world traveler
    clown tom bolton

photos and stories of Tom's adventures in southern india 1
...bombay, india...

I had made my first trip to northern Indian in 1990 and my second one to southern India one year later. I arrived in the third week of Jan. in Bombay or Mumbai as it has in the meantime been renamed, which is the most populous city of India. This monument to commemorate the visit of the King and Queen of England in the harbor is known as "The Gateway to India" as it would be the most prominent thing one would see upon arriving there by sea. It is one of the most known landmarks in Mumbai if not all of India and was a lively place to hang out, always full of Indian tourists, street sellers, shoe shiners etc. Most of the vendors had their wares in a suitcase or on a cloth, which they could close quickly or grab together and run when the police made their periodic sweeps.

bombay india photography

Rather than the mounted telescopes one sees at points of interest in much of the world, here the telescopes were carried around by locals who would swarm around you pestering you to use THEIR device. I doubted their scopes were any good but at least they had something to put it on. My good camera tripod had gotten damaged during my flight. The airlines said it was no problem to get compensation, I just needed to drag it around with me the whole time and take it back to Europe and present the receipt. Likely they would have then claimed that I should have settled the matter in India instead of months later - so I never bothered to file a claim. I considered to just throw it away but kept it in the end yet hardly used it.

bombay tourist attraction

The harbor there is a major transit point to many water reached destinations but also popular for sight seeing boats.

bombay ferry boat

It was a lot less hectic to see the harbor area from the boat. Seems there were a lot of big fancy hotels in that neighborhood. I believe the one to the left of the picture is the Taj Hotel, one of the main targets of the big 2009 terrorist attack. Strange to see that the attack started at the Leopold cafe. This was a popular hangout for many westerners including myself in 1991, as it was 2 doors down from the hotel where I first stayed! I changed after a couple of days as there were renovations going on creating not just noise but the occasional show of plaster falling from my room ceiling.

bombay gateway to india

I also caught a boat over to Elephanta Island to see the intricate cave temple, which took an hour each way and 2 hours at the site.

bombay elephanta cave

It was a climb of many steps up to the cave and I had been scornful this western woman who had hired porters to carry her. But by the time I descended, my own legs were shaking from exhaustion. There was another small island we passed on the way back that is said to have a nuclear research and production facility. One wonders what would have happened if the terrorists had attacked it with the same level of success as their other targets.

bombay elephanta island porters

Another place where the locals loved to hang out was at Chowpatty beach. One wonders about the name of course, that it is so close to cow patty makes you wonder. But then I had seen a lot of cows running around Delhi but virtually none in central Bombay. People didn't much sunbath or even swim at the beach but relaxed and made picnics. But when you consider the size of the mega-city surrounding this small beach and how much garbage and pollution there is, who would be crazy enough to go in the water.

bombay chowpatty beach

There was a human-powered Ferris wheel and other rides for the kids. Lot of guys had horses, which they spent as much time thundering down the beach trying to look macho as they did offering people rides. Seemed that everyone had some kind of business going. Quite a few young guys would try to have you pose for a picture with their monkey. Drinks, cotton candy, ice cream and other snacks were hawked from small carts. I stuck to eating in restaurants to be on the safe side. I also took the opportunity in Bombay to eat something other than Indian food. I went to the place touted by Lonely Planet as having the best Chinese food in India. It was pricey and nothing spectacular, which said a lot more about the low level of foreign food in India than anything about this specific eatery.

bombay india photography

Price of Wales Museum, one of the other sights to see in Mumbai. This was probably the best museum I saw in the country. Things were well displayed with good English explanations provided. I especially liked the overview of Indian animal wildlife.

bombay india photography

I took this photo in the Bombay zoo, which is situated in the Victoria Gardens. Respect for animals' lives is instituted in Hindu culture. Even snakes and rats are somehow holy. But as the population increases, the wildness that shelters many of Indians amazing animals is disappearing. The zoo seemed a rather sad replacement and for me was a more interesting place to observe people than the animals. So many people living in a concrete jungle that the zoo was a place of freedom where one could sit under shady trees and relax a bit from the chaos outside. The bus to the zoo went through a predominately Muslim neighborhood. Was a beautiful blue mosque there, situated across from what appeared to be a Jewish cemetery.

bombay india zoo

There were many women working at this construction site; carrying loads of dirt, breaking rocks with sledgehammers. Some even had a baby and/or a small child at their side. Anyone who claims Indians are simply lazy is full of it. Such poor people don't have the luxury to do anything but work hard to survive.

