All I Need is a Backpack and a Camera
Maybe all I needed was to get out of Hyderabad for a couple days with just a backpack and four friends. I am starting to think I am really going to miss India when I leave, and there is so much left to see in the short time I am here. I am planning a trip to Agra, Dehli, and Jaipur in October, will be in Gujarat two weeks from now, and Mumbai and Punjab are on the agenda. I have a Hindi test to study for, a Dalit Politis test to study for, volunteering at a local school tomorrow, a couple books to read, homework, and 5 Hindi movies waiting on my desk. Finally getting busier, and it feels much better.
My trip to Bidar with Erica, Lorelei, Gabby, and Emily was an adventure from the beginning. All we had were backpacks with two days worth of clothing, some potato chips, cameras, and our Hindi homework, which we dutifully neglected in theory, but in practice, spoke a lot of Hindi in Bidar.
We left from our cooking class for Hindi on Friday and went straight to the bus stop outside campus in the pouring rain. We boarded the 216 for the hour-long ride to MGBS (the bus station where we’d get on the bus to Bidar). When we arrived, we asked what platform. The man said it would be between platforms 45 and 48. The sign we found said differently. In the end, the sign was right. We got on the bus, and the fare collector came to our row and asked for 97 Rs. This is roughly $2. Gabby had been told, however, that the ride was 20 Rs. (or about 50 cents). Overall, $2 for the bus trip is still cheaper than taking the 201 from NU to Old Orchard Mall at home.
The other thing Gabby had been told was that the trip was about 3 hours (it’s about 140 km). This was patently false, as we found when we disembarked roughly 6 hours later. Until India, I never really considered never having to pee as a blessing. But I can tell you, rest stops in India are almost as nice as rest stops in the US. And not the awesome ones in Ohio. I’m talking about the ones in the middle of Missouri. This time, however, my luck ran out. And when we finally got to our one rest stop, 5 hours into the ride, I really had to go. My first time using a bathroom not in my dorm or in a hotel. According to Gabby and Lorelei (Indian bathroom pros, by now), this one was really clean. And it was. Besides being totally dark, having unidentifiable brown smudges on the walls, and lizards crawling around, it was just like any other hole in the ground that I’d use for a toilet.
Anyways, I actually like car and bus rides. It’s nice to have time to just sit and listen to music and chat. So that’s what we did. I had packed a peanut butter sandwich and some Lay’s, so I was a happy camper. We realized about an hour into the ride that when the bus pulled in to stop to drop people off or pick them up, it was often unlabeled and unannounced. When to get off? Fortunately, we make friends everywhere we go. This time, it was a young guy sitting a couple rows behind us, who heard us practicing our Hindi. He told us he was also getting off at Bidar, so just to get off when he did. Mission accomplished.
When we arrived, it was dark, and we had been the only women on the bus, except a mother who broke the Ramadan fast with her husband and sons a row behind us, and one other woman near the front. We were also the only women on the street when we got off, and our friend pointed us in the direction of the hotel and told us it was only about 50 meters walk. When we arrived, the man at the front asked for Passports. None of us had them. So I reluctantly handed over my driver’s license so he could copy it and keep it on file. Lorelei, Emily, and I took one room, and Erica and Gabby the other. Ours had a working shower, but an Indian toilet. Theirs had no shower, and a Western toilet, but it wouldn’t flush. Emily and I are pretty sure the bed was a piece of plywood covered in a set of sheets, but good enough for two nights
The next morning, we got up, and with no itinerary whatsoever, quickly debated options. We started with breakfast. The first place we went, the hotel gave us a whole menu, but when we ordered, we discovered that we could only get rice and daal. They said toast wasn’t available until after 11:30am. I’m not kidding. And I definitely wasn’t eating rice and daal for breakfast.
So we tried four other restaurants until we found one. My personal favorite was the restaurant having it’s grand opening, but all they offered to serve us for breakfast was beer. We ended up at a place where we got dosas (I discovered that I like dosas about as much as I like rice and daal for breakfast) and I found a fruit stand outside, and got an orange, cookies, and more potato chips Breakfast of champions.
