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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Crazy Adventures through Southern India

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Fort Aguada in Goa
Earlier this year, I was sitting in my apartment in the Bay Area when something hit me: a quarter of my life was over, and I had never stepped foot outside of North America. I had a sudden taste for adventure that was made fresh by the frequent weekend trips I had taken in California. That’s when a spontaneous idea came to mind, and I decided to follow through with it: I was going to travel to India. I had always found the culture of India extremely interesting, and the large number of friends I have from India made this seem like an even greater idea. When thinking about visiting, my good friend Sandeep from my research lab came to mind. I pinged him on Messenger and was delighted to see that he was as excited about the idea as I was. I called my parents, who thought I was crazy and quickly dismissed the idea. However, after arguing several times with them and ensuring that I would not die on the other side of the world, I was finally able to convince them to give into the idea and support my decision to travel.

After some planning, I finally booked the plane tickets, and the whole thing had now become a reality. I went to the doctor for my travel vaccines. My visa was approved. The steps were coming together. I was going to India.

However, the whole thing did not feel real until I stepped foot off of the plane and was accompanied by the Indiana-Jones-style music of the Bengaluru Airport. To someone who had grown up in rural Pennsylvania and never been exposed to life outside of North America, I felt like I had just stepped into an adventure movie. 

Part One: The Arrival

One of the Popular Cart-Like Taxis
I booked a taxi and shortly after made my first American mistake: I almost entered the driver’s side of the car. As we drove down the highway, large billboard advertisements and a scenic highway exiting the airport seemed oddly familiar to America. Then, things began to get more interesting. Our taxi became surrounded by small two-wheelers, cart-like taxis, and old busses and cargo trucks that looked like something out of a movie. To my surprise, I noticed several people riding in the back of one of the cargo trucks. All around me, I saw the clash of the developed and developing worlds. Luxury million-dollar apartments overlooked small shacks along the side of the highway. 

Finally, after what had been around an hour drive, we met my friend Sandeep, who cruised over to us on his two-wheeler. He guided the taxi to his apartment. All around us, dogs were howling in the night. It quickly became clear that stray dogs were the Indian-equivalent of stray cats in America.

Before heading to sleep after a long day of travels, I made my way to the restroom. To my surprise, no toilet paper was present; simply a hose and a bucket. Luckily, Sandeep had bought me toilet paper to avoid this culture clash for a newbie Indian visitor. After my trip from the airport and this experience, it was clear that I had much to learn about India.

Part Two: Exploring Bangalore

First Breakfast in India
Sandeep welcomed the morning with a delicious variety of Indian breakfast items; this was some of the best and cheapest Indian food that I have ever had. I would quickly learn just how affordable, yet delicious the Indian cuisine was.

Holy Cow
Because Sandeep had to work that day, I made my way down the steps of Sandeep’s apartment to the streets below to make an adventure out of the day. The street was flooded with food stands, open-walled shops, and even free-roaming cattle (sacred animals in Hinduism). My first stop was a small restaurant, where I ordered a refreshing chai masala for a very reasonable 10 rupees (or 15 cents).

Picturesque Shop
My walk through Bangalore was greeted by several other points of interest. Old transformers. An open sewer. Small, classic shops that looked like something straight out of Instagram. This was too much excitement for me to handle, and I found myself taking numerous photos.

Bangalore Traffic
Sandeep’s apartment was located in Koramangala, a particular part of Southern Bangalore that was popular among young people and tech companies. When we hopped on Sandeep’s two-wheeler for dinner and journeyed through the city, it was clear that there was much more to the city than the small shops around his apartment. Driving through the city, high-end stores and large buildings now surrounded us. The traffic was so crazy that it made driving through Los Angeles look like a walk in the park. Stop lights lasted for three minutes. Small two-wheelers tried to squeeze around you at every move. The sound of horns echoed through the streets. This was a city bustling with activity beyond what its roads could handle, and every honk was a reminder that this was the Silicon Valley of the East.

Part Three: The Bus

The Journey to Goa
A few hours later, Sandeep and I found ourselves cruising down the highway in one of India’s popular sleeper buses to Goa, the party capital of India. It was New Year’s Eve, and the streets around us were alive with excitement. As the clock struck midnight, the bus was illuminated with the sparks of fireworks all around. 

