to go so we headed out of Hyderabad Thursday night and arrived in Tirupathi Friday morning, it’s 10 hours south of Hyderabad, on the border or Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The town is crawling with hotels so we had no trouble finding a place to stay, right across the street from the train station (we’d come by bus though because we hadn’t planned far enough ahead, the trains book up faster, for good reason, they are much more pleasant due to the bumpy roads here making it a rough night even on the sleeper bus). So we were finally settled in our hotel by about 11 am so were thinking we’d go to the temple the next day to get an early start but then we found out that a festival started the next day so there was going to be wayyyy more people than usual (and usually the wait is 2 to 6 hours to get into the temple, according to the Lonely Planet Guide), so we headed out right then!

We’d heard from our program advisor that you could walk up to the temple, he said it took him 4 hours, and that you got a wrist band if you did that so that when you got to the top you could go straight in, the walking up the 18km counted as your waiting in line. But we got a bit confused about that, thinking we had to take a bus to the stairs, and got on a bus which took us all the way to the top of the hill, to the temple.

So we checked our shoes and our bags (no shoes, no cameras or cell phones and you’d be waiting in line so long you wouldn’t want to carr y your bags, allowed in the temple) and paid Rs 300 (6$) to get a ticket (there was also a Rs 50 line which we tried to get in and they wouldn’t let us, telling us we had to be in the Rs 300 line but were not able to explain why… ).

Thank god we only had to wait in line for 2 hours. Still a really long time, but not as bad as 6 hours. The problem for me was that the line was very claustrophobic, I long ago got used to having no personal space here, to having 5 different people touching you at once if you’re in a line or on a bus, but this was that, inside a cage. The line was this windy caged in passageway, we must’ve been in line for at least a half a mile, and I just did not like the thought of being caged in with thousands of people a quarter of a mile from an exit. I had to think calm thoughts.

Near the beginning of the line, we were pulled aside as we were obviously not Indian and we had to sign 3 papers saying that I ____ belong the religion ____ but I have faith in Lord Ventakeswara (Vishnu) and reverence to Him and His worship. I may be permitted to enter the temple and have darshan of the Lord.” And we had to sign and have a witness sign and carry the paper with us while we were in line. I asked the guy who was having us fill out a papers how many foreigners they get a day and he said depending on the how busy of a day, 10 to 100, and 50,000 Indians.

So we waited for two hours, finally got into the temple, but still had to wait in line snacking around the inside of the temple waiting to get into the inner sanctum. So we finally get mashed into the inner area, and it’s madness. I’ve never been pushed and shoved so much in my life. I had my arms wrapped around Lisa and we just got smashed along with the crowd. Half the people were chanting with their hands together above their heads (hands above the head to address a god, hands in front of your face to address a guru ie teacher and hands in front of your chest for everyone else, learned that in Kuchipudi Dance Class where we say a prayer before and after we dance). The rest of the people were just pushing with all limbs. We got to the front and for a split second could see an idol, dimly lit, down a small tunnel like passage way, a good 30 or 40 feet away, and then I was spit back out.

In the Lonely Planet Guides description of the temple, they said that it might make you religious. Well far from that, it made me doubt organized worship even more. That is worship? I’ve liked Hinduism more than other organized religions that I’ve learned about so far, simply because it is more fun, one of the gods has an elephant head for goodness sake! And there are more festivals and it’s more colorful. But I guess in the end all organized religions are the same. As we exited, walking around inside the temple but outside the inner sanctum, one whole wall was made of glass, showing a room with 60 or more people sitting on the floor, counting money and stacking it in boxes. Well at least they are more transparent, literally, than the Catholic Church.

But I couldn’t help thinking, being smashed along with so many people who were being so aggressive and self-interested, that we are all going to the same place, that they are all believing the same thing, so why is it so competitive and violent?! We’ve all just waited for 2 hours, would another few minutes, which would mean you wouldn’t have to push and shove your neighbors, your fellow worshipers, be so terrible?? And while I don’t believe in any god, I am not without some sense of spiritualism, and I could not help thinking, that were I ever to believe in a god, I would have so so much difficulty believing in one who demanded of his worshipers, or even allowed them, to partake in such activities, where they had to spend countless hours waiting and waiting only to trample their brothers and sisters just to be one person closer to paying their respects first. No one said the Hindu god’s were benevolent, and I guess no one said any god was rational.

