On Sunday our entire team had the day off! We spent the day touring the countryside and visiting temples. The first temple was about an hour away from the hospital. The bus ride was perhaps one of the craziest bus rides I have ever been on. First off, the cars here drive on the opposite side of the road. I almost do a double take when I see a person sleeping in what would normally be the driver’s seat back home. Second, the drivers here do not seem to follow any sort of traffic laws. The lanes mean nothing and drivers try to pass each other with on coming traffic headed straight towards them. We had a few close calls and I could tell there were moments on that bus ride that our entire team seemed to be holding on for dear life!
We had to hike up a mountain to get to the first temple – Saravan Belagln. I want to stress the fact that it was not a large hill, it was the largest mountain in all the world (okay, maybe I exaggerated just a little, but that is what it felt like as you were hiking up in the blazing sun). Not only was the hike up intense, but you had to climb the mountain barefoot for holy reasons. You haven’t lived until you have climbed a mountain barefoot! At one point I thought (while slightly out of breath), “Wow! I have been climbing these stairs forever. I must be almost to the top!” Then I would look behind me at my progress and realize I wasn’t even half way there.
The view from the top was well worth the journey up. You could see all of India! I could have spent all day gazing out at the spectacular view, and not just because I was a little reluctant to hike back down in my bare feet on the slippery granite. It was truly breath taking and made me realize just how far away I was from home.
The temple was built in honor of a saint named Gometeswara. He was a great religious leader who guided the people of India on a spiritual journey. In the center of the temple stood a GIANT statue of Gometeswara that had been carved out of granite. He was easily a few hundred feet tall. At his feet, a ceremony was taking place – people were praying, celebrating, and receiving blessing. Some members of our team wanted to participate in the ceremony and receive a blessing too. We found out that it would cost ten rupees to do this. So I paid my “donation” and was blessed by the priest. He sprinkled flowers over my head while chanting and then placed a red dot in the middle of my forehead.
Sunday marked the end of a week-long festival in India. The celebration was in honor of the God Ganesha who symbolizes the cycle of life and death. Often people pray to him when they are starting something new or beginning a new chapter in their life. A clay statue of Ganesha is constructed at the beginning of the festival to symbolize birth. The celebration concludes after a week when the clay statue is loaded up onto a cart, wheeled down to the river, and placed in the water (to symbolizes death and going back to the Earth).
They cart is beautifully decorated with flowers and bright colored fabric. The men dance and sing as they bring the Ganesha down to the river. Every person is covered in a brightly colored chalk like substance. From head to toe you see men covered in fluorescent pinks, blues, and purples. We came upon our first group celebrating in a small town. Not knowing what to expect we all had our windows open because we wanted to take pictures. For fun, the people in the town starting throwing the chalk like substance at our bus. I was hit with the majority of it and was completely covered! While it did eventually come off it I couldn’t get it off easily so I was covered in it the rest of the day. Our entire team, including myself, had a good chuckle about it.
About thirty minutes later we came upon another group celebrating, this time in the middle of the highway. There were so many people that we couldn't drive past them. Our team locked the door to the bus and closed all our windows. The crowd was insane! The men were banging on the bus, cheering and dancing. They wanted us to let them in but there was no way we were going to do that. The bus driver kept trying to drive around the crowd but they would block us. Finally, we figured out we had to pay them to let us pass. It was a moment on this trip that had our team's pulse racing.
We then went to the second temple – Halebid. The temple was built out of thousands upon thousands of tiny sculptures, no two sculptures are alike. We had a wonderful guide who explained the story behind some of the sculptures. To describe the temple as beautiful would not do it justice – it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Finally, a miracle …. our third stop we pulled up to a plush hotel and had a late lunch/early dinner!
It was fabulous. The bathrooms were clean with warm running water and SOAP to wash our hands. It was so funny watching everyone spend about five minutes under the running water washing our hands with the soap. You would have thought we had died and gone to heaven. The hotel had air conditioning and big cushy chairs to sit in while you ate. The food was still pretty much the same as it is in the hospital but we had a very special treat …. ICE CREAM! I noticed that our team kept going back to get seconds and even thirds of dessert. We were happy travelers.
After we lunch we boarded the bus and headed back to the hospital. Everyone loved that they had the opportunity to see more of India. I think we got a good taste of the local life here. It was a very long but wonderful day!