The excitement of the fireworks was then followed by the calming of the countryside. Jungles surrounded us. Small villages were illuminated by the moon light. In the middle of the night, we visited our first rest stop. I disembarked the bus and made my way to the nearby gas station in search of a restroom.To my surprise, I was greeted by a small crouch hole.

Flooded Rice Patties
After passing jungles, coasts, rice paddies, and villages, billboards began to become more prevalent, and we were once again in civilization. I had again witnessed the clashing of the developing and developed world. Coca Cola and music festival advertisements overshadowed villagers tending to their rice patties. After a 14 hour ride that felt like a rollercoaster, this transition in setting made it clear: Goa was approaching.

Part Four: Goa Day 1

Cruising through Goa
The Goa experience began with Sandeep and a taxi driver versing at a match of bargaining until finally they agreed on a price. I quickly learned that the price was never final in India. Any veteran of the land knew this and would not settle for an initially named price.

We began our journey through Goa to our hotel. As we made our way across the main bridge, an advertisement from Kingfisher, “the king of good times,” shined onto the water and reminded those passing by where they were. As we continued to our hotel, the city scrapers became the shopping setting I had seen in Koramangala. 

After making it to our hotel, settling down, and enjoying a Southern Indian cuisine, we grabbed a rental two-wheeler and made our way to the beach. We were far from the only ones going to the beach, and the traffic scene we had seen at Bangalore once again became the world around us. The driving was so aggressive that at one point, a cart even bumped into our bike.

Sun Setting at Beach in Goa
After a long ride, we arrived at the beach. In addition to the ocean, a bustling sea of people made up the shore. Behind them was a row of beach shacks and bars that stretched off into the distance. To the right, a luscious green mountain overlooked the beach. The water was filled with countless boats, parasails, jet skis, and every other type of water sport imaginable.

We bought our parasailing tickets and boarded a small boat to the parasailing boat that was our destination. I strapped my GoPro to my chest and made my way over the parachute. I was quickly strapped on and hoisted into the air. As I flew through the air, the endless ocean greeted me on one side and the sea of people on the other. Because I had elected to get dunked, I then descended into the water and was hit by the refreshing waves.

Beachside Bars at Goa
The sun set, and the beaches of Goa became a completely different setting. The shacks lining the beach became illuminated and cranked up their tunes in a contest to see who was loudest. The beach was now filled with candle-lit tables and countless people partaking in hookah or just sitting back and enjoying a good drink. It only felt appropriate to order a Kingfisher and sit back and enjoy the setting.

Part Four: Goa Day 2

Coast of Goa
After being filled by a delicious complementary breakfast of Indian food, we found ourselves cruising down the coast on a two-wheeler. Our first stop was beside an old coastal prison, which had been in commission until last year. Just a year ago, the waving hands of prisoners had greeted those passing by on boat. We parked our bike here, took a few minutes to take in the surrounding coast, and then continued up the mountain.

Lemon Soda Stand
At the top of the hill, a fort reminiscent of medieval times greeted us. Before venturing into it, we made several stops at the surround vendors. For less than $3 each, we equipped ourselves with cool hats and copy Ray Bans. We visited another stand serving lemon soda. A young boy cracked open a bottle of soda, added squeezed lemon juice, mixed in some sugar, and topped it off with a final touch of masala, India’s spice of choice. As I took in the taste of this hand-crafted soda, all I could think about was having another.

Panorama at Fort Aguada
We crossed the street and finally, the dried-up moat of the 17th century Portuguese Aguada Fort. When we reached the top of this castle-like structure, the choice of location became clear. This fort offered a perfect view of the surrounding bay and land areas. It was what every commander and Instagrammer wanted.

On two occasions at this fort, groups of people excitedly approached us and requested a picture. Later in the trip, I had realized that many Indians became excited to meet Americans, as they were a rare sighting in the country. The opportunity to be the subject of countless selfies was kind of exciting in a strange way.

After visiting the fort, I took the handlebars of the two-wheeler and made my attempt to drive it. Initially, I approached it with difficulty and almost hit a pedestrian. However, after a few minutes, I got the hang of it and was cruising along.