The next day we realized we had two days left in Tiruphati and there wasn’t much else to do there. I realized we were only a 3 hour train ride from Chennai though, and Chennai has a BEACH, Chennai is on the OCEAN. I’ve never spent this much time this far from the ocean in my life and have been missing it so much, and after the claustrophobia of the day before the idea of the open never ending ocean was extra appealing. So we got on a train heading out at 10 am and got to Chennai at 1. We were planning to stay a good 5 or 6 hours, but found out the only train back to Tirupathi (where are our hotel was) left 3 hours later, so we bought that ticket and took a tuk-tuk straight to the beach. We stayed at the beach for an hour and then headed back to the train station to get lunch before we got back on the train. The train back to Tirupathi was supposed to take 3 hours too, but we spent an hour stopped in some random train station, and another half hour stopped right outside the Tiruphati station for unknown reasons. And on the way back to Tirupathi we hadn’t been able to find seats, so we spent most of the 4.5 hours sitting in the luggage racks above the seats, and it was even hard to find an available luggage rack, they were all loaded up with people too!

So we spend 7.5 hours on the train in one day, 4 of it in a luggage rack, just to see the ocean. And you know what? That beautiful BEAUTIFUL, open, never ending blue expanse, vaguely facing the direction of California, was worth it. I guess it’s just what you love. Some people have no problem shaving their heads and waiting in line in a cage for 6 hours to pay respects to their god, benevolent or not, and I have to problem sitting in a luggage rack in a hot train car for seven and a half hours just to see the amazing amazing blue ocean for an hour. ❤

“And how long have you been in India??”

There are herds of water buffalo that roam around my campus eating stuff. Water buffalo are domesticated, so I knew they weren’t wild, but they could’ve been feral I guess, but I’d heard that they were owned by the university and that they do get milk from them? Although I don’t see how that’s practical… but today I saw a man herding some of them! There were 5 water buffalo trotting along the road to the campus school and a man on a motorcycle was putzing along behind them yelling stuff every once in a while. Huh.

Yesterday I went in a bike bus-truck. My friend Connor and I had gone down to ShopCom (Shopping Complex, where there are a few food shops, an ATM, a shoemaker and a tailor and a travel agency) to get some tickets for our trip up north to a National Park at the beginning of next month, and there was a huge blue bus-truck parked at ShopCom! So we went inside. It had bookshelves on all sides and one running down the middle too, so there was barely room to walk even one person along down the aisle let alone two. And the books were certainly interesting, I could’ve bought a book on the biology of pineapple fiber had I been so inclined… Connor commented that it reminded him of the scholastic book fair. I passed by again in early evening and the bus was gone… disappeared back to wherever book bus-trucks live…

A week or so ago I had to go and make some copies (of maps of campus for my independent study) and the sheets were too big to copy on campus so I ventured out to Gachibowli crossing (a 20 minute bus ride from campus) to look for a certain copy shop. It was going to take an hour to get the copies so we (Lisa and Kevin accompanied me) went to look for fire works (Kevin wanted fire works…). That was interesting. He ended up buying this one because I insisted, it has the Enterprise on it for goodness sake!!!!

Then we crossed the street (by street I mean The Old Mumbai Highway, which is three lanes each way and goes from here all the way to Mumbai, 700 or so KM away. It’s the street my school is on. It’s the old highway because, well they built a new one.. uh..).. anyways we crossed the highway because me and Lisa had spotted a stationery store… and we both have a strong weakness in that department…
It turned out to be quite a fun store with loads of useful things that we may of may not have actually needed to buy… But waiting in line up at the register I was looking at the knives they had in the display case. I forgot to bring my pocket knife with me to India and they are just so useful to have around and there was a pretty nice Swiss Army knife in the display case so I asked to see it. It cost about 25 USD, which is probably less than it would’ve been in the states anyways, but it just seemed like so much to me since everything else is so cheap here! So I asked the cashier, is it possible to get a discount…? She said no, and I said, oooh but it’s soo expensive! And she said hold on, and called the manager. He came out 5 minutes later and asked what I needed and I said I wanted to know if it was possible to get a discount on the knife. He said, “You are from where?” “United States”. “And how long have you lived in India” “Two months now” I said. “Ahh and you have already learned the Indian way!” The Indian way is indeed to ask for a discount on everything (but I picked up some of that skill living in Ecuador too!) He said that no, it was not possible to give me a discount, but that he would give me a 5% discount.

