Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bhopal and Sanchi

This was actually the third stop in India, but until now, I haven't gotten around to posting the pictures. Bhopal was the first real major Indian city in a sense that it was neither Delhi, nor the somewhat touristified Agra (not that that meant that Agrans didn't carry dead bodies down the street, or had water buffalo roaming the town, or similar. But Bhopal is much larger, and much less accustomed to non-Indian.
Ironically we didn't see much of the town center--except creeping the half mile from the train station to the edge of downtown where traffic broke up at far less than walking pace in the bus. About 200 meters from the station entrance, we got completely stuck and savored 15 minutes of this peculiar Indian trait of not, never, ever, backing up, even if it would mean that everyone, including oneself, could move faster 10 seconds later.After checking in, we hunted down a not completely overpriced tuk tuk to go to the state museum that the guide, the hotel staff and the drivers recommended only to find out that it was closed for <drumroll> Christmas. Obviously, the museum staff were the only Christians within 500 miles.

So we spent the evening at the famous lakes that Bhopal was named for. Since I threw out my knee a coupel of days before I stayed on the shore and watched the paddle boaters and getting my picture taken by the Indians who've come to enjoy and evening on the water. Very cool and very interesting. All the computer science and engineering students wanted to hear about how many Indians work at my company in California.

In a nod to the rising middle class, the lakefront had an amazingly good cafe with great views, fab cappuccino, and ice cream that didn't kill anyone.

Back at the hotel, we got matter-of-fact-ly invited to an Indian wedding. Great times, the bride and groom were from Pitt and CMU, the best man from Linköping, and the rest from assorted universities, and the bankers, business owners and doctors of Bhopal. The hospitality is incredible and slightly embarrassing. I am not confident I would invite 30 Indians who stumble into my reception.

The next morning we left for Sanchi in the morning smog and saw the other side of Bhopal: people camped on the roads under ripped plastic tarps, children stumbling up and down smoldering trash heaps; and right in the middle the new technical university.

Sanchi (pics) was the first of the really historic places in the middle of effing nowhere, and at the end of the IMO worst road we had in India. But everyone on the trip had their particular favorite stretch of Indian road building, so it probably was just middling. So I'll only mention in passing that it took us over two hours to drive the 30 miles.The remaining temples are amazingly well preserved, especially considering that they were build between 300-70 BCE and survived 2000 years of rain, heat, and wind. For sandstone, that's quite an achievement. It was probably helped that they were abandoned and mostly forgotten after India reverted back from Buddhism to Hinduism.

Except for the temples, two of which looked suspiciously Greek or Egyptian, the only thing is the tourist shop where we pissed of one of the proprietors by pointing out to him that he tried to charge twice the government mandated prices that were clearly printed on the packaging.

And then it was back to Bhopal and another 10 hours on the bus to Mandu.

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