Wow so boy do I have a lotta updates for you all…so I suggest you go make yourself a nice cup of hot chai, take off your slippers and spend some time on this page.
I am finally able to have legitimate internet access at the business centre of the *ahem* super nice hotel we’re staying at here in Mysore- which let me say is a sharp contrast to what the past couple of nights have been like and even a contrast to the week preceding those dreadful past two nights.
Allow me to begin with our departure from Bangalore (with which I did a brief update in my prior post written hurriedly from the wacked out town of Puttaparthi). Our group spent a week living in Penukonda, a teensy village in the state of Andhra Pradesh at the Young India Project- an organisation that specialises in promoting the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and helping unionise the rural poor and let them know about the rights the act gives them. I suppose it was slightly roughing it…in the sense that there were daily power outages, galaxies of mosquitoes/roaches/abnormally sized snails/millipedes/other unidentified but scary insect life, and of course being isolated from any sign of civilisation. However, the Bedi family who runs the YIP provided us with the BEST food we’ve had so far in India (think chocolate peanut butter pancakes at breakfasts, roast chicken & mashed potatoes for dinner, and plenty of cookie filled tea breaks) as well as a daily laundry service which brought some life back to my terribly worn out garments.
Despite being located off the map, our days in Penukonda were busy filled with bus trips to villages, government offices (such as the Water Management Board or something rather…who awarded us with cow trophy memento things), and of course nightly Kolatam (traditional stick dancing lessons). Kolatam was a joke basically…everyone deliriously exhausted from the day’s work but still having a ball at dancing in circles with our bamboo sticks…sort of looks like some chaotic combat dance from an outsider perspective…still a cultural experience despite the very confusing teaching method since our Kolatam teacher spoke no English.
Then, perhaps the highlight of the Penukonda experience was the day we spent doing the manual labour that the NREGA workers do in an attempt to earn their 125 rupees wage ($2.50.) Of course, it was a blazing HOT day (topping 40 degrees celsius my friends)- the field assistant and technical assistant showed up to instruct us to dig a long earthen bund (basically an 8 inch deep 2.5 metre wide…15 metre long ditch thing with a 2.5 metre high pyramid line bordering it. We got our shovels, mud baskets, and pickaxes (which were all in despicable condition) and got dig dig digging (let me tell you that this was five days ago and my hamstrings and back are still suffering the sore aftermath.) Many of us suffered from blistered palms, toe stubs, and dehydration bouts but in the end made it through the day with pride at our accomplishment (and a darn good meal of grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken soup earned.) Of course, Mr. Bedi being the ultra publicity whore he is (we were not exactly a fan of him and his arrogance…he even had the nerve to call our Kolatam footwork atrocious after two nights of practise), about twenty press representatives showed up to witness our day of labour including a couple of television stations and a crapload of newspapers snapping photos like vultures. During one of my water breaks, I had the opportunity (or rather gave the press the opportunity) to be interviewed and photographed for several Indian newspapers. Of course prior to the speaking part of the interview I had a few snapshots taken of me looking nice and sweaty with a tough face expression and a janky shovel hoisted over my shoulder…beautiful…then I talked about my thoughts on the NREGA and talked about American minimum wage laws versus Indian ones and also gave some personal insight on Indian democratic structure. Funny…who would have known that my first major time in the press would be me looking like a labourer and talking about rural Indian wage laws. Life is unpredictable. Anyhows…the next morning Bedi laid out three newspapers in front of me…none in English (though we were published in a couple of English ones the following day), and in two of the newspapers there was that flattering photo of myself next to a blurb of what I talked about. It was quite ego-boosting to hear my name being tossed around in Kannada (the local language) when we were at the water management board and the Union leaders were talking about what I had said regarding wages in the papers. Haha. Very nice. Of course like I said, since Mr. Bedi loves nothing more than inviting the press wherever we are, the next few days in Penukonda again consisted of having group shots getting taken of us at all our sites of visit…to the point that it was really…annoying.
Overall though, I really did enjoy and learn a lot during our stay in Penukonda…funny because it was a part of the trip I was really dreading considering it consisted of village isolation…but along with Varanasi, I’d say Penukonda was one of the more enjoyable legs of this programme- like I said ironic since Varanasi was the other place I was deeply dreading prior to getting there.