I left the store pretty smug. 5% is not a lot, but it’s a lot when you “can’t” be given a discount! And I took that as a compliment that he was so surprised that I would be asking for a discount, learning the Indian way, yup.

And how long have I been in India? It will be 9 weeks on Monday 😉 .

Boraginaceae Trichodesma indicum

September Sun and the Air Dries Out

It’s September! Hyderabad is getting drier and sunnier finally, I still sweat profusely everywhere I go, but not to the same extent as when we got here 😉 .

This week I saw the most beautiful sunset of my life, coming home from the library one evening. I’ve recently discovered how much I enjoy hanging out in the library on campus, it’s in the main campus, a trek from Tagore in other words. In the foyer you have to leave your back packs in a cubby and the guards check the things that you want to bring in with you, you aren’t allowed to bring any books in… one of the stranger things I’ve encountered so far here. The guards are very fun though, they thought my Hindi flashcards were funny and we’re quite happy when I told them I was studying for my test! And although you can’t take books in with you, you can get anything copied in the copy room inside, ANYthing, they WILL copy an ENTIRE book for you if you want… and it will cost less than 5 dollars and take maybe an hour and a half if it’s long… IF the power’s on that is…

But I love the library. Each floor is divided with the stacks on one side and very comfortable long wooden tables for studying on the other side, the study areas are wide open, spacious and airy with windows all along the far wall for light and air when the power is out. The books unfortunately are in utter disrepair, dustier than the desert and some with bookworms… but they still attract me like all rows of bookcases do 😉 .
So after spending a good 4 hours studying, including a nice half hour nap I was biking back up to Tagore for dinner and the sky was on fire. So since I had a half hour to dinner I biked to the end of the road Tagore is on, and climbed up on one of the huge granite rocks that are the landscape here, and watched the huge swollen orange star set over India.


And that sun is out more during the day now as the monsoon rains become less and less frequent and the air dries out…
So now it’s time to travel! Less rain means easier travel. Since I last wrote I’ve actually gotten to take two trips out of Hyderabad! The first was two weeks ago to Hampi and Badami in Karnataka, the province to the west of Andhra Pradesh. This was a trip planned and paid for by CIEE so it was 30 of us all travelling together. I would never normally travel with such a large group, I would also never book so many toury touristy things into one trip, OR be able to afford to stay in such nice hotels as we did, so it was nice for the experience of all those things I wouldn’t normally do and I’m really glad for that. But from now on the rest of my travels will be with one or a few people and staying in hostels!

My roomie Caroline in our bungalow at the “resort” where we stayed in Hampi! Nice place, strangely though: most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept in…

Hampi is a town with tons and town of old ruins. We saw many, many different palaces and temples, including 4 cave temples carved into a cliff face in Badami. And CIEE hired a professor from a University in Bangalore to serve as our guide and give us the history of everything we saw, she was great and I really liked her. The trip over all was great and although I did get tired of looking at many, many really old buildings made of stone, it was nice to get out of Hyderabad and I did have fun travelling. We took the train there and back, AC sleeper class, the most expensive class to travel (and still a FRACTION of the price of a train ride in the US). They gave us sheets and blankets for the bunks and even with that I was a bit chilly they kept the car so cold!

Julia in one of the bunks in our train compartment!

Hampi

Getting off the train at 7am in Hampi the bats, the Indian Flying foxes (largest ones in the world remember!) were roosting for the day and I finally managed to get a good picture!

So this past weekend then when I went to Aurangabad with a friend we travelled regular sleeper car, no AC. So no sheets provided either, but I brought my silk liner and the windows were open and it was quite fresh and nice, and less than half the price of the AC car. It cost us $3 for a 17 hour train ride! WHAT!? Train travel is the way to go! ❤

Non-AC train car, Triple bunks instead of doubles.

