January 1, 2001: Day 28, Bhubaneshwar
Date: 1/1/01, 10:04 AM EST (8:30 PM in India)
Re: Happy New Year from Bhubaneshwar
Happy New Year from Bhubaneshwar!
Since we last wrote, we traveled from Hassan to Bangalore, then flew to Chennai, and after one night there (because of lack of connecting flights), continued on to Bhubaneshwar.
Bangalore was interesting and homey, in that we visited "IT Park", which looks almost exactly like any corporate building park in the US, except that there are about 100 companies sharing the three buildings. But the complex was much larger than we expected after what we saw in the rest of India and contained two banks with ATMs, a cafeteria, and fountains, smooth pavement and side walks, and very little trash. We looked at the directory and saw a few familiar companies like Lucent, Medsite.com, and Hewlett Packard, but most were Indian conglomerates that we'ld never heard of before coming here.
In Bangalore, we also visited MG Road, which is the hangout for the rich techie crowd and the thousands that come to gawk at the rich techie crowd. This is a fairly nice area but very crowded with men trying to feel up western women, who are in short supply so Gina and Rashmi got plenty of attention and practice on their defensive tactics. Actually, once we started to walk behind them, things calmed down and we had a nice dinner at a Pizza Hut which was nearly indistinguishable from the US variety. This was such a welcome surprise that Gina nearly burst into tears and we ordered way too much food. We're already planning to check out a McDonalds in Delhi but I've determined that actually ordering something there is a sure sign that it's time for us to go home!
Next we flew on to Chennai (Madras) where we stayed in the soggy dripping carpeted hotel from hell, and Guru had a rough night with allergies and we all worried about getting Legionaires disease from the damp smelly A/C air. Smelly is the word that best describes this place and of course there wasn't any hot water either. Rashmi's comment was "I can tell that if I stayed in Chennai any amount of time that death would become immanent". It was a choice between musty yuck in the room or the mosquito infested lobby (even the taxi back to the airport was filled with them)... nowhere clean or nice to go!
OK, but we lived and got to the airport plenty early just to get the heck out of there and made it to Bhubaneshwar.
Our first day here we just hung out, relaxed, recovered, and went to dinner at the Hare Krishna restaurant nearby (this is the area where those strange chanting orange-robed white guys go during the winter, in case you were wondering). The restaurant was however very good despite being very empty, and is run by the organization as the name may imply. I had some excellent stuffed stewed tomatoes, which I thought was the best vege meal I've had that actually has nice juice not-entirely-overcooked veges in it.
Next day we went to the somewhat overwhelming Orissa State Museum and for 1 Rupee each had four hours of entertainment looking at the sculpture, local arts and crafts, various stuffed flora and fauna, contemporary painting, and tribal artifacts. 25% of Orissa's population are tribes living more or less in their original state in the very remote areas. We are not planning to visit the tribes here because a trip out and back takes about 7 days. But, yes, India still has real tribes... or we'll take it on faith from the dioramas.
After the museum, we wandered around to the sparse tourist information office, with its mouldering piles of paper from 1995/96 that apparently list registered guides and such (got generated and never used by the looks of it). Here, we inquired about details for the State Youth Festival, for which we saw a notice but no information in the newspaper. We had also asked at our hotel but it took the Assistant Tourism Officer to convince us that yes we really needed to go in person to the stadium mentioned in the newspaper to get the program information. Of course the stadium turned out just to be where the youth were sleeping, not the location of the festival, but we managed to find it in our precariously packed auto rickshaw (we've gotten in the bad habit of riding all four of us in a seat made for two). Here, at the Soandso Institute for Education, Unit 9 to be exact, we met the Mr. Haak we'ld heard about from the Tourist Office, and found out that we'ld lucked out again and the Odissi dance competition was going to be in the morning and we could come and watch it for free!
