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Travels Week Two: Golpalpur, Puri, Bhubeneshwar

After leaving Bhubeneshwar, we had our first experience on an Indian train. The Indian railway system is notorious among travelers for being a frightening and challenging experience. Going as a group, it wasn't too bad but my later experiences would prove the rumors true. Anyways, Indian trains are made up of open compartments with seats for about 10 seats per compartment that convert into beds for 8 at night. We only took the train for an after noon, but we were squeezed in like sardines, with people dangling off the top beds, their feet hanging precarious near the head of those of us who sat below. 
We got off the train and drove a bit to Golpalpur, a small town on the Bay of Bengal. We stayed at a christian conference center that looked like a converted colonial home - lots of windows and balconies to catch the breeze rising up from the sea. I slept in a room with two other girls and our teacher, Anitha while the other girls had to sleep in a room of 6! Our bathroom was bare, with no sink, and we had to sleep under mosquito nets to avoid malaria. We spent the first evening there taking a walk through town to the beach and having homemade dinner at the center. Dinner was exciting - when we entered the dining hall, I though I was hallucinating because I distinctly smelled meat. To my surprise, the cooks confirmed it - we were indeed having mutton! Although beef would have been more welcome, I was excited at the prospect of having any kind of meet so I heaped my plate up with the somewhat sketchy looking dish. When I bit into it, I discovered that 90% of the meat was in fact bone and grizzle. Our teachers informed us that the word "mutton" is often a cover up for what is in fact goat meat. So I ate as much goat meat as I could without breaking a tooth or gagging, but I think I have had my fill of trying to satisfy my meat cravings in India. Sigh.
The next day we had possibly our most boring day of the semester. After a quiet morning, sipping tea and reading on a balcony over looking the seas, we entered the conference hall for a short lecture on sustainable development in relation to the areas ocean. Rather than having one lecture for about an hour, we ended up having 5 lectures for 7 HOURS. It was incredible; boring Indian professor after boring Indian professor kept stepping up to the lectern. As excited as they were to impart their knowledge upon us, they kept talking over each other while the professors waiting for their turns chatted loud enough to disturb the lecturer. All one million of them could not collectively figure out how to use the projector, so we watched their power point presentations on Ryuta's laptop. None of the topics had anything to do with what we were interested in. One man spent at least 45 minutes talking about Remote Sensing - basically robots that collect data from space. Another guy just read off counts of fishing halls and boats operating in the area. A few lucky students snuck out of the room, but the rest of us struggled to keep our eyes open.

The next day was much more stimulating. The group split up into two smaller groups - those who wanted to sleep in went to a group working to represent fisherwomen, while some of the more adventurous kids and went on a trek to tribal village. We had to get up early (which caused quite a bit of griping and arguing) and drive for a few hours until we got to the place where the road end. Then we hiked in the blazing sun for about an hour up a jungley mountain. It was hot as hell, but really nice to be out in nature again. We passes a few small huts alongside fields, but it was mostly wilderness until we reached the village. We came out onto a clearing of sunken fields with tiny raised paths winding between them. We carefully walked through the fields an into the village which was comprised of a main "road" with brick buildings stretching for no more than a kilometer. In the center of the the road/path, women were spreading out a large mat for us to sit and the men were gathering together. We were greeted warmly and told to sit down, then the men sat on one side of us and the women on the other. Men had come from 25 surrounding villages to speak with us about their forest protection practices. Before the discussion began, one man wrote down an impromtu song that they all sang for us about how the forest was their mother who they had to protect. They wanted us to sing to, so we haphazardly sang "This land is your land." Then the discussion began, and it went slowly as each speaker had to be translated twice for everyone to understand it. The forest protection stuff was pretty interesting; all the families worked together to use the forest sustainably and protect it from interlopers who might abuse its resources. 

But what was even more interesting to me was looking at the women. These women were incredibly beautiful, whether they were 17 or 70. They wore large nose ornaments in both nostrils, some even wore one hanging down from the middle. They had many ear piercings as well, and some also sported tribal tattoos on their hands. They wore their saris without an undershirt and tied them a little differently, and definitely shorter so that they could walk around easier. Not only were they beautiful, the women seemed very invested in the forest protection program and it was nice to see the genders working together.

