by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
One of the most difficult places we visited was India. And yet it was probably the most interesting. One thing for sure was that we never got tired of it and the sights. The contrast between the extreme poverty and disease, and the bustle of modern civilization is beyond words.
The noise level is deafening, the crowds are everywhere and garbage blows all over the cities and country. Pigs and other animals, including people, forage it for something to eat.
The colors are incredible. Temples are covered with millions of painted statues, women working in the fields and road work wear bright saris and even shacks will be painted bright colors.
Animals, exotic to me, roam the roads and monkeys frolic on the roofs. Elephants and camels pulling carts and cattle wandering the streets make driving especially dangerous.
We hired a car and driver to take us all around the southern part of India to visit the temples of the Raja Raja. The driver plus the car, including all the gas and any taxes incurred while crossing from one state to another, cost us about twenty-seven dollars a day. We paid for our own hotel rooms and food, which is incredibly cheap. The problem was that most of southern India is strictly vegetarian and we couldn’t even find a restaurant that served eggs. We tried to eat some of the food served and found it too hot with chilies and curry, so we ate cookies and fruit for almost two weeks until we entered the state of Kerala on the Pacific side, where fresh fish is abundant and our choices increased.
We drove up to Goa, once part of Portugal and some ancient reminders of that European state still survive. It was not very friendly and the beaches are all privately owned so we didn’t stay.
We took the national highway 54 from Goa to Hampi, but it turned out the road was in the process of being destroyed by hundreds of large trucks hauling rocks. They had torn up any semblance of asphalt into, literally, thousands of potholes. Our driver could sometimes get as fast as four miles an hour. It took hours and the last few miles were spent in nail biting suspense as the car was almost out of gas. We finally reached a real road, found a gas station, and a very primitive place to spend the night. We finished off our fruit and cookies for dinner and I drank a large local beer.
The next day we continued on and found, happily, that the good road continued and we could go faster than ten miles per hour. We traveled across southern India to find the ancient city of Hampi. Millions of years ago volcanoes oozed out magma over a million year period, creating sheets of dried lava and boulders the size of houses, and those were the small ones. In the middle of this primeval landscape sits the holy city of Hampi.
By the time we reached there it was late in the day and we walked the tiny streets looking for a place to stay. There are so many small hotels there to serve the hundreds of visitors that come to pray and each one had someone outdoors trying to get visitors to come in. Each place usually had only one or two rooms for visitors but the steady income from guests is enough to support a family. We finally took a room in a small house and the people were very nice. They offered to do our wash and we eagerly took them up on the offer. After a shower and change of clothes, we ventured out to eat and explore.
Walking down a couple of very short blocks, we were in the main part of the little city where numerous stalls and people cooking food fed the numerous visitors. We tried a couple and settled on our staples of fruit, and ate as we watched the steady stream of people walking toward a large temple built across the main road.
The next day we took a taxi tour and visited the many temple ruins, giant boulders and other sights. At one time it had been the capital city of an empire and the ruler had a large bath house built for his Queen. It is dry now but tourists flock in and out all day long. Another sight is the large stable where the royal elephants were housed. We climbed up dry lava beds and gazed down on the small city. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed walking, climbing and discovering. My husband thought the place looked like the Flintstone’s town of bedrock and he wasn’t far wrong. The city, the area and the ruins set in this surreal place was magical. I almost didn’t want to leave but it was only a small stop.
Finally, our stay was over and we had to return to Calcutta, and the Broadway Hotel, our home while we were in India.