That pretty much wore us out so we just came back and had a nice Orissan dinner at our hotel (we had to order 8 hours ahead of time to get it, but it was very good). Some of the local specialties are Kichiri (sp?), which is rice with dal and coconut, a special squash with mustard sauce, and a tasty chicken with rich tomato gravy. Yes, we can tell the difference by taste but I realize that the description here sounds like all the other food we've eaten and reported on... the ingredients are very similar but there are subtle spice and other differences as we've traveled around.
Next day we had another great cultural experience at the above- mentioned Youth Festival, where we got the VIP treatment, front row seats, tea, and attention from all the key people (including the videographer, so we've been immortalized as well). There were about 15 dancers, 2 of them men, the rest women, all with a time limit of about 15 minutes. We stayed from 10 AM to 2:30 PM, the music getting progressively louder and louder all the time, ending with the climax of an argument among audience members and performers about the treatment and prioritization of female over male dancers in the festival (an issue we had also read about in the paper). Of course the arguments were in Oriya so we didn't really understand the finer points, assuming there were any, and we couldn't tell whether it was time to run for cover before a riot. But things calmed down, the hammy over-politicized dancer that started the row did his piece, and the show wrapped up on a positive note with the lone Kuchipudi (sp?) dancer that showed up (all the rest were Odissi). Gina was happy to recognize many dances, including two presentations of Battu, and about nine versions of Das Avatar. Guru Kulchuran Mohapatra, who we recognized from a performance in Boston, was also there to support his students that were performing. In the end we left quite satisfied having seen some really excellent dancers, but we don't know who actually won to go onto the Nationals because the awards were only later in the afternoon.
Then we attempted to go to some of the temples here in Bhubaneshwar but pooped out after we saw that they charge 5 Rupees for Indians and 5 dollars for foreigners (47 times as much). Rashmi and Guru hung on a bit longer but were very disappointed with the very dirty and run down state of the temples, so we were glad to have stayed home to nap.
Phew, it was a long day tho because then we went out again to a new year's eve bash at a hotel nearby, which consisted of a huge buffet, huge crowd, and lots of loud Hindi music and live-action Hindi Movie dancing ensembles. Interesting to see but after chatting with two of the other "white noses" in the crowd (two Germans, one of which works for the red cross here) we fled back to the hotel, ordered an incredibly bad bottle of Indian champagne for $35 and rung in the new year quietly in Rashmi and Guru's hotel room, while yet another party raged directly above us on the roof. This was of course 10 1/2 hours before those of you in EST, so it all felt meaningless despite being the real new millenium this time around!
Today we took a car for the day and saw the temples at Konark and Puri. The former is quite nice but unfortunately in bad shape thanks to the Portugese and Muslims and British, all of whom worked to destroy it. Still very interesting to see, and I'd almost say it was worth paying $10 US each to get in (Indians pay 10 Rupees, again a 47X markup, apparently government-sanctioned here). Then lunch and a bit of shopping at a nice resort near Puri, and on to the temple in Puri, which non-Hindus are not allowed in.
Turns out despite not getting in (or from what Rashmi and Guru say, *because* of not getting in), Puri turned out to be a great experience. We were admitted to an observation deck at the library across the street, and after making a small donation could peer over the wall. What made it really fun was that a man who also works in the temple told us all about it, sang temple songs (Gitagovinda and other devotional hymns) to us, and baby sat us until the car driver, Rashmi, and Guru came back.
We're running out of time so we'll leave out the details of what we learned about the temple, but this is the main temple for Odissi dance which is still done here according to the guide we had, and after extracting some more money from us the guide said he would pray to Jaganath for Gina's dance to improve (specifically by asking for her memory to be strong). Actually, one other interesting hilight was that the god idol here is wooden and is renewed with a new body every 16 years, when the oldest capable priest in the community is selected to carve the new idol. This happens after the Maharaja that lives down the street in a smallish palace has a dream about where the Neem tree that should be used is located. This tree must be free standing without touching another tree and contain no birds. It is then cut down with a funeral pyre ceremony and used in the carving. The idea of selecting the oldest priest is that he will die within a few years, which is significant to the changing of bodies of Jaganath.
That's all we have time for... we've ordered another Orissan meal for 8:30 PM local time!
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina
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