In 1 hour I will be getting in a taxi and starting my journey back home to Colorado. I will drive to Managlore, from where I will fly to Mumbai, then France, then Detroit, then Denver. It will be about 40 hours of travel time. And unfortunately I gained an extra bag on my way home (too much good shopping), so getting around should be interesting.
These past few days have been an emotional blur. Im so excited to get home and hug my friend, family, and Eli and to eat sushi and sleep in a comfortable bug-free bed. But at the same time I am really going to miss the friends I have made here and all the experiences I have on a daily basis. I’m already expecting some reverse culture shock as well, but at least that tells me that I really enjoyed and emerged in the culture here.
Last night our program held a closing ceremony. Everyone wore their saris while we had a mini talent show for the faculty and staff here in Manipal who have been with us. Over the past few weeks I have made a video consisting of pictures and video clips of my travels in India. My movie debuted last night and was a good success 🙂 I am trying to figure out how to post it on my blog without paying the upgrade fee, so watch out for that. After the ceremony I got together with the group of friends who have become like family. We went to our usual spot, a hookah cafe owned by one of the guys, and reminisced about all the good times we had from play pick up soccer, to watching cricket, to staying up the entire night dancing.
Through all of the ups and downs, this has been a tremendous experience for me. There are many ways that I feel like I have grown, and all while enjoying myself. Thank you to everyone I have met. Thank you to everyone at home who has been supportive of me. Thank you India!!!
Wednesday May 1st was a holiday in Manipal, so I decided to take my day off and head to Agumbe, a rainforest in the Western Ghats. I left Manipal at 7am to catch the bus in Udupi. Buses are not clearly marked, and usually the markings they do have aren’t even in English. But by asking around I was able to find the right bus and, best yet, get a window seat. The bus ride took about 1.5 hours. We started off driving through villages but ending drive up a steep mountain on switchbacks. The scenery even from the bus was marvelous.
When I got to Agumbe, I found an auto driver to take me to Koodlu Theertha Falls and back for 400Rs (about $8USD). I thought it was just a 20km drive that should take no more than 45minutes. That was until we pulled off onto a dirt road and began four-wheeling in the auto (which only has 3 wheels).
The drive there ended up taking 2 hours. But it was a pretty drive through pineapple, coconut, and mango farms with the mountains in the background. At one point we even drove across a river. And even though the auto flooded with water, it kept on trekking.
We finally made it to the trail head after a long and bumpy ride. Ganesh (the auto driver) decided to do the trek with me in his trousers and sandals. It was about a 3-4km trek in, but even though it was short it was very enjoyable. It was through a jungle at the bottom of a ravine with cliffs going up on either side of us.
At the end of the trail, we came out into an open at the end of the ravine where a 300 foot waterfall was creating a pool of fresh water.
There were already two large groups of locals there playing in the water, standing under the falls, and heating up on the rocks around. Of course when I walked in most everyone stopped and stared for a second. I felt a little out of place. But as soon as I started taking my shoes off to go under the waterfall, they started cheering and helped me over the slippery rocks to the best place to stand under the falls. They kept asking my name, country, and purpose in India. This information was then passed around as “Yambar, America, Doctor”. The first group, the ones that helped me under the falls, was a group of professors from a local college enjoying their day off. The second group was a local Christian church group. After enjoying my cool, fresh shower, the first group invited me to eat lunch with them. They invited me as their guest of honor and served me an entire plate full of rice, curry, cooked vegetables, chapati, and halwa. I dug in eating with my hands, but could not finish the mound of food they had given me. Luckily they weren’t offended and blamed it on my appetite. After gorging myself, Ganesh and I decided to trek back down.
As we started off, the second group also started walking down. The priest decided to walk with me and question me why I didn’t practice any religion. That is one thing that I have really come to see in India. Most every body has a religion, and a majority are very dedicated to their religion. Whether it’s Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Jainism, it doesn’t matter but it’s almost as if you have to believe in something. But I’m always the odd-ball out 🙂
On our 2 hour bumpy drive back, Ganesh suddenly stopped and asked if I wanted a mango. Ummm, yes! So he stopped the auto, and yelled out into a field where I then saw two brothers. One was all the way up in a mango tree picking ripe mangos and dropping them down to his brother below. The boy down below threw us two mangos which we peeled and ate right there. It was the freshest, juiciest, most delicious mango I have ever eaten.
Before getting back to the bus stop, we stopped at sunset point for a gorgeous view of the mountains.