Dolphin Cruising
A few minutes after handing back the driver’s seat to Sandeep, we found ourselves cruising down the bay on a dolphin tour. For five dollars a person, we were sitting in a boat with dolphins all around us. At one point, we even saw a pair swimming together in parallel.

On our way back to the two-wheeler, a man approached us with a bike hoisting a circular wooden cooler. He unveiled and offered what was the Indian equivalent of an ice-cream pop. We happily took this delicious treat and began conversing with the man. When he discovered that I was from America, he was filled with excitement and described India’s relationship with America. It was clear that his views of President Obama and the American nation as a whole were extremely positive.

Sugarcane Drink Stand
A few dozen feet away, we stopped by a small stand where a man was accompanying a motor-like machine. Several stalks of sugarcane were laid beside him. For a few rupees, he grabbed several stalks and ran them through the machine. A milky liquid quickly ran down the pan of the machine and into a large pitcher. He then served us this fruity-tasting sugar water.

Our next stop was a small craft shop selling wooden goods. A cheerful man approached us and gave us a tour of what he had to offer. After buying a beautiful checkerboard, he then led us to his shop across the street. We politely took off our shoes and entered the store. His first figure of kindness was to ask if we ate lunch, ready to give up his own if our answer was no. We kindly declined his offer and walked into the store passing an encased Koran, revealing this man’s Islamic background. India is diverse a blend of religions, all living together in harmony and peace.

Casino Boat
Our day was concluded with a visit to downtown Goa. We boarded a small boat, which led us to the large docked ship that was the Deltin Royal Casino. We walked in and were immersed in the scenery of cards and chips. After several hours, the only thing that we had managed to raise was our BAC. All of our chips had fallen victim to blackjack and slot machines. We then booked a taxi back to the hotel.

Part Five: Goa Day 3 

One Cool Ride
Our morning began with a trip on one of the public buses to retrieve our bike that we had parked downtown the previous night. As we boarded, the front of the bus was illuminated with colorful lights, and our world was filled with energetic Indian music. Labels advised riders where they were allowed to sit in the bus. However, because they were not enforced, no one listened.

Eating Fresh in India
A stop at Subway demonstrated the contrast in fast food between America and India. Because fast food is seen as a luxury in India, my chicken tandoori sub was of higher quality than any sub that I have had in an American Subway. 

Offering Candles and Basilica of Bom Jesus
Following Subway, we made the bike journey to Old Goa. We disembarked in front of two of the oldest and largest Christian churches that I have ever seen. A street vendor approached us and sold us a beautiful flower lei and several hand-made candles to give as an offering at the nearby Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Saint Francis Xavier
As we approached the brown hue of the basilica, its architectural feats became clear with its extravagant carvings and massive scale. The view inside was no less impressive with numerous statues, paintings, and works of art all around. Inside, people crowded around to see the body of Saint Francis Xavier. After being unearthed a few months after his death, his body was placed in a glass coffin to preserve for future generations to see.

Offering Our Candles
Outside, we approached a large box filled with illuminated candles. Using the existing candles, we lit and melted the bottom of our candles and added them to the collection.

Our next stop was a light and sound show illustrating the life of St. Francis. The only downside was that the entire thing was in Hindi. Walking out of the attraction, I told Sandeep, “Well, I couldn’t understand anything, but I do know that Saint Francis traveled to India and China.” He then informed me that he had never made it to China.

Se Cathedral
Across the street was a marvel of equal scale: Se Cathedral, a 17th century white church that had taken 90 years to construct. Surrounded by luscious gardens and leaning trees, it looked like something out of a movie. Inside was a museum housing artifacts that dated back a thousand years and revealed the long history of Goa.

Holy Cow Selfie
My trip to Old Goa ended with a fresh coconut, a pineapple lassi, and a selfie with one of the countless sacred cows roaming the street. We then concluded the night with an hour long party cruise, where we had the chance to dance and go crazy (but surprisingly no chance to dance with single girls, as this was frowned down upon in India).

Part Six: the Train

The Train Station
“Chai! Chai! Chai!” It was one in the morning, and despite the fact that almost everyone was asleep, the halls of the train station echoed with the energetic voice of a small old man lugging around a large tin jug through the station. After signaling to him, he approached us and poured us two cups of its delicious contents. The train station was more crowded than any I had seen before and as we approached our platform at 2:30 in the morning, we had to be careful not to step on anyone trying to catch a bit of sleep.