After Penukonda, we all set off on a train to Bangalore followed by a six hour bus ride to BR Hills…some rural forest reserve in Karnataka state…more specifically we stayed at the VGKK Campus up in the hills even MORE In the middle of nowhere. VGKK consists of a hospital/health centre and a boarding school catering to tribal children…and I’m going to flat out say it was definitely the GROSSEST place we stayed in India and absolutely without a doubt put me into Bitch mode for the entirety of the thirty eight hour stay. The VGKK campus was sprawling, set in the cool hills and looking like some place out of some creepy storybook. We arrived on Sunday night, and of course en route to getting shown our “Guest house rooms” the power went out and sent the entire campus to pitch black…and with nothing but a janky flashlight to navigate…no bueno. Anyhow, Hallie and I were shown our room…and well…it was…the worst place I have ever slept in my whole life. Yup I said it. It was a moulding room webbed with spider webs, linoleum floor, a dampen air and stench (which led me to believe that I am allergic to mould considering the respiratory side effects I suffered for those two nights) and of course two wooden beds with a “mattress” around a centimetre thin. Thankfully, bundling all my shawls together made for a pillow, and using the towel Sharada-ji gave each of us…that was my blanket…for what we hadn’t known would be a VERY cold night…
but thankfully…we each popped a pill of melatonin and became oblivious to the creepy ass surroundings. Oh…yes…and on top of that, there were no individual bathrooms…you had to go outside through the creepy ass courtyard to use one of the despicably disgusting squatters…once again I am thankful to my mother for purchasing those TravelJohns from amazon.com to prevent leaving my bedroom for a 3am leak. So, the rooms are one thing…the dining hall…zat is another thing my friends.
Basically, the dining hall was this large room…also moulding and crawling with flies, ants, and other unidentifiable creatures with nothing but skinny mats outlining the borders of the room for sitting, and since its India- shoe removal is mandatory upon entrance. I swear…they NEVER mop this floor…sticky with honey and dahl stains, leaving your heels a moisty shade of black upon exiting still hungry. Our first night for dinner, Thomas, Hallie, and I arrived early and Thomas made a comment about how the dining hall resembled some horror movie setting and that they probably trap us in there to cook us…hahahaha…yeah verrrrrrrrry funny…and sure enough the head chef walks out dressed in a mismatched array of camo (oversized camo hoodie, camo pants tucked in what I think were wellie boots) and a baseball cap and just a creeper-probably did too much acid in his youth type of an aura. The three of us sat there talking on the skinny mats while Le Creeper Chef just stood in front of us staring at us…sizing us up for what a good meal we’d make (haha just joking…its an all vegetarian school…probably another contributor to my bitching those two days).
Alors, when dinner finally arrived and 150 schoolchildren scrambled with their metal plates to fill up the mats we were served on banana leaves…a small army of school boys with vats of rice and dahl. And boy do they pour on the rice here…I’m not a huge rice fan but due to the isolation of this place and the rather meagre non rice servings, I ended up eating rice three times a day during our stay here…eww eww ewwwww. One thing I did like about the food though is that they started us off with some white bread (NOT CHAPATI…wow) with a delicioussss dollop of locally made honey (to my parents- I bought us a 100 gram jar of the goodness to spread on some toast upon my SOON return!) Considering the food was served by little boys…and it was often the fate of the spoon (which left me starving after one meal since the scoop of dahl liquid resulted in THREE BEANS as my protein for the day)- Hallie and I ended up raiding our bus for deliciously squeezable PB&J sandwiches, juiceboxes (I think the last time I drank a juicebox was when I was…six?) and of course the dates and muesli I had in my backpack as emergency nourishment.
The one full day we had at the campus consisted of some boring lectures (my attention span was devoted to the HUGE BEE circling the room the duration of the lecture), a visit to an English class (and by the dubs…they are NOT teaching correct english grammar at this school, but rather how to say what things make you proud to be Indian), and my favourite part- a walk through the forest surrounding the school. The forest was loaded with thousands of COFFEE PLANTS with the little red coffee beans illuminating the woods. We got to snack throughout the tour on black pepper (on the trees), delicious lemons, mini satsumas, and see all the grapefruit and guava trees, cardamom and ginger and turmeric plants…pretty awesome. Disappointing though that there were so many coffee plants and absolutely NO CAFFEINATED BEVERAGES offered at the school (another reason why I was in bitch mode the whole time…no caffeine…uh, hello?) I hear though that sometime in the next few days we will be visiting a coffee plantation (TRIPLE YAY) since we are after all in the Indian capital of coffee currently.
Alors, apres an hourly countdown of getting out of BR Hills we are FINALLY IN MYSORE at this lovely lovely hotel with FASTY FAST internet access where I was able to take a HOT non bucket shower and use a BLOWDRYER and watch Sweet Home Alabama with Hallie on our PLASMA TELEVISION and then have an AMAZING BUFFET LUNCH at the American road trip themed funky restaurant (Hello FISH curry, chicken with green olives, SPINACH dahl, endless buffet, and ICE CREAM CON FRUIT pour dessert)…then have *HALLELUJAH* a CAPPUCCINO at the hotel cafe. This really is a trip of contrasts…moving from the worst accomodation to the best in a matter of hours. Our plans for Mysore are to visit the Maharajah’s Palace, some temple (surprise surprise) but otherwise have lotssss of free time to relax and finally eat legitimate food…and possibly even go to the discotheque that the hotel restaurant turns to at 8pm…super funny really….and may I add that closes at 10:30 pm.
Oh welllllllll hope you all enjoyed this super duper lengthy update which really does not even encompass half of what i have to say…but what can I say, there is so much going on 24/7 that I cannot begin to describe everything!
Well well off to tend to my other internet businesses. Much love from Mysore.