Initially, I planned to stay for sunset but it was a very cloudy day so I wouldn’t have been able to see anything. But is was quite the spot. There were food vendors and families there making an evening out at the viewpoint. But Ganesh took me back to the bus stop where there was a bus waiting for me. When I got on the crowded bus, one lady offered me the last open seat next to her. Before the bus started to leave an older man came to reclaim the seat I was in. As I was getting up to give him his seat back the lady yelled at the man to let me have the seat since ladies should have priority. Although I felt bad for taking the man’s seat and was willing to give it back, I felt bad doing so after the lady stood up for me. And I can’t say I wasn’t happy about being comfortable for the drive back to Manipal.
It was quite an adventure – definitely one I will not forget. Between four wheeling through a river, bathing under a waterfall, being the guest of honor at a picnic, eating the freshest mango ever, and having an amazing view of the Western Ghats, I can say it was a very successful adventure.
My apologies for not posting in some time, I have been busy with writing papers and studying as the semester starts coming to a close. Every weekend for the past 3 weekends we had field trips for my Contemporary Indian Studies class, so I have not been able to leave Manipal or travel since then. I am getting a bit restless here, but the good news is this coming weekend is free! I am hoping to head down to north Kerala where I will explore a fort, some beaches, and maybe even a wildlife sanctuary (funds permitting).
Nevertheless, I have enjoyed being with friends here, drinking Teaze everyday (amazing bubble tea where the people now know me), and being studious. A few highlights about the last few weeks in Manipal:
- I had a great birthday! Birthdays tend to be a big thing here, mainly since they are a good excuse to celebrate and have some fun. My friends surprised me at midnight on my birthday with a party and cake. And, as tradition goes, everybody got to feed me, the birthday girl, with the cake (which was delicious, but extremely filling). Saturday on my birthday we had a field trip to see the Malpe fish harbor, but afterwards my program director took everyone out for more cake. And again that night, after I spoiled myself with a yummy dinner of pizza, my friends and I went to the bars and then had a house party. Its was a great birthday, and definitely a very memorable one.
- Other field trips we have gone on were to a Sikh Gurdwara, a Jain temple, and a pineapple farm. At the pineapple farm I drank the freshest, sweetest (naturally), most organic juice I have ever drank – and it was delicious.
- The weather has been getting progressively hotter and wetter. Three times now we have had pre-monsoon downpours which have left us drowning in humidity. Supposedly, by the time I leave in May, we will get to see even more rains.
And now, I have 17 days left in India, for which only 10 of them I will be in Manipal, 3 in Kerala, and 4 in Goa… should be an exciting last 2.5 weeks! I already have mixed emotions about leaving. I am excited to get home to friends, family, bagels, cheese, sushi, and avocados, but I will miss the friends and life I have become accustomed to here in India.
Another blog written by my wonderful mother after she stayed with me in Manipal for the week:
The spaceship-like doors opened, and our two suit-clad hosts escorted us into the first room, along with another family, and motioned to us precisely where to stand. The room came alive with pictures, movies and sounds moving around between screens on the walls and hanging white globes from the ceiling. The interactive display went on for a few rooms, explaining the history, opportunities and activities offered by the institution. At the end we were asked to record into a mounted iPad why we were there and our thoughts. This was, by far, the most technologically advanced college presentation I have experienced. The other family that was visiting included the parents and another older relative, the decision makers, not their son, the potential student.
The dichotomy was that this presentation, and the administration building it was housed in, is a world apart from the rest of the campus, which blends quite well into the local environment of southern India. The bikes, rickshaws, cars and buses zip around wildly and cows wander wherever they please.
My week on campus provided good insight into Amber’s world this semester. The large campus of 15,000 students consists of a few colleges, but the medical school is one of the largest. Most of the students wear the white medical jackets. Many are women with their bright kurtas (long tops) showing underneath. The teaching hospital is a busy place with people waiting outside the emergency room on benches all the time, day and night. The bustling street bordering the school has broken up dirt sidewalks, women asking for food for their babies, fresh fruit and other student services, like printing that Amber uses to submit course papers.
The dorm and gym are both monitored, and access is controlled very tightly with lots of information and signatures entered in big lined books. With a special pass and approval, I was allowed to sign in to her dorm between 4 and 7 pm only. We went to the gym a few times, again with a pass from my hotel. Here is the process to get to the gym:
- Enter through the door monitored by two uniformed workers standing on either side and they point you to a small table to show your pass or card and then sign in.
- Go down a flight of stairs to the locker room and show your pass again and sign in again to get a locker and change shoes. You have to bring separate gym shoes.
- Go to the gym room with great equipment and weights and show your pass again and sign in.
- Workout and then reverse the entire process to sign out three times to leave.
Nothing feels unsafe, but there is a definite process for everything and you are quietly walked through each step each time. Efficiency is not a top priority. Attention to every detail is necessary. Amber kept mentioning the attention to detail, and I started to understand what this really meant.
