Happy New Year to everyone! We last left you in Mumbai, so let us continue our travels from there.First, we have previously posted about different types of toilets. Squat toilets are common in Africa, and reappear in much of India. However, in the Mumbai area, they seem to have a special toilet--they hybrid squat/Western toilet. As you can see in the picture, you can perch on it just as you might a squat toilet, or you can lower the seat and sit on it like a Western toilet. I say ingenious! Why don't we all have these for the days we feel like squatting? Never had a day where you felt like squatting, you say? Neither have I, but I might if I had a toilet like this!From Mumbai, we headed to Aurangabad, mostly to see the Ellora caves nearby. Aurangabad is not a great city, so we suggest you only go there to see the caves. Also, we suggest that you not arrive at the train station in the middle of the night, as the city has a bit of a hotel shortage and you might end up staying in a less-than-desirable hotel. In any case, we took a tour that started at the old fort dating to the 1200s. They essentially turned a mountain into the best fort ever created in India at the time.Inside the main walls around the center of the fort is a moat that contained crocs and poisonous snakes. Now it contains something just as deadly--Indian water.
The fort contains a dark maze that you have to go through to get to the top of the mountain. It has holes for them to throw boiling oil on your head and others where you drop through the floor into the moat if you take a wrong turn. And it is all in the dark. Good stuff. And some bats now. They forgot, however, what almost all fort builders forget--surround the fort for long enough and it will eventually fall. This fort changed hands dozens of times over the centuries.
From there we went to the Ellora Caves. The caves were carved from about 700-900AD by competing groups of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain monks. The soft stone allowed them to carve spectacular caves and sculptures all out of the rock, similar to Lalibela in Ethiopia or Petra in Jordan. Here is one of the Buddhist caves. Keep in mind that everything is from the original massive rock and no extra stone has been used and everything is still attached.
The teachers for this field trip asked us to pose with the class. We were in a hurry, but how can you say no to that? Now that I look at this picture, though, I can see that not all these kids look thrilled to be in a picture.
In the Hindu caves, Ganesh is a popular figure (and elephants in general). Unfortunately for Ganesh, elephant trunks are one of the first things to break. When I carve my elaborate caves one day, I plan to reinforce the elephant trunks. This Ganesh, however, remains intact, and he is eating some sweets with his trunk, which is exactly what I would do for most of the day if I were an elephant-headed deity.
One of the Buddhist caves is devoted to Tara, the Buddhist deity of big breasts. Well, probably she is the goddess of something else, too, but she definitely always has big breasts.
The largest Hindu temple at Ellora is also the "largest carved monolithic place of worship in the world". Right. A lot of competition there. The only other ones of note are Lalibela in Ethiopia. This one is far more ornate, as well as larger. Everything you see is one giant piece. It took about 150 years to complete, but that was also 1300 years ago, so they were working mostly with hammers and chisels.
One of the large Buddhist prayer caves is designed with beams meant to mimic wooden prayer halls of the same period. This creates amazing acoustics that allows one person to chant and make it sound almost like an entire choir. Good job, Buddhists of 1300 years ago!
Ellora also has one of the most famous Hindu temples. Apparently, 12 temples have linghams that "grew from the ground". What's a lingham, you ask? Well, all temples devoted to Shiva have a bulb-looking thing that is supposed to represent a penis. That's right, one of the key symbols of Shiva is a penis. So, we went into this temple, where men had to remove their shirts to see the penis that had grown from the ground. It was a carved black stone which didn't strike us as so natural. Sorry, no pictures allowed. I got yelled at for taking a picture of the outside and would have been lynched for taking a picture of the penis.
Aurangabad also has the "mini-Taj Mahal". This is a very sad sight after the Taj. A crazy prince wanted to erect a Taj Mahal for his dead mother, so he hired people to start the work on a slightly smaller scale. His father quickly cut funds to the project because of the cost, so he was forced to create it in brick and plaster rather than marble and inlay. It's safe to say that it isn't quite as impressive. Sort of like if I tried to build the White House in my back yard out of popsicle sticks.
This old man wanted a picture with us, so here I am with the old man.
Our Christmas was spent in Hyderabad. The day went something like this: arrive 9am and check into hotel that is one block from train station. 10am: go out, eat breakfast, buy bus ticket out of Hyderabad. 11am: go back to room, turn on TV, and nap. 6pm: decide that Christmas dinner is probably in order. While walking to dinner, we passed a few places that had really gone all out for Christmas.
The coolest thing in Hyderabad was this temple to Ganesh. Many temples as we go South have been painted in amazing colors. So, Ganesh gets rainbow colors and all the sweets he can eat.
