Well, here I am back safely ensconced in my pod. I spent the last day in Bangalore watching cricket and walking around a bit outside. Since you really couldn’t walk too far, I did circuits between the train bridge and the first street Intersection of Death.
After that, a nice filling meal at the buffet (loved the Queen’s Pudding), an hour workout at the gym and more cricket.
The driver was a few minutes early (1:10am), so I headed out and slumped into the very nice car (again from Emirates), and watched the city pass by one last time on the 45 minute drive to the airport.
The trip went well, but it’s hard to work during the day in India, then try to catch up on normal work in the evening. A happy consequence was that the time did pass by quickly.
So what did I think of my first trip to India? It was a unique experience, certainly. Sheila and I have seen abject poverty before, but I saw some very hard conditions. The one thing that struck me was that it was a quiet poverty. In some Indian cities, almost half the population lives below the poverty line. I believe that in Hyderabad that number is around
15-20%, and 10% in Bangalore.
I really didn’t see that much of it passing along the central streets between work and the hotel. There were just a few blue plastic tarp “tent cities” that I actually saw. The residents went about their daily ritual with vigor, although I can’t begin to understand their experience. I think maybe I should try harder to.
Other that that, both cities are bustling as they continue to quickly evolve in the ever-growing computer age. I saw towering concrete pillars of windows and steel, built to house the silicon onslaught, that shadowed tent city denizens as they showered at the local fire hydrants. I lost count of the number of autorickshaws and motorbikes that whizzed by, either set of which absolutely outnumber conventional cars on their own.
I’ve met the friendly face of India, smiling, helpful and unassuming. A perfect example of dharma and the living testament of the Vedas. Amid all the chaos I saw a serene beauty in the people. How can anyone have a better experience?
Today’s day 2 in Bangalore, and so far everything’s going quite well. I had hoped to venture out some, but I just couldn’t muster the wherewithal to do so.
That said, life in Castle Windsor is quite comfy. The overall decor is quite colonial, complete with pictures of British lords and ladies of the 1700’s. It’s beautiful, but very dated, and modeled on a time in India’s history that I’m not entirely sure they’re keen on reliving. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.
So when we last left off, Mike, the filthy rich bourgeois American who had obviously hoarded all of the first class cabin to himself, had just eaten his way beyond guilt and was en-route to Bangalore.
Well the flight was uneventful, and fairly short at just 55 minutes. Upon arriving, my coworker and I found our transport and started off into Bangalaore.
Bangalore is a lot different than Hyderabad. For one, It’s closer to the see and at a lower altitude. You immediately notice that there are more trees, and the humidity is higher. Another you notice fairly quickly is that Bangalore is a lot more developed than Hyderabad. Also, it seems to me there are more foreigners (a.k.a. ‘white dudes’) here. Of course that may just be residual guilt about the first class thing.
As we road in to town we noticed that a lot more buildings were actually finished, or much nearer to completion than in Hyderabad. Also, a lot more cars and lots less auto rickshaws and motorbikes. Finally, as we passed inside the city limits, more stores that actually were recognizable to Americans, and generally more upper-class looking establishments.
And to top it off, our hotel was absolutely astounding. Since it’s night time, I haven’t seen much of the city proper, so I’ll just post some pics of the hotel for now.
I almost forgot to mention my courageous adventure outward today!
They say no trip is complete without a bit of sightseeing. Far be it for me to argue conventional wisdom. So, today I decided to overcome my trepidation and voyage outside the protective bubble of my hotel.
After much hemming and hawing, I decided to hire a car for 4 hours and visit a couple places I had read about. The car was only INR 1500, or about US$25. Not a bad deal. The driver would take me where I wanted to go, or recommend places, and then wait there for me to go do my tourist duty. Perfect, says I!
I felt much more reassured knowing I wouldn’t have to negotiate a taxi on my own and have to worry constantly that he had just decided to take the money and run, leaving me stranded in the middle if India.
The journey started much the same as it had to date, driver and I barreling down crowded streets avoiding collision with pedestrians and auto rickshaws at the very last instant. But this time, instead of the now-familiar route towards the office, we turned and headed “up-town”.
