Frequent questions I’ve received from family, friends, and colleagues are: Where are you and what is it like? Where I am is fairly easy to answer; I am in the town of Manipal in the Udupi district of the Indian state of Karnataka. Manipal could be described as a college town dominated by Manipal University and as a suburb of the nearby city of Udupi. Manipal’s population is approximately 34,000.
What it’s like here is a much harder question to answer and I won’t be able to fully answer it here. Instead I’d like to write a bit about the infrastructure of the area to help provide some context for the posts by my classmates on topics such as nutrition, culture, and health care.
Housing: In the town center, multilevel concrete apartment buildings, dormitories (locally called hostels), and commercial buildings are common. In the surrounding communities houses are typically constructed of laterite bricks or concrete and roofed with ceramic tiles or sheets of corrugated metal. It appears that newer homes are generally larger and of more varied architectural styles. The cost of land in the area has risen dramatically in recent years. Also of note, granite is widely available here and is used in homes and as fence posts for wire fences.
Water: Many of the homes we’ve visited in nearby communities have two sources of water: municipal water and a private well. Municipal water is taken from rivers and ground water sources and treated. Continuous water supply is rare in India, but most homes have a large water tank on the roof or a tower that is kept full such that locally stored water is available when needed. Many homes also have solar, propane, electric, or combination water heating systems. Most of the people we’ve met either boil or filter their drinking water. During our community visits we observed the remnants of old community based wells that appear to be no longer used.
Sanitation: Most of the homes we visited had septic tank systems with an Indian or Western style toilet, though we’ve heard that open defecation can be common in more rural areas.
Electricity: The state of Karnataka primarily generates electricity via hydroelectric, wind, and coal powered plants. There is a coal powered plant in Udupi. In our experience so far, interruptions in power in Manipal are infrequent and short lived.
Cooking fuel: Many families in the surrounding communities cook with locally collected firewood, but we’ve been told that propane use is becoming more common. Home use propane is distributed in small, portable, refillable tanks. Also of note, I saw one home with a solar oven in the yard.
Waste management: I have read there is a landfill on the outskirts of Udupi and recyclable materials are collected and transported for processing. In the surrounding communities refuse is generally burned, but organic material may be composted.
Commerce: A wide variety of retail stores, banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores are present in both Manipal and Udupi.
Telecommunications: Mobile phones are ubiquitous and 3G data plans are widely available at much lower rates than in the U.S. Satellite dishes are frequently seen on homes for digital television service.
Roads and Transportation: Scooters and motorcycles are far more prevalent here than in the United States. Three wheeled auto-rickshaws and buses are commonly seen forms of public transportation. They drive on the left and the traffic pattern is more organic than what we’re accustomed to in the U.S. Traffic lights can be seen in the cities, but traffic circles are more common. Motorists make frequent use of their horns as a means of alerting other motorists and pedestrians of their position. Road traffic is generally slower than in the U.S., likely due to the prevalence of smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles and liberal use of speed bumps and police checkpoints in town centers. Roads in the area are typically paved asphalt with two lanes, but unpaved roads are common in the surrounding communities. Sidewalks, when present, are often made with concrete pavers. A large network of drainage ditches, usually covered with concrete slabs or steel grates, are a reminder that the area receives over 4 meters (157 inches) of rainfall annually, most of which falls from July to August during the monsoon season.
Additionally, there is a train station in the nearby city of Udupi, and the closest airport is about 40 miles away (1.25 hours by car) in the city of Mangalore.
That wraps up my short introduction to the general infrastructure of Manipal, India. I hope you found it informative. I had a faculty member of the Manipal College of Nursing review my observations; they were deemed accurate but noted that the extent of infrastructure in Manipal is not representative of what is found throughout much of India.