The gym itself is a really nice facility and a great place to escape the heat outside. The scene inside is quite different from a Boulder gym, including segregated stretching rooms and women working out in partial burquas, which doesn’t look like fun.
Other buildings were open, like the hospital where we could just walk through and see people on stretchers going into surgery and others waiting around. I joined Amber at her class on Maternal and Child Health, where I felt very welcomed and enjoyed the teacher and the students. On Fridays, the public health program heads on a field visit. I left Amber as she took off on Friday to a leprosy clinic. I miss her tons.
My mom made it safely to India, and better yet, she has written our Mumbai blog with lots of things that she has noticed in her few days here. Please enjoy:
Amber was not hard to pick out of the crowd after I cleared customs. Even with her local clothes and a bit of a tan, she is still a fair beauty that is easy to spot. The Amber-hugs are great as ever, and she got a big one from me and many others back home. The day/night delimiter on the plane map showed that I am almost exactly on the other side of the world. However, watching a couple movies and sleeping on the direct flight from Newark made the journey go so fast that I feel like I am not so far from home. Being with Amber is awesome! She takes care of me really well.
Our hotel in Mumbai (Bombay) was a treat for her, and she quickly pointed out it had both toilet paper and a soft bed. We are in a great location for our daily excursions. The first day we took a boat ride out to Elephanta Island to see the temples carved into the caves of the hillside. The boat ride over the milk chocolate Arabian Sea and trash floating by didn’t entice us near the water, even as the air temperature and humidity rose. A cold beer was much safer. Disembarking from the boat, the male dominance of this society was clear as women traveling without men, like Amber and I, were the last off the boat. Women also have separate lines and waiting areas. Workers at restaurants, shops are predominantly all male.
Although there is some tourist activity here, maybe even a tad more on this Easter weekend (although only 2.5% of the population is Christian), the visitors are mostly from around India. Very few non-Indian tourists, especially whites, are seen anywhere. Many of the white visitors are from South Africa. About half the women are dressed in traditional saris, and a significant number of burquas are also around. Although we draw a few glances, we don’t seem to be treated any differently and have not run into any issues. The people are quiet, in general, and although we are asked to buy and give handouts, most take “no” quite easily and move on.
The city itself is busy and noisy, mostly with honking horns. The driving is insane. Families ride on motorcycles, with children packed on, women riding sidesaddle, holding babies and swerving around the tightly packed cars. Pedestrians walk on the streets when the sidewalks are blocked or unavailable, and the traffic just goes around them. Sidewalks are used for napping, cooking, selling and other daily activities. The green walk lights are a joke. A green light and counter to cross doesn’t mean the traffic stops for you. I should have figured this out quicker when I started seeing green walk counters that started at over 100.
The second day we wandered through markets and haggled to purchase a few local goods. Amber has perfected her “poor local college student” line. Prices for food and goods are very low. Pants were about $4-5 each, meals are $10-12 for both of us, including beer, and taxi rides are only a dollar or two. We went to the local museum in the afternoon and were paying to get in (50 cents for Amber as a local student and $6 for me as the international tourist) when I heard “Jo-Ann, is that you?” Unbelievably, my Boulder tennis friend Zoya Popovich was right behind us. She was in Bombay for a wedding – what are the chances? Afterwards we tried to fit in and go to the local beach known for its rides, food, and beach for watching the sunset. It wasn’t quite what we expected, but we did get a beautiful view of the sunset over Mumbai.
Our last day in Bombay took us back on the streets for a morning adventure and then to the Ghandi museum, which is in the house that he lived and worked in later in his life. It was a great exhibition and nice setting. Down the street we went to “By The Way”, a restaurant that is run by an organization that is working to train women to be part of the work place. The restaurant was entirely run by women, and it felt different – first time being served by women, and they smiled at us. For the sunset, we took a taxi ride up one of the biggest hills on the west side of Bombay to a community garden to watch the Easter egg shaped sun dip into the chocolate milk. Happy Easter.
We left Bombay on a 10:15pm train for the 12 hour ride to Manipal. We are in a sleeper cubby with 4 others and are already almost 4 hours delayed. Gives me time to watch the countryside and Indian life go by.
On Wednesday March 27th, the day of the full moon, all of India celebrated Holi, the Hindu festival of color. Holi marks the start of spring and is celebrated by everyone gathering in the streets and throwing colorful powders and water at one another. Initially, we didn’t think we were going to be able to celebrate since we had class, but just last week the university declared it a holiday and so it was on.
Tuesday night we went to a local store to buy our colors. We got 8 packs of colors that are supposedly organic. People were also buying colored pastes, water guns, and such. When we woke up on Wednesday, I started by dousing myself in coconut oil from head to toe in the hopes of not staying colored for days afterwards. I used half a bottle of oil, put on some clothes I didn’t care about, and tried tucking my hair in a bandanna before I was ready to go out.
