Monthly Archives: November 2008

A surreal Thanksgiving

Did hear about the attacks in Mumbai last night?

What attacks?

That was at the bus stop this morning. I had rolled out of bed and gotten the kids off to the bus stop. I had seen the headline about the attacks in Mumbai, but frankly had ignored it. It was an understated headline and lately there have been a spate of communal attacks by Hindus there – with an ensuing scandal involving the BJP – and I thought it was related.

Then Sharon told me that a hundred people had been killed and it hit closer to home.

So I went home and checked the news. Dani and I been glued to the news all day; switching between television news and the internet. The news is pretty much nonstop downtown Mumbai. Life here in Bangalore is going on as normal; though the topic of conversation is universally Mumbai.

In other news, we’re going out to dinner in a short bit. We don’t have an oven and cooking a turkey would have involved cooking it in the neighbors’ oven (we did find a source for turkeys); but given that they are Brahmans, that would not have gone over well. Between watching the attack coverage on the news and going out to a multi-cuisine restaurant instead of cooking at home, this is a surreal Thanksgiving.

Pic of the Day – Backwater Sunset

I’m getting caught up on stories and photos that I’ve just not had the time to post. This is one of my favorite shots from India, taken at sunset one evening last month in the backwaters of Kerala.

Backwater Sunset

Backwater Sunset

Pic of the Day – The Scorpion

A scorpion that we ran into while hiking at Skandagiri two weekends ago. The little bugger was about 6″ (15cm) long. I have no idea what species it was or just how poisonous it was (or was not). The shot was taken by Siva’s husband, Horst.

Scorpion

Scorpion

Indiana Joneses

We took a day trip to Krishnagiri this past weekend. It is a town in Tamil Nadu, about an hour and a half east of Bangalore. It’s main claim to fame seems to be that is sits at a road junction between the superhighway to Chennai on the coast and the half built superhighway heading towards points south.

Lonely Planet does not mention Krishnagiri; not even an “overlooked gem” mention, which Tiruvannamalai gets. They don’t seem to get many visitors there; especially westerners. For example, when I stepped into a shop to see about buying a cola (you can buy Coca Cola and Pepsi in the remotest corners of the world it seems), the elderly proprietor –who was Muslim judging by his white skullcap, knee length white kurda, the fact that an Urdu girls school was across the street and there were women in Burkas on the street – stared at me, slack-jawed. I felt like I was in the presence of an Islamic Gomer Pyle. He did not know any English and I was wondering if going to fetch Siva from the car to have a Tamil speaker present would help. This seemed to be an Urdu speaking pocket and I’m not even sure this guy could speak Tamil. Fortunately, his middle-aged son was not so stunned by the sudden appearance of the green antennaed alien in sunglasses. I asked him if he had cola.

No Coca Cola, only Sprite. You want?

I demurred and bid the slack jawed purveyor of Sprite and his son a good day.

Krishnagiri may not be in the guidebooks, but it certainly is at least as nice as Nandi Hills and certainly worthy of a day trip from Bangalore. The town is dominated by a mountain, on the top of which rests the ruins one of Tipu Sultan’s forts. This mountain is in effect a slightly rounded mesa and the old fortifications ring the outer edge of the table top. The rest is scattered ruins set in wild nature. There were hardly any people up there even on a Saturday afternoon; only some kids taking a swim in an old ritual pool from the Sultan’s time and a few Pentecostals singing the praises of Jesus in Tamil. We could picnic and explore to our hearts content.

This being India, there was a shrine on the mountain-top. Krishnagiri being heavily muslim, it was an Islamic shrine. What struck me was how colorful and almost kitsch it was. (no, I did not take my shoes off and step inside, but it was an outdoor shrine overlooked by a giant rock) Somehow, I was expecting something austere and almost Calvanist as the wahhabist variety practiced in the Arabian peninsula largely defines my stereotypes of Islam. I don’t know if it was a Sufi shrine. To my knowledge, Sufism has a lot of mysticsm thrown in; somewhat resembling the Catholicism of Central and South America.

The mountain top was repeatedly visited by a pair of short toed eagles and I think that Sammy and I found a baby monitor lizard. They can theoretically grow to six feet, but as “Iguana” (a local misnomer for the monitor) blood is reputed to have magical healing properties, most don’t live to get any bigger than a couple of feet long. Oh and don’t let them hit you with their tail! It will turn you into a hijra (transvestite); or so our driver once told Daniela.

Oh and did I mention that we did a lot of exploring? I felt like Indiana Jones for most of the time.

Apologies to India Post

The other day, Siva mentioned to me that my experiences with India Post are not typical. “Normally it is very reliable”. That same day, I got my absentee ballot for the 2008 US elections in the mail. It only took six weeks for it to arrive. Then I looked it over. The postal code (called a PIN here and a ZIP in the US) was truncated to five digits. India uses six digit postal codes. No wonder it took so long to get here.