I have never seen such contrast between two trains in one station.
We approached a platform surrounded by two tracks in parallel. On the left, an ancient-looking train with barred windows and no AC was parked. To the right, it was contrasted by a more modern companion with AC and a much more welcoming appearance. Luckily, the train I was boarding resembled the one on the right.

However, this pair of trains represented something much deeper than the contrast between comfort and a lack thereof; it represented India. Parked to the left was the undeveloped world that was the villages with no electricity, the boy selling lemon soda on the street, and the woman begging you to buy flowers when you step off your bike. To the right was the high-rises of Bangalore, the Goan luxury hotels, and the bustling streets of India's largest cities. This was a clash of the developed and developing world and resembled the same mixture present in the billboards overlooking rice patties and the village hats plastered with Coca Cola advertisements.

Part Seven: The Jungles of Gunnar

Journey through Kerala (notice the sign up ahead)
After an extremely comfortable train ride (complete with hot meals and comfortable beds), we were greeted by a friendly Kerala native, who grabbed our luggage and threw it into the back of his taxi. We boarded the taxi and made our way through the city. Once we cleared the city, plains became mountains and streets became jungles. The car twisted and turned down windy roads surrounded by endless trees. With large drop-offs and death warning signs all around, we could only hope that we had been paired with a good taxi driver.

Under the Waterfall
After surviving for quite a distance, we made our first stop at a beautiful, tall waterfall that must have been hundreds of meters high. Surrounded were small snack shacks and various vendors. After a few selfies, we continued our trek through the jungle.

As night fell, the darkness began to place a new dimension of fear into us. As the road thinned and the potholes thickened, our taxi slowed down to a speed that instilled the fear of a wild animal rushing out of the woods and attacking us. 

Fortunately, the resort had a much more welcoming atmosphere, with a beautiful staircase in center and finely finished wooden bricks covering the walls. After arriving, Sandeep and I sat down for a game of Carrom, grabbed some traditional Kerala dishes, and called it a night.

The Closest I Came to Death in India.
We woke up the next day and continued our adventure through the jungle. We first stopped at an adventure park, where we engaged in everything from bull-riding to tight-roping. After nearly dying on a tire walk and once again in a haunted house, we then continued our trek through Kerala.

Endless Fields of Tea Plants
We passed countless forests, spanning fields of tea plants, and numerous villages of vendors. The scale of the tea gardens was insane, and the fields appeared to stretch endlessly into the distance.

Paddle Boating on the Reservoir
After lunch at a delicious Indian buffet, we made our way to a large reservoir surrounded by vendors. We stopped at a particular vendor with a balloon-shooting game. Here, I showed my inner rural American and pegged eight out of ten of the balloons. Our trip at the reservoir then ended by grabbing a paddle boat and making our way onto the reservoir itself. 

Huge Killer Indian Elephant
The most exciting part of our day occurred when we saw several people crowded around a fence. After stopped, we witnessed a huge elephant with sprawling tusks. Sandeep informed me that the elephant was tracked by a zookeeper, due to its endangered status. The zookeeper had conversed with Sandeep and informed him that the elephant was a particularly infamous one that had killed six people. 

Chilling with the Monkeys
One of the biggest surprises of the day occurred when we saw several monkeys bordering the highway. We decided to stop and even witnessed a monkey brawl. In addition, I successfully achieved my first wild monkey selfie.

An even bigger surprise occurred when we got to the room. Earlier that day, I had bragged to Sandeep about my stomach of steel and how well I could handle Indian food. That night, I was proven otherwise.

Part Seven: From Munnar to Thekkady

My Favorite Fruit (Coffee)
Luckily, I woke up feeling much better, and our journey continued to another town in Kerala: Thekkady. Along the way, we stopped at a spice plantation, where we got an in-depth tour of coffee trees, tea plants, pepper, insulin, and the countless other plants that this farm had. The tour made it clear why India played such a pivotal role in the spice trade.

He's Hungry
Our next stop was a Periyar Tiger Reserve, where we embarked on a jungle cruise and were once again greeted by monkeys similar to those that we had seen on the street. Here, the monkeys jumped along the fence of the restaurant and continuously reached in through the chain and touched your arm until you gave in and handed them banana chips.