The girls in my program, as well as some of our Indian friends from yoga, all marched to the KMC greens where other students had started playing. The greens were no longer green, but splotched with blue, pink, yellow, red, purple, and every color in between. Everyone was running around taking handfuls of their colors and smearing it on friends and strangers alike while yelling “Happy Holi!”. Some of the more crazy students were even harvesting water from a nearby fountain (which had also turned colorful) and were throwing water onto each other. Boys were ripping each other’s shirts while running around. It was fun, crazy, colorful, messy, and joyful all at once!
After playing for an hour, our group migrated to the MIT campus a 15 minute walk away where there was music and mud pits. When we got there, I was chosen as the lucky culprit who was dragged and thrown into the mud pit. By the end of it all, I had a raw egg cracked on my head, colored powders on every inch of my body, and muddy water to top it all off. I eventually made it back to my shower, where I spent a good hour scrubbing, shampooing, soaping, and soaking my hair and body. The colors came off my skin reasonably well (mainly because I scrubbed off an entire layer of skin), but the colors did not want to leave my hair. My blonde hair is now streaked with yellow, pink, and red.
Even though I lost a layer of skin and have colored hair for who knows how long, it was a fun festivity to partake in. Running around making a colorful mess everywhere – who can argue with that? And better yet (except for the ensuing heat), we successfully welcomed the spring of 2013.
After constantly being around people for what seems like a few months now, I finally got the opportunity to head out on my own for the weekend! I made my way 3 hours north of Manipal by train to a little sandy paradise named Gokarna. I left Friday afternoon and didn’t return until Monday evening, and I loved every minute of it.
The train ride there was extremely easy and even quite. I had an entire section of a car just to myself. I arrived at the station in Gokarna just as the sun was setting, so I grabbed a taxi for the 20 minute drive from the station to where I was staying. To get there, the taxi had to go on dirt backroads full of potholes, but it was well worth the bumpy ride. I splurged a little and decided to stay at a yoga farm on a cliff overlooking one of the beaches. And because it is the end of the season, they gave me a cottage all to myself for a discounted price.
When I got there Friday night I dropped my stuff off and headed straight for the beach. From the yoga farm, it is a 5 minute walk down the road to get to Kudle beach (there are 5 beaches in Gokarna, and Kudle is one of the best for tourists besides Om beach). I soon found myself sitting at one of the shacks along the beach having seafood noodles and a cold beer and enjoying the moonlight over the Arabian sea. I walked around the beach for a bit before heading back to my cottage to sleep.
Included with my accommodations, I got to do yoga there every morning then have a delicious breakfast. The farm was started by a German couple who then hired on an Italian yoga instructor. They come over to India from October until April to run the farm and relax every year. And better yet, they live in tree houses. That is a serious childhood dream come true!
Before yoga, we would sit around the community area and have warm ginger-lemon-honey drinks and get to know each other. There were only 3 other guests there from Austria, Britain, and Holland. The yoga was great – we practiced for 1.5 hours each morning on the yoga deck in the jungle. All the time, we could hear the waves crashing below and monkeys were swinging in the trees around us. Then after yoga we went back to the community area and got breakfast. Each morning I got fruit salad with museli and curd and then toast with a fried egg, real cheese (SO HAPPY), and tomato. What a great way to start my day!
After that, both on Saturday and Sunday I headed down to the beach. Both of those days looked just like this: swim in the ocean, lay in the sun, grab a fresh fruit juice, trek over the cliffs from Kudle beach to Om beach, swim in the ocean, lay in the sun, grab a snack, trek back over the cliffs, swim in the ocean, grab dinner, sit on the beach and watch the sunset, hang out with new friends on the beach, sleep. The ocean was so warm and the waves weren’t too harsh so sometimes I stayed in the water for over an hour until my fingers were prunes. Kudle beach is a bit smaller than Om and really only has tourists while Om beach (which is shaped as an Om) is larger and has more locals there. To get from one beach to the other is about a 30 minute hike up and then back down the cliffs.
Because it was near to the end of the season and many vendors are closing down and leaving back home, most those that were still there were very friendly. They would sit down with me on the beach and we would start talking. Very few of them actually tried to sell me anything. On Saturday night when I was watching the sunset, a young girl (15 years old) and her brother (6 years) came and sat with me. They are normally from Hampi, but come live with their aunt in Gokarna during tourist season to sell jewelry on the beach to make money to send home. The girl kept commenting on how pretty I was because I was white and how much she didn’t like that she was dark. She called me ice-cream and herself monkey. It was really hard to hear a young girl being racist against herself, although it is very common throughout India that darker skin is not as highly looked upon as lighter skin. Soon their aunt came and sat with us. And when I told her that I was studying to become a doctor all three of them shook my hand before she pulled out a piece of paper. It was the report from a recent ultrasound that she had gotten because she has had stomach pain for two years. She asked me to look at it for her, and even though I tried to tell her that I wasn’t yet a doctor she still wanted me to look. Her doctor had told her to take some pills, but that they had not been helping. The report said that her appendix was inflamed, but that all other abdominal organs were okay. I really wish I could have helped her, but without training it wasn’t ethical for me to recommend anything. So the only advice I could give her was to listen to her doctor. I am here in India to study public health, yet when Im away from my studies I got the most eye-opening experience related to it.
