Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

It was time to head out and begin exploring India in the daylight. I have to be honest and say that my travels in over 40 countries had not prepared me for what we would experiences as we walked the streets for the next 6 hours. 
We didn't really have a plan or a map and, other than the market and Bull temple, according to the guide books we had read, the city of Bangalore really didn't have much to offer. So we set out hoping that as we wandered aimlessly we would find the sights we hoped to see, as well as some undiscovered treasures. After roaming the congested and crowded streets, we came to an area where hundreds of men and women--many dressed in orange and red saris--were boarding buses. It was as though they were heading out for a festival and we stood to the side to watch as some groups of people boarded the buses, while others adorned the buses with flowers. 

After the brief break we continued our journey and soon found ourselves in a maze of narrow streets lined with stalls that were filled with images images of Christ and crucifixes. We wound our way through the claustrophobic alleyway and soon found ourselves at the back door of St Mary's Basilica. The number of people sitting on the steps asking for alms was overwhelming so we quickly entered the gates. From the doorway of the main Chapel we caught a glimpse of dozens of sari-clad parishioners listening to mass (it was Christmas Eve Day). In a smaller chapel, devotees crossed the marble floor on their knees below a glistening white figure of Jesus.
As we exited the sanctuary of the holy grounds we were once again accosted by beggars. This time women with their babies followed us for several blocks, a scene that brought back memories of my childhood days in Cuernavaca when my tall, gringo father had his share of faithful followers. 
To our surprise, we soon stumbled across the market. We began our explorations in the open air meat section, an experience that soon made all previous market visits seem like a walk in the grocery store. Stacks of chicken cages, that formed tall walls, were filled with chickens that were shitting on each other, as well as sending projectile shots into the crowds of customers. Goats were tethered outside of the men's room. Cows were wandering freely, grazing on anything they could find and drinking from the river bed (which held more trash than water). Freshly butchered meat was being cut on blocks that stood in the midst of the feces and blood. As we wandered through the chaotic lanes of the market area I knew that I would be sticking to a vegetarian diet for the next week. In fact, for the first time in many years, I was surrounded by raw food and had absolutely no desire to shop and head for the kitchen, and any idyllic visions of colorful Indian spice stalls surrounded by vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables had been replaced by a harsh reality.
As our morning explorations continued we didn't happen across the Bull Temple; however, our endeavors were not fruitless and we saw some small gems; mosques, other temples, parks, mural painted walls and palaces. Of course we also were faced with some real shockers--endless piles of rubbish, rats, women with blackened teeth from their betel chewing and grown men defecating in the street. 

After a quick lunch we called into our hotel to ask for a map. After carefully planning our route, we once again set out. The first half hour was fine, but soon roads not on the map or roads with different names appeared. At about an hour it became obvious that we were lost, but I was confident that I could get us to our destination. Soon I had us trudging through what had to be the world's largest car stock yard--a car mechanics paradise. Everywhere men feverishly worked on motos, cars, motorized rickshaws and buses. They pounded parts and created sparks with their welding. Of course, Mark didn't need to point out that I was the only woman in the area. However, instead of jeers we received several polite hellos (unlike the time I got us lost at the docks of Mar de Plata while searching for a colony of stinky sea lions, where all were received were cat calls--but perhaps the hot pink mini skirt had something to do with that!) After about 15 minutes we finally traversed the land of male testosterone and were greeted by the gates of the botanical gardens. It was here that I decided it was time to throw in the towel and jump in an auto rickshaw. 
Even though the pedestrian part of our journey was over (at least for that day) a series of visual images were seared into my brain and I will carry them for the rest of my life. India is not a country that hides behind a tourist façade; it is a country that puts itself out there and is in your face. 


  1. Wow you do make it come alive!

  2. Travel can really open our eyes. Sometimes to a very harsh reality. I admire your bravery for trying to walk and visit it unescorted. But definitely a very eye opening experience.

  3. Hi Maya, wow. Harsh reality is right. Your description of the food stalls, yikes.

  4. Marta, we find that wandering the streets is a way to really get a feel for the "real" country. It is really the way we travel. We aren't people who plan out our trips by "sights", though sight is very important!

    Kathy, the food stalls were pretty crazy. I was so traumatized that I couldn't really take pictures. I had hoped to go back, but we ran out of time since we spent so much time "lost".