Jungle Cruise
After boarding the jungle cruise, our trip began with the boat coordinator telling us to be quiet and frightening us with the information that 35 people previously died on a boat. Despite him instilling fear into us, the rest of the cruise was very relaxing. On the water, we witnessed the large racks of several deer roaming near the banks of the river and the colorful wings of the kingfisher. Unfortunately, we had not seen any tigers during the cruise; the only sign of the wild cats was the countless “no trekking” signs plastered around the park.

Riding the Elephant
Our jungle cruise was followed by an elephant ride and several shows. The spanning elephant line made us fear missing our show, but our taxi driver came to the rescue and managed to get us in the priority line. We then enjoyed an exciting ride, though the fear of a pissed off elephant throwing us off was constantly present.

After managing to survive riding the elephant, we got a sense of Kerala culture with both a martial arts and dance show. The martial arts show included fighters tossing sticks of fire and numerous sword, spear, and stick fights. Interestingly, the show was opened with a ceremony of lighting candles as a prayer to God.

The Kerala dance show was unlike anything I expected. It began with a man dressed up as a woman in traditional garb doing a dance with simply his eyes, face, and neck. While this seems odd, the combination of this and the live music brought forth much emotion. This was intensified when a person in an even more flamboyant costume accompanied him. The first person then became crow-like and was one of the scariest things I had seen. Overall, both of these shows and our stops during the day gave us a great feel for the culture of Thekkady.

Part Eight: Return to Bangalore

We woke early the next day and made our way to the Cochin airport. We elected this over the 12+ hour bus ride in order to prevent what it may have done to my still uneasy stomach. Interestingly, the airport had an extremely homely and traditional look, appearing more like a house than an airport.

One observation I made at the airport was the differentiation in security between men and women. While all were required to have pat-downs, women went behind a private curtain for these. This was to give them privacy from the crowd and shows the differentiation in views of men and women in India.

After getting comfortable in one of the throne-like chairs that filled the lobby, we boarded a bus that took us to our Spice Jets plane. Inside, girls dressed in flashy red clothes and various American 80s music made us feel at home. It was interesting to hear “Man Eater” playing on a plane in India.

Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace
For around $10, we were able to Uber an hour from the airport back to Koramangala. Since Sandeep had work, I chose to adventure around Bangalore. I booked a $3 Uber and made my way to Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace. Immediately on arrival, I was greeted by a private tour guide who accompanied me. He showed me around this 18th century beauty and told me about its various architectural features. The most captivating part was that the pillars and arch were a combination of Islamic and Hindu architecture and represented the collaboration and peace between religions. An additional interesting feature of the building was its symmetry. The back was used for private meetings and the front for public ones.

Entrance to the Temple
The same tour guide then walked me to a neighboring 16th century temple. Upon entering, we removed our shoes. We then engaged in a ritual where we touched a pair of stone feet and rubbed our eyes and hair. Each temple has its own unique traditions. Statues and carvings of numerous gods filled the temple. In addition, a small well stood inside. The tour guide informed me that every temple includes a well, which was previously used as a drinking water supply.

After touring the temple and consulting Sandeep, I handed the guide 200 rupees. He responded angrily and said that this was little. I handed him the remaining 140 rupees that I had. After thinking, I realized I gave him way more than what was fair, and he was most likely taking advantage of a caring, Apple-Watch-wearing American.

Walking down the street, I passed several people weaving hand-made baskets. They looked amazing and could be bought for as little as 50 rupees (though I gave the tour guide my remaining rupees).

Delicious Biryani
Realizing that it was getting dark and traffic was getting worse, I booked an Uber and returned to the room. When Sandeep returned, we went out for dinner, and I grabbed my first biryani in Southern India.

I'm Actually Lovin' It
The next day, I made my way to the Forum, a luxury Western-style shopping mall. Here, I had my first take at Indian McDonald’s. Here, I noticed that everything beef was replaced by chicken. There was even a chicken sandwich that resembled a Big Mac. Despite disliking American McDonald’s, this one was different. It felt much cleaner than American ones, and the chicken burger actually tasted good. The fries were not overly drenched in salt and oil. The ice-cream sundae had real strawberries, The food cost less than half that of its American counterpart and represented what American McDonald’s should be.

