Bridging The Urban Gap

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February 2nd 2013
Published: February 7th 2013
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There's nothing intimate about Indian cities. Surely it's here that that well worn cliche "assault on the senses" was spawned. Urban India is where the concept of a billion people in one nation resonates.

The gamy odours of raw filth that overlay the spicy aromas of street cuisine. The incessant rhythmic honking of car horns. Mosque wake up calls (there may only be a 10% Muslim population here but that's still 100 million). Mainlining vegetarian curries. Cows knee deep in street rubbish somehow eking out an alternate food source to grass. It's dank, it's full throttle and maybe it's not the Indian romance of imaginations or from the pages of Rudyard Kipling, but the lurching excitement of Mysore, Bangalore and Hyderabad has left a thousand still-life images entrenched in the memory banks.

No more so than the mayhem of their markets. The atmosphere is pure earth but the colours, noise and smells are brutally left field from Woolworths, Carrefour or Walmart. (Ok, maybe not Walmart).

Far from there being a stampede of tourists, ourselves and the few westerners we stumbled across in these markets would stroll around bug-eyed and rattle off a few frames while the locals gawk back and wonder what this tourist fuss is all about. We wallow in the good, the bad and the ugly of this otherworldly environment but from a native perspective this is simply their day in day out rota and a struggle to disinfect themselves from a breadline existence. The implication of some of their looks was;

"You find this so interesting, how about we swap".

You don't need to do too much soul searching to understand their frustration at the inequities. The roles we had fallen into we're primarily an accident of birth.

The most ambitious guy was the bloke with the table full of second hand dentures. I didn't know who to feel most sorry for;

- the vendor himself trying to find customers in the narrow market of used teeth.

- the people who had been forced to sell him their choppers, or

- those who might be actually tempted to purchase a set of fangs that had already spent a deal of time inside someone else's mouth. I assume this group would also need to try quite a few sets before finally settling on the ones with juuuuust the right fit.

The mind boggles.

As character building as those cities were, only a martyr would visit all three consecutively without trying to shoehorn some recovery time in the midst.

Hampi, tucked into the middle of Karnataka, has been long esconsed on the hippy tourist trail in India and looked a worthy stop for a few days. We should have made it longer.

Verdant rice paddies are lined by a landscape of hanging boulders that balance like a set of fiddle sticks that cling on through sheer self belief. A creek meanders amongst and the entire region is peppered with Hindu places of worship.

The backpacker demographic holds court here, as if a force field exists to keep large hotel chains and anything else remotely upmarket at arms length from this world heritage area.

Naturally, with such a majority of shoestring clientele there's no shortage of westerners who have converted to overnight gurus. The guy with the stick-on dreadlock business must be doing pretty well for himself in Hampi.

With time on your hands, days could easily turn into weeks in this little oasis about as far removed from the Indian maelstrom as can be
Mysore marketMysore marketMysore market

The live version in cages could see these guys 2 metres away.

Monkeys - I'm not a fan.

Anybody out there with an aversion to gutter rhetoric, please tune out now. As for the rest of you ......

It was one of those lower depth days when you search for some self justification for this travelling gig. Caught off guard, India launched a jack-in-the-box attack and went for the jugular.

It's only 150 klms from Wayanad to Mysore but 3 tuk tuks, 2 buses, 5 hours and 20 lineal klms down, the 130 to go may as well have been to the moon given our chances of getting there.

That ubiquitous say it all yet say nothing Indian head wobble had lost all its exotic gloss in the hours of mis-communication;

"Bus coming sir. Bus not coming sir. Bus being late sir. Bus being full sir. Please go to other bus station sir".

The prospect of "bus not bloody existing sir" weighed heavily.

Penny wandered off to the public ladies for a touch of aromatic "eau de India" whilst I sat on a crumpled iron bench at the bus stop of this dusty frontier town and no escape plan. I needed a sign.

Right on cue, up sauntered a monkey. Totally at ease with his position in the primate pecking order, he sat down 3 metres in front, stared directly into my eyes with a look of teenage disdain and began masturbating, as if he recognised a human hangdog expression and was up for rubbing some salt into wounds.This wasn't the message from above I had anticipated.