bombay india photography

The big event on the world stage during my trip was the first Gulf War, which had stared a week before I arrived. There were many demonstrations and protests. Many were against war in general rather than just anti-American like most of the ones I had recently witnessed in Germany. Not that I was for war but I thought it strange for Germans to yell about the US after having said little to nothing about Saddhus provocations which lead up to the conflict. And as Saddam heated up the conflict by hitting Israel with scud missiles, a German politician had the courage to openly state his shame that Jews were facing the threat of gas attacks with chemicals made in Germany, strongly making the point that German industries had supplied much of Iraq's military hardware. The slogan "no blood for oil" was pretty much on the mark but the continuation should have been "but we want the oil anyway". I believe the following 3 photos are actually from Hyderabad rather than Bombay but they are very representative of images I saw in Bombay and throughout this trip.

Mumbai war protest

There were plenty of anti-American sentiments as well. India has tens of millions of Muslims who were pretty riled up about the situation. But even many Hindus, who had recently had their own violent conflicts with Muslims, were against the US. Seems they saw it as a case of the big bully Bush ganging up on a small country like Iraq and America's support of their enemy Pakistan is never overlooked. Obviously, I didn't advertise that I was American especially when approached a couple of times by guys who said, "Hi, if you're American, I will kill you!" I even had my hair cut at a barbershop for 10 rupees but started to reconsider my decision when the barber insisted on shaving the back of my neck with a straight razor. Turned out that a few westerners did get murdered in India during the war by people who assumed they were Americans but none of them actually were.

bombay anti -american graffiti

No idea what this street vendor's political leanings were since they sell whatever people are willing to buy but I don't remember seeing any pro- Bush or anti- Saddam shirts on offer. I actually saw a number of churches in Bombay, legacy of the colonial period and it caught my eye when I saw another street seller offering a book that claimed that Jesus had traveled for some years in India, after having actually survived the crucifixion. It mentioned that when the Portuguese arrived in India, they found that there had already been Christians there for 500 years but none had ever even heard of the pope. Supposedly Saint Paul had been in a shipwreck and evangelized his way through India. Not sure if anyone had spotted Elvis eating a curry somewhere recently or not. A popular sight in Bombay is the hanging gardens and something unusual - the nearby Parsi temple that I looked for in vain and gave up after getting blisters. The Parsis leave their dead on the roof tower of the temple for the birds to eat and I kept looking without luck for circling vultures and buzzards.

bombay saddam hussein

From Bombay I had to decide where to go next and opted for a night train to Jalagon to visit the Ajanta caves.

...ajanta, ellora, hyderabad, bijapur and badami...

Ajanta caves

There are caves in the cliff of Ajanta that were extended and intricately carved as temples over many hundreds of years. The reliefs were much more amazing than what I had seen at Elephanta Island.

ajanta elora caves india

Both the caves of Ajanta and Ellora were full of carvings, which concentrated on showing Hindu figures but also many of the Buddha, which the Hindus regard as an incarnation of of one their gods.

ajanta caves india photography

These kids came from a village near one of the caves to see the tourists. I amused them by juggling with stones, then one of them notice metal in my mouth. I have a few missing teeth and used to wear partial dentures. As I pulled the "teeth" out of my mouth they were even more amazed, as if I were a cyborg removing my own head or something equally bizarre from a science fiction film.

ajanta caves photos

Aurangabad and Ellora caves

From the caves I returned to Jalagon and caught a bus to Aurangabad. One thing of note I wrote down about this trip was seeing a Pepsi for the first time. Since the previous year, India had finally decided to open up its markets to international firms again. Pepsi and 7 Up were at the forefront of this invasion and I would soon see them even being sold out of bicycle carts in remote places. So despite what I assumed, some things could change there very rapidly indeed. I rented a bicycle the next day to look around the town after first going to train station to get ticket for the following day to Secundebad after a planned day trip to the Ellora caves and the fort at Daulatabad. One of the big attractions in Aurangabad, in addition to their own temple cave, was the "fake Taj Mahal" The architectural style was similar and the grounds were nice but it was run down and seemed to be painted cement with an occasional slab of marble thrown in for looks. Quite a difference to the luminous stone inlayed with intricate gems of the original in Agra.

ajanta caves photos

Aurangabad itself was a village and the people more on the rural side of life if one judges from a typical scene there.

aurangabad india

The fort at Daulatabad was not so impressive on it's own but the surrounding was spectacular with massive walls and moats for fortification and secret passages to waylay invaders. Seems I didn't get any memorable photos to show. The Ellora caves actually had many free standing temples which seemed to be carved right out of the hillsides in one piece and were more prominent than the caves themselves. I think there were around 29 cave/temple complexes and by the time I got through I was pretty much templed out!

