Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hampi!

This past weekend I, along with Daniela, Peiran, and Troy went to Hampi.  Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its many ruins.  I had a delicious dinner by Babu which included Paneer and grilled vegetables before embarking on a 1.5 hour bus ride from Whitefield to the Majestic Bus Station in downtown Bangalore.  Upon arriving at the bus station I purchased snack and walked over a bridge, passing two older limbless men, and then through a tunnel to the train station.  After finding our train on platform 7, I boarded the 3AC Car for a ten hour journey to Hampi.  We had to book the train tickets two weeks ago and even then there was limited availability with dates so we left Saturday night and returned Tuesday morning at 6 AM.
As I entered the 3 AC compartment the two lower bunks were already filled with bodies under blankets.  I took a top bunk along with Troy and Daniela and Peiran below us.  There are two sections each with three bunks and a curtain to separate the bunks from the hallway.  However, the curtain really serves no purpose as we were placed beside the door which created unnecessary noise with passengers utilizing the restroom which consisted of a hole to the tracks below and the hallway lights created an additional disturbance.  I will digress from complaining as I was fortunate to have AC and not be a sardine in the sleeper section which consists of most of the cars and is packed with travelers who do not have assigned seats and is the most economical as it is only $5 each way whereas ours was about $12 each way.
I awoke slightly before our 7:42 arrival where the train stops for 3 minutes in Hospet, a town 13 KM from Hampi.  The side train doors were open so we took turns peering out and feeling the morning wind on our tired faces after a restless night’s sleep.  Immediately upon disembarkation, two rickshaw drivers approached us, yes because we are clearly foreign, and offered to take us guest house shopping.  There are not hotels in Hampi so travelers stay in guest houses which vary in size and amenities.  We walked outside of the train station but eventually accepted their invitation and drive the 30 minutes to Hampi and accepted the first guest house we examined.  The elderly lady who runs the guest house was extremely friendly and provided towels and her stand sold soap and other necessities, including snacks and chilled bottled water.  There was no AC but we had rooms next to each other and the fan worked.  There was no distinction between the shower and the toilet so the nozzle soaked the entire bathroom when showering with the minimally pressured cold water.
The same rickshaw drivers gave us a complete tour of Hampi for the day.  The town of Hampi is adorable and compiled of very narrow windy streets and shacks filled with restaurants with westernized menus and shops selling various souvenirs from marble elephants to scarves to harem pants.  First, we went to Mango Tree Restaurant which overlooks the river and you sit on the ground with a stone table and I had a chocolate and banana pancake, however, Indian pancakes resemble crepes as they are extremely thin.  I explored many ruins and temples.  The monsoon season is off season for many tourist attractions in India so the town and sites were near empty which created a tranquil environment.  At the elephant stables, a school group of 40 well-dressed children introduced themselves and had us take multiple pictures with them.  Additionally, I saw a cistern, the lotus mahal, a giant Ganesh statue, an ashram, the queen’s bath, and stone chariot and countless other ruins.  The mountains are covered in giant boulders that lean on each other and miraculously stay in place despite being on a steep slope.
After site seeing we ventured to the Hampi Bazaar and made some purchases before going to dinner on a rooftop restaurant (India loves their rooftop restaurants, lounges, and clubs) for dinner.  That evening we walked around other shops and returned to the guest house to sleep.
The following morning we ate breakfast at another rooftop restaurant where I had a delicious nutella and banana pancake.  To my surprise there was an elephant with the three Lord Shiva white stripes on its forehead in front of a small shack in the village. Troy, Daniela, and I rented bicycles for 30 Rupees or 75 cents for the entire day.  We did need to pay another 10 rupees each way for the bikes to cross the river via wooden boat.  In order to see the other side of Hampi, one must pay 15 rupees to cross the river which is pretty shallow but will flood in August due to the heavy rains.  The other side of Hampi is much more rural so we road our bikes for about 20 KM in order to reach the Monkey Temple.  We passed several village shops, rice fields, mountains, and even had to steer through a herd of oxen in order to continue our journey.  The roads are extremely bumpy and even the ‘black road’ is barely paved.  The rain came and went several times but we did not mind getting soaked as the scenery was perfect.  I felt as if a dinosaur could walk by at any moment.  The crumbled Aqueduct added to the ambiance.  The Monkey Temple on Anjenaya Hill was my final destination where I climbed the 600 stairs to the top.  Hanuman is the monkey Deity and a top the hill resides several monkeys, a temple, and Sadhu people who are wandering monks who wear ochre-colored clothing, symbolizing their sanyasa (renunciation).  A dog led me up the 600 stairs where I rested and enjoyed the view and saw real Sadhu people, compared to the imposters who dress up like Sadhu people in order to get money from tourists.  After enjoying the breathtaking view a top the mountain, I rode back to the river where I crossed and returned my bike before having dinner and returning to the train station for a 10 trip back to Bangalore where I arrived at 6 AM this morning before going to ITPL for a full day of work.
Chocolate and Banana Pancake


