Thursday, March 15, 2007
Continuing on from yesterday, and breathing deeply to maintain relaxation since it will undoubtedly be necessary battling it out with technology here in India...After our time at the fort in Bidar, we continued on to our last main stop, a so-called rock temple dedicated to a local god, that was pretty interesting since it had a still functioning subterranean spring that people were bathing in - those that we saw seemed not to mind the presence of bats above (or the fact that their guano was assuredly below, in the water in which they were cleaning themselves). Afterwards we stopped at a juice stand to treat our driver to a goodwill beverage, but of course that still didn't stop him from trying for more money when he dropped us off at our hotel, for the "waiting time" even though that was obviously included in our deal. Having seen the sights of Bidar, we ate another thali for dinner, that was deliciously spicey (as was all the food there, a nice change from the overly mild food prepared in the heavily touristed areas).The next morning we had to awake ultra-early for us, in order to get out of our hotel, since we had a 24-hour checkout at 6 am, though they did allow us to sleep in just a bit, thankfully. Our morning was then spent shopping for Bidriware, a traditional craft/artform that has been made pretty much only in Bidar for the past 500 years. Basically a mixture of metals is made that looks jet black, and then an intricate pattern is etched onto the item, whether it be a plate, vase, hookah, etc. Then thin silver strips (fishing-line consistency) are put into the etched-grooves, leaving a smooth finish, with silver patterns all over a stark black object. Actually finding the strip of four Bidriware shops took a bit of effort, as we discovered that apparently none of Bidar's residents are much into the art themselves, since no one was very helpful as to where we could find it, so we ended up walking for a bit to start the day, but it was obviously all worth it once we reached our destination. We got to watch some master craftsmen at work, and had the whole process thoroughly explained to us. After shopping, we returned to our hotel to retrieve our bags, ate a leisurely lunch since we had a 2 pm train to wait for, before catching a rickshaw to the train station.Although we didn't know it at the time, we were to be continually double-teamed by interested Indian conversationalists for the next 8 hours or so, which can be quite the challenge when you have talked about yourself and America until you are exhausted, but since we are constant ambassadors, we have to be continually willing to represent ourselves, and the concept of America, well. It's not that engaging in conversation is difficult, it is just quite draining to ceaselessly be at the center of attention, and while using public transportation, where there are hundreds of Indians idly waiting, we are often literally descended upon by entire herds of people.We settled down, first, at the Bidar train station, after learning that the train wouldn't be there until 3 pm, and thus we actually had an hour to wait until tickets would even be on sale. Just about instantly we were surrounded by about 20 interested Indians, a mix of Hindus and Muslims, though none could really speak English, so it was just a massive one-sided staring contest. After a little while an English-speaker came along, and we truly began our day of semi-casual conversation. Soon enough it was time to purchase tickets, and then we relocated to the 2nd platform, where our train was due to arrive. Two kindly Indian men (one older, one younger than us) then chatted with us for the next hour, and when the train did finally arrive, they "assisted" us in finding seats, which meant we were all packed into an upper train berth, squished in with our bags, and even an Indian boy that had somehow managed to fall asleep. Both our new acquaintances were nice enough, but then as they departed after an hour on the train, two fresh Indians, one a lawyer from Bangalore, who was our age and just starting his practice, picked up the conversation. In a way it is just like having to repeat a story one too many times, except that every day we have to repeat that story (since it's all about us!) many, many times...We finally arrived in Parbhani, after the sun had set, which was the railhead town where we needed to switch trains, and it was here where the frenzy reached a fever pitch. We got our tickets quite quickly, and then had to wait around an hour-and-a-half for our train to actually arrive, so in the meantime we grabbed some chai and some cold samosas for some needed refueling, and sat down with our bags.Our Indian friends seemed to be arriving in pairs, and this time our two talk-buddies took the cake, for sure, as one guy was a money-minded businessman who had a friend who owned a petrol station in New York ("5 pumps"), and the other man was a police officer in some capacity, but he was drunk. At first we thought all his handshaking was just awkward nervousness or something, but it quickly became apparent that instead he was just wasted, as every 5 minutes he attempted to clear out the crowd, explaining that they all just wanted to talk with us, though the irony was that was all he was doing, too, he was just evidently exempted from his own commentary