ajanta ellora caves india

ajanta ellora caves india

Hyderabad

I got the train to Secundebad and 3-wheeled motorcycle rickshaw taxi to nearby Hyderabad. Paid more than I expected for the taxi even after bargaining but then they were all claiming that fuel prices were skyrocketing as Saddam had released oil into the sea and would soon be setting fire to the oil wells in Kuwait. One of the city landmarks is the centrally located Charminar Mosque. It's large archways give the appearance that one could drive through it on the surrounding busy street. Vehicles had to drive around but their noise and exhaust drove straight through. One heck of a traffic circle monument anyway.

hyderabad charminar india

The Mecca Masjid Mosque was also an impressive and extensive site located near the Charminar.

hyderabad mecca masjid mosque

From a distance one would assume this was a palace or temple but it is actually the Osmania hospital. I didn't go inside but have read that it is one of the biggest hospitals in India. The conditions are said to be rather shocking although they have extensive technology and services. But it is set up to provide care for the destitute, which is commendable but results in pervasive over-crowding.

hyderbad osmania hospital riverview

There was also a slum on the riverbank near the hospital so it looks like they have plenty of potential clients. The main attraction in town is the Gondola fort. I had taken my tripod along although it was damaged and as I tried to use it to take a picture, a guard came and aggressively said tripods were not allowed. He made me go to the office and gave me a lot of shit. I apologized profusely although I still don't know what damage a tripod should cause. He continued on as if I were a criminal and should be fined and taken to the police. I finally just said "bullshit" and left but unfortunately without having seen much of the site.

 riverview hyderabad

I changed a traveler's check in a bank in Hyderabad. Ahead of me, an Indian couple presented a suitcase full of rupees, then left and returned 15 minutes later with another suitcase full of cash. No idea what that was about. After I had my experience at the fort I tried to just relax in some gardens but people were constantly pestering me so I felt I was ready to move on. Foreigners are constantly approached in India, not so much by beggars as one would expect but out of sheer curiosity. And the most popular subject is sex. If you are a western female, if you wouldn't like to "have some", if you are a western male, have you "had some already". It's all rather naive and annoying but the Indian society is curious and very sexually repressed. I had wanted to take a night train from Hyderabad to Hospet but one had to make reservations days in advance so I got an evening bus to Bijapur, which was a nightmare. There was a lot of aggression at the chaotic station, seemed some buses were cancelled because of fuel shortages and I even saw people surrounding a prostate body but I thought it wise not to get involved.

Bijapur

Bijapur has an old fort complex, old city and the following images of the Ibrahim Rauza Mausoleum, which is an extensive complex surrounded by gardens. There was a museum but it was closed. The city seemed very relaxed compared to Hyderabad, more people riding around in oxen drawn carts than cars. I rented a bike for the day to get around and felt relieved not to have to hassle with buses or rickshaw drivers. Did have one guy walk by and shout "Saddam Hussein" - guess he must have mistaken me for some guy named Hussein just like everyone in the Philippines mistook me for their friend Joe and the Indonesians for that "hey mister" character.

 riverview hyderabad

 riverview hyderabad

People in Bijapur seemed friendly and this grandmother was proud to show off her grandchild.

india asia travels photos

Sisters posing for the tourist.

india asia travels photos

Such colorful costumes

southern india travels

As I was leaving Bijapur I got some last good shots by the train station of these women and children headed to a train.

southern india travels

southern indian outcastes

I saw this family traveling and thought "no wonder Indians tend to be short" since I often saw both men and women carrying heavy loads on their heads. Even on construction sites nobody seemed to have though of using wheel barrels.

india asia travel adventures

Badami

Although I liked Bijapur, I had seen the sites in a day and went south the next day to Badami on a train that seemed to stop in every small town. There were more temple caves in Badami, which looked very basic from the outside, but I found the style of the carvings inside to outshine what I had seen at Ajanta and Ellora. The most spectacular thing was just the setting with huge cliffs all around. But I had already taken so many temple pictures that I could hardly tell them apart and I didn't have a good flash for interior shots.

badami caves india photography

Most of the dwellings in Badami were simple mud-walled constructions very similar to the adobe dwellings of southwestern USA and Mexico. Their dark earth tones fit to the surrounding hills and were much more attractive than the cinder block construction common in the bigger cities.

badami caves india photography

The people were also very friendly here, the kids often jumping in front of my camera to have their picture taken, which is such a contrast to the "Indians" of Central and South America who are very camera shy. In India, you take out your camera to make a photo of one person and suddenly you have a couple dozen wanting to be included. I have so many great portraits from Badami that it was hard to decide which to include.