After a while of talking, we took a break for lunch. We went into one of the houses where all the guests were to eat while the villagers ate outside. We were served tons of rice and curried vegetables with fresh onion and lime. It was delicious, and they kept filling our plates up until I thought I was going to burst. After lunch, we took a break and I walked around with Anitha, our translator/guide and one of the village shamans. We met some of the people of the village and walked around the outlying areas where we saw all kinds of cute farm animals. The children all looked healthy and happy, although the village was too far to get many medical or education services for them.
A lot of the children went to free government boarding school, but the people were worried that they would lose their tribal culture, as these kids generally wanted to go out to the cities after school.
 We had a little more time for talking, and then i guess everyone decide we had been serious for long enough and someone pulled out a drum and they started a dance! It was really fun, the men all gathered around the drummer and the women lined up facing them. Then they did this sort of challenge dance, where the men would walk forward, pushing the women back, and then the women would take over and push the men out. I'm not sure if there were steps our not, all i could do was go along with the momentum of bodies surging back and forth. It was exhilarating and really fun - at one point I had three women holding on to me, helping me dance and just smiling at me. We must have danced for a good hour even though the sun was setting and it was time to go - we just kept dancing our way out of the village. Finally, when we got to the fields and we had to stop. I hugged all the cute women good bye (they were all like 5 ft tall so it was like hugging little girls) and we started our hike down the mountain. 

The hike was beautiful on the way down - the setting sun was a giant orange bulb hanging between the mountain ranges. It had cooled down, and I took my time going down, stopping to take about a million pictures and losing myself in memories of the day and the beauty of the scenery. I was completely alone as all the other students were hiking faster and all the adults were hiking slower, and I few times I thought I was lost. Thankfully, at one really important juncture the guys had left me an arrow and I avoided being lost in the jungle all night. When I finally reached the car, all the people were surrounded by a village full of people who all wanted to have their pictures taken. We stayed for a while longer, passing out biscuits and taking pictures until our guides reached us and we took off again.

The next day we had free time, because we were going to be spending a late night watching the turtle nesting. We went to the beach in the morning and then spent the afternoon hanging out at the house. That was when Ana and Alex decided it was time to get their heads shaved. They went down to a little box barber shop, and I stayed behind because I didn't want my anti-enthusiasm to get in their ways - I would never do that to my hair!! A few hours later they came back, Alex was bald as a baby but Ana was bald except for her dark brown bangs! She looked like a hard core punk, but I think the style was more about not being ready to shave completely. A few days later she got rid of the bangs, and surprisingly, they both make really cute bald girls! Still, I'll never do it!

At about nine o clock that night we left the house to go to the beach where the turtles come. We had a quick lecture about the Olive Ridley turtles who travel all over the world but come back to these same beaches to lay their eggs, but only after they are like 25 years old or something. Incredible. It was a hike out to the beach, in the pitch dark. Dr. Kumar has a bad hip because he jumped out of a runaway train once to save a small child (he was prepared though, because his astrologer told him it would happen) so i walked with him, knowing how sucky it is to get left behind because of your health. We had to walk across this rickity, swing bridge which was really hard. By the time we got to the beach, I was tired from holding him up. As soon as we got there, we heard that turtle was already there... but instead of just watching it from a far, a couple of the village guys jumped on top of it to hold it down so we could see it properly! a couple of indian tourists were with us, so they wanted to make sure that everyone got up close and personal with the turtle, but you could tell the thing was scared and wanted to get away. A lot of us were really upset to see that, and some of the girls yelled at them to stop. I was in a moral bind, i think it's really rude for us to come out of nowhere and critique the people who are working there all the time, but on the other hand, i felt really bad for the turtle. The naturalist explained that they have a real conflict of interests between possibly injuring the animal by exposing it to people, but also needing to educate people to increase conservation. They finally let that one go when we heard that there was another turtle actually nesting up the beach a ways. Things were a little gentler this time, we all crowded around the back of the turtle and just watched as it laid the eggs - the naturalist had dug a little hole so we could see the eggs as they dropped out of the turtle! Apparently, the turtles go into a trance when they lay eggs, so it wouldn't have minded our presence. It was still a little ironic to see all the people who had just complained that we were too invasive practically sticking their hand up the turtles hoohaw to catch the eggs, but whatever.  The walk back was tiring as no one else offered to help poor Dr Kumar. I was pretty frustrated with the whole excursion and glad to go to sleep.