Friends I Made in Mall
While standing in line, I encountered a group of young Indians my age. They were excited to meet someone from America, and we conversed over lunch and hung out at the mall. They had a very similar background to me, and it was extremely interesting to talk with them. They were all software developers and were in Bangalore in search of positions.

Walking through the mall, I was surprised to see Apple products and electronics were more expensive than in America. When I asked Sandeep, he told me iPhones were a luxury that only the top one percent even marginally considered buying. In India, they were a sign of wealth, not a mainstream good.

The Beautiful Bangalore Palace
After bidding my new friends farewell, I made my way to the Bangalore Palace, a 19th century palace still in use today. A kind tour guide gave me an in-depth tour and at one point, even handed me a historic elephant chair to hold and get a picture with. The palace was filled with colorful ceiling lights, extravagant lights, and beautiful architecture.

Before walking outside, I handed the tour guide 300 rupees. He seemed satisfied but was unhappy that I had no U.S. dollars to spare. It seemed that he wanted some as a souvenir.

Old Cannon at Bangalore Palace
Outside, the palace was surrounded by a fountain, beautiful gardens, several old cannons, and free-roaming puppies. I ventured around the estate and at one point, even got whistled at by a security guard for too closely approaching the queen’s quarters.

I then made my way to Lal Bagh, one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen. When I walked in, I was greeted by a curious ticket lady who asked where I was from. When I told her America, she looked shocked and said, “Wow, you must be rich!”

Entering Lal Bagh
To enter the park, I walked under a long canopy of flowers until I reached a large rock hill with steps cut into the rock and a Hindu monument on top. Once I reached the park, I made my way to a small bonsai garden with a half-open gate. Inside, a large group of people requested to get photos with me. At this stage in trip, I had gotten used to this and happily agreed.
Not Sure if I Should Be Here
Upon exiting the garden, I noticed a security guard beginning to swing the gate shut. He then looked at me and exclaimed, “Ten rupees!” It seemed as if I was not supposed to be in there, and he wanted me to pay him for my mistake. I handed him the 15 cents worth of rupees and went my way. When a security guard asks you for 10 rupees in India, you give him the 10 rupees.

Reminiscent of Animal Kingdom
The park was filled with numerous plants from around the world, including a Baobab Tree, a giant tree resembling the one in Animal Kingdom, and countless others. In addition, there were beautifully cut bushes resembling everything from elephants to musicians. On the other side of the park, a huge lake was accompanied by cacti and various other plants.

I was not ready to leave this tranquil garden, but the sun was setting, and I knew that I had to head out. Before leaving, I ironically stopped at a stand and ordered some “American corn.”

Enjoying Cider in Prost
When Sandeep returned, we made our way to one of the nicest bars in Bangalore: Prost. Here, several large tanks filled each floor and pipes covered the ceilings and walls. In this bar, they brewed numerous drinks in-house exclusively for visitors. After ordering the sampler, I had determined that my favorites were the Bangalore Bolt and the cider. Interestingly, this place even included various American foods I had not seen anywhere in India, including beef burgers.

Part Nine: Brigade Street

Brigade Street
We began the final Saturday with a visit to a small standing restaurant, where we ordered dosas and various other delicious Southern Indian dishes. Sandeep then had to return to work, so I decided to make my way to Brigade Street, a popular shopping district.

Upon arrival, several taxi drivers told me to leave and go to Commercial Street and informed me that I would be ripped off here; I did not listen. My first Brigade Street experience began with a man harassing me to purchase a portable chess set. I told him I was not interested, but he finally convinced me to visit his shop. At the shop, after being shown various silk rugs and products, I gave in and purchased a silk scarf and handmade knife.

Interesting Apple Logo Bag
The surprise came when I tried to pay with American Express. The owner’s terminal did not work, so he grabbed my card, and we hopscotched to various shops along the street until he found one with an American Express connection. During the course of this, it became clear that all of the owners worked together closely. While walking, the man with the chess set continued to lower his price, until I finally told him I would give him 300 rupees (one quarter of the original price). Ironically, they handed me the goods in a bag plastered in Apple symbols. I realized that this was most likely to make foreigners stick out on the street to other vendors.