So the blame for my ballot difficulties does not lie with India Post, but the Ocean County (NJ) County Clerk’s office for not being able to handle six digit postal codes. This is right up there with not allowing postal codes with letters, insisting that there be a state (only 6 countries in the world require a state/region code in the address) and being under the assumption that all telephone numbers are in country code 1. Afghanistan has the distinction of not having postal codes at all, though the only Americans there not using an APO address would be journalists and the odd aid worker not yet driven out of the country.

Guys, Please! I’m not asking you to add nearby landmarks to the address (another post for another time) or anything weird like that, but at least make sure that if overseas Americans don’t get their mail from you, it is not your fault.

The Three Hour Tour – Part II

The three hour tour began well enough. We managed to get to Hoskote in short order.

1 – Our first waypoint was to turn left at the first intersection in Hoskote; just before a large open field (or so says the photo in Google Earth). It was to happen shortly after arriving in Town. As we drove through town, we wondered “are we in Hoskote yet”. Yep, we drove right past our turnoff.

2 – About a kilometer past our proper turnoff, we found one that fit the bill. We were now driving parallel to where we wanted to be.

3 – We come to a fork in the road. Hmmm… I did not see this on Google Earth. Is this the right way? Then again, one side of the fork might not be a numbered road and would not show up on the road overlay. Let’s take the left fork to be on the safe side. (good call)

4 – 10 km down the road, our little alternate way merged with the road we had initially wanted. Unfortunately, this was 5 km past where we would have turned off of that road towards Devanhalli.

5 – As we came to a small village with a crossroads, we grew puzzled. There was no photo of such a thing on our route in Google earth. Up until now, we had been responsible for our own errors. How could we now go from lost to completely thinking you are in Indonesia when you are actually in the Caribbean lost? Yup! Ask a local for directions to Devanhalli! Turning left at that crossroads would have taken us straight to Devanhalli. Instead, he sent us straight.

6 – A half hour later, we come to a town. It vaguely looked like the small town we had been planning to turn left at (which was now 30 km behind us and 30km is a LONG way on Indian back roads). Siva stepped out of the car and asked directions. The directions even vaguely sounded correct. Turn left just up ahead. So we turned left onto national highway 207.

7 – We came to another fork in the road. Wait! Another fork? After some indecision and a quick “ask for directions”, we took the left fork. The right fork would have taken us straight to Chikballapur, near Skandagiri, ten miles away. Instead, we went back south, parallel to the way we just came up.

8 – We come to a T in the road. YAY! He must have joined with the highway that runs past the airport and Nandi Hills. So we turn right. Well…the good news is that we are now actually heading towards said highway.

9 – Another fork in the road. Wait? We must not have found the big highway. We were far north of Devanhalli and that was now utterly the wrong direction. We should have been asking for the way to Chikballapur. Being utterly clueless about that fact, we ask for the way to Devanhalli. Being clueless about the landscape of his home district, the man sends us up the right fork (to Chikballapur) instead of the left (to Devanhalli). Talk about serendipity. The key to getting on the right road in India is to not know where you need to be going.

10 – Yay! The big 4 lane! There us Nandi Hills in front of us! Nandi Durg is directly in front and the big one next to is is Skandagiri! We now have a mountain to use as a navigation reference! We turn north towards Chikballapur. The destination is in sight.

11 – In Chikballapur, we trun left onto NH 207. Remember NH207?

12 – We actually reach our desitnation. We managed to turn a 1 ½ hour drive into a 3 ¼ hour drive.

Welcome to daytrips in India!

The Three Hour Tour – Part I

Saturday, we set out from Bangalore to Skandagiri, one of the mountains in the same hill range as Nandi Durg; the place where we first encountered both temples and the toutish monkeys that frequent tourist traps. Skanadagiri, being near Nandi Durg is just past the new Airport. Our normal route out this way involves zigging far to the west, through north central Bangalore, before zagging back to the east and North. It also involves slogging though Bangalore’s infamous traffic.

I had long been eyeing an alternate route in Google Earth. The theory was simple. Drive up Whitefield road, continue past Sai Baba’s ashram, turn east onto Old Madras road, which true to its name runs towards Chennai (formerly Madras) and has been replaced as the main route to Chennai by a superhighway. We’d be on Old Madras road for only a few minutes before turning north at Hoskote and hooking back to the west to come out onto the main highway at Devanhalli, just north of the new airport. We’d bypass all the traffic and the distance looked to be about 25-30km.

But we had to prepare. I’d even made printouts of satellite photos of the critical junctures. Maps here are useless. They are invariably of low resolution and of only passing resemblance to how the road network might actually look. For that matter, nobody seems to use maps. Professional drivers usually don’t even know how to read maps. Our driver once confidently pointed at Rajasthan on a map of India and told us that this is where they go to the beach in Tamil Nadu. The usual alternative to maps is stopping to ask for directions. The problem with this approach is that nobody in India every admits to not knowing the way and they all seem to have the kind of directions sense that would send you off towards Rajasthan thinking that they were sending you to Cape Comorin. We’ve been sent on detours that take us to the other side of town by way of Sweden too many times in India to trust asking directions.

So we had the plan and we had the printouts. We were set.

Naturally, it went horribly awry.