Hubli is not a tourist destination by any standard. But we found ourselves there because of our dear friend Anu, who lives and works in this million person city. In truth, we are (probably) not the first tourists Hubli has ever seen. Many travelers actually pass through since it is a major hub on India’s all important railway system. However, it definitely has an authentic, untouched vibe to it. Just as in American small cities, Hubli was slower, cleaner and more easygoing than its big city brethren.
But this is still India, so nothing is ever truly easygoing. On our first day Anu took us to a delicious all you can eat restaurant in downtown. This involved haggling with a rickshaw, taking a fast paced ride, ducking through a hole in the fence separating the sidewalk from the street, admiring the elephant that will bless you (i.e. touch the top of your head with its trunk) if you pay it, going up some stairs past a few street kids, and being gawked at as we eat our meal with our hands, even the rice. Not exactly a walk in the park but these are the types of things I’m sure you get used to after a month or two in India.
We walked off our large lunch in the local market. Betel leaves, garlic, and watermelon snacks are piled high next to bangles, scarves and books. When the heat got to us we stopped at a cold drink stand for some lime soda. This ubiquitous drink is a simple mix of lime juice, soda water and either sugar or salt. I’m liking the salty flavor which I find wonderfully refreshing.
We stayed in a suburb of Hubli and happened to be there for the farmers market. Again more luscious produce – green beans, cucumber, eggplant and more. It inspired us to cook but that is a difficult choice when all the restaurants are also so enticing. For example, we had to stop by a small hole in the wall for some breakfast rice and onion pakora (fried batter mixed with onion).
In a place where there is not much to do it is a good idea to catch up on errands. Like haircuts, which are always exciting in foreign countries. Nathan braved Ganesh Hair Styles to get a much needed crop and shave. Fortunately, a lot of hand gestures were successful in getting Nathan the right cut.
Overall this little corner of Hubli was a typical Indian neighborhood – some paved roads, some dirt roads, modern buildings as well as lean to shacks, electricity out every night at 7:30, uncertainty on when and for how long the water supply will last. These infrastructure deficiencies highlight what many westerners take for granted. It is the last point, water, that most interests our friend Anu. Her company, NextDrop, works with water supply companies to determine when the water will arrive in a certain area. Then the affected residents are texted about the water’s arrival. It is a simple idea that takes the guesswork out of water supply schedules. Not that we are biased or anything but Anu is an awesome CEO and is greatly improving the lives of thousands of residents of Hubli!
Anu is passionate about water issues but she is also passionate about her friends. Therefore, she made time to ensure that Nathan and I were well fed. For example we sampled spectacular paneer tikka, a type of spiced roasted cheese, at the hotel restaurant near her office. We also gushed over sweet and savory Kashmiri naan at the north Indian restaurant, Al Medina. This consisted of bread stuffed with raisins and coconut but also herbs and sesame seeds. The simple student eatery with a bunch of plastic chairs squeezed into a big room for all you can eat for $0.60 was also cool. In short, Hubli was Hubli-cious.
Before we left, Nathan and I also had to try pedha, a local sweet that is reminiscent of cookie dough but with Indian flavors such as cardamom. We picked some up at Mishra Pedha which is literally on every corner in central Hubli!
Hubli was a perfectly enjoyable city to spend time in. It was made even better by 7 Beans, the hip cafe with free wifi. But Nathan and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a side trip to a very historic and magical place. We got out of Anu’s hair for a few days and hopped the eastbound train for Hampi.