Before they left, I did want to get a few necklaces from them. They had already given me a black necklace, which they said was to remind me of them because they are dark, and an Amber colored bracelet to match my ring. When I went to pay, I didn’t have any small change. They told me to take the two necklaces I had picked out and to just pay them tomorrow. The amount of trust is incredible! I did find them the next day and brought them some cold water and paid them. Altogether a real eye-opening and touching interaction.
Also, because Gokarna is a popular stop for single travelers making their way through India, I met a number of friends from different areas. On Saturday, I had dinner with a girl from Britain, Amy, and a guy from Brazil, Filipe, who had run into each other traveling. Amy left early Sunday morning to continue with her travels, but Filipe stayed another day and we enjoyed each others’ company for the rest of the weekend. He is also a medical student in Brazil, taking a year off to travel the world. It was really interesting comparing aspects of my life in America and his in Brazil since we are on such a similar path. On Sunday night we went out with a guy from Britain who was staying at the yoga farm and is taking a year to travel. After a few beers we all ended up in a drum circle around a fire on the beach with people from India, Sweden, Chile, and more that I don’t even know. I absolutely loved it- complete strangers from such different areas with different ideas can wind up in the same place and have an amazing time together.
On Monday morning, after my yoga and food routine, Filipe and I walked into town before heading to the train station. To get to town, you have to walk across a cliff which is bare, dusty, and hot. You feel like you are wandering through a desert, until you can look out and see the beaches and ocean.
After a short walk through town and quick glimpse of the temples, we had to make our way to the train station 20 minutes away to make sure we could get train tickets. We got there 2.5 hours early and ended up just hanging at the station reading, talking, and listening to music until the train came.
The train was incredibly crowded, so we were forced to stand for the first little bit until others left their seats. We were also the only tourists in the car. But I made it back to Udupi and then Manipal via auto rickshaw safely and very happily.
It was such an amazing weekend- not only was it gorgeous scenery, delicious food and drink, fun swimming and trekking, and really good yoga practice, but I had amazing company. It didn’t matter if I was just with myself or with some of my new worldly friends, I was having an incredible time. I got to know myself better and I learned new things (such as how the British like to party and some about Buddhism and the process of becoming a doctor in Brazil and much more). This is definitely a weekend I will not be forgetting!
And to make things even better, on Thursday my dearest mother is coming to visit! She is landing in Mumbai/Bombay where I will meet her. We will spend the weekend exploring the city before taking a train back to Manipal where I will show her around my new stomping grounds.
I just returned from our Epic Travel Week – 10 days of traveling around south India. The trip was with my program so all 13 American students plus our resident director were traveling. We were also graced with the presence of Abhishek, a staff member from a partner program which is taking place in Pune. It was good to have a male with us, especially on trains rides, and was even better to have someone with us who speaks Hindi. During our travels, we managed to visit Bangalore, Mysore, Ooty, Fort Kochin, and Varkala.
Our first stop was Bangalore, which is the capital of Karnataka (the state where I am living). To get there, we took a 10 hour overnight train ride. After a quick deep breather at the hotel, we set off for the day with our tour guide and AC tourist bus. We started at the Lal Bagh Gardens, which are famous botanical gardens in the state. There was more greenery than flowers, but it was still quite beautiful. Indian families were having picnics on the fields and taking strolls while the kids ran around, it was very picturesque.
We then visited Bull Temple, which was carved from a single rock. The temple is for worship of Shiva’s bull. Out front of the temple, there were stones with serpents for worship as well as a large tree which wives tie string around to bless their husbands.
After, we went to a visual arts gallery which had vendor stands out front. I was able to find some yummy candied ginger and walked around and looked at the rest of the vendors and the art galleries while enjoying it. After everyone had finished their shopping, we took over an hour drive outside of Bangalore and up into Nandi Hills to visit the Bhoganandishvara temple. Grape vines covered the hills, and there were small villages along the way. The temple was preparing for a festival the next day, and thus large carts were being built and lights were being strung. It was very scenic and the temple had many intricate carvings all around. From the temple we could see an old fort on top of the hill, which was illuminated during the sunset.
