March 27, 2007

Dharwar

Debbie and I got up early Saturday morning to fly to Dharwar, a small town north of Hubli. Our friend Eric had been telling us that if we wanted to see what India was like 20 years ago we needed to get out of the cities and visit some smaller towns, specifically Dharwar since he would be there and could be our tour guide.

We took Air Deccan, a "no frills" discount airline with no reserved seats, snacks for purchase and really low fares. We flew from Bangalore to Belgaum then to Hubli the nearest airport to Dharwar. We were met there by Eric in a hired car. We were driven the 20km to Dharwad, checked in at our hotel, the Hotel Hoytala. Immediately after checking in Eric took us off to get Ayurvedic massages. A massage that cost Rs$5000 at the Leela Palace (a five star hotel) in Bangalore, cost just Rs$500 in Dharwar. I had an interesting discussion with the proprietor about how the best ayurvedic massage practitioners are Keralan (he is from Kerala - but I've heard this from many people), how hard it is to get local help that truly cares about ayurvedic massage, and about the framed image of Jesus above the door and the icon of the patron of Ayurveda next to it. I mention how unusual the combination of christian and hindu iconography is but he assures me they are all christians and ayurveda is not hindu. I decide not to press the point.

After the massage we go back to the hotel to change then to the temple. Eric is in Dharwar visiting his friend and mentor Dr. V.G. Kulkarni, a sanskirt scholar and trustee of a local temple. We have arrived during the Ram Navami festival, a annual week and a half celebration with multiple daily rituals including large meals for the celebrants and guests.
At this time at the temple a fire sacrifice was in progress. Men were seated in front of a wood fire facing an image of the god, chanting and throwing handfuls of black sesame from a large pot onto the fire. We looked around the temple briefly and were introduced to Dr. Kulkarni and his wife Shakuntula. I saw the bell that I'd help Eric buy in Goa hanging in the temple - Eric helpfully rang it for us.

With the brief tour over we went to Dr. Kulkarni's house for dinner. This household consists of Dr. V.G. Kulkarni ("vee gee") and his wife Shakuntula, his son Vijay ("vee jai") and his wife Kalpana, their 17 year old son Vinay ("vee nai"), a helper and her husband (who live in the servant's house in the back). Kalpana fixed dinner with her helper, I watched them finish dinner - our second home cooked dinner in India! She made drumstick sambar, simmered brindjal, rice, dry grated veggies, curd, and tapioca pancakes. (soaked tapioca kneaded with peanut flour and spices, rolled flat on oiled paper, then fried). After dinner Kalpana graciously agreed to take us to the local market and help us shop for spices and sundries. I buy fennel, whole turmeric, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, coriander seed, and some black spice I haven't identified yet. Wre get some tamarind from another vendor. We also buy small glass jars for the spices, and a small alarm clock for Debbie.

The next day, Sunday, we got up late and wandered down to the hotel restaurant for a breakfast of dosas, fresh pineapple juice, and milky tea and coffee. We picked Eric up at the house and went to the temple to see the Shiva puja, in progress. A small number of people in chairs along the walls, and rows and rows of people sitting cross legged on floor with an elaborate array arranged on a banana leaf in front of each of them. Two brass bowls of water on beds of rice, each topped with a plate covered in flowers and greenery, small bowls of orange powder, red powder (kum kum), red rice, white rice, water and ghee; a small cotton wicked lamp burning ghee, sticks of incense, piles of flowers and herbs. People chanting and periodically throwing rice on the plates, lighting more incense, burning little transluscent white tablets in special holders, and ringing their bells, all in unison. Small banana leaf bowls of prashad (sweet rice with banana) distributed, more chanting and ritual, someone going up and down the rows refilling lamps with ghee, distributing more of the little tablets or red rice. Finally someone goes around and gives everyone - including us! - a little handful of rice, flower petals, and herbs. We're admonished to accept it in our RIGHT hands and told to toss it to the god. We follow everyone else and I expect this is the end of the ceremony but no - more chanting until finally it's over. We're told politely that we have to move, as this area is about to be used to serve the food.

We are ushered into a cool storage room where we sit on the bed and talk to children who wander in about who we are and where we are from. It's quiet and easy going, the kids are funny and curious, and we get to ask a few questions ourselves. After a while we're escorted to a patio overlooking the main floor where everyone else is sitting comfortably on the ground. Two men who look to be in their 60s bring a table and chairs for the weak-kneed foreigners. We're joined by a few other people incuding an architect from Bombay who has flown down just for this puja and have a very pleasant meal. I watch closely in the kitchen, asking endless questions about how this or that is cooked or prepared. For example, the rice is cooked in a pressure cooker! I was surprised. I noticed that every time the weight started to rock either Kalpana or her helper would tap the pressure cooker and cause it to release the steam, so one time when they were busy I did it, causing uproarious laughter.

We take the car back to the hotel and nap through the hottest part of the day, then go back to Dr. Kulkarni's house to pick up Vijay who will be our tour guide for the afternoon. We drive around the various colleges of the university. Supposedly this is the second oldest university in India, after Bombay University. I take photos of bas-reliefs and beehives and chat briefly with some of the students and faculty. Eventually we drive back to the house for another meal a nice conversation about how Dr. Kulkarni ended up in Cleveland, politics, history, and eventually are driven back to the hotel for the evening.

Monday morning we get up, shower, and dress. I've been practicing bathing Indian style because it uses a lot less water. It's similar to Japanese style, you fill a large vessel with hot water, wet yourself with a scoop full of water, soap up, then rinse off again with a few more scoops of water. I like it well enough and it uses a LOT less water. After bathing we pack all our recent purchases up and head over to the house for breakfast and goodbyes. Shakuntula has to be at the temple by 9am so we get to the house around 8:15. Breakfast is tapioca pearls mixed with peanut flour and spices then fried. Eric loves his tapioca so much that Vijay and I had to walk to the corner store the previous evening to get more for this morning. We eat the tapioca, drink tea, and talk. I help cut up the watermelon Eric bought earlier and we share it around. Nice relaxing morning and too soon we're back in the car to Hubli airport.
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