After enjoying some overpriced Starbucks, I encountered a man selling small bongo drums. I gave in and bought one after bartering him from 1300 to 800 rupees. In the course of this, the two men with the store again approached me and attempted to sell me more goods. They then took me over to a watch stand, where they attempted to sell me watches. Finally, I was able to make my escape and book an Uber. Strangely, I once again encountered the chess set man before my Uber arrived. Let this be a warning to anyone visiting Bangalore: steer clear of Brigade Street or go accompanied by a local.

Part Ten: The Final Day and Ikon Temple

Breakfast with Arnab and Sandeep
In the morning, we began our last day by meeting up with Arnab, another one of our friends from Synergy Labs, and grabbed brunch at a restaurant with delicious American and English-style food. It was some of the best breakfast that I have had.

Outside Iskon Temple
In the evening, we decided to end our final night with a visit to Iskon Temple, which was built in 1997 in honor of the Hindu god Krishna. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Upon entering, you removed your shoes and walked through a small foot fountain. The sound of a chant to Krishna echoed through the temple. Those entering recited the chant, while moving forward one stone block along a path during each recitation. After making your way across all the stones, a bell was rang and the first sub-temple was entered. It contained a beautiful gold Hindu idol. 

The temple was packed with everyone from elderly to school children and reminded me of the chaos of Black Friday in America. Pushing through this crowd, we arrived at the second sub-temple, which contained an even more magnificent idol. We then walked up the stairs to the main temple, which was one of the craziest things I had ever seen. Upon entering, traditional instrumental music echoed through the temple, while people sat in the center to pray. The most shocking part of the temple was in the front: the largest gold structure I had ever seen. There had to have been millions, if not billions, of dollars worth of gold in it.

We made our way to the sweets stands, where we purchased small dough candies. I was informed by my friends that in the Hindu religion, sweets were presented to the gods, and those that remained were blessed and eaten.

The bottom of the temple was the most commercialized religious center I had ever seen. It was flooded with various food and souvenir stands. Here, we grabbed several snacks, including my favorite, samosas.

Walking out of the temple, we passed a small meditation area, where we once again heard the temple chant. At one of the vendors, I grabbed my final lemon soda of the trip. In this area, the temple looked amazing with a beautifully lit up fountain in the front. Before exiting the temple, we were served an interesting potato-based food in a bowl made of dried leaves.

We returned to the apartment, where I packed and booked my final Uber. One last exciting event occurred before the night was over. While I was greeting everyone farewell, a man tried to drive down the alley past my Uber driver. He then began screaming and experiencing road rage. Both men got out of their cars and began yelling at each other. Sandeep and his friends stood in between them to prevent a fight from breaking out. Luckily, after the incident, my Uber driver had calmed down for the ride, and I ended up at the Bangalore Airport safely.

Part Eleven: Looking Back

Crossing the Bridge in the Adventure Park
It was hard to believe that my trip was at an end, but it had been an amazing experience that I will not forget. During the course of the week, I grew greatly as a person, learning just how similar yet different the cultures of countries like India are when compared that of the United States. The people of India had been extremely welcoming, making me feel safe and at home. Through the course of my travels, I have realized just how much India has developed as a nation and just how much more it is going to develop over the course of the next 100 years.

Looking back, I am glad that I spontaneously had the idea to travel to India and would do it again in a heartbeat. If you are financially able to as a young person, I cannot stress how much you should go out of your comfort zone and experience a culture that is drastically different from your own. The most interesting thing about going on a trip like this is that afterwards, instead of feeling like you know more about the world, you realize that you know much less than you previously thought.
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  1. Je suis choqué. Je n'ai jamais pensé qu'il y un pays plus beau que la France. J'adore la France, mais je pense que l'Inde est plus intéressant que la France.

  2. Oui oui. Il a raison. Mais M. Le Pen oublie que la France a le meilleur fromage du monde. Personne peut trouver un fromage plus délicieux que le roquefort! Vive la France!

  3. Quoi? Le roquefort? M. Sarkozy est fou. Tout le monde sait que le brie est le meilleur fromage du monde! Casse-toi Nicolas!

  4. Du brie? M. Hollande est une femme. Je suis d'accord avec M. Sarkozy. Du roquefort est le meilleur fromage du monde. Nous nous allons moqués de vous, Francois.

