Today is my birthday and although I'm not at home with my closest family and friends, I am still enjoying myself. At this age it is not such a large celebration anymore and passes like most other days, but it's always a good time for reflection. Thinking about where I've come from and what in life has gotten me to where I am is always a fun time. In terms of what has brought me here to India, it's quite interesting. As far back as about 8th or 9th grade I had an interest in India due to my reading about Hinduism, as I explored world religions, and my close following of a drummer named Danny Carey - from the band Tool, whom also played an Indian drum called tabla. The Hindu religion that is practiced by a majority of the people in India had some ideas that I agreed with and likely consciously if not consciously adopted. The music of the tabla is also something I have searched for and listened to since first discovering it. These continuations as well as my developing an addiction to Indian food and dating a girl of Indian heritage have made for the constant reemergence of Indian culture in my life. My run-ins with India culminated this past summer when after deleting the initial email informing me of the opportunity to student-teach in India, the head of the music department at U of M Flint recommended that I should investigate this trip, as the university would pay for travel and accommodations. This all but sealed the deal for me. The only thing left was to be accepted by the committee choosing students to go. Being the only applicant involved in music, and the committee members telling me they like to have music people go as music is a good ambassador across any border, I was quite sure that I finally would visit the land whose culture had grabbed my attention for years. Life certainly works in funny and seemingly interconnected ways.
Now as for more of my experience here, yesterday I returned from a weekend trip to a city called Hampi. This is in the neighboring state of Karantaka and a twelve hours journey by train. The only saving grace of this journey that rivaled the time it took to travel from the USA to here, is that it was overnight and in a train car with places to sleep. I traveled with two other people; Ashley, one of the girls who taught in the same school as I, and Jessie, her room mate who studied at Hyderabad Central University. Leaving at 7 on Friday evening, we arrived at 5 in the morning the next day in a city called Hospet. Another 20 minutes or so by autorickshaw and Hampi was at our footsteps. We found a guesthouse and promptly plopped back into bed for a couple of hours. The guest house was fairly inexpensive (500 rupees/approx. 10 dollars) per night, although this was tourist season and as Jessie informed us, usually one can find such a room for 250 rupees.
Not luxurious my any means, but we only used to to sleep so it was not a big deal. The town of Hampi is very low key and as such, what we were looking for. Tourist seasons was certainly apparent as I saw more white people here than in any previous place. Many people came from Australia and Israel, but I met people from Germany, Switzerland, America, and England. We only had two full days and one night in Hampi, so we did not sleep for very long before getting up and roaming around. Jessie had visited Hampi previously so she knew of a few places we should go. The city has lots of temples and ruins which we saw a few of.
As one picture shows, monkeys are also prevalent in the city and will snatch your belongings if you are not careful. First, we ate at a beautiful restaurant called Mango Tree and the setting was on the side of a hill overlooking a river and the hilly terrain. Shoes had to be removed and seating was on straw mats on the floor with tables of an accomodating height. Although plates were used, they were covered with large green leafs from which we ate. As is the custom in India, hands were used to eat although silverware was available.
After breakfast, we wandered through the city looking at little shops and then made our way to one of the temples shown in most of the above pictures. I found a drum maker who had an assortment of hand drums and a few other instruments. I spent a good amount of time here the next few days and eventually bought a set of tabla for 5000 rupees and my iPod (I did not bring enough money myself so I had to negotiate a bit and borrow from Ashley) He was very friendly and showed me a little bit of how to play certain drums.
All of the people in the shops and on the street who were selling items were very friendly and although I am sure this was part of their sales pitch, it felt as though I befriended the drum salesman and a man who sold me three flutes (but then again these are the people to whom I gave a fair amount of money.) It really made me wonder about the sincerity of these people's kindness. India in general seems to be a country full of very kind people and perhaps it is my reservation and unfamiliarity with the culture that makes me question this kindness. Regardless, I enjoyed the time I spent in the shops and on the streets talking with these people. The man who sold me the flutes even had his friend stop to show me his cobras.
The time spent in Hampi was a welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of Hyderabad and also left me with a taste of what else India has to offer. It certainly makes me want to come back and spend more time in more places all over the country. I have to go now though and try to make the best use of the few days I have left.