I wasn't sure whether to;

(a) Walk over and spoil the guy's romance by swinging my number 11 foot in his general direction, or

(b) Go and buy him a cigarette to help him enjoy his moment of post self-gratification.

Either way, it's now official. I don't like monkeys.

India, you won that round.


The white collar hippie

What is it with India that turns the most conservative, short back and sides, neat as a pin, designer clothes wearing westerner to turn hippie within a matter of days of arriving?

After leaving Kerala we travelled to Mysore, Bangalore, Hampi and finally to Hyderabad to conclude our Indian experience ( this time... does that mean we might be back)?

I really have enjoyed India this time round despite us both getting sick here on our last few days. I think we jinxed ourselves as I had only just finished bragging to a German couple that; "we had not been sick all year". But having fallen ill, Hampi was probably a good place to just watch the world go by for a few days and let the bug do its thing.

So I sat in my hammock, trying not to let it swing in case it made me nauseous and watched and pondered on the new breed of white collar hippies we had encountered along the way to actually see the final transformation in Hampi.

First they arrive sporting their corporate hair cuts, neatly shaven, wearing their designer label clothing and looking every bit the tourist. Within a few days a dreadlock is woven into the short strands of hair, their designer clothes are gradually being swapped for haram pants, Indian shirts and the odd headband. By this stage they have a healthy collection of string wristbands and anklets, and occasionally sporting a red dot in the middle of their forehead. Not long after this, the shoes disappear and they can handle the rugged dirty garbage ridden streets and lane-ways barefoot. All that is required now is some body piercing to complete the picture.

By the time they reach Hampi, many more dreadlocks have been added, no doubt from the trade-in of their western sandals. They look thinner and more gaunt, ahh but they haven't been sick they claim, they have thrown away knives and forks, they can eat with there hands and eat rice and curry once a day and survive on bananas every other meal.

Hampi is an interesting town, a place that has a great history, UNESCO sites, the most beautiful rice paddies amongst elephant size boulders. A small stream dividing the very hippie from the up and coming hippie town. The temple elephant comes to the stream each day to be washed by the tourists and to bless them for their efforts. At sunset you can climb any number of boulders to a temple and sit overlooking the town below. This is where the white collar hippies turn pro. In this tranquil setting, ( apart from 50+ westerners) young kids come selling chai, the "seasoned hippies" offer tattoo services, and the white colllar hippies compare notes on their resent additions, be it makeup, more dreads etc etc.

So where to from here? How long after leaving India, do the dreadlocks get cut off, their feet get scrubbed and the Indian clothes get tossed? I guess I'll check it out at the airport tomorrow.

Hong Kong here we come.


More images at:

Additional photos below
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No forklifts here.
Overnight GuruOvernight Guru
Overnight Guru

This guy has done a pretty fair conversion but the watch has to go.

8th February 2013

Happy Hampi
Wonderfully colorful photos, and I´m relieved you could´t include the smells. Hampi sounds and looks fantastic--how great that you found it amidst the more challenging big cities, and it was there you got to recover from your only bug. Glad you liked India more this time around though that transport-monkey story sounds as if there are still challenges there.
11th February 2013

Thanks again Tara
You really are great for the ego.
9th February 2013

Simply incredible
By going through this whole article, I can find quite a bit of resemblance in between the Indian cities and the cities of Bangladesh. The post was highly informative as well as interesting. This post truly has the ability to convince almost anyone to admit that; yes, India is really incredible! Greener Pastures
13th February 2013

Just to let you both know - now that you are about to return to oz - I have definitely enjoyed following your travels. I feel that I have kind of accompanied you along the way! Thanks and no, laughs not lost to cyberspace! Xx see you very soon! Yay!
13th February 2013

Wait till you get the billion photos that accompany each leg of the way. Xxx see you soon.
17th February 2013

Very well-written blog. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of reading your blog. There is so much in your blog. Keep it up and thank you for sharing those thoughts and moments on Travelblog so that others might read it.
17th February 2013

Very well-written blog. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of reading your blog. There is so much in your blog. Keep it up and thank you for sharing those thoughts and moments on Travelblog so that others might read it.
18th February 2013

thanks for that. nice to know someone is tuning in.

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