  5. Tu oses tuer avec moi, Francois? Sais-tu qui je suis?

    A propos de M. Le Pen, il a un racisme à peine voilé.

  6. Je fais partie de la majorité Nicolas.

  7. Do not trust these criminals. I have proof that they abused and mistreated their citizens. I myself was one of these victims. In fact, this abuse is ongoing, as we speak they have already chosen their next victims and they are targeting the innocent.

  8. This article vaguely reminds me of "Shooting an Elephant", George Orwell. It is a story about a man who allowed himself to be swept along by the crowd instead of struggling against fate. By making himself the champion of the people, by carrying out their will, he was able to save himself, and in doing so, sacrificed the life of an elephant.

  9. Congratulations you two! Remember the lesson we learned from "Gone with the Wind", if you spend too much time fooling around with other boys, Sandeep is going to leave you. Ikon Temple looks like a MANSION, that's going down, give me a hand here, high five.

  10. I hate you. Since meeting you, I have lost every single last one of my friends, developed an inability to make any new friends. Am on the verge of death/life-threatening occurrence/no-words (it is imminent and ever-present), need I say more?

  11. Know what I'm gonna ask for next Christmas... A faster ride, my two-wheeler is so slow. Santa Claus comes and brings presents to all the children in the US, but what about Indians?

  12. Bravo! Well done! You are an intelligent young man and I see a lot of promise in you. You, sir, couuld easily be the next Randy Pausch, if that is what you desire in life of course. Unfortunately, no one puts the same kind of value on my life. There is no possible way I could ever achieve greatness in the future, dumb person that I am.

  13. Keep your head up, it's not your fault they're retarded. You can't help it that they find Americans attractive, even though you clearly are already in a happy relationship with your girlfriend from high school.

    I don't see why you shouldn't stay with her. Side note, my friend once forced me to tell her everything about my "secret" lover in front of this freshman in some sorority. I just gave my complete and entire honest opinion. I said that my friend/lover is super smelly and doesn't shower at all during finals week. Like literally I went in the room and it just smelled like my friend and I was like do you not shower during finals, guess studying takes precedence? I guess I'm pretty retarded, sorry just my honest opinion. So yeah, should probably watch out for that, I got to watch the things that come out of my mouth.

    But seriously, plenty of people marry their high school girlfriends. I imagine you will go and do the same.

  14. Brandon! What have you been doing? I insist that you call me immediately! This is your mother speaking! I am extremely worried about you and I want to hear from you. I want to make sure you are alright.

  15. After reading your blog, I find you to be a fine young man. If you ever need someone to officiate your future marriage, I am a resident of Pittsburgh.

  16. After reading your blog, I find you to be a fine young man. If you ever need someone to officiate your future marriage, I am a resident of Pittsburgh.

  17. After reading your blog, I find you to be a great boy. As your dean here at Carnegie Mellon University, I will personally send every girl in this school after you. I will make sure each and every one of them has your full legal name, your home address, your cell phone number, and any other information which may be necessary to find you. I will do my best to serve you in this way. It is my intent that every single girl in this school and outside of this school, if possible, will find you and when they do, I hope that they will treat you well.

  18. In fact, I would like to pull a quote from

    "Oh men, how great are they? They are so handsome. I love men"

  19. Who do you think you are? You should be so lucky that anyone pays attention to you at all, you uglyface. Unlike Robin and Jacob, the legendary couple of Carnegie Mellon, you are barely worth talking to. You should be honored that anyone would waste their time trying to talk to you, you lousy piece of garbage.

  20. An ugly hamster wants to go out with you. Really go away and stop bothering me. You're lucky you have the whole of CMU kissing your feet and enabling your disgusting actions. You wish you could find a girlfriend as amazing as Robin but you can't.

  21. Anyone would be insulted to be accused of trying to attract the attention of such useless people. Not even worth my attention. Such people may have CMU grovelling at their feet but not people like Robin and Jacob. Robin and Jacob are the best couple at CMU and none can deny that.

  22. It sounds like they're talking about you... As your friend, I think you should delete these comments. Also, why is there someone pretending to be your mother? That is clearly not your mother. I know your mother and I can't believe your mother would read your blog. Brandon, you really have to get your readers under control. Pretty soon your website is going to end up like Donald Trump's rallies.



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