We headed to Bidar fort, which is beautiful. I put in some pictures below. While we were there, we climbed up to the top of a tower, and when we got there, we found a group of Indian men who were in Bidar for basic training for the Indian Air Force. They were really friendly, and when we asked them what we should see in Bidar, they shrugged and said, “If you find something, maybe you could tell us.” They had the day off, and were just goofing around in Bidar, too, apparently. After the customary phone pictures, we parted ways.
We wandered around Bidar Fort for most of the morning, accidentally discovering a small village at the bottom of it, a hidden lake, and a lot of goats. It rained all morning, so we were wet, but happy to be walking around outside. The pictures, I should mention, are not enhanced in any way. Everything actually is that color. Karnataka (the state we were in) is very green, and agriculture is a large part of their economy.
Something that amazes me about Rome, and also India, is the durability of the architecture. Bidar Fort was built hundreds of years ago (around 500, if I am remembering correctly). They are sustainable, don’t harm the environment by their existence, and are still functional in many ways. I wonder if the Empire State Building will be standing in 500 years, still in relatively good condition. Somehow, I doubt it.
People in Bidar were really friendly – it isn’t really a tourist area, so we weren’t overcharged for everything (only some things), but the downside is that 5 American girls stick out. A lot. Stares followed us wherever we went. After two months here, you’d think I’d be used to it, but I’m not. I don’t think any of us are, really. We try to ignore the staring and be friendly all at the same time, and sometimes it’s hard not to get frustrated. But maybe because everyone was so nice, it didn’t matter as much.
After the Fort, we came upon downtown, sort of by accident. It was SO cool. Bidar, from what we could tell, has a mostly Muslim population, and Hindu women in colorful saris were far outnumbered by women covered in black from head to toe. I sometimes wonder what these women think of us, hair and faces uncovered.
The picture below is one of the main streets, and even in the rain, it was bustling with traffic – human, automotive, and animal.
We visited several bangles stores (see below) and I bought a couple dozen - they are so beautiful!
We ate lunch at a busy restaurant. Veg. Soft Noodles, according to the menu. I missed Anshu a lot at lunch – when I walked in, one of the songs she put on my playlist freshman year was playing. Full, we went back into the rain, and walked around a little more, buying guavas at 20 Rs. a kilo (super cheap!) and decided to visit the Gurudwara Temple. We have seen 349832057895723 temples in India, but this was the first Sikh temple. Everyone was wearing turbans and had long beards, and we were asked very nicely to cover our heads. We didn’t have scarves, so we put up the hood on our jackets, and removed our shoes as well before entering the temple. We had to walk through a pool of water to wash our feet before going inside, and when we got to the top, we looked inside, but didn’t enter. I never take pictures of the inside (it’s not allowed most places anyway), but below are some of the outside.
After the Temple, we made our way back to the hotel, hung out for a little while, read from Lorelei’s book of questions, practiced our henna on each other, and then went to dinner. When Emily was giving Lorelei henna on her hand, our room suddenly filled with smoke. Startled, Emily and I grabbed all our stuff, and ran to Gabby and Erica’s room to get them to come outside. Gabby and Erica just laughed at us. Apparently, burning incense releases a LARGE amount of smoke, but no raging fire. Who knew? Emily and I laughed and went to put our stuff back in the room, mildly embarrassed, but saying, “safety first” to make us feel better about our panic attack.
We slept as well as we could on our plywood mattress, and then got up early to go to the bus station.
To our delight, the bus ride back was far shorter, and the driver even said he’d drop us near the campus. He lied. He took us all the way back to the station, and after being aggressively harassed by seven or eight taxi drivers for twenty minutes, we finally escaped and paid 200 Rs. for an hour-long rickshaw ride back to campus.
Overall, a really good weekend. It was nice to be able to explore on our own time, and it was really nice being able to do it pretty inexpensively. The hotel dropped a surprise charge on us on the way out, and that was sort of a bummer. Sometimes, people mean well, but we know that sometimes, people use the language barrier to pretend that either they or we do not understand something, even though it’s been clarified. That’s frustrating, but a small, small price to pay for a really great weekend. I am so excited for my upcoming travel, and wish me luck on my Hindi test tomorrow!