Friday, September 28, 2007

Moving on

At last I've finalized my travel plans: Monday, Oct. 1 I meet up with V and we fly from Bangalore to Kolkata (the city formerly known as Calcutta); on to Kathmandu on the 4th. From there we'll travel overland to Pokhara, where V has grand ideas of trekking. I have a feeling I'll be content to sit by the lake, but we'll see how that goes. After Pokhara, we'll either travel overland to Varnasi (in India) then on to West Bengal (Darjeeling) and Sikkhim; the other option is going to Lhasa from Kathmandu.

In the meantime I'm savoring my time in Mysore. I've decided to return here after the Nepal/ Northeast trip, if only for a while.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Last week I visited the 12th Century Hoysala temple at Somnathpur. Located just 34 km East of Mysore, it nevertheless took us an hour to reach there by motorcycle. The first 25 km went quickly enough, but all that changed as we approached the village of Bannur. Here the reasonably well-paved road gave way to dirt and road work. Stones were being put down in preparation for paving, and traffic was limited to one direction at a time. Being India, there was no one there to direct traffic, and the usual near-anarchy of "bigger vehicle first" reigned.

Driving through Bannur on Alex's Enfield Bullet, we attracted quite a lot of attention. The roads were lined with large cardboard images of dieties, fairy lights, and loud speakers blaring tinny devotional music. On the far side of the village we saw a man passed out in the dirt road. Nearby, a crow pecked at a large pool of what appeared to be blood. Village life in India is still largely a mystery to me, as it is, I suspect, to most urban Indians. Was the blood the byproduct of a religious sacrifice? What were they celebrating? I still have no idea.

Somnathpur is a small hamlet, a cluster of houses, a school and a few shops near the big temple. It's remarkably quiet for India, and the site is beautifully maintained. We paid 100 rupees to enter (only $2.50, but still 20 times the rate for Indians.)

Like the more famous temples at Bellur and Halibed, the Keshava temple at Somnathpur was built by the Hoysala kings in the 12th century. Only the Somnathpur temple, however, was completed. It's a marvel of stone carving, a star-shaped temple in a courtyard surrounded by a rectangular gallery. Inside the temple are the principle idols, Gopala Krishna, Keshava, etc. The ceiling is intricately carved, and the heavily-detailed stone pillars were lathe-turned. Outside, the temple is covered with carvings of animals and dieties.

We spent about an hour wandering around in and outside the temple, taking way too many photographs. Outside we browsed the only open shop, a small showroom of tribal art. The work was lovely, not the stuff you usually see.

The ride back through the verdant fields of rural India was uneventful. The openness of the countryside never ceases to amaze me. If the majority of the population lives there, where are they keeping a billion people? The South is less densely populated than the North, so that explains some of it, but still...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ganesha!

Yesterday we celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi. For most people this consists of purchasing a clay statue of the big-bellied, elephant-headed god (and possibly one of Gowri, as mum Parvathi is sometimes known,) and installing it in the home alter. He's garlanded with flowers and generally worshipped for an odd-number of days, then taken to a river or lake and submerged. Meanwhile, on the big day, all of Ganesha's favorite foods are prepared and offered to him. Fortunately, we also get to partake of these yummy, high-calorie foods.

My Ganesha Chaturthi was pretty low-key. I went with a friend to purchase an idol in the morning, then in the afternoon visited one of the many temples in town dedicated to Ganesha. The temple was overflowing with people, and every available inch was garlanded with strings of colourful and fragrant flowers. The temple priests were very busy, offering blessings to worshipers and conducting special "pujas" (prayers) for people's vehicles. I gathered around one little shrine with about 20 other people. First the priest came around with a small flame on a tray. We placed small offerings on the tray, "grabbed" the smoke and received ladlefuls of sweet rosewater in our right palms. This we drank, wiping the remainder in our hair (don't ask me why!) Then he came back and offered everyone flowers and some kum-kum (red powder) to put on our foreheads. When he got to me, he added two bags of prasad (literally, "a gracious gift." Prasad is flowers or food offered to the deity, who "enjoys" a bit, that is then consumed by the devotees. My bags contained one laddoo and some sweet pongal, still warm.) This is not the first time that I, a non-Hindu, has received such preferential treatment at a temple. Perhaps they are pleased that someone from outside is taking an interest.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Is 5 months into a trip too late to start blogging?

Due to overwhelming demand*, I've decided to finally take the plunge and enter the already-crowded arena of the travel blog.

Now I am of course faced with several dillemna:

Finding a Voice
This has been a long-standing impediment to blogging for me. I do conduct quite a lot of email correspondence, but that involves a certain degree back-and-forth interplay, question/response, statement/reference, and so on. In absence of such (I don't expect much in terms of comments,) where do I begin? And to what have I doomed myself with that very first sentence?

Defining my Audience
Who am I writing for? Should I assume, for example, that my folks/ex-/etc. will be reading this? If so, what impact will that have on my willingness to be open/honest?

Getting Started
I doubt I'll go all the way back to my arrival in Delhi back in April, but a summary is probably in order.

Maybe next time I'll actually get around to Setting and some genuine Content.

*Typed with tongue firmly in cheek. If anything here reads a bit cheeky but you don't see the ;-) sarcasm symbol, please imagine it's there.