KARACHI: For most people who visit the United States of America, the trip never talks further than a few known landmarks and some well-known states, which are undoubtedly ‘happening’ – and should be on your list to visit, but in my personal experience, I found that the US has much more to offer than the usual stuff we know or hear about.
Since most of us remain aloof to the other small happening towns and label them without thinking twice, I decided to talk about a small yet interesting town Urbana-Champaign.
I visited this place last October since my friend had moved there and during that trip, I was free to travel on my own and I discovered that this place is worth talking about.
Located 215 kilometres south of Chicago, is the city of Champaign, which shares a border with the city Urbana, hence Champaign-Urbana is also known as the Twin Cities. It has only one strip mall and one Walmart, which is good enough to cater to the population. The best thing about it is the fact that you face no traffic and the town has a beautiful fall.
What makes Urbana-Champaign happening is the campus town of the University of Illinois, which boasts great architecture, and a small downtown area that covers the most aesthetically pleasing of places a tourist would enjoy.
Located at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the Krannert art museum, the second largest general fine arts museum in the state of Illinois that holds an excellent collection of 10,000 works of art from ancient Egypt to contemporary photography along with artwork from fourth millennium BCE to date. It also exhibits a vast range of culture and various modes of artistic expression which is definitely an interesting sight.
Right across the museum is the Krannert centre for performing arts, which usually is the trendy hub of theatre plays, concerts, orchestra and various other activities – an educational centre and performing arts hub that caters to everyone. If nothing interests you at this place then it also has a café and a bar that serves great coffee.
A little walk down the road leads you to the famous Grainger engineering library, one of my favourite spots where I used to instantly feel intellectually stimulated. Quite a few times I thought about being an engineering student instead of being a doctor.
It is the largest library located in Illinois with a beautiful architecture and a space good enough to accommodate people comfortably. It has a centre area with five different levels dedicated to studying. The backside of the library encompasses an appalling view of a huge lawn bordered with aesthetically pleasing buildings which are departments employed for teaching specific specialties.
The best thing about this place is that you find all ethnicities under one roof. While I had my cup of coffee in the café inside the library, I enjoyed the conversation of two students sitting right next to me about ‘Sattar Buksh’ back home in Karachi. Hence even in a place that is far from the maddening crowd of Chicago city you hear of sounds of Karachi.
My favourite part of the day was usually spent getting a quick caffeine fix or ice cream from café’s located in the downtown or enjoying the sight of great buildings on the campus along with some cool graffiti on the walls.
Besides the campus town of the university, there was a downtown area of Champaign too which was small and engaging. The best part was that you couldn’t get lost in that area, despite roaming around for three hours. The bus terminal was always my landmark and found myself near it despite going in different lanes on my voyage of discovery.
The small cafes, coffee joints, bakeries and eateries had quite an interesting décor. The other best thing about this place was the people. Since many people stay here because they are either studying at the famous University of Urbana or working at the hospital located in the area. Hence you run into a mix of ethnicities and cultures that are humble enough to take your photos on the way and help you out with directions and information or some are even kind enough to help without asking.
Once someone was paying for my bus as I was juggling to pull out coins from my wallet. That attitude makes you realise how goodness still prevails in the society regardless of race. The same factor leads to finding eateries that cater to all palates and hence, a place you will love if you’re a sucker for trying different cuisines. Even though a small town, you can still find halal food, Indian, Mandarin, Italian, Mexican etc.
While on the street you bump into frequent words of wisdom on sculptures. Life in Champaign is work, eat, movies, plays etc and repeat. However, if you visit, you will find it as pleasing as I did.
I have come to realise that having been brought up in a place like Karachi, It is hard to get amused by something when you travel, until or unless it is super astounding or culturally exclusive. We get to see ample of urban living but what we don’t see is the security and freedom of walking alone on the streets, non-judgmental living, more museums and safe public transport.
However what we do get to see is the mix of people and food; hence adjustment is not a problem nor is the fact that it possesses massive buildings.
The best part of travelling far is that when you see a Pakistani (we call them desi), you smile like you‘re meeting an acquaintance. At times people will talk to you and help you out, going out of their way just because of the relativity. That is the beautiful aspect of being so far away from your hometown and still rejoicing the fruits of your ethnicity.
Much as people whine about racism, which I do agree exits but it is still not at the heights we scream about, at least not in a campus town.
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