Sunday, February 15, 2009

India 3: Udupi & Mangalore

From Hampi, we took another sleeper train back to Bangalore, then transferred to a long-distance bus that took us to Mangalore. The bus was the most comfortable that we ever took in India (good thing, too, as we were on it for a very long time) and we stopped twice at roadside food joints that served remarkably good vada, dosa, and coffee. In Mangalore we transferred to a rather less luxurious bus to travel up the coast to Udupi.

We found bus terminals in India to be surprisingly confusing and difficult. There's astonishingly little English signage for a country where it's the national language (and there wasn't much Hindi, either - how exactly do Indians from other parts of the country cope?) and, particularly at Bangalore, it was never quite clear where we were suppposed to be waiting. Asking locals for help, even ones in official-looking uniforms, yielded confusing and contradictory responses. We always ended up on the right bus in the end, but only after much worry and confusion. When we caught a bus from Cairo to Aswan in Egypt, the terminal was a model of clarity by comparison.

In Udupi, we set ourselves up at the first hotel we saw after getting off the bus. That's the view from our window above.

Udupi is a very pleasant little city. It's best known for its temple, which is internationally famous; we saw a number of foreign-looking worshippers on our tour. It's also well-known for the local cuisine; the masala dosa is said to have been invented by local inkeepers to feed hungry pilgrims visiting the temple.

We arrived in time to see a temple festival, when a decked-out ceremonial chariot was pushed and pulled around the ring road that circles the temple. There were fireworks and drums, and the best explanation we heard was that the festival was held to honor a generous local donor.

After a full day in Udupi we took a day trip back down to Mangalore to give the city a more thorough investigation.

This is Milagres Church, which is said to date from 1680, although frankly its facade doesn't look nearly that old. I don't know if that means it's extremely well-maintained, or if it's been recently redone.

The chapel at St. Aloysius College. The interior is decorated with beautiful 19th-century religious painting. I believe the Portuguese are to thank for the heavy Catholic presence along this section of the west coast.

There's quite a mix of cultures in this part of India that I wish I'd been more cognizant of when I was there. The Udupi-Mangalore area has its own language, Tulu, which despite being closely related to Kannada is still quite distinct. There is a distinct local form of spirit worship called Bhuta Kola, which I didn't know anything about until after I'd left the region.

And in more modern cultural-clash news, a major domestic scandal broke in Mangalore the day before we explored the city. A local gang of fundamentalist Hindu thugs heard there was nude dancing and other immoral behavior going on in a bar, so they comandeered the place and physically roughed up several women drinking there. In the following days the local media was full of outrage at the incident, with many Indians decrying the rise of "Talibanization" in the country.

Right-wing Hindu groups are nothing new in India (they're quite active in Mumbai politics) but physical intimidation of innocent people is obviously not the way to generate good publicity.

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