They drink a LOT OF CHAI here. I think Hyderabadis are more obsessed with the rest of the country (?) but here is a man walking around the train with a giant tea pot, selling cups of chai, 5 rupees 🙂

Aurangabad is in Maharashtra, the province to the north west of Andhra Pradesh and Aurangabad is famous for the Elloracaves. These caves are actually really similar to the ones I saw in Badami, but there are more than 30 of them, some Hindu, some Buddhist and some Jain. The setting is also very different, rolling green hills instead of the dryer scrub with lots of granite rocks of Badami and Hampi. In Maharashtra they speak Marathi, which uses the same script as Hindi, and NOTHING was written in English anywhere! I’ve gotten used to Hyderabad where every single thing is written in Hindi, Telegu and English. Not in Maharashtra! So I got a LOT of practice reading that weekend, even though at the time I thought I was reading Hindi! It came in handy though when we were trying to find a bus, and all the names of the buses were written in Hindi, I successfully found the right bus, so I AM learning Hindi! (got an A- on my first test too woot woot).

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves, the main temple (Hindu).

Back in Hyderabad, his morning I got to hang out in the Botanical Garden, which is actually not too far from campus! Madhuri (one of my CIEE coordinators) had let me know about an event put on by the “Hyderabad Adventure Club”, which was a bird watching excursion at these gardens. It started at 6am today so I managed to drag myself out of bed at 4:30 to make it to Main Gate and walk (no rickshaws at that hour!) to my friend Melanie’s house about 25 minutes from campus and from her house the gardens were only another 15 minute walk. It was worth it though, we met some cool people and saw some cool birds (and plants! ❤ ) and now I know how awesome and close the garden is, with only a Rs 10 ($0.18) entry fee (Rs 15 extra if you’re taking a camera in). There was a pond area, an area with some snack shops, a rose garden and the usual area with labeled plants, but then there was a very large section much more wild with just dirt paths and this is where we did most of the birding. Lots of people were up and walking or jogging around for exercise, it was a very nice atmosphere. 

Male Purple Sunbird

So. I’ve been 8 weeks now here in India! I’m getting used to it, can’t imagine driving on the right side of the road anymore 😉 And I can eat pretty dang well with my hands  . So I’m working on classes, getting all the materials for my Independent Study (had to trek down to the Admin office 4 times this past week but finally got a pretty awesome master plan map of campus from the very nice Campus Engineer!) and I’m starting research on National Parks of India for my Resource Management class. And working on planning a trip with a few friends to one of these parks at the end of the month, up in Madhya Pradesh! And the most important part is really just that the air is getting dryer. 😉
Also, I found 5 peacock feathers today in the Botanical Garden. Peacocks are native here and everywhereeee….

This is a Monsoon. Bring Your Headlamp.

AUGUST 1st

I was sitting in the computer room in Tagore writing this blog post on the ancient desktops that sound like every word you type and every click you make are going to be their last… and Aimee is at the computer next to me, and swhshhhh the power dies. The fans, the lights and the computers all fade out and the only sound is the rain pounding on the thick roof far above us. It is REALLY dark in this little room, so I grab onto Aimee and she finds the door frame and we spot a cell phone light in the hall, sticking to the wall we skirt the step up to the hallways that is ALWAYS wet from the constant drip in the ceiling get into the hall, spotting Asaki’s flashlight down at the end we make it to her. And I make it to my room, heading straight to my desk in the dark remembering exactly where my head lamp is.

Headlamp firmly in place me Aimee and Asaki stand in the hallway, and… the power comes back on! This is a monsoon. So bring your headlamp, the power will go out. This is not the first time though that I have thought that headlamps are pretty much the best thing ever invented, they are so great. And now I’m back in the computer room (now writing this in a program that auto saves) and my headlamp is still around my neck. Just in case. After our first week of sweltering humidity finally broke we had a few days of rain off and on, but then nothing for the past 4 or 5 days, and now it is coming down hard. The roof is a story above me, and these are 20 foot ceilings, and thick concrete, and at some points it drowns out the music in my headphones and the growls of the dinosaur next to me unhappy when I click on anything.

So keep your headlamps handy.