School group at the Elephant Stables

Stone Chariot

Random Elephant outside our guest house


View from The Monkey Temple on Anjenaya Hill

Ruins on a hill a top Hampi

View of Ruins

Monday, July 11, 2011

Naming Ceremony & Village Visit

On Friday night I attended a naming ceremony for an Hotel School alumni’s son.  He generously invited me, despite us never meeting but said that being a friend of Mr. Adie’s is better than having met previously.  I purchased a Thomas the Train Engine toy which sings and blows bubbles as you push it.  I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas when I was a child so hopefully Siddartha enjoys the character as well.  I took the 335-E from Whitefield and allotted two hours as the drive is about 30 KM but traffic is horrendous.  Unfortunately, Friday night traffic was worse than usual and the bus took three hours to get within 3 KM of the Bangalore Club and from there I hired an auto-rickshaw for the remaining distance.
The ceremony was beautifully decorated and had banquet seating inside as well as ample seating outside on the lawn.  There was an open bar and a delicious buffet with desserts that included cupcakes with sugar ‘s’ on them.  Uttam and I talked for a while before he had to continue greeting guests.  He introduced me to his friend who studied at Cornell for 6 years and graduated from the Vet School.  I talked to him for a while before he had to leave with his children and wife.  However, the timing was perfect because as Ashok left, a brother and sister my age entered the outdoor lawn and I went over to introduce myself.  They are both in college; Varoon is getting his pilot’s license transferred from Canada to India and his sister is studying Mechanical Engineering at a college in Bangalore.  I enjoyed dinner and chatted with them until the end of the evening when they generously offered to drive me home since they live in Whitefield as well.  The evening was extremely enjoyable and I felt honored to attend a true Indian ceremony.
On Saturday, Daniela and I took the 335-E to downtown Bangalore where we went shopping on Commercial Street as we had the previous weekend.  I purchased a few more scarves to finish my gift shopping while in India.  I ate at Woody’s which is a delicious three-story vegetarian restaurant.  Fortunately, Daniela and I had perfect timing as we entered the tiny A/C section and at the same moment a table of four was paying their check.  The line for waiting for a table was unorganized so we seized the opportunity and sat down.  I ate delicious Cheese Masala Dosa and a chocolate-vanilla sundae for dessert.
I awoke at 6:30 AM on Sunday to get ready to visit a village.  Jagedish who works for Avesthagen generously invited us to his village which is about 1.5 hours east of Bangalore.  Which is further than you may be thinking because there is an actual highway and no traffic so we made great time.  We hired a taxi for the day and stopped at Café Coffee Day on the way to the village.  Upon arrival, Jag showed us his wife’s Animal Clinic which is used to neuter dogs since there is a huge population control issue facing Bangalore and in 2007 the government said that all stray dogs shall be caught and killed which led to mass killings.  Jag’s wife is a Vet in Bangalore and also has a boarding venue for dogs near the airport.  She is very sweet and made us a delicious lunch which included spiced rice, white rice, curd, and plenty of fresh mangoes.  Jag introduced us to his family and friends in the village.  He has a beautiful home there; however, his wife and he spend most of their time at their house in Bangalore since it is convenient for work.  I visited the high school which only goes to grade 10 and for grade 11 and 12 children, if not required to work, must go to a nearby town to attend their remaining two years of school.  Jag owns a lot of land which includes: several wells 50 feet deep and 20 feet in diameter, mulberry fields, and mango trees.  A lot of the villagers have dark rooms in the back to raise silk worms.  The temperature must remain cool for them to thrive and the windows are all netted to prevent flies from infecting the worms.  The government comes every few months and pays for the silk that is produced.  After an enjoyable and educational day at the village I headed home and went swimming in the pool before dinner.
Sheep Crossing


Silk Worms

Reservoir amongst the other wells.

Massive Termite Homes, there were 3 others...


Sunday, July 3, 2011

People know us...

