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Sorry I’ve been out of touch for so long. We’ve been off climbing in some southern backwaters, which has been great, but our connection to the rest of the world has been pretty unreliable. Plus, I’ve got a growing queue of things that need to be written in some semblance of order. I want the big picture to come through nicely here, you know? The upshot is that I bought a sharp little laptop in Bangalore – a birthday present to myself – so I can write and do some coding while in transit. In fact, this is my first blog entry written on my laptop, and I am indeed transiting. Seven of us are leaving southern India on the Rajdhani Express, bound for Rishikesh in the foothills of Uttarkhand.

Trains are a lovely way to see India. Maybe they’re great everywhere; I wouldn’t know. In the West trains are quite expensive, so much so that driving or taking an airplane has always made better financial sense to me. In India, though, you can get from one end of the country to the other, traveling on the order of 1000 miles, for under $100. No special deals are required, and you can get tickets on very short notice. The more comfortable cars (so-called “3AC” and “2AC,” both air conditioned, the latter having 2-tiered bunks, etc.) are filled with middle-class families, business men, students, and the rest of progressive Indian society. There’s no livestock. You can certainly choose to travel in the people-with-livestock class, but this is generally only undertaken by the exceptionally tight-assed, poor, or masochistic. But I digress. The point is that trains are India’s great travel bargain, and that they are a really nice reprieve from the touts, beggars, blowing dust, and other stressors of Indian travel.

The Rajdhani Express has been speeding north for more than 15 hours already, and we have at least 20 more to go until we transfer to a bus in New Delhi. No one is looking forward to returning to Delhi, even for a couple of hours. Last time we were there we’d just come down from a beautiful Himalayan valley and we all immediately got sick. Thereafter, Delhi became synonymous with vomit-inducing filth, open sewers, and tainted food. Now we’re looking at just a few-hour layover there, but even that seems unbearable. What’s even more daunting is that, after our short stint in Rishikesh, we’ll be back in Delhi for a full week so we can suss out our Chinese visas. Wonk.

I’m also a little reticent to leave southern India. The cities here – Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore all got visits – seem metropolitan, even cosmopolitan, in a way that much of the north did not. By no means have they shaken off the craziness that makes a city an Indian city, but those in the south manage it with a certain panache that allowed me to joyfully overlook some of the typical annoyances that a tourist finds on the Indian street. Even little things like colorful homes, colonial architecture, or tree-lined avenues made the south seem that much more livable. Given the growth in the tech industry in Bangalore, I would even consider coming back for a much longer stay.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Backing up to where we left off last time, we finished off our stay in Goa with a party, as I am sure you’ve figured out. This was the perfect end to four days of tearing ass around the beach towns on our scooters and watching sunsets on the Arabian Sea. The only real snafu for the dude organizing the party, me, was that it was kinda against the law to do what we were proposing, which was basically to pound out sweet jams next to a bonfire on the beach all night and invite every honky in a 30 mile radius. This is precisely the kind of thing that recent government prohibitions aimed to stop, especially in the monsoon season, and I found it extremely difficult to find any locals who wanted to turn subversive. But the bottom line was that we needed 1) a place and 2) and sound system, and only the locals could provide. In the end, we got both from the place we got everything else we needed in Goa: the “gangsters” who ran our hotel. Whether or not they were actually some kind of organized criminals is open to speculation. All we know is that the headman, John, owns some kind of restaurant, and that they were happy to take our money, seemed to have a lot of connections, could get just about anything, and didn’t actually do much other than play cards. But then that was the way that Goa seemed to operate across the boards.

This given, though, I didn’t really tell them what I was planning on doing. They had already agreed to provide us with a catered fish BBQ. I got them to bring along a PA systems so we could “play some music while we ate.” Then I secretly went about printing up a bunch of fliers, which the whole lot of us spent the day passing out on our scooters. In the end, a handful of people showed up to join us and we had a fresh dance party that ran until the wee hours. The gangsters protested on several occasions and eventually tried to extort us for their support in the inevitable raid by the police (which never came), but the ladies of HotRock were extremely persuasive and the headman accepted a rum-and-coke and some time at the mic instead of hard cash. He was actually a pretty good rapper.

But what about the climbing? I’ll cover the topic more thoroughly in a future post, but the punchline is basically that Badami has great sport climbing on miles of underdeveloped sandstone but can be a little repetitive, and that Hampi is very relaxed but not worth your time unless you’re bouldering V7 and have fingertips of steel. We spent 6 days in each spot, and I think everyone felt much more productive in Badami. But then, no one on the trip is pulling exceptionally hard at the moment. Even those few that are bouldering within sight of V7 didn’t find Hampi to be the nirvana that Sharma’s Pilgrimage suggests. We actually took the time to watch the film one night in the Laughing Buddha Cafe and found Sharma echoing some of our sentiments: that Hampi really forces to you go out and look for lines to work, that it requires a significant investment of time to yield rewards. All of this would have been fine if we hadn’t come down from Chhattru Valley just a month beforehand, where almost every boulder had a great, accessible line (or ten) on it. Again, see my other post for a more comprehensive treatment.

Let me just say that it is really nice to be able to sit on the train and write without having worry about how many Rupees it’s going to cost me. To recap, just so it’s all clear: party in Goa, drove to Badami, nearly drowned, climbed sandstone for 5 or 6 days, drove to Hampi, suffered on granite boulders, drove to Ramanagar (outside of Bangalore), went into the city for my birthday, bought a laptop, ate Domino’s, climbed some, got on the Rajdhani Express. Got it?

~br

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