In a few minutes, Hyderabad underwent a transformation from semi-rural, lets-put-Mike-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere city/slum to bustling, huge city. The building got taller, and the population density increased. Traffic too, if that’s even possible.
The first stop was Golconda Fort. The description read that it was a 400-year old fort built by Muhammed Quli Qutb Shaw, and had some very intriguing architecture. As we approached the fort, the traffic thinned out and we entered a more rural part of town. Then the first gate came into view. Huge! It was what you’d expect from a fortress built by a shaw. We zipped through the entrance, but where I expected to see the innards of a fort was more of the now tightly-packed neighborhood of Golconda. It was actually very fascinating. Lots of older people, cozy streets and what I can only describe as what I had expected suburban, ancient India to look like.
We continued through the winding streets until finally the inner gate appeared. My driver gave me his cell number and walked me up to the ticket window. It was 10 rupees for Indians, 100 rupees for foreigners. I considered for a moment handing the ticket collector 10 rupees, but I don’t think they’d find that amusing at all.
A nice old guy walked up and led me to through the turnstile and out into the forecourt. He started explaining the history and pulling me along. But, I didn’t really want a guide. The plan was to hike to the top of the fort at my own leisurely pace, taking photos along the way. As it turns out, Mohammed had different plans. I vaguely remembered reading about this scheme, and that it is hard to shake a guide once they latch on to you. It’s true, I’m here to tell you. With about half a dozen “No, thank you”‘s, he finally gave up and wandered off. That was tough, I thought, and then turned around and guess what? Another smiling face offering to show me the sites! He even demonstrated clapping under a dome that produces a really neat echo. I tried the same ploy to ditch him, but he was more tenacious. Finally I broke free and headed up the path towards the ruins. This happened at least three more times.
But after climbing away from the entrance area, I was finally left to my own designs and started hiking up the trail towards the top, which I believe was 2000ft above the entrance.
The ruins were spectacular! I am really quite happy I decided to chance coming out rather than mulling around the hotel all day. There were many different style of architecture, several huge groups of school kids and one or two non-indigenous tourists wandering about. At the top I was treated to a fantastic view of the city, and a Hindu temple.
After recording the images for posterity, I turned and worked my way down the maze of ancient (or relatively so) stone steps.
I had planned to visit Hussain Sagar lake, which has a famous statue of Buddha on a small island in the middle, but sadly my driver ended up on the wrong side of the lake where there were no places to park. He did pull over and let me get out and take a couple pics. We ended up on the backside of the statue, so the picture isn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been.
Usually I’d feel less snobby about traveling in the front of the plane because there are usually OTHER PEOPLE up here with me. As it turns out, I’m the only one! Even my travelmate didn’t manage to get the golden ticket I did.
So, also as it turns out, I feel kinda silly being up here. Oh well. Maybe I’ll end up helping weight and balance a bit. The food was delicious, and I eventually stopped feeling guilty that everyone else got tea and crackers.
So here are some snaps from my voyages to and from the office…
So one of the things I noticed about India so far is that there is a huge disparity in almost everything you see whilst out taking in the sights. For example, I’ve passed beautiful new buildings sitting on what amounts to a dirt lot, surrounded by piles of rubble on an unfinished street.
There are many, many buildings in varying states of construction. I was wondering if they’d just been abandoned, but today I did see some crews welding on a very tall skeleton of what will be an enormous building. On both sides were empty fields strewn with rubble, and no discernible way to walk to the building on a flat surface. Maybe that’ll come later.
It’s really quite fascinating how extreme the extremes are. Along the streets are all manner of tiny business crammed in to 3-story buildings, broken up by small tent cities of blue tarps and bamboo poles. There is rubble everywhere. It’s quite overwhelming when you first experience it.
By today, however, I found myself quite comfortable weaving through the ever-flowing mass of people, cars, motorbikes and auto rickshaws. I’ve finally gotten used to the graceful ballet of chaos in the streets of Hyderabad. It’s a fascinating place.
