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.