I still find it very interesting to be visiting a temple as a tourist while others are there in worship. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for turning their sacred place into one for pictures and a history lesson, but at the same time I hope they take our interest as a sign of respect for their culture.
After a long, dark drive back to Bangalore, we had a quick dinner of burgers (which were good, but not good enough to quench my still present desire for an American cheeseburger). We then tried out the night life around the hotel, but were quickly disappointed by the expensive drinks, bad music and creepy old men. We did learn, however, that if you tell onlookers you are from Canada and not America, they are more likely to leave you alone. Not sure why, but it is a nice trick to have up our sleeves.
After an easy 2 hour train ride from Bangalore, we arrived in Mysore, which is the second largest city in Karnataka after Bangalore. The main attraction there (which is almost as famous as the Taj Mahal) is the Mysore Palace, from which the royal Wodeyar family ruled for centuries. On the palace grounds, there are temples and green fields. We took an audio tour through the palace. It was nice to get some good plain information.
We then had some free time to walk around the Devaraja Market, which is a predominately local market with food, colored powders, and perfumes. During our wandering, we made friends with a local street vendor who took us under his wing and helped show us the good shopping (including silk scarves from Mysore). He arranged autos for us and even loaned me 20Rs when I didn’t have change. At the end, when we asked him why he was doing so much for us, he replied that he wanted us to remember the good time we had in Mysore and to remember the friend we had met. And we will!
Once it was dark, we returned to the palace to see it lit up with hundreds and hundreds of lights. It was absolutely gorgeous! It was also very nice because the site attracted both Indian and foreign onlookers – which made it have an even more majestic feel.
After dinner in the hotel, I wander up the stairs and was very happy to find roof access from where I could sit and look out over Mysore, including the illuminated palace. I sat up there for a few hours listening to the car horns, dogs barking, and drunk friends laughing below. Its amazing how in such a busy and loud place, I was able to find a sense of peace and quiet from the roof top. So even in a trip where I thought I was going to be stuck in close contact with my fellow travelers, I was able to find some Amber time 🙂
The next morning we were out the door by 6am and started off on a 2 hour drive to an elephant camp in Dubare. After a short boat trip across a river to get to the camp, I felt like I was back in the safari camps in Africa. The buildings and feel of the camp were very similar to those I stayed in last summer in Kenya. However, the elephants were not as free and happy as those in Africa. The elephants are supposedly brought in from the wild 2 hours each day in the morning to be fed and bathed before let back into the wild. But when they are brought in, the elephants are chained and poked with rods by their attendants. When I asked our guide the purpose of these elephants his answer was simply “tourism”. They are also sometimes lent out for logging or to perform in festivals. Additionally, now that taking elephants for captivity is illegal, they are breading the elephants they do have in order to maintain the tourist attraction. Overall, I had very mixed emotions about the camp. But the elephants were better off than the one at the temple in Udupi, as they were able to walk around, be with their fellow elephants, and get baths. During our visit, I was able to help bathe some of the elephants as well as ride one – a few things to cross off my bucket list nonetheless!
After our visit was over, we were back on the road for a 8 hour drive to Ooty which ended in winding roads up the mountains and many car sick women.
Ooty is a hill station village in the mountains originally inhabited by locals but later dominated by the British looking to escape the heat. And that is exactly what it was perfect for – escaping the heat. Because of the cooler climate, it is the perfect spot for tea plantations and other English agriculture. We were in a very nice hotel on one of the cliffs looking out over the town. The rooms had fireplaces, which we lit a night since it got so cold, and we even had hot water bottles in our beds.
Our first morning there, I got up and did yoga out on the lawn looking out over Ooty. The weather was perfect, the view was wonderful, and besides being stiff from the car ride it was a great way to start the day.
After a yummy breakfast of eggs and tea in a glass house, we set off on a trek through the hills, a tea plantation, and tribal lands to the top of a mountain. There were brightly colored bugs, cows, and monkeys during the hill part of the trek. It was mainly flat, but still felt great to get out and be moving!
Then we got to the tea plantation, which was tea plants on tea plants on tea plants. Quick tidbit: black tea, green tea, and white tea all come from the same plant! White tea comes from the very tip of the plant and is dried in the sun while green and black come from the next few layers down on the tip and are more processed. It was a bit disappointing to see a white powder pesticide strewn around the base of all the plants, but I guess that’s what it takes these days.
Then we went off trail and made it to the top of a mountain where we could see rivers, dried monsoon banks, more mountains, towns, and even a Bollywood moving being filmed below. It felt very at home for me – I loved that I can sit on top of a mountain in Colorado and in India and still get the same feeling of accomplishment and serenity.
