The last portion of our six-week backpacking adventure consisted of visiting a few cities in the southern part of the country. From Udaipur, we traveled for over twenty-four hours by train to reach a Mumbai suburb, Dahisar. Instead of staying directly inside the city, we chose to stay in this town where Holy Cross Fathers were located. As expected, the hospitality of the Fathers was wonderful (a commonly found characteristic of Indians that trumps Americans any day!). Here, we traveled into the city for one day hitting up the essential tourist sites: Taj Hotel, Gateway of India, Elephanta Island, and we even attended a Western-influenced wedding with one of the Fathers. It was great to see people having fun and dancing to music that I recognized. The overall lifestyle in the Mumbai area could not be more opposite of that in Agartala, but it has been amazing to witness the cultural differences within this one country.
Onto Goa! We joked that our trip to Goa was our vacation, from a vacation, from a vacation. Explanation: Extension India is our vacation from real life in America; the six-week backpacking trip was our vacation from Agartala life; the trip to Goa was our vacation from backpacking. This was our time to relax for one week, tan on the beach, enjoy numerous happy hours, and eat an unspeakable amount of food. And we did just that.
Hampi, in the state of Karnataka, pleasantly turned out to be my favorite stop along the six-week trip. Although we did not spend numerous days at this site (though I wish we had) it was such a refreshing city. The entire landscape was beautiful rocky terrain, bright green rice paddies, flowing rivers, and (semi) clean air! The city is full of fascinating old ruins with so much to see. The roads near our cozy guesthouse were even quiet enough that we got some exercise by bike riding to many beautiful scenic spots. The three of us weren't eager to depart from this relaxing oasis, but the last couple cities of our trip were approaching!
Bangalore is the America of India. Don't get me wrong, on no occasion does it slip one's mind that you are still in the country of India while on the streets, but this city is as close to the feeling of home as any American can get. Located in a fantastic spot in the center of Bangalore was a Holy Cross affiliated guesthouse in which we stayed. The Fathers provided us with beds and home-cooked Indian cuisine, which was such a help with the state of our financial situation at the end of the six weeks. Not only were we lucky enough to have incredible accommodations, but we also had a friend to guide us around a few sites within the city and nearby villages. Our additional American companion was Ellen's cousin, Holly, who was working at an orphanage in the Bangalore area. Minus the fact that Holly became rather ill towards the end of our stay (perhaps from the over-consumption of Hard Rock Cafe food?), it was nice to talk to someone new and hear another American's perspective on Indian culture.
Kolkata. First, throughout these travel blogs, I have tried to highlight the positive aspects of my many experiences during this holiday season because this opportunity that I was given to travel the country has been life-changing. However, traveling in India is not your typical vacation. Maneuvering around these cities and modes of transportation is not always full of smiles and positive eye-opening experiences. After being raised in organized America, India is frustrating and frequently brings you through an intense emotional roller-coaster ride. It may have been because Kolkata was the last stop before returning “home”, but at that time, Kolkata left me speechless. I have never been exposed to such intense air and ground pollution, persistent hagglers and beggars, overcrowded streets, and loud surroundings. I cannot even imagine a more overwhelming city and thankfully, there truly aren't many in the world that actually do beat the poverty and pollution that exist here. We stayed at the hotel for one night and only left our rooms once. Even though at this point we had been in India for almost half a year, Kolkata was still physically and emotionally exhausting for me. Nevertheless, Kolkata, along with the other ten cities that we visited, was quite a journey full of ups and downs. We have gained so much knowledge in just these six-weeks, not to mention the incredible amount that we have learned throughout the entire length of the program. Many thanks to Stonehill College for providing this unbelievable opportunity for us.