This morning, the taxi was on time- American time, surprisingly. It took us to the bus stop where we got on our tour bus. The first place the bus actually stopped was the gas station. I was amused to watch the station attendant pump gas. I noticed that everybody paid cash. I also noticed a guy who was sweeping. Like everybody else I had seen sweeping, this guy was using a collection of some dried plants that were tied together and he was bent over as he swept. I don't know if sticks are just expensive or if they just don't care about their backs, but either way, I felt sorry for the guy. Of course, I don't really think the sweeping was doing much beside moving dirt around.
After the fill up, we were on our way down a road that was under construction. There were diversions so that we were in the other lane, but we saw no construction workers or tools, just piles of dirt.
The tour itself was run by the Karnataka government, so the place we stopped for breakfast was run by the government as well. We got some dosas that came with raita. The raita was a risk, but as we had made it past the wedding and I figured that the government would have done something if tourists were getting sick, I had some. (Knock on wood) I still haven't had any Delhi belly. Phil also took this opportunity to pick up some snacks, such as Indian-flavored chips.
The drive was great, which was good because most of the tour was driving. The city turned into fields, and the fields turned into coconut groves. We passed areas with 1-2 houses and villages of cement houses, some of which seemed quite nice. A bunch of the houses had large piles of coconut shells out front, probably for burning or making into rope. I also adore that many of the houses were brightly painted and that the most popular color was a bright green that would make my neighbors upset if I painted my house that color. I found out later that they are pained those colors because the Indian version of Feng Shui dictates that those colors are the better, luckier colors.
In the yards, there were all sorts of livestock, which surprised me a little. Most of the animals were chickens or goats, so I guess that makes some sense. And, there were cows galore. The cows were just wandering about, some eating the trash on the side of the road, and some just chilling. Our timing was also perfect to see a bunch of school children, all decked out in their school uniforms. A few were working some hand pumps and getting water. Everything was so rural!
After hours of driving, we got to the first Jain temple, Shravanabelagola. The driver told us that we had an hour and a half to see it and then the bus was leaving. Also, he told us that we had to leave our shoes on the bus. So, we hopped off, and headed up the mountain to the temple in our bare feet. Two breaks and 660 steps later, we were at the gate. These steps were much taller than standard steps, which surprised me as most of the locals seemed much shorter that I am. It was worth the hike though. The view from the top was great. We wandered around the temple site, trying to go to the temples that the groups of school children weren't in, so that we could avoid the crowd and get good views. We worked our way up to the main temple that contains the "piece de resistance," a very large statue of one of the gods. Once in the main temple, a priest came up to us and offered us a private tour. While the school children and other tourists looked at the series of god statues through some gates, the priest took us in back so that we were close enough to touch the god statues. His English wasn't so hot, so mostly he was just telling us the name of the god in the statue, and then waiting for us to take a picture before he told us about the next god statue. At the end of the tour, we tipped him a few rupees. On the way out, we also were asked outright for a donation. We gave the guy 15 rupees (about 30 cents) and he made us wait while he wrote up a receipt for us.
Once outside the temple, we were in the midst of the group of school children all shouting at each other, despite the "no shouting" signs. One of the girls came up to me and said "Hi. What's your name?" I answered her and asked her name. After that, my intentions were to start heading down the mountain as we were running short on time, but then the rest of the girls swarmed around me and all of the boys swarmed around Phil. Everybody was trying to shake our hand and ask our name. Only after we had shaken everybody's hands were we able to start the descent. Each of us was surrounded by our own "fan club" the whole way down. My fan club was teaching me Kanada (their language) most of the way down. At some point, after both giggling at and complimenting my Kanada, they asked me how I got so white. The only thing I could come up with is that I was born this way, although that seemed a little bit patronizing. One girl wasn't ok with that answer and let me know that she wanted to be white like me. This made me so sad. Here in the US, there are plenty of people keeping the tanning salons in business, trying to be darker like these kids. And, I feel sad for both the people who tan and the little Indian girls as they should be able to feel comfortable in their own skin and not be pressured by society into wanting something else. Upon reaching the bottom, we said goodbye to the kids, but hello to the touts. There were a bunch of them trying to sell us postcards, figurines, and other souvenirs. Boy, were they persistent! Our bus was parked about a block or so away and they followed us the whole way, even though we were saying no the whole time. We got on the bus, and they were blocked from the bus by the driver. That didn't stop them from knocking on our window from the outside, still shouting new, lower prices and trying to bargain with us. When the allotted time was up, there were only 3 people on the bus- us and a lady named Danielle, the other US citizen on the tour. The bus driver looked anxious to leave, but none of the Indian families who were on the tour were back. He started honking. Eventually, they all came back and we left for the next place. I wish I had known that everybody else would be late, as an hour and a half was not really enough time to fully explore the temple.
On the road, we passed a bunch of smaller temples on our way to lunch. Lunch was at a government-run kitchen that was actually very clean. Again, I attempted to order using the "what's your favorite thing?" method. It failed miserably. The guy wouldn't pick just one thing. He kept saying "we have this and this and this" and pointed to the whole menu. Eventually I settled on Aloo Matar, just to see how different it would be from the Aloo Matar you can get in the US. It was different, but most certainly identifiable as the same dish. This time, the bus started honking early and left pretty close to the time that it said it would.
