If just coming to India wasn’t enough, I have done quite a bit of traveling since I arrived here. This country is pretty large (7th largest area in the world), so there is a lot to see, and many different cultures to experience. I have mainly stayed in the southern part of the country, except for when I first arrived in Delhi. Below is a list of all of the places I’ve been to in order of when I went there, with my thoughts and impressions of each:
I flew into the nation’s capital at the end of December. To be honest, it was slightly overwhelming being the first place that I experienced. Delhi is the second most populated city in India and the largest in area. I was still in a whirlwind of traveling and kind of numb to the fact that I was across the world, in addition to being hit pretty hard by jet lag. We saw Gandhi’s cremation site, and did a bit of shopping, but I’m glad that we’ll be going back to the city with ISA before our flight home so I’ll be able to more fully appreciate and experience this bustling metropolis.
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
I can’t possibly write this blog post without mentioning my host city, Hyderabad. We arrived here on New Year’s Eve and I have been calling this city home for almost three months now. Hyderabad is interesting in that it is a perfect visual example of the developing country that India is. The area of the city that my campus is closest to has been dubbed Hi-tech City, because of all of the industry (mainly in technology) that is there. There is a very modern shopping mall, complete with a Chili’s, and western businesses in the area such as IBM, KFC, and Steve Madden. Go to the Old City though, and you will find dirt roads, people walking around barefoot, and vendors of black magic supplies, along with a lot of odd looks by people wondering why you’ve come here. Hyderabad is not necessarily a tourist city (which is the reason for the strange looks by the locals), and that’s something I’ve really grown to appreciate. I don’t think I would have entirely understood the real India had I not spent time in Hyderabad.
Hampi was the first place I visited without the help of ISA. I went with a group of four of my dorm-mates. We took a twelve-hour bus ride southwest into the state of Karnataka. I think the best way to describe this town is as the foreigner’s hippie haven of India. I don’t think I’ve seen a higher concentration of dreadlocked Europeans in my life as I did in Hampi. The area encourages this type of Zen hippie living though: rice fields cover the land as far as you can see, interrupted only by mountains created by boulders piled on top of each other. On our first day there, we rented motorbikes and rode them out to the famous Hanuman temple. This temple is in worship of the monkey-God, Hanuman, and after climbing the hundreds of steps to the top you’re greeted by many mischievous monkeys, waiting for you to become distracted so that they can steal your purse, camera, snacks or anything else they might find interesting on you. There were many other temples in the area that we saw too, many of them to the elephant God, Ganesh. In addition to the beautiful scenery and rich cultural history, there was some great shopping there too. I must say that it has been one of my favorite places that I’ve been to in India so far and I am planning a trip back there in about three weeks.
The next stop for me (after resting up in Hyderabad for a bit) was the state of Kerala. Along with three other students, I planned a ten-day trip that would take us to the cities of Kochi, Alleppey and Munnar. Kerala was a 26-hour train ride down to the southwestern most coast of India. In Kochi, a hot spot for tourists on the ocean, we ate as much freshly caught fish as we could fit in our stomachs, and saw the traditional Kathakali dance of Kerala (here’s a video). Then we headed to Alleppey, where we rented a houseboat to tour the backwaters of Kerala on for the day. Finally, we took a five-hour bus ride into the beginning of the Western Ghats (a major mountain range in India) to Munnar. Munnar is famous for its tea plantations and is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The mountains are covered with tea plants and eucalyptus trees. The air was cold (a nice change from what I’ve gotten used to), the sunset was breathtaking, and I got to ride and elephant! Kerala was absolutely worth the long train ride there, and thankfully we decided to fly back home!
I initially wasn’t sure if I would make it to Goa while in India, but it just so happened to be the Portuguese Carnivale in February, which gave me the perfect excuse to make a trip down there. The Portuguese colonized Goa until 1961, and so it still has many ties to Portuguese culture, including celebrating the Portuguese holidays. This trip was great in that it included a lot of beach/ocean time, a crazy parade in celebration of Carnivale, and some really delicious seafood. I certainly wasn’t ready to leave by the end of the weekend.
Mumbai is definitely the most cosmopolitan city I have been to since I’ve been in India. ISA sponsored this trip, so we took a short flight to the city this past weekend. Being from the East Coast, I am not used to the dry heat in Hyderabad, so the ocean air and humidity of Mumbai was very welcome to me. As you may know, Mumbai is home to Asia’s largest slum. The Dharavi slum has come up with a way to generate income by hosting slum tours to visitors. The tour guides are from and live in the slum, are very good at English and very knowledgeable about their home. What I learned on the tour changed my idea of what a slum is entirely. It is like a city in itself. It has public and private schools, hotels, restaurants and industry. Our tour guide seemed very proud of his roots, and although he was studying for his M.A. in Indian Literature, planned to continue living in the slum by choice, for the foreseeable future. I was grateful to have my eyes opened to another way of life that I may not have been exposed to had I not gone on that tour, and I really enjoyed the city of Mumbai as a whole as well.