Wow. WOW. I arrived in India last week for the first time. I don’t know exactly how many days ago, and I don’t really know what day it is. Some calculation tells me Tuesday. It looks like for the next few months this is going to turn into a travel blog. Bear with me (or ignore me).
I flew into Mumbai through Doha, Qatar. Glitzy airport in Doha followed by one straight out of the 70’s in Mumbai. Gets the job done. I landed at 3:30 am after about 20 hours of travel, grabbed a fixed-fare taxi to my couchsurfing host’s apartment in Colaba – one of the more upscale, touristic parts of town all the way at the south end of the city. Driving through Mumbai at 5 am was wild. There’s rubble and shacks everywhere, as if some city project got started ten years ago and never really got going anywhere. Maybe that has happened, I’m not sure. Basically, it’s just a different world than I’ve seen before and my brain was processing everything as novel. In high gear after a few hours of sleep in two days, maybe you know the feeling.
I arrived at Vishal’s house at 6 and slept for several hours. He was a perfect host, great hospitality. I love couchsurfing – it’s a wonderful way to see a city from an insider’s perspective. He was working mostly during the days, so I spent the next few afternoons (I slept all morning) wandering around his part of town, checking out museums, being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity on the streets. So loud, so many smells (mostly bad, some good), so much sun and garbage and color and pollution. Stray animals all over the streets, no “lanes” on the roads, rather everyone (including pedestrians) vying for whatever space they need to squeeze by. I got kind of used to that and started to enjoy it. Everyone honks at everything, but it’s just a way to let them know where you are, no aggression, usually.
Most of all, Mumbai was overwhelming. The poverty, the crowds, the stares, the sense of everyone wanting some of my money. Off the streets, however, the people were fantastic. The food is amazing (I love Indian food – I think it’s going to be good everywhere), and costs about $1.75 for more lunch than I can eat. My appetite is also really slow because of the heat. I can tell I’m going to miss cooking for myself, but this is a meal situation I’m more than happy to deal with for a few months.
After four days I caught an overnight sleeper bus to Hampi, father south and central. The bus ride went smoothly – I’m pretty sure we hit a concrete pole or something, but after a half hour they decided we should press on anyway. I had no idea what to expect from Hampi, and I was greeted by paradise. I’m staying at a guest house recommended by a friend, and spending my days bouldering and doing yoga and eating and drinking coffee. All very cheap, all very wonderful. Nothing moves fast here, and it’s about as empty a place I can imagine in a country crowded with over a billion people.
Hampi is still a strange place, though, the opposite of Mumbai. It is a tourist center, and the culture here is the international vibe that everyone brings to it. Think white people in hippie pants (which Indians never wear, BTW). There doesn’t seem to be anything Indian about it except the people running the guest houses and restaurants. So I feel a bit torn. I do want to experience India, but my mind and body is at the same time so grateful from the break from the insanity of the city. Everyone speaks English, and it seems they’ve all done more or less the same route through the country, not unlike the one I have planned. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The rock climbing is superb.
I’m going to hang out here for a bit longer – it would be easy (and cheap) to stay a month and not realize it had happened – and then head south to Kerala. Overnight bus to Bangalore, then overnight train to Kovalam. I think I’m coming to terms with this being a brief international experience in the midst of an Indian exploration. I love to hang out with Europeans, brush up on my German and Italian and French. Not what I was expecting. Brits really DO say “Bob’s your uncle.” In Kerala I’ll be doing a Yoga Teacher Training for the month of February. Again it will be a touristy thing to do in a very tourist-filled place, but I think I’m OK with that for now. The yoga will be excellent and I’m excited to learn much more about it. The few times I’ve practiced out here have been wonderful. The warm air keeps the body limber even in the morning. An amazing feeling to have in January. I’m already getting tan. Feel free to be jealous. I know how cold it is there.
It’s about 5:30 pm now, so I’m off to catch the cooler afternoon bouldering session. Bliss.