To be honest, when I first learned of the opportunity to travel to India, I was very hesitant to commit. It’s eight thousand miles away from home, a completely different culture and without a doubt sits one on the edge of one’s comfort zone. But having been here and having now experienced this wondrous place, I’m really very glad I decided to come.
Tomorrow I hope I’ll be able to get out and see some of the history. Then it’s onward to Bangalore, then back to my home. How I miss home.
Today was the last work day in Hyderabad. I decided to leave the office at 4pm since things were pretty well wrapped up. We had a final lunch together at the campus cafeteria. Oh and be ‘we’ I mean the guys. Evidently the ladies on the team don’t usually dine with the guys. I’m not sure if that’s a cultural thing, or if they just don’t like each other.
Good food at the cafe, and cheap too! One day I had a heaping tray of vegetarian biryani, raita (cucumber sauce), a small cucumber salad and some bread for only 45 Rupees, which was about 75¢ US. The most I spent was INR135 on a kebab, biryani and chicken dish with naan (baked flat bread). That was the range I spent on food so far.
On returning to the hotel, I found the courtyard abuzz with activity. The Indian Endoscopic conference was just starting, and cars and people were mulling around. I also spotted what I assume are 3 Indian Army soldiers, in their distinct splotchy camouflage fatigues. One had a rifle. I decided maybe tonight isn’t the best time to venture out beyond the gate for a walk.
Just as well anyhow. The hotel is located in a weird place. It’s surrounded by swamp and open field, plus the myriad half-finished buildings and small enclaves of tents. So, there wasn’t really much I was missing out on. That and the hoard of potentially malaria-carrying mosquitos that call the swamp home sealed my decision.
So, I’m stuck inside.
I did manage to just go walk around the grounds for a while. I do need some exercise, and it is very pleasant tonight, 86° and gentle winds. Not too bad! I even got a glimpse at the sunset. So all tolled, not a bad evening. I’ll probably work for a bit then head on down to the Premier Lounge for some snacks. I’m too full for a full meal.
Tomorrow morning my travel partner and I discussed going on a short tour, but he’s not feeling well tonight. Seems he has not had the best of luck gastrointestinal-ly in India. I should have told him about the endoscopy conference. I’m not sure if I’m willing to venture out on my own, after seeing a lot of Hyderabad already on the journey to and from work. Besides, the flight is at 5pm, so I need to be here at 2:30. I don’t know…I’m on the fence. I feel a bit adventurous, but my spidey-senses are telling me to err on the side of caution and just stay around here.
My coworker and I were invited out for dinner by our host group. It was another opportunity to enjoy the cuisine and capture a little bit more of the culture. The food was very good and our hosts and us had a very interesting conversation about India, cultural differences and travel.
I really couldn’t tell where the restaurant was in respect to my hotel or the office, since it blended in well with the landscape, as does most every other business. The street was busy and loud, the buildings holding a vast mixture of different types of business, scaffolding here and there, and lots of small carts and auto rickshaws buzzing by.
The interior was quite unique. It was a buffet-style restaurant, with a couple tables built in to “re-purposed” auto rickshaws. In the center of the buffet line was a huge living tree that reached it’s canopy out over the serving line. It was very modern and elegant, and everyone enjoyed the evening.
There were some interesting murals on the wall. Here, you’ll have to see for yourself…
Here in India, I’m definitely in the minority. In fact, the only other caucasians I’ve seen were at the hotel, and then there were maybe 2 or 3 only. So for me it’s a fairly radical departure to my usual environment. But you know what? I really don’t notice it all.
I thought that was utterly fascinating. Not so much in how I might be perceived (yes, I have received a few stares as I walk around), but more in how I perceive myself and my surroundings. I feel completely comfortable and at ease.
Perhaps it’s just that my presence here is readily accepted the indigenous population. Certainly in larger cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, seeing the occasional white guy probably doesn’t create a sensation. If I decided to venture out into the countryside, I might see a couple more wide eyes.
But even so, it’s an interesting observation to me. I really don’t feel like I’m any different, even though at least in appearance I am quite so. It just goes to show that the color of your skin needn’t make you “different” as long as your accepted by everyone.