The reason for going to Bijapur was so I could do a 6 week placement with a fair trade company – Sabala – which I was assigned to by World Fair Trade Organisation. Although the location was pretty inconvenient and the placement meant that we didn’t get to travel up into the mountains, I really wanted to do this work and wanted to support the cause.
To get from Mumbai to Bijapur, our only option was to take a bus, which was supposed to take 14 hours overnight. Though we were due to arrive at 8am, we actually arrived at 5am which was a bit of an unpleasant surprise, as this meant that we had to wait for three hours until we met Teju – the person I was supposed to meet and work with at Sabala. As I had already told her that we would arrive at 8 o’clock, I felt it would have been unfair to call her much earlier so we waited around in Bijapur opposite the bus stand.
At first glance, what we noticed about Bijapur was that we could quite possibly have been the first and only tourists that the majority of the people here would have ever seen. Having read about Bijapur previously, I must admit that I was not looking forward to the location. Apart from a couple of really old Islamic domes, there was not much else to see or do for tourists, hence why it’s usually a stopover for most people for a couple of days maximum. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to working voluntarily as a textile designer for Sabala, and so decided that location didn’t matter… I don’t think I knew just what I was in for.
So, at 5o’clock in the morning, there we were, exhausted, sitting on a curb on the side of the road, waiting for things to open so we could get a coffee or a snack. When a strange guy walked over and stood in front of us, just staring for what must have been 5 minutes we moved across the road to the bus stand where we sat for almost 3 hours waiting for Teju to call.
One of our first sightings of Bijapur, while sat in this bus stand, was a lady lifting up her sari, having a poo on the side of the road, wiping herself with her left hand, and walking away – leaving a nice little gift for passersby, which the pigs later came and sniffed around. After this delightful show was over, we killed the time by reading and drinking chai, and I sent a couple of messages to Teju from 6.30am (a normal time for people in India to be awake) to explain the early arrival. She called me at almost half past eight telling me the address of the accommodation I was staying at.
Our rickshaw driver pulled up to a building which looked derelict. Through the metal shutter (doors do not exist here), we could see dusty tables piled on top of one another and construction materials everywhere. At the top of the entrance it said the word ‘Bank’, though it sure didn’t look like one from outside! A security watchman was woken up to let us in and take us up the three flights of stairs to the room we’d be staying in. He knew no English, so a lot of pointing at things was done. As we walked up the stairs, we saw the room currently operating as a functional bank and we later learnt that the bank was a new project, still currently being built.
When we arrived at our room, we saw that it was completely brand new, newly painted and we had been given brand new single beds with the mattress still covered in plastic, and new bedding. The bathroom obviously hadn’t been touched but it had a toilet, a sink (though it hung off the wall), and a shower. We were later given a plastic bucket and a metal rod with a wire that plugged into the wall – this, we learnt, was the only way we would get hot water.
When the security guy left the room, we slept for a few hours, before unpacking and getting settled as best we could in a fairly unfurnished room in a city in which we were totally alien. We went out and bought a kettle, to heat up water so we could eat noodles and have coffee, as well as other necessities including washing powder for when we need to (hand)wash our clothes.
After a wander around the town, it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be getting any kind of home comforts for a while…