I feel completely acclimated to life in India.  Taking the 335-E to ITPL (International Tech Park), eating lunch in the food court where I now know what I can and cannot handle, treating myself to a Mango Lassi in the afternoon, and enjoying a home-cooked meal by Babu after a long day at Avesthagen.  The trains sell out well in advance so I was unable to visit the ruins at Hampi or head south to Anapuzha for a weekend on a houseboat.
On Friday, I enjoyed dinner at home before going downtown.  After hours of research, I stumbled upon Zero G which is another rooftop lounge in Bangalore.  Babu called the driver and Troy, Daniela, & I went downtown which took over an hour as traffic is horrendous due to poorly constructed roads.  Upon arrival, I came across five large men guarding the elevator and after paying the cover charge (which actually go towards beverages in India) another man took us up the elevator to the 10th floor rooftop.  Zero G has an actual dance floor and several private rooms where corporate parties for Accenture and HSBC were being held as well as a pool in the back.  The drinks were decent but the atmosphere and being able to dance made it a perfect evening.  I met two employees for Deloitte who are from New Zealand and several other employees from Deloitte who are Indian.  They invited us back to their apartment afterwards and we exchanged information to meet up again on Saturday Evening.
On Saturday, Daniela and I went to Hyper City which is a grocery store on steroids, and I dare to say better than Wegmans.  However, the rickshaw ride took forever as the driver asked countless people, including two policemen for directions and still nobody knew where Hyper City is located, despite it being a new massive construction in Whitefield.  Daniela had to do price comparisons for her business plan and I accompanied her before going to Forum Value Mall to see a movie.  Unfortunately, like last weekend the movies were sold out so we walked around and had lunch before returning home for dinner.  I will try to go to the movies this week when demand is lower.  Saturday evening, Troy, Daniela, Peiran, & I braved the monsoon weather and took a taxi downtown to The Beach.  The Beach is a freestanding club with sand as the floor which is awkward at first but you get used to it.  Thomas joined us after not feeling well all week due to food poisoning and I met up with everyone from Deloitte which made for a fun filled evening as they taught us Indian dance moves.
Today, Daniela, Troy, & I took the 335-E downtown.  I really wanted to see the Bangalore Palace but of course no one knew how to get there and the rickshaw dropped us off at some fairground where a technology exhibition is taking place. However, I enjoyed the outdoor market-like atmosphere of Commercial Street.  The area surrounding Commercial Street is filled with souvenirs, scarves, sarees, and anything else you need to buy.  After lunch at a local Indian restaurant where I had buttered chicken masala, buttered naan, and ghee rice, I went on an adventure for scarves.  I came across a small store down some stairs where the men were extremely helpful and patient with us as we narrowed down from thousands of potential scarves.  They were not pushy and did not force us to like or buy any scarves and allowed us to decide which ones to see.  I ended up buying quite a few as either gifts or for myself and negotiating at the end is always fun to see how good of a bargain you can obtain.  Three tourists inside the store were asking about specific scarves and a shop-owner told one of the ladies that the Chartreuse scarf is 55,000 rupees or $1,230.  I am unaware of the significance of the material but the shop-owners brought out the scarf for the tourists and we felt the material as well.
I begin my fourth week of work at Avesthagen tomorrow.  I cannot believe how quickly time is passing and I have already learned so much and am excited to continue exploring India in the weeks to come.  Several of the executives are out of the office.  Anil and Dhiren are at a bio-tech conference in Washington, DC and Villoo (the founder) is in NYC followed by Europe trying to close some business deals.
Daniela & I at Zero G (10th floor rooftop)

Random assorted candies for sale everywhere

Ganesh!

Just a typical scarf store.

The most crowded store I have ever been to; a hoarder's paradise

Vendor on Commercial Street

Sunday, June 26, 2011

It is like an oasis in Hell

After completing my second week at Avesthagen, I had a low key Friday and Saturday before going to Mysore on Sunday.  Mysore is a city about 3 hours away, in Indian time but 4 hours or more in reality.  A gentleman at work drives a taxi on the weekends to make extra money so he was generous enough to let us hire him for the entire day.  He picked the four of us up at Prestige Langleigh at 6 AM this morning.  Driving the Mysore allowed me to see rural India, filled with rice fields, dilapidated villages where people live in tin huts with no electricity, and a random Cafe Coffee Day which provided me with energy to get the morning started.  There is no real coffee here, just mochas, fraps, and cappuccinos but that will do as there are no Starbucks in India either. 
I first stopped at the Sultan's summer palace.  The gardens are expansive and gorgeous and there is an elongated fountain leading visitors from the entrance to the house which is not a museum.  Indians pay 5 rupees to enter while 'foreigner's are charged 100 rupees, just a tad excessive but it got worse because the Mysore Palace charged 200 rupees for foreigners.  The Sultan's home is falling apart and the paint is chipping.  Portraits are not protected and the sun is slowly fading away the vibrant colors of the walls and outside.  India does not keep up with their monuments, instead everything is left as is for hundreds of years.