The next temple we went to was Belur. Here, a guide got on the bus and took the whole lot of us on a tour of the temple site, again barefoot. He took us into the main temple and showed us the interior, which included a large carved stone pillar that used to rotate, but had some issue with the ball bearings so it didn't any more. There was also the equivalent of an ark with some important god in it. It was very busy as everybody else there was trying to get to it, so the guide skipped it and told us we could come back to it. Then, he moved us outside the temple, which really was the most impressive part. The temple was made of soft sandstone pieces that were put together. The guide explained to us that much of it was ruined and then restored. Every inch was covered with some sort of carving, so I can't even imagine the man-hours that went into making the original carvings, and then the restored ones. There was a parade of 644 elephants that reminded me of the elephants on parade in the Jungle Book movie carved all around the whole temple. On another layer, there were mythical creatures, and on another just gods. As he walked us around the temple, he explained to us who each of the gods was and a little of their stories. I couldn't understand his English too well, but I did pick up on some of the lecture. For a while, he also shooed away groups of school kids that were trying to talk with us. At some point though, there were just too many interested kids for him to keep shooing away. As soon as he would get rid of one group, another group would come up and cleverly just listen to his lecture, slowly creeping towards Danielle, Phil and me. Or, the kids would scurry past, touching my elbow as if it would grant them good luck or something. Of course, all it took was one of them to get brave enough to say hi. At this point, I was past the point of just trying not to be rude. I was extremely amused by their fascination with us. I would respond and shake the first kid's hand. That was the end of the standoff. At that point, the rest of the kids who had been hanging back would emerge from everywhere to get their opportunity to shake our hands and get their pictures taken with us. I felt like a celebrity. At one point, even some adults were getting in on the game. One mother made us stand with her children and take a picture with them. I was happy to comply as these people seemed genuinely excited to be in our presence. The last feature of the temple was a lone monolithic pillar towards the front of the complex. The pillar was balancing on only 3 corners. We paid the tour guide what he asked for, something like 20 Rupees (about 50 cents), and started to walk toward the bus once we noticed that other people on our tour bus were headed that way. Again, the touts descended. This time though, Phil was about to get a deal on a souvenir. The seller wanted only 50 Rupees vs the 100 Rupees that somebody else had paid for the same little god carving.
Again, we rode for several hours to get to the next temple, Halebeedu. The scenery was more or less the same as the scenery to the first temple and between the first and second. Again, a guide got on the bus and took our group around the temple. While the first two temples looked nothing alike, this temple looked pretty similar to the second. The tour was pretty similar as well. I couldn't understand a lot of what the guide was saying and was extremely distracted by the kids. At some point, I just gave up listening to the guide and periodically checked in with Phil to get the Cliff's notes version. I was enjoying making the kids happy and garnering tidbits of information from them. The routine was the same as each group of kids passed us. Some kids would stand at a distance, trying to non-chalantly take pictures of us with their cell phones. Then, one would break the ice and the swarm began. I tried so hard not to laugh, because I thought that the whole concept was hilarious. A short while later, the teachers who were chaperoning the field trip would swoop by and guide them away, giving me a few moments to check back in with Phil and listen to the guide. One of the neat stories that I was able to catch involved some god that had to hide inside an elephant for a while and then broke out of it. (This reminded me of that scene from Star Wars where Luke is out in the cold.) I got that one of the reasons that it was not just a rectangle shape was so that there were more corners, which meant more room for more god carvings. I was also able to catch the guide really pushing the temple. He was comparing it to the Taj Mahal and saying that as more people discover it, it will become a world heritage site and surpass the Taj as far as number of visitors. I'm not quite sure he'd ever been to the Taj, the way he was comparing the two. The temple was great, but not that great, and it is most certainly not as unique as the Taj, at least based on the other temple we went to earlier. This temple had the same parade of elephants that absolutely fascinated me. It had the same mythical animals that had the trunk of an elephant, the tail of a peacock, the ears of a cow, the stomach of a pig, and some part of a monkey. Also, some of the temple is unfinished. There are some areas that haven't been carved out yet. On our way out, the kids lined up to shake our hands. The guide was ushering us out to try to get us back on our bus, and 30 kids were waiting for us. We shook every one of those hands. Again, we tried to tell the touts that we weren't interested in buying, but they followed us several blocks to our bus anyway. As I was looking out the window of our bus, I began to notice that when we would pass children with their parents, it was quite common that the children would start to tug on their parents' hand and point in our direction. Often the parents would try to hush or calm the children. Now that I knew what the kids were looking for, I would wave to them. That would make the kids go nuts! They were so excited to be waved at.
Eventually, it got too dark outside to really see the countryside well. The ride back was several hours, so I passed out for most of it. We did make a quick stop for dinner. This time, my "what's your favorite" method worked- sort of. He just chose the most expensive thing on the menu. I didn't really care though. It was still only a couple of dollars, so I got the "special dosa," as recommended, not having learned the lesson on "special" food from last night. They were actually quite good. They were completely filled with the standard potato filling (instead of the usual half-filled) and the outer part was rolled like a burrito. The whole dish was cut and arranged nicely, with about the only garnish I saw on the whole trip. Of course, it had some "special" beyond that. They were also sprinkled with some of those fruits from inside a fruit cake. Regardless, it was delicious. It filled me up enough for the whole ride back, the taxi ride to the hotel, and up until I went to bed.
Little House with coconut shells
The climb to the first temple
The view from the top
The large god statue
A god from the back room
Our fan club
Elephants on Parade 1
Carving at Belur
Elephants on Parade 2
Extra room for gods
a Belur fan club
god climbing out of elephant skin