The word diverse is not big enough to describe the differences in this country. From language, weather, customs, religion and food to income, education, and government services, the variations between people, states and regions are large.
From Mumbai (formerly Bombay) onward, regions known as the western and southern areas of India, I feel more comfortable as a woman traveler. I observe more women in western clothing, women driving scooters, women on the streets without male companions, and there are women managing the guesthouses where I stay. There are still stares, selfie requests and weird brush-ups, but I feel more included in society and less constrained in my clothing choices.
In the south of India, because of colonialism, Christianity has a strong presence and there are fewer Muslims and Hindus. Meat and liquor are permitted in the Christian faith so these items are more available here than in northern India, although prohibition remains in some south Indian states.
Kerala, on the southern coast, is one of 3 communists states in India. I observe fewer people begging in this state, one of the wealthier in India. Roads are well maintained and streets are cleaner. There are more cars as well as western style malls and grocery stores. More people speak English and at a higher level in south India than in north India.
India is a place where a traveler can spend years. When I depart for Thailand tomorrow, I will have enjoyed 55 days here. It is a treat to have the time to feel, see, and live some of India’s contrasts.
Two tongue in cheek visuals describing differences in India:
I took a night sleeper bus from Mumbai to Hampi. In Hampi I stayed with Anky, Mona, and Colin, friends I met in the dorm in Mumbai. We stayed in the countryside and had great views of rice paddies and the night sky.
In Hampi there is a river crossing to get from one side of the town to the other. Entrepreneurial residents charge 100 rupees per person for the “Big Boat.” The Big Boat is this basket boat and actually smaller than the 10 rupee ferry.
Virupaksha Temple is dedicated to Shiva. Lakshmi is the temple elephant of Virupaksha. Lakshmi is trained to take an offering of 10 rupees from an individual in exchange for blessing the person.
Hampi boasts many ornate Hindu temples. Research indicates that in 1500 AD the town had 500,000 inhabitants.
Photo credit to Colin Merton, my companion on this day of exploration.
The landscapes in Hampi are a stunning mix of green, temples, rocks and water. It is unlike anything I had seen before.
More temple ruins with impressive detail and scale.
In Hampi there are more than 26 square km of ruins in various states of preservation. This section of ruins was a less visited area.
The Vittala Temple compound is one of the main sites in Hampi. The temple was originally constructed in 1500 AD to honor the lord Vishnu.
Inside the Vittala Temple complex. The stone chariot appears to be one massive block of granite but is actually pieced together from smaller granite blocks.
Being a tourist and posing for a photo in front of another ruin.
With an architecture distinct from the other ruins in Hampi, the Lotus Mahal structure is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the town.
One row of blocks on this wall is about my height. The scale is massive.
I popped the tube on my pink bike when I parked it under a tree with thorns. I walked for less than 5 minutes with the bike when an auto-rickshaw passed by. The two men in the rickshaw quickly understood the situation, stopped, and offered to drive me the 5km back to town. The men, the bike and I piled into the rickshaw and away we went! Everything is possible in India.
Rice paddies dotted with palm trees was a sight I could not have imagined. The green was enchanting.
With new friends Colin and Anky!
The landscape in Hampi.
High above the town we watched a sunset with many other travelers. Local kids ran around the rocks selling chai and lemonade. They asked us each to pinky promise we would buy a drink.