And now we are in classes! This week I’ve finally been going to classes, and regularly at that! Conversational Hindi is Monday through Thursday 9 to 10am. Kuchipudi Dance (the dance of Andhra Pradesh, this province) is Monday and Wednesday 10 to 12n. Those classes are both SIP (Study in India) classes, so only international students. And that leaves two more classes (gotta take 4) so I am hoping to do an independent study with plants on campus through the Plant Sciences Department (who aren’t really offering any classes this semester) but I am still waiting to hear back from them about that, and then still needing another class I think I’ve settled on “Indian Philosophy”. It fits nicely with my schedule, the professor is really easy to understand and it actually might be fairly interesting. Today was the first class and he spent the hour talking about how a lot of people claim that there IS no Indian Philosophy because it is religion. And he as quite defensive about that, disproving the claims as to why it is not a philosophy…In Hindi we are just learning the alphabet this week. After this week we will drop the script and only use the transliteration since the Conversational class focuses on the pronunciation and conversing, not on reading and writing. And in dance today we got a work out! We practiced over and over these plie esq steps, up and down the room dipping over and over again and keeping our arms out, and speeding up to the beat the professor hammered out on this piece of wood! It was definitely a good work out, and fun! We get to do a performance at the end of the semester in full costume! And after she tired us out the second half of the class was about theory and history of dance.

Three of us in the dance class had asked if it was ok if we left a little early to get to the Philosophy class, since dance officially ends at noon and Philosophy starts at noon, and the professor, a very much intimidating retired professional and now rather plump dancer, assured us that she also had to be at her next class at noon so not to worry we would all catch the noon shuttle together. The campus is about as big as UCSC and has its own shuttle as well.

Well I’ve made it through this with the power only going off twice (only for a second the second time) so I think I’ll wrap up here. I just have to say, that I was rather disappointed at dinner tonight. It was the first night they didn’t give us ice cream!! I’m scandalized. They gave us “hot chocolate” instead. Yea I dunno what that was but it was not good and how can you pretend that hot chocolate (especially bad hot chocolate) is a replacement for ice cream. Like Aimee said, that’s like trying to pretend that carob chips are a substitute for chocolate. Insulting! Chocolate is just not the same outside the US (or maybe, Switzerland), unless it’s in ICE CREAM. Gosh I’m going to be spoiled when I go home and have to start paying 3.50 a scoop again for my ice cream, though there will never be an ice cream better than Penny’s, worth every penny ❤ .

Showering in the Dark, Scavenging Through the City, and Ice Cream Every Night. Oh and the Mall — July 25

July 25th

We were out all day today (ALL day, left Tagore [the international student dorm where I live] at 8am and came back at 6:45pm) and I ate dinner and was just taking off my clothes in the shower stall, looking forward to being CLEAN after a long day of constant drizzle and mud and dirt and another barefoot temple walk and sweat sweat sweat. And the power goes off. And I showered in the dark. Well, until halfway through conditioning my hair and then it came back on again! And then a few minutes later it went off again. And then a few seconds later it came back on again!

The power goes off here at least three a day, more like 6 or 7 some days. There is not enough electricity in India and supposedly they turn it off for a few hours at night to ration it (though it’s at an hour when I am NOT awake and have not noticed (the fan going off being the factor I would notice), but it just goes off by itself all the time. During class. While in the mall. In the shower.

Yesterday it went off while we were eating dinner at the mall. Yesterday was a long and capitalistic day. Our program coordinators took us shopping! They gave us each 3500 Rupees, 70 dollars, and took us to the mall. I’m not sure anyone has ever handed me money and taken me to the mall before. But I guess it IS my money after all since we paid a lot to be here… But we’ve been here for two weeks now, and they have given us time to be observing what everyone is wearing and then set us loose to buy our own clothes.

[NOTE: When I say “my program” I am not referring to EAP. I am not an EAP student while here, I am a CIEE student. CIEE is an independent study abroad organization that EAP outsources their Hyderabad students to, there are 7 of us from EAP in CIEE. Also, CIEE is awesome awesome awesome.]

The mall we went to is called Inorbit is pretty close to campus, ten fifteen minute drive (in our personal bus, 35 min in a rikshaw!). It looks just like any mall I’ve ever seen, in the US or South America. Three stories and with a food court and movie theater, some American shops (Puma, Nike etc) and some European (Marks and Spencer!), and lots of Indian stores. 70 dollars for clothes goes was enough for about 4 new outfits. We did not buy saris, which are hard to wear and not the popular clothing for our age, the Salwar Kameez (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salwar_kameez) is what’s up, leggings or loose pants with a long tunic-y shirt. And a scarf across the chest with the ends hanging down over the shoulders to the back. And there are PLENTY of cute variations at the mall. We don’t have to wear Indian clothes, but they suggest it because it’s respectful, more comfortable (YES) and we stand out less. But mostly it is respectful. The men here mostly don’t wear typical Indian clothing, they wear jeans and t-shirts. But you see very few women in jeans and t-shirts. And most of those that have jeans on then have the long tunic Indian shirt on over it.