After we completed the trek (which ended up being about 16 fabulous kilometers), I walked around the town of Ooty for a bit with two other ladies in my program. We did some shopping, or boosting the local economy as I like to think of it, and met up with the others for dinner in town. It was a very active day, and I slept well that night with my hot water bottle at the foot of my bed.
We left the next morning for a 3 hour drive and 4 hour train ride to Fort Cochin. On the train ride, I found my new favorite seat – sitting in the doorway. This way I get a full on view of everything we are going by, lots of wind to cool me down, and it’s a perfect way to suntan if you sit on the right side!
Fort Cochin is famous for the fishing nets installed by the Chinese and Portuguese/Dutch/British churches and architecture. Upon our arrival, a small group of us went out looking for a cold beer. Little did we know, alcohol can only be found in 4 and 5 star hotels in Kerala (the state). However, the restaurants around town still manage serve beer under the code name “special tea”. We finally found one such restaurant which served us special tea out of a tea pot and into mugs. Afterwards, we had a traditional Kerala dinner which consists primarily of fish and coconut. I order prawns with green mango coconut curry. Yum!
The next morning we had a tour guide take us around Kochi. First stop was St. Francis Church, which is where Vasco da Gama was once burried.
Next we walked over to the water where we saw the Chinese fishing nets. These nets, built on land, are lowered into the water and then raised and they have fish! They then sell the fish, alongside some brought in from fishing boats, right there. You probably couldn’t get fresher fish, seeing as some of them were still breathing.
Then we went to Jew Town to see the Pardesi Synagogue, which is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. No pictures were allowed, but it was very beautifully decorated with hand painted Chinese tiles and a variety of chandeliers.
Last stop before lunch was Santa Cruz Basilica, which is one of the eight basilicas in India. It was very intricate inside, especially since they seemed to be setting up for something (which I am assuming has to do with the new pope).
Then was lunch time at the famous Kashi Art Cafe. It was very touristy, but the food was very yummy and they did have some very cool art. I will admit though, I was too happy with the food to take any pictures of the art. After filling our stomachs with delicious tomato grilled cheese sandwiches, ginger lime soda, and cinnamon cake, we made our last stop in Kochin to the Kerala Folklore Museum. It was interesting to see various artifacts from around Kerala, however it was hard for all of us to stick with the guide and hear what she had to say so it turned out mainly being self guided. The building itself was gorgeous, many parts of it are actually artifacts themselves.
After the museum, we made our way to the train station for a 2.5 hour train ride to our last stop…
Our hotel in Varkala was actually a resort complete with hammocks, swimming pool, pool side service, and walking distance to the beach. After a quick swim and room service dinner, we all went to bed quite early after the long day.
The next morning, we had a backwater canoe trip through Munroe island. It was a traditional canoe with a man standing on the back pushing us along through the man-made canals with a long stick. We went under a few bridges where everyone had to get down on the floor and keep their heads low. Our trip took us through peoples’ backyards, fields, and between fish farms. The scenery was pleasant, but the trip continued on for longer than would have been nice, especially in the heat and humidity.
Upon returning to the resort, we had free time during which I had a cold beer and lunch in the pool before migrating down to the beach. The beaches here are down below cliffs (they reminded me very much of beaches in California), which makes the scenery absolutely gorgeous. We played in the water for some time, then I ate an entire fresh and dripping pineapple before doing sun salutations on the sand as the sun was setting.
After a dinner of seafood pizza on the cliffs and some boosting of the local economy, I had an early night. The next morning, I woke up at 5:30am when it was still dark and made my way to the beach where, along with just a few other scattered people, I did yoga to the sun rising. This might be one of the best ways to start your day- yoga on a beach at sunrise.
I then sat on the beach watching as others slowly made their way down for the day. A one-eyed dog came over and sat right in front of my towel, just like he was looking out for me (and he did actually growl at one man who came too close). And before I knew it, he was curled up on my towel in a deep sleep as if it was my turn to watch him.
Unfortunately after a few amazing hours, I had to leave my new friend on the beach and head back to the hotel to meet up with the group. Our last group adventure was to the ashram of Sri Mata Amritanandamyai (this is the ashram which author Emily Gilbert attended in her book Eat, Pray, Love). I enjoyed seeing an ashram which was so different from the one I had been at in January. Primarily, individuals at the ashram were there because they were touched by Sri Mata Amritanandamyai who believes very much in love and helping the poor. The ashram is much much larger and individuals devote their time mainly to prayer, meditation, and selfless duty. I can not quite decide what I think of the whole thing, so I bought a book there and have started reading it. I will report back when I’m done with the book. (FYI- Pictures were not allowed at the ashram which is why I am not posting any).
Before heading to the train station for another overnight trip back to school, we had a few more hours for boosting the local economy, eating dinner, and watching yet another gorgeous sunset over the ocean.