Next we went to a temple and although it is respectful, I still hate taking off my shoes at any of India's religious tourist attractions.  Next we drove to a lake where a woman and her daughter were fishing and several trinket kiosks lined the pathway to the lake.  Four male teenagers traveling from 160 KM away, the same distance as us, asked to take our picture and although they looked as if they are in a boy band and wore the same yellow converse sneakers, we accepted and took pictures with them.  They gave us some of their star fruit which is incredibly sour but tasty.

Around 11 AM we arrived in the much anticipated Mysore, located 160 KM southwest of Bangalore.  Srinivas, our driver/co-worker, took us to Chamundi Hill which is 3,500 Feet above sea level and provides for a gorgeous view of Mysore. There is also a temple at the top.  The temples are so intricate in design and covered in ornate sculptures.  Cows road outside the temples and on the streets along with beggars that harass you as soon as you leave your vehicle.  Salespeople continuously followed us as we walked around the historical sights and we successfully did not give in to buying any trinkets.

Lunch took place on a rooftop restaurant, quite popular in India, connected to a hotel near the palace.  I had buttered chicken and ghee rice with buttered naan.  I love Indian food and am constantly eating excessive amounts.  Between going out to eat and dinner by Babu & Son, I will never go hungry.  After lunch, I went to Mysore Palace, which again is not well preserved and cost 200 rupees to enter but the audio guide is free which is extremely convenient for understand the history behind the palace.  The palace is situated in the middle of Mysore and a large garden surrounds the structure which was built in 1912 and the main tower is 145 feet in height.  There is an octagonal marriage hall inside the Palace, which hosted many royal weddings, along with a spectator room for the King and Queen to be entertained and a doll pavilion which is slightly creepy.and has hosted many royal weddings.  The palace lights up at night with 96,000 lights.  After an educational day of touring Mysore and the nearby area, I became exhausted and could not wait to return home for dinner, however, the drive took 4 hours.

Cafe Coffee Day in the middle of rural India

Temple

Cow grazing on top of Chamundi Hill

Outside the Sultan's summer home.


Wedding Hall inside Mysore Palace

Our new boyband friends

Mother and Daughter fishing in the lake

Mysore Palace

Hall inside Mysore Palace



 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Day 7: Look Alive People!


As I start my second week at Avesthagen, I am feeling more comfortable and everyone is still extremely and welcoming which creates a warm environment.  The two ladies next to me at work are on vacation this week so the office feels slightly empty.  I received a hand-written paper with several notations and abbreviations this morning by Dr. Kumaraswamy.  He asked me to type them up, which I did immediately after deciphering the text.  However, K informed me later that it is the draft of an actual agreement to license their genome-scan in Indian hospitals.  After lunch I then asked for further agreements to go over or any other information I could read to become more familiar as science is not my forte and everyone here is well educated and knowledgeable about every minute detail with regards to the tests and products their labs are working on daily.

I did not end up receiving any other material on Monday so Carole and I went downstairs for tea which is only 10 rupees and like their coffee is filled with cream and sugar.  The portion is only a couple ounces, if that, but tastes delicious.

On Tuesday, I went into the office and met with K and Kumaraswamy.  We went over details of the agreement to be made with Manipal Health Enterprises and assigned me with the task of completing the draft of the licensing agreement by the end of the day.  I successfully completed the task by 5:00 PM exactly and emailed it out before leaving work.  Along with a cappuccino at Au Bon Pain, I took another break with Thomas, Daniela, and Carole where I bought a mango shake.  Although the blender is washed with tap water, I still feel fine and will continue to build up my immune system over the next 6 weeks.  The fruit is fresh here and at only 35 rupees, it is not as good a value as tea but a better value than foe-coffee.

Thomas and Carole joined us for dinner by Babu & Son.  I enjoyed having them over as we all get along well and everyone has such a diverse, interesting background that we keep ourselves entertained with discussion.  I am not sure what my task will be tomorrow as I have to wait for the edited agreement to be returned and K leaves for three weeks to go home to the Netherlands on Thursday so I will be reporting to someone else I assume but still hope to be doing legal documents.
Rice, Paneer, & Buttered Chicken

Vegetable Wraps that are delicious!

