Hard Core Karnataka: part 2

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
1
27
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Trip End Oct 01, 2006


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Sunday, April 23, 2006

As it turns out, there were no hotels anywhere near the airport at all. Nothing was near the airport at all, just a load of fences, and the occasional shack or tent on the side of the road.
As Gaugedby my compass, I was in the right direction, or so I thought, going south-southwest, but then gradually the road began to veer more to the west. The good news is, most of the road was brand spanking new, with freshly painted lines over extremely smooth pavement. I could make 100-120 km/hour along these stretches, and just figured I'd see where this road would lead. No way I was going back through the mud and soot to Belgaum to seek a road I had looked for for the better part of an hour, through a confusing maze of roundabouts, whistling traffic cops in outback-style hats, and unreadable signs in sanskrit.
Of course for every 5 km of this brand-new improved road, there was anywhere from 100 meters to 1 or 2 km of rutted an potholed rocky dirt, though nowhere near like anything I had experienced in the mountains near the border. So, making very good time, I just followed the road.
After a time I realized that I hadn't eaten since Mama had made me my last breakfast at the Rainbow Cafe, some 8 hours prior, so I vowed to myself that the next sign that said "dhaba" (restaurant), I would stop. I passed any number of such dhabas, but most of the signs were written in Hindi, and at my speed, I did not have time to stop, and did not want to backtrack in any direction toward the craziness of Belgaum.

Seeing my dhaba sign, and a dirty, truck stop-looking place on the side of the road, blackened from exhaust, I pulled in. No-one can prepare you for the stares you get in India, and I must warn, that if one is of the paranoid type, travelling solo like this is not for you. You must do the wave, perhaps give a hearty call of "namaste!" and maybe pantomime a couple of jokes to break the ice with them, or they will just stare, blank and expressionless.
Theirs is a gaze not of any kind of hostility, but one of detached curiousity, the way someone might watch, well, something that made them feel curiously detached. .

With a dozen or more pair of deep brown eyes staring at me, I asked in a pantomime motion, "***do you have food?***" the man behind the counter smiled after my "head wave" and showed me something that looked like a corn dog, except with a chilly (indian spelling) pepper in place of a hot dog in its center. "how much?" I asked with the international sign for cash, a sort of rubbing together of the thumb and forefinger. "Five," he replied, though it sounded a bit more like "fie." He called the food "dhala" or something like that, so I said with a head wave, "dhala-da" in hindi meaning something appromimating "give me 'dhala.'" Most of the men smiled then, at least I was trying to speak their language. "Also, Coke-da," I threw in. The ice was broken.
Indian men hang around together, they are very contacty. If they like each other, they will put arms around each other when walking, or hold hands, or touch leg. If they get comfortable with you as well and like you, they will touch you as well. It is the furthest thing from homosexuality, and is more like fraternity. There is generally no such contact with women, at least in public, and women do not hang around with the men in such places as this dhaba. Where they are I do not know, probably doing all the work while the men chew the betel nut and tobacco mix in little packets with the name "josh" on them, meaning "full power."
Another icebreaker with Indians for me is that I have the fortuitous name of Josh, they all like this, and most of they--though they know about as much english as I do Hindi--usually say, "josh. . . full power!" I can't say that I do not like this title, I fared far better than my German friend Linda, who had to change her name to Jasmine after finding out that they were giggling as she introduced herself because as it turns out, her name in the northern Hindi dialect meant something that comes out of the backside of a cow.
"Sit," one of the men motioned me into the dark half of the building where there were several dingy tables and a few men eating rice with their hands. I went and sat, and all the men crowded round me, perhaps expecting me to do some magic or some such.
Many people here in India only know a few words of english, and most of them consist of "where from," or "married," or "what you work?" and the old man next to me in the turban was no exception. I told him "Boston," as for political reasons, I sometimes hesitate to say "america," and then followed with "near New york City." A pat answer, as some do know my fair city, but all know New York. Always, though I make the distinction through sign language and saying the names, that Boston is near New York, and I do not live in the home of the much despised Yankees.
My food came, and famished, I laid into the four fried things on my plate. Delicious. They might be poor here, but they sure can cook. An older man, dressed in brown slacks and a white collar shirt came out as I paid and finished. His teeth had the telltale holes near the roots and the orange coloring of a betel chewer, but the man did have an air of dignity about him. He had also about three times the english of the others combined as well.
"I am grandfather, " he said with a deep, though slightly rough voice. He pointed proudly to a young man in the crowd, about seventeen. "He is grandson. Why travel you alone?"
I told him "I like alone, make new friends. If I bring woman, maybe bring friend, they want. . " and I proceeded to pantomime someone bitching in my ear as I ride Rocinante down the highway. This caused them all to laugh, they got the joke. "Why not marry?" Grandfather asked, and I told him through simple words and sounds and signs, "almost marry, 2 times," and did a circle around my head, the international sign for loony.
This caused even more laughter among the men, and I turned to Grandfather. "Hotel?" and pointed in the direction I was going. We checked on the map, and after much consultation with one of the truck drivers, Grandfather turned to me with the solution to my problem: "Yaragatti, 40 kilometer, you go, find room, maybe not good, but room."
And so after a few pictures, many smiles, and even more hand shaking, off I went, down the Smooth/rough road toward Yaragatti, the sun growng orange as I Rocinante carried me up the mountainside, and Grandfather's words still echoing in my head. "You go now, Yaragatti, find room.. . . "
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