Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bangalore Days

After an interesting seven hour train ride in which we passed through tiny villages, towns and farmland I am now in Bangalore. Indian trains are quite a trip. The madness begins as soon as the journey, with those who do not have unreserved seats jousting for the few unfilled reserved ones. Attendants walk up and down the aisles shouting "Dosai! Garam Chai, Garam Chai! Dosai! Coffee!," as do people selling jewelry, childrens toys, books, maps and pretty much anything you could want. Outside, shephards herd their goats and little children wave. The windows are barred, but have no glass, so a refreshing breeze blows in.

One of the assortment of folks who sat next to me in the vacant reserved seat was Avinash, a 26 year old man travelling back to Bangalore with his family after visiting an important temple between there and Chennai. Though silent at first, I engaged him and he became quite friendly. We exchanged our stories and he eventually introduced me to his father. I did not get his name 'til quite far into the conversation, and was taken by surprise, as Avinash was the name of a quite powerful character in A Fine Balance, the incredible novel I just finished about the tangled lives of some urban Indians.

Experiencing India with the guidance of a local indian is absolutely superb. I met Madhu on the platform at the station and he took me back to his family's home on his motorcycle! Riding around on a motorcycle is the best way to see India, I've decided, and it's especially enjoyable considering Madhu is a very sane driver and the streets of Bangalore are slightly more tame than those of Delhi.

The day after I arrived in Bangalore, Madhu and his friends put on a bouldering festival just outside of Bangalore. About 40 people showed up to boulder and hang out. I think that's the whole climbing community here. The spot had some good boulders, but I was slowed down considerably by the heat. After bouldering and cleaning up the area a bit, someone set up a slackline and everyone started hanging out, eating bananas and watermelon, throwing frisbees and trying to balance on the slackline. When it was over, we all went to a roadside dhaba (restaurant) and ate some tasty fried stuff and really good chicken kabob.

The climbers are trying to build their community so that they can petition the government to protect the area, as the sprawl of Bangalore is threatening the area like a wildfire. Every day we ride past some spot on Madhu's bike in which he tells me three years or three months ago was all forest or farmland and is now urban sprawl. This city has grown an incredible amount recently and is bursting its land and infrastructure.

Today we drove 40 km out of the city to Ram Nagar, the nearest sport climbing area to Bangalore. It's pretty incredible. The small hill area we were at has about 25 bolted routes, mostly done by Madhu and friends, but could be developed to at least 100. In sight are other areas which could probably have hundreds more. Riding about two minutes off the freeway, we arrived in a yard with goats tied to pegs and chickens walking around. Madhu is friends with the people who own the land, and we stopped to drop our extra stuff and have a chat. We climbed three awesome routes by midday when it got too hot. One was super exposed and we could look out at the banana and coconut plantations, goat herds and thatched roof houses. Only in India. Unreal.

On the ride home, we stopped for coconut water. The guy takes a huge knife to the coconut and chops off the top, giving it to you to drink the copious water. Then you hand it back and he splits it in half and makes a chip from the side so you can scrape the jelly textured flesh from the middle. It costs 10 rupees. While riding, Madhu explained his dream to buy property just below the climbing area. He's been discussing with the landowners to try to get a small plot. This would be so wonderful for him.

One of the best parts of staying with Madhu's family is the food. We've been eating at least two meals a day at the house, enjoying wonderful food cooked by Madhu's mother and sister. Each meal is sure to have Sambar, the South Indian staple of soupy lentil curry. There will also be some chapati, dosa (like an unsweetened pancake) or rice. Often there are vegetables I've never even seen. It's guaranteed to be tasty. You almost always eat with your hands here, did I mention that before? I like eating that way, especially when you can tear a piece of chapati or dosa and scoop up curry.

Madhu is organizing a kayak trip to Kerala for us and two of his friends. Tomorrow we will take a bus down to Allepey with inflatable kayaks we borrowed from friends and paddle the backwaters for a few days.

The computer I'm on has no USB port so I can't post pictures but I have some I will add whenever I can.


Unknown said...

It's wonderful the way your descriptions create the flavor and color of your experiences for me. Makes me wish I was there (and your age!), but I'm happy to experience it vicariously through your eyes. You're so lucky not only to be with an Indian family, but to have a friend like Madhu who enjoys the things you like and can hook you up to do them there.

Unknown said...

zachy, it sounds absolutely wonderful. you are a great adventurer!

Anonymous said...

Yo, comparing this to our trip to Japan, I love how its pretty much the opposite. We kind of ghosted there, and while it was way cool observing, your getting into it with the locals here is so where its at....can't wait for your next post.

Agastya Muthanna said...

hey.. you already finished Bangalore??? dude that sucks.. tell me if your coming back.. there is a lot more rock climbing you can do here..

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