After 3 hours of shopping (oh and we were accompanied by our peer tutors on the shopping expedition, they’d also given us a power point presentation on Indian clothing before we left for the mall), and they took us around the mall. Although Aimee accurately said “I’m not sure we really need help, we were American teen agers, set us loose in a mall I’m pretty sure we can figure out what to do…” But the peer tutors are fun and nice and we will be seeing them all semester. Anyways, after that we went to dinner at an Indian restaurant in the mall, next to the Chili’s. Buffet style, amazing food. (The more we eat out here, the more the dining hall that was so delicious the first night is becoming mediocre…) And in the middle of dinner, the power went out! It wasn’t out for more than 60 seconds, but I was glad I was sitting down in a restaurant and not in some crowded store.

And then… after dinner they took us to a Hindi movie! We even got vouchers for a free popcorn and drink! Which we redeemed at the intermission. Yes the intermission. It was a 2.5 hour movie. And when they said it was a Hindi movie, we didn’t realize that they meant a HINDI movie. 2.5 hours of Hindi. Well I don’t speak Hindi. But it was good anyways! The intermission helped so that we could sort out plot confusions with the peer tutors. And we could also get our popcorn and cokes. The popcorn had some interesting bright orange powdery cheesy stuff on it, but with the usual Indian flare, not really spicy, just with spices, ie lots of flavour. It was interesting. I think I’ll get the regular next time. And the coke, well soda is a lot better and a LOT less sweet outside the US. This stuff actually tasted like something, other than sugar that it. Sort of a vaguely molasses-y flavour.

But overall the movie was enjoyable and would have been actually really good if we had understood it! The only parts in English, were these funny lines that one of the main characters threw out every so often. He didn’t know how to speak English. He tells the other main character, Asam, “You will make one night stand with me tonight!” And the whole theater bursts out laughing. Only we had no idea what he MEANT to say, which would probably make it even funnier.

Then we piled back onto the bus, all our shopping bags already taken on board earlier before dinner, and headed home to Tagore. To awake 7 hours later and eat an early breakfast and head out on our Khojo!

A Khojo is a “search” and our wonderful Kate, our American coordinator working here, designed with the help of the great CIEE team, a fantastic, 9 hour scavenger hunt all around Hyderabad in order to familiarize ourselves with the transport and the city and to get used to asking twelve people for directions to the same thing…

We started by getting a lift to the Main Gate of campus (about a mile from Tagore) in the CIEE car, and then we hopped n a “Private auto” (AKA a tuk-tuk as they are known in Peru and Indonesia, and which are different here than the “shared autos” which look almost the same but are bigger and fit more people and have a set route like a bus).

We took the tuk tuk to the Ligampalli Train station and bought tickets to the Nampally station, each ticket was, 4 rupees each!! (7 US cents, for a 50 minute train ride…).

Sammi, me and Aimee, my Khojo team, plus Jenna who took the picture. We are on the train on our first leg of the adventure!

Oh yea and we are in groups of 4 and they gave us a transportation allowance and part of the challenge was to see which group could use the least amount of money, to try and not get ripped off by the auto drivers… -_- And we got snack bags and 100 rupees for a “surprise mission” later on.

So we made it to the other end of the line, and got off and had to fill out some questions on our form about trains in the station, and then turn our paper into the CIEE person waiting for us and get our next clue!

We headed off in another tuk tuk to a Bazaar. And spent far too long tromping around in the rain amongst small little shops. The clues led us all around looking for different specific shops: a beauty supply shop to inquire about the price of henna per kilo, a crystal and jewelry shop to ask where their crystals come from (china. The pearls are real and are from Hyderabad. HOW do they get pearls from a town three hours from the OCEAN?! [Edit: the pearls do indeed come from the ocean, Hyderabad is just famous for a historic pearl market where the pearls were sold.]), and we had to find out what a tiffin is (a breakfast food served by street vendors, costs 5 rupees each), and take a pictures of three different spices in a Masala (spice) shop.. and on and on.. we finally finished all those questions and tuk tuk-ed it to the next spot, a bakery, to inquire about typical sweets, then we went to the hotel where we were having lunch. Well they call restaurants hotels here (yea WHAT?!) so there were no beds, but good food!