badami kids india photography

Like these girls posing on this ox-cart.

badami india photography

One sees so many beautiful smiling kids in India!

adventure photography india

These girls were filling jugs with water. The pride this girl had to present her little sister was touching. Marriages are still arranged in India yet the strong love between family members is often clear to see. This made me reflect a lot on the contrast to our western concept of love including its high incidence of divorce. When I returned to Germany after this trip to India, the woman I had hoped to marry broke up with me. I had suspected this was coming and spent a lot of time in India thinking about relationships.

southern india travels

Here was a woman working in the sugarcane fields, which were prevalent in this region of India. It looked like hot, backbreaking work, which was done by hand, and the harvest was piled ridiculously high on carts pulled by tractors or oxen.

southern india sugarcane

southern india sugarcane

Aihole

From Badami I made a daytrip by bus (and needed 3 to get back!) to see Aihole. It was like an oasis in a rocky dry area with around 100 more temples.

aihole temple

aihole Durga temple

aihole temple

aihole temple

Much of the carvings at these temples were very intricate. Clear to see that some forms of fighting skills with grappling and the use of clubs was practised.

aihole wrestling figures

Although Badami was great, the mosquitoes at my hotel were driving me crazy. With a couple of other tourists I took a horse-drawn carriage called a "tongo" to the train station to go to Hospet, which has the nearest stop to Hampi. The horse was in very bad shape and looked like he would die on us. As our time was getting short the driver started to pressure us that we should give him more money - as if the horse's condition was our fault. I felt sorry for the animal but felt he should give us a discount for the inconvenience if we would miss our train.

...hampi...

Upon arrival in Hospet, I got approached by a guy who asked me where I was from and when I said Puerto Rico he scowled and said he would have killed me if I had said America. Despite that, I stayed in Hospet while visiting Hampi since there were no hotels there and I didn't feel like trying to find locals to take me in, which some hippy characters told me is the way it is done there. I notice a lot of drugged out western hippy types who came to Hampi to smoke weed with the many Saddhus.

Hampi was the capital of the greatest empire in southern India and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Intricate temples still exist but most of it has fallen into ruins, which are scattered throughout the area, and even some old temples have been squatted and used for homes, shops and restaurants. One temple had a "holy" elephant chained up inside. I felt sorry for him and took him bananas but had to be careful of the monkeys who just waited nearby for such an opportunity to snatch a treat.

hampi stone cart

This is the Virupakasha Temple, which is done in a style popular through most of this part of India.

hampi temple

The Lotus Temple on the other hand was one of my favorites because it was not large but done in a beautiful style I've seen nowhere else. Rather than displaying Hindu deities, it made use of repetitive archways and geometric figures more typical of a Mosque. I don't know the background of this building other than it was built for a queen and designed to maintain a cool atmosphere.

hampi lotus temple

hampi lotus temple

The modern town is not so interesting but the ruins along the river, which is surrounded by lush vegetation and huge boulders, make for a spectacular setting. Although it looks like such a beautiful, peaceful place, people warned me that many become sick if they dare to go in the water but I don't know if this is from biological or chemical contamination. This photo is a bit blurry but I love the image of the guy pulling in the boat with his family. There is no bridge there so people cross this wide river in these round boats woven from some kind of reeds. Not the easiest to steer but it works, as the current is rather slow.

hampi boat india travels

hampi boat india travels

It was very fertile because of the river. Lots of rice paddies, bananas, sugarcane and coconuts growing but also many mosquitoes.

hampi rice paddy

This is a shot of a place where they were manufacturing bricks. The guy was letting his animals drink before hauling off another load.

hampe boat india travels

I stayed 5 days in Hampi just wandering around seeing the sites. Were a number of backpackers I hung out with including an American guy who got bitten by one of the many aggressive local dogs and had to go for anti-rabies shots. Most dogs in India lay peacefully in the middle of the dusty roads but some are very aggressive and come in packs. One should ALWAYS carry some good-sized stones in your pocket outside the big cities. An advise valid for many countries is that if threatened by dogs or monkeys, which can also be a danger, and you don't see any available stones, just fake like you pick up and throw something. I had intended to leave one day and managed to miss the bus having returned to get the soap I had forgotten. Funny I had seen TV in Hampi and there was a social service announcement promoting not only the washing of hands but to even use SOAP - as if this were a startling new idea... I did get out of Hampi the next day with my soap but also with some unexpected occurrences. All of which is continued on the page: India 3

So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last twenty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!

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