Overall, it was an AMAZING trip! We saw everything from cities, mountain hill stations, beach towns, and most everything in between. And it was fun and relaxing for me since I everything had been planned and arranged for us, so I could just kick my feet up and enjoy the colorful, noisy, spicy adventure through south India.
Hello all – I apologize for not posting in some time. As expected at this point in my adventures, I have become a bit homesick and am struggling with some of the culture shocks. The hardest, besides missing people and certain foods, has been struggling with finding independence. I like to be a very independent woman, which is something that I cannot live up to in India. I am not supposed to be alone after dark or when traveling, thus I am forced to spend more time than desired finding people to do things with or simply not doing anything. Furthermore, the need for others, as anyone may have predicted, has also caused drama within the study abroad community (looks like you can’t escape drama even in India!). So all in all, the past two weeks has been a bit of a struggle for me, but I am making it through and learning the nitty gritty about India and myself from it.
I have settled into the routine student life here in Manipal, which has been relieving. As much as I love my adventures and such on the weekend, Manipal has become a good home-base for me. And now, may I present, a typical day in the life of Amber at Manipal:
- 7am: I have been training my body to wake up every morning at 7am, and I am happy to say that almost every morning at 6:58 I am awake before my alarm goes off (as long as I wasn’t out very late the night before). After getting ready for the day, I walk over to the mess hall for breakfast. The breakfast is usually curry with some sort of bread and eggs if it’s a good day. Admittedly, I do not go for the food, but because they serve really yummy unlimited chai during breakfast.
- Depending on my class schedule for the day, I tend to have some free time for studying, appointments, or running errands. On Mondays I only have 2 hours of class, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 3.5 hours, and Thursdays 4 hours. Between classes I’ll either run around Manipal doing errands or will go back to my room to get work done. When running errands, you always have to take the amount of time you think it should take and times it by 3 to make sure you have enough time. Nobody rushes here, and as such errands can not easily be squeezed in. I have, however, started figuring out where to go to get certain items, which has cut the time down some.
- Classes, overall, have not been very impressive or exciting. Everything is very unorganized and communication with most of the professors is extremely difficult. Additionally, many of us are very upset with how we are being marked (graded). The professors tell us not to worry and that we will all pass, but then they give us midterms and papers without much warning and expect things from us which they haven’t even told us about. And what we have turned in, we have not received any feedback for so we have no idea if we are actually meeting the expectations. That being said, I am still learning a decent amount.Ayurveda has been my favorite class since it incorporates a theory lecture and practical session during which we receive treatment demonstrations. I also enjoy my Maternal and Child Health class, particularly since I took a similar class last semester and have enjoyed comparing American and Indian ideas. My other three classes (Contemporary Indian Studies, Public Health Systems, Indian Intellectual Traditions) have not been very enjoyable, but I am getting much better at doodling.
- I am usually done with classes around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. After freshening up in my room, I go to the gym every day. The gym is very modern and has great facilities. And it is air-conditioned, which is a huge bonus. Because of all the heat and humidity, I start sweating even during my warm up.
- Every night at 6p, there is a yoga class for students. So after the gym, I head over to the yoga room, which is right next to my hostel. The room faces West and has large windows, so as we practice we can watch the sun setting. The class is very good – the 2 instructors are yoga students and are very knowledgable about the benefits of various positions. As of recently, I have been working with them a bit more to teach each other inversions. They have also asked my help a few times in demonstrating for the class. I am happy to say that I can feel I have gotten so much stronger and flexible since practicing everyday. Yoga time is definitely my favorite time each day.
- After yoga, I return to my room for a cold bucket shower. After practicing the rhythm between scooping and pouring the water, I have started to enjoy the bucket showers. I could do without the cold, but it is nice after being active for a couple hours.
- Once clean, I go for dinner in the mess. Dinner every night is curry and rice (surprise, surprise). Some nights I’ll treat myself and go out to a local restaurant or eat in the food court above the mess hall. But the food at the mess gets the job done.
- Then, since it is dark, I have to return to my room unless there are other friends who would like to go out. I have made local friends who have shown me around the bar scene a bit. However, at this point in time, bars and clubs are not allowed to play music because of disturbances with the police and political parties. So lots of times, we will migrate from the bars to someone’s apartment so that we can play music. But even there, if the music gets too loud or it is late, the landlord will turn our power off.
And that is what a typical day is like for me here in Manipal. Nothing extremely exciting, but every time I walk outside or try to get something done I run into something new.
This coming Friday the 8th, our program is leaving for a 10 day traveling adventure around South India. Im very excited to get out and see more of my surroundings. It will be interesting to see how it goes with 13 girls of various backgrounds do traveling together for so long, but I guess that is part of the adventure.
Best wishes to everyone back home. Please enjoy some salad and sushi for me!