Oh and we completed our “surprise mission” before lunch too. We had to use the 100 rupees to buy children’s toys, and we’ll save these for when we go and visit the children’s shelter in a few weeks. My group combined our 100 rupees and bought two dozen little squishy balls for 400, half are little globes and the other half have random western things on them, Spiderman, angry birds.

And then off for the last leg of the challenge, to find the state theater and take a picture in front of it, extra credit for finding out what was going on there that night) and then to make it to this temple up on a hill. The temple was magnificent. Reached by walking through a narrow steep alley of vendors selling loads of cheap plastic things, and little Ganesh statues. The temple was all marble, and up up up on the hill.

From there we could see the lake. The Lake divides the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, meaning that we were FAR from the University, all the way on the other side of the city!

We finally filled out the last few questions about the temple, turned out papers in and then waited for everyone to get there (we were not the first group, but at least we weren’t the last!) And then we took the bus to the lake and went on a short cruise out to this small little island just off shore, with the 2nd biggest Buddha statue in… the  whole of India I think? We looked at it. Then we went back to shore… It was cool to see it up close, but we didn’t spend much time there. And then we all fell asleep on the bus home… over an hour back to campus.

The Buddha statue in the middle of the lake. The lake seperates the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad.

We got back just in time for dinner, which we didn’t eat much of, not me at least as I’m still digesting lunch, but we always have to go to dinner at the very least for the ice cream. Every single day we get a small bowl of ice cream after dinner. One little scoop of vanilla and a small scoop of another flavour, which changes every day but there are only three, chocolate, mango and a butterscotch-esq one (which is the best, and which is very rare). Ice cream every day? I think that’s all I need in life. This place was meant for me…

Also, have you ever wondered what the difference is between a water buffalo and a cow? Well probably not, but we have been wondering a lot. And I finally wikipedia-ed it, and not only are they different species (as I hypothesized) they are actually in different genuses too. Not sure what all the physical characteristic differences are but I know that water buffalo are slightly smaller and have crazier curly horns. And they roam around campus in… packs? Herds. Herds of water buffalo.

The Vegetarians Sacrifice Pumpkins – July 16th 2012

The Bonalu festival is in progress in Hyderabad right now, a festival to appease the Goddess Parvathi, she is angry and must be calmed down with cool foods like yogurt and sacrifices.

The Temple Entrance

We went yesterday on our comfy air conditioned bus to one of the temples. The bus stopped a couple blocks away and we left our shoes on the bus and walked through the streets, the wet streets as it finally started raining these past couple days, and made our way to the temple. Shoes must never be worn in any sacred place. They are dirty and should not contaminate the sacred place. We entered and there was a long line of people waiting to go into the temple chamber. It looked like a ride at Great America, with those windy rows of metal bars to hold the line, same deal. Except we got to cut to the front of the line and go in at light speed, walk in walk past the statue of something (dunno what it was too quick and confusing to look) and were handed some plastic bangles and out we went. From there we were dabbed on our foreheads with turmeric and our feet painted with a yellow turmeric paste. Feet are very dirty and un-sacred, so when an elder touches your feet you must touch their shoulder to show your appreciation for it.

Next we went to a second are within the temple grounds, less crowded and we got a much better look at the statues of the gods. And then we were each given a plastic baggy of yummy rice ate it with our fingers, I’m getting much better at this! There was also a long line to get your chickens and goats (but mostly chickens) sacrificed. It costs 2 rupees and that includes the de feathering  prep for cooking.

Sacrifice Line

The vegetarians however, (not all Hindus are vegetarian, some are non-veg as they say, and they eat chicken and goat and sheep), they sacrificed…. PUMPKINS! There were remains of some sorry pumpkins lying about on the streets.

Then in the evening we attended a performance of Indian fusion music here on campus put on for us (CIEE students that is). Walking back for dinner at dusk, a strange thing flew overhead. At least twice as big as a crow and looking an awful lot like a bat. No I said, that can’t possibly be a bat. Another one flew by. I’ve never seen a bird with wings like that… well back in the dorms with internet… yea. It was a bat. The biggest bat in the world: Indian Flying Fox, FOUR FOOT WING SPAN.

Watch out.