on the behavior of his fellow Indians. So we had to pose for photos with him, and the regular police officer who was on duty (and sober) - who didn't seem too happy to have to put up with his superior's behavior, either, and at one point while Anderson was in the bathroom, Liz got to explain what America was like to a blind man (who didn't speak any English). Funny, yet definitely moreso in retrospect, as the last thing one seeks after a tiring train journey is a starring role in "The Truman Show: India."We got some business cards made for us in Bijapur, that look quite slick, and at one point the businessman asked for our email, so Anderson, apparently foolishly, grabbed the cards to give him one, and every Indian around started grabbing for them, even though we had not spoken with them at all, they were just standing and gawking, due to the language barrier (and the fact that they weren't exactly needing to be there, they were just "time passing"). Eventually the train did arrive, and then our two friends began vying to assist us in upgrading our tickets to sleeper car, which ended up being quite funny since the businessman obviously didn't like (or trust) the drunkard, so they were each attempting to thwart the other in being our main assistant. Fortunately for our sake the train conductor (all the employees are called that, even on buses the front seat is for "the conductor") was very well organized, and for a 50 Rs. each upgrade charge, we found ourselves in some comfortable and quiet upper sleeper berths. They were only quiet after the train actually left though, since the drunkard was on board trying to assist, while the businessman was talking/shouting to us through the train window, warning us about watching our bags, being careful, and all these other things that were painfully unnecessary, but what can you do when people don't know when to say when to being helpful? The train ride to Aurangabad, then, was a blessing, and even though Liz failed to get any sleep (which means Anderson happily did...), laying there without having to talk at length about anything was simply priceless.Finally our Herculean day came to an end, as Liz had called a hotel in advance from Parbhani, so we knew where to go once we arrived a little after 2 am. Skirting overly persistant rickshaw drivers we wearily walked to the hilariously named Tourist's Hotel, and were soon quickly conked out. Logically we were awoken less than 6 hours later with some knocking at the door for our passports, and then soon enough an inevitable power outage turned off the fan, and with the heat rising we awoke for our first day in Aurangabad. After an acceptable, yet small, thali at our hotel, we decided to catch the town's main sites, since there aren't really too many, so that our time later would be more freed up for a) hanging out at the internet and b) going to the nearby Ellora caves. So we took a rickshaw north of the city to the undervisited Aurangabad caves (according to Lonely Planet), and fittingly we were pretty much the only people there, only seeing two groups of Western tourists and a few Indian tourists as well. The caves there were all Buddhist, of varying degrees of completion, featuring large statues of Buddha jutting out of the walls, and large chambers carved out of the solid rock. Of the 13 caves there, probably around 4 were at an advanced stage of design, so in those there was ample room to wander, with ample statues and carvings to examine. These larger cave temples also had amazing echo, as our talking and subsequent "Om-ing" demonstrated quite well.All around the caves, and evident within them as well, were huge mineral deposits, primarily of quartz crystals. Many statues then had white ripples of quartz within them, as did the walls around the cave entrances. All along the ground as well were literal piles of quartz, so we spent a bit of time wandering around looking at and collecting a few of the amazing rock specimens. Soon enough the sun was setting, so it was time to head down from the hills where the caves were to check out the "poor man's Taj Mahal," called Bibi-Ka-Maqbara, which was (partially, we discovered) illuminated at night. It was somewhat eerie wandering around a large and mostly deserted mausoleum, but the downside was that much of the detail work on the minarets and even the ceilings wasn't lit up well enough for realistic viewing, but we were able to take some nice long-exposure photos of the entire structure.After returning to our hotel's area by rickshaw, we wandered around to find food and the internet, and in doing so also managed to find a nearby hotel that was 100 Rs. less each night, so we decided that the next morning we would awake early (due to our 24-hour checkout expiring at 3 am - but they pushed it back to 5 am for us), to move down the street and save some money. So we are now at our second Aurangabad hotel, which is nice and pretty much the same as our first residence, and have been generally relaxing, while trying to upload photos and such on the internet, which translates to not really relaxing at all, since uploading is slow anyway, and just when you think things are going smoothly then they all screech to a halt. But all is well, and tomorrow (for sure) we are going to see the caves at nearby Ellora, which are supposed to be simply breathtaking. We shall see!