The most famous site in Hyderabad is the Charminar, which is this four-sided tower that sits in the middle of a big traffic circle. We weren't impressed. Sure, it's 500 years old, but so are lots of other more impressive sites in India. Next door is a famous mosque that is supposed to be one of the largest in India. Save the $2 taxi ride and put it in your savings account to go somewhere that has impressive mosques.
This river sure does look clean! Three feet of completely natural foam on top... At least it didn't smell like sewage.
The other famous site in Hyderabad is this giant Buddha statue in the middle of a lake. It was only erected in 1994 after spending a couple of years at the bottom of the lake because it sunk the barge that was taking it to the island. Really, though, don't go out of your way to see the sites of Hyderabad.
From Hyderabad, we headed to Hampi, some ruins that a friend of ours had suggested that we visit. More impressive than the ruins was the landscape. Formed by volcanoes spewing huge rocks, the place is mostly giant boulders. Really beautiful. And the river running through it looked almost clean.
Is that one cow licking another cow? Yes. Did it take Tara twenty pictures to get a shot with the cow's tongue actually out? Yes. Did Tara try to cut out the cow tongue to eat? She thought about it.
What a nice beetle!
The ruins of Hampi often have carvings in the rocks on the grounds. We liked these dancing people. An early form of the YMCA, I suspect.
This one reminded us of the goddess Tara from the Ellora caves for obvious reasons, but this is a Hindu site, so it most be another well-endowed goddess.
Most of the old Hindu temples would have been covered in plaster and painted when they were built. A few places in Hampi still have the covering and paint.
Did you know that the Indians of Hampi had skateboards about 500 years before the West? At least that's my take-away from this stone carving.
Hampi's most famous structure is probably this "chariot" made of stone that actually had turning wheels when it was first carved. Surprising that more people don't travel by stone chariot these days.
We didn't see any gods at the old temple, but we saw some parrots. This one seems to be on a quest to cut power to the temple. I wonder of parrot beak is a good conductor of electricity?
The animals portrayed are half lion, half elephant. Those were two of the most respected animals of the time, so it makes since that a hybrid would be even better.
Also nice about Hampi is the large number of lizards. Sure, they are all the same species, but there are a lot of them. Tara took this nice shot.
Hampi is considered the domain of Hanuman, the monkey god, and lots of monkeys live in the area. My favorite depiction of the monkey god is this one, where he appears to be carrying away two children by the tail and another in his hands. I'm sure this comes from some sacred story, but it seems more like the monkey that steals children in His Dark Materials to me.
We were walking through a little valley when a goat stampede came at us. I made it to safety in the ruins on the left, but Tara was left to fend for herself among the swarm of goats. Luckily, she lived. (To Tara's Mom: This is a joke. Goats run away if you say boo, and are not dangerous in the least. Tara was never in any actual danger.)
The royals used to have a lot of elephants, so they needed some Royal Elephant Stables. They were quite impressive, but the lack of elephants was disappointing.
We met this school group in the ruins that really wanted a picture and for each picture they would shove each other out of the way to get to the front so that they could see themselves the best when we showed them the picture. They apparently never tire of this--they were with some other tourists as we left.
If these guys ever come up to you and say to take their picture and they don't want money, they are lying. They are nice about it, but they want money. We gave them none. The funny part is they show you a book where they have supposedly recorded the donations of others. I assume they are made up, but if they are true, these guys make a whole lot more money than most Indians.
The temple in Hampi has its own elephant. You can give the elephant a coin and it hands the coin to the trainer before blessing you by boinking you on the head with its trunk. Tara gave it two cents and it happily blessed her. Apparently, I needed a particularly strong blessing because it refused to bless me for less than a quarter, which I refused to pay. Silly elephant. Seriously, though, I think the elephant can sometimes recognize foreigners and it demands more money from them. We saw the same thing happen with some other tourists.
Many trees in the area produce these crazy looking fruits. No, I didn't try to eat one.
I caught a glimpse of this amazing butterfly, which I proceeded to chase for 10 minutes until it flew to the top of a tree about 100 feet up. This was the only picture that I managed to get, but it doesn't do the butterfly justice.
On the banks of the river in Hampi, we saw many round things that Tara insisted were boats. I told her that was crazy and that they must be for laundry. She proved me wrong with this photo. They are crazy looking, but they are boats.
Someone decided to feed the local monkeys. We loved how they all stuff as much banana as possible into their cheeks and look like they have huge goiters.
Looking down on Hampi from a nearby hill provides a nice backdrop. And backdrop reminds me of a gumdrop, which sounds good about now.
That brings us to the end of the post. With each destination, it gets a bit hotter as we move south. Tune into our final India post to see if we are baked by the sun or whether we make it to Sri Lanka to meet the Tamil Tigers.