The next day we had to get up early to drive to Chilika lake. We had to bring all our luggage, and somehow I ended up in the back of the land rover, sleeping on top and under all the luggage. Cozy. Chilika Lake is one of the biggest fresh water estuaries in Asia. We had a lecture at the visitor's center and learned about the species that live there - dolphins, some special legless newt and tons of bird that migrate from all over the Asian continent. We boarded a boat and had a nice day out on the water, watching the other boats and the birds. We had a great lunch on the boat, and got out to go to a bird watching tower. The rest of the afternoon was spent on the boat - Eli and I singing disney songs, to everyone else's dismay. After dark we docked at a city, bought snacks, and then drove off to our next hotel in Puri. This hotel was right on the beach, but it lacked the charm of our last place.

Puri was a very interesting city, lots of western tourists come there and they are all hippies or hare krishnas, so all the shops sell tacky OM things. The first day there we had a breakfast lecture about the main temple there and then went to visit it. It was another temple where non-Hindus aren't allowed in, so we had to climb up to the roof of this cool old library to look out on the temple complex. In Orissa, they worship these really strange looking gods who are made out of wood. They are supposed to be tribal gods that have been incorporated into the Hindu tradition. They look like really scary teletubbies or something. We walked around the temple and saw the little shop where the priests, and anybody else, I guess, can by government sanction bong (pot) and opium! They stick their hands in this tiny window, and someone gives them a little bit of drugs! Some of my classmates got pretty excited at this and went off to do their own shopping. I walked around with some of my friends for a while, then we went back to the hotel. Alex and I decided to check out the beach, but as soon as we got there we were hounded by jewelery sellers and creepy guys, and the sand was all covered with dog poop anyways, so we just headed back. That evening we visited some of the hippy jewelery shops and one of the shopkeepers decided he wanted to marry me, and gave me great deals on jewelery and an ego boost! Can't get much better than that!

On saturday, we were supposed to be up and ready to go early, but our breakfast took FOREVER to make, so I was late for the first time to class (although everyone else is always late). When were were all finally ready, we drove off to this artist village where they do traditional Orrisan painting. We sat with a family that had been doing the painting for generations and they showed us the different varieties - some of them were on canvasses and some on little connected pieces of bamboo. Their daughter also did traditional Orissan dance, which was very cool and gymnastic. I bought some really beautiful things there, and then we had time to walk around the rest of the village, which wasn't really very fun because everyone else just wanted us to buy more of the same thing. So i ended up hanging out with Ana and a bunch of kids just playing hand games and being goofy. 

We had lunch in the room and then drove to Konark, the sun temple. This was another world heritage sight so now I've seen two in India! We had to walk through the customary temple bazaar full of annoying salesmen to get there, but it was worth it. The temple complex was huge and very intricately carved. Since it was for worshipping the sun, it was aligned in such a way that no matter what phase the sun was in, its rays would shine through the first amphitheater onto the main temple. We hired a guide to take us around and explain everything, which was great. They had these huge wheels that actually worked as sun dials. The carvings had tons of kama sutra, and its always funny to see how the guides explain this. This guide didn't think we girls would want to hear it, but when he asked Dr K, he said to go on and tell us. It was interesting to see lesbian carvings, but when I asked if there were homosexual male carvings he didn't seem to understand that men did that too. On the way back, I did some major haggling and got an extra bag to carry all the souvenirs I had bought throughout the trip. That evening we went to a great pizza restaurant and bakery run by Nepalese guys who were really attractive - I can't wait to go to Nepal! We had pizza and chocolate cake and it was amazing. Outside there were all these really skinny dogs, so I bought some of their baked goods and fed the dogs for a while, holding on to this flea ridden puppy who was so cute. 

The next morning we left Puri and went back to Bhuneshwar, were we left the rest of the kids at the air port and got ready to take the train to Varanasi! 

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