Troy, Peiran, Carole, Thomas, Daniela & Myself

This does not look like a market


On Sunday, I woke up and had breakfast before researching how to get to the market.  Unable to locate a specific market in Whitefield, Peiran, Daniela, Troy, & I took a rickshaw to the Forum Value Mall which is a 4 story modern shopping center complete with movie theatre.  There are several familiar clothing stores along with a megamart that sells traditional clothing, however, the men’s section is still pants, jeans, and button downs, while the women’s section is filled with sarees in addition to western clothes.

Troy and I went upstairs to the Kashmir store and looked at handmade rugs and cashmere scarves.  However, the prices were drastically increased due to the location of the store being in a mall.  I hope to find a market or Indian mall soon with local prices so I can stock up on scarves.  I purchased ‘cold coffee’ at McDonalds, however, it only comes in one size which is smaller than any American size.  Also, there is no real coffee here, no Starbucks, just coffee shops with cappuccinos, mocha's, and latte’s filled with sugar and heavy cream.  For there being 1,100 Café Coffee Days in India, you think they would sell actual coffee.

After the mall, I went down the street to the local shops that consisted of a few Saree stores, several vegetable stands and two meat shops where mutton and chickens hanged like window displays to be purchased.

That afternoon, Daniela and I ventured into the pool which no one at our complex uses.  I kept my shirt on as not to offend anyone as the pool is in the courtyard that several apartments overlook.  I was later informed by Carole that even at the beach, Indians did not have their shirts off and women do not swim, they wear Sarees on the beach.
Cold Coffee

Troy

Peiran and her juice

Hotelies!

Negotiating with Rickshaw drivers, yes you talk with them all at once.

Local Market

Forum Value Mall

Chowmein

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lions, Tigers, & Monkeys, oh my!

Today, I went to the Bannerghatta National Park which is only 22 km south of Bangalore but took 2 hours to reach.  Troy, Daniela, Peiran, & I hired a cab for the day so the driver waited at the park while we took a safari and walked around.  Outside the park entrance there are several stands selling packaged foods and soda so I purchased ice cream which I ate immediately.  I am going through sweets withdrawal as dessert is not popular or common here.  The safari and entrance to the park is 160 rupees or $4.00 so that is an incredible deal as the safari lasts 45 minutes and pictures with the elephants are free.

The national park is divided into several sections and there are men who open and close gates as the safari vehicle moves from section to section.  The first area is full of deer and everyone started freaking out and got all excited which is hilarious because deer are in most people's backyards.  However the rest of the safari was exciting as there are tigers and lions and bears.  None of the animals came close to the vehicle, but in the park the monkeys roam free.  One monkey stopped Peiran and would not leave her alone until she gave him her sandwich.  She is still traumatized and Troy, Daniela, & I kept reminding her that the rest of the day was enjoyable.  I took pictures with the elephants but felt bad because both elephants had chains on their front right leg and the worker would poke them in order for the elephants to pose for pictures.

After the national park, I returned home which took about 1.5 hours as the traffic lightened up.  Babu made dinner and I got ready to go out.  The lounges in Bangalore close at 11:30 PM so it is crucial to start early especially since the drive into Bangalore from Whitefield can take over an hour.  Fortunately, the lady staying in the 4th bedroom who magically appeared on Thursday is generous and letting us use her driver.  She is free-spirited and wears lots of cloth and reminds me of Katherine in Under the Tuscan Sun who constantly wears hats, but instead of hats she wears giant scarves.  Using her driver is convenient as we simply pick a vehicle based on price (we took the Safari SUV out on Friday but opted for the AC Car today) and we are paying real Indian prices which is about 800 rupees for the night.

After an hour we arrived at The 13th Floor which is next to Ebony at the Barton Center.  At first the host told us we had to wait twenty minutes to get a table indoors but after ordering drinks and meeting up with grad students from Washington University in St. Louis, the gentleman gave a table outside on the terrace which overlooks the city.  The view is gorgeous and makes Bangalore look a lot for legit than in reality.  The grad students came to Bangalore for the weekend and are spending their summer helping a village located 5 hours south of Chennai.  The 13th Floor must be the hottest lounge in Bangalore despite having to close at 11:30.  The cover charge is 500 rupees but it goes towards your beverages so it is more of an advanced payment.  However drinks are around $10 which is expensive for Indian standards and definitely attracts a higher-end clientele.




Lions Playing
 

Peiran, Daniela, Elephant, Myself, & Troy

Our friends from Wash. U.

View from The 13th Floor