I had another terrific weekend. Well, I suppose I don't know how Sunday will play out yet but based on the strength of Saturday alone it should go down as one of the most memorable times of my first stage of India.
My older brother Pratik is a student at an engineering college in Surat. The students from his class (they all do everything together...college is different here) put together a trip to a place called Saputara, which is a hill-station to the south. Hill-stations are smaller villages situated at higher altitudes than the surrounding countryside. They were mostly founded by British colonial folks so that their people could get out of the heat of the lower countries and so they would have a more peaceful, pleasant place to be. The Indians today have happily inherited these lovely locations and made them tourist sites.
The time leading up to this excursion was a bit strange. My Friday was fairly uneventful, but at 1030 at night Pratik, Akshay, one of Pratik's friends and I went to see the Priyanka Chopra/Ranbir Kapoor film Anjaana Anjaani. It was ok. Priyanka Chopra is so unbelievably gorgeous that she can make any film at least tolerable, but Ranbir Kapoor, in my opinion, is not fit to lick the mud from the bottom of Priyanka's shoes. I have developed strong opinions on Bollywood actors and actresses.
The point of this is, I didn't get to sleep until two, and the bus was leaving at 5. So I boarded the bus and conducted the following on two hours of sleep.
So we boarded the bus, which was only slightly less comfortable than one of our coach buses. That is to say, it was comfortable as buses go. The drive to Saputara was about 4 or 5 hours, with two stops. At the first one, we stopped in a fairly normal village that housed a very large and very ancient temple. There weren't any tour guides to give me exact dates or anything, but everyone told me that this was over 1000 years old. You couldn't go in at all, and it wasn't that huge, but I was still pleased to see it. I like the temples here. The village itself was pretty impoverished but it still had modern stands and amenities (modern is always a fairly relative term here). There were a lot of hut-dwellers, which always makes me feel very bad. It was not a prosperous place, but for some reason it was rather a pleasant one for me to be in.
After a tasty breakfast there we drove to the Gira Falls, which as you may have guessed is a really cool series of waterfalls. I was taken aback by the natural beauty of the area - we were starting to rise in altitude and there was some beautiful forests surrounding the impressive falls. I was delighted to find that once you get out of the ridiculously overcrowded cities of India, the countryside is something primal and untamed, stuffed with a mass of tropical plants completely different from stuff you would see in the States. One thing I miss majorly about Northfield and the United States in general is the easy access to some open space. It's really easy to just go the Arb in Northfield if you want to get outside, and it only takes about 5 minutes to be out of town and among some pleasant countryside. So it was great for me to get out and see some natural beauty.
After perhaps an hour walking around the area by the falls, we got back on the bus and drove maybe another 2 hours to Saputara. The route to Saputara was rather treacherous - a bus is obviously a wide thing, and these roads were pretty narrow. We basically spent an hour climbing up dozens of switchbacks on the roads, so it was pretty slow going. The ascent was lovely though. Once we got to Saputara, we were at an elevation of about 3000 feet, and the air was noticeably cooler, which was something absolutely fantastic for me, because another tough adjustment for me in this country is that it's just really hot. Saputara has very little in the way of housing. It's mostly a tourist community, and the folks who live there are propietors of hotels, shops, and tourist businesses. It really is built almost right on top of a mountain overlooking a plateau below that is already quite a bit higher than Surat. There's a small lake in the middle of the town, which is awesome considering that's it basically built on top of a mountain, and a small collection of hotels and other stores built into the hills. The hills around us were just screaming at me to go hike in them. If I was by myself, I probably could have spent at least 3 or 4 days there.
We didn't get there until about 230, and after visiting a bathroom that nearly caused me to vomit, I just walked around the town a bit and visited some shops. Then we were given a lunch of puri and vegetables. Then Pratik, a few of his friends, and I, rented a paddleboat by the lake and just floated around for a while. It was unbelievably serene and peaceful, especially when I've been living in a very noisy city for all of these months. I think that might have been one of the reasons I loved it there so much - it was just such a fantastic contrast to the mass of activity and overcrowding that comes with living in a sizable Indian city. It's really not that Surat's a bad city at all, it's just that I'm not a major city person (probably due to the location of my upbringing), and to get to somewhere a little bit more peaceful was massively refreshing.
After that, we walked to the outskirts of town and looked down into the breathtaking view of the valley below, and discovered that with the massive zoom of my camera, we could see people probably from a very long ways away. Then we went back into town and Pratik and I found this service where you would dip your feet in a small pool and these small, toothless fish that were about leech-sized (but they weren't like leeches at all) would come and nibble at your feet. It was called a fish foot massage, and although it felt really weird to look down and see dozens of little fish trying to eat my feet, it felt really good, and afterwords my feet seemed to be very clean.
All in all it was a terrific day, although by the end of it I was really exhausted, and we didn't get back until 2 AM or so. It really reinvigorated my enthusiasm for India...I can't wait to see more of this beautiful countryside.