Thursday, June 17, 2010

Musings from Bangalore #1

I've been meaning to write this post since the day I arrived in Bangalore, but now that I've found a venue for broadband internet connection, I am ready to finally compose and publish these set of observations from my first few days in Bangalore.

  1. Speed bumps are ubiquitous on the streets in Bangalore. Yet, I believe that whoever considered instating these speed bumps are highly deceived. People do not actually slow down, rather they utilize these speed bumps as amusement by continuing at rapid speeds. Someone needs to build more amusement parks in Bangalore!

  2. There is great socioeconomic disparity easily visible on the streets. In its introduction to Bangalore, Lonely Planet India notes that “slums are tucked away even within well-off neighborhoods.” Unlike in the United States, the wealthy are not as segregated from the poor. The wealthiest IT businessmen roams the same streets and breaths the same pollution as the poorest beggar. For example, across the street from my grandmother's three-story house is a series of shacks.

  3. Manual labor is employed whenever possible. With the plethora of construction projects and renovations taking place, this is too apparent. Moreover, a large portion of this labor is unfortunately done through children. Economically, this makes a lot of sense in a nation where people are abundant and education is not available for all. Thus, with the supply of labor available, hand-made goods and labor is often cheaper than manufactured goods or machinery.

  4. Horns take on a totally different meaning in India. They are not employed after something dangerous (like in the United States), but rather horns are used by vehicles to notify other vehicles and pedestrians of their presence. Therefore, horns are ALWAYS sounded. I must admit I saw no benefit to this system during my first days in Bangalore, but after becoming a pedestrian in the city, I do appreciate when a vehicle beeps its horn as it approaches me. Is this a sign of being in India too long??

  5. Along the sides of the streets, there are (usually old) women in vests sweeping with what can be described as “brooms” aka bunch of long straw. Unlike my experience with horns, I still do not see the benefit of this sweeping. If you saw the amount of trash and dirt along these streets, you would realize that one lone woman sweeping with such a “broom” would make little or no difference at all. Perhaps this is just another way to employ people...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

London to Bangalore

I had previously expected to write this post about the entire route starting at O'Hare, but as that flight was a fairly standard transatlantic flight with the usual demographics – tourists, students, business travelers – there was not too much out of the ordinary.

However, the second flight from Heathrow to Bangalore consisted was essentially a desi davat on an airplane. From the moment the gate number A10 was announced, the migration of saree-clad grandmothers and desi families was clearly apparent. The demographics of this flight were fairly homogenous: almost 95% Indian with a few white and business travelers and families.

A land of Indians has given birth to such chaos and calamity. Shouldn't a jet full of Indians as well? Here are two exchanges that took place even before the plane left the runway:

Woman A: Where is your son sitting?
Woman B: Over there. He just graduated high school.
Woman A: Where is he going to college?
Woman B: He got into Rice and Stanford. He might go to Stanford.
Woman A: Ohhh!! Congratulations!

Flight Attendant: (upon seeing a child in his grandfather's seat) Sir, how old is that child?
Old Desi Man: He is two years old.
Flight Attendant: Well, if he's two years old, he should be in a seat by himself.
Old Desi Man: Ohh, no...he's not two...he hasn't completed two years.
Flight Attendant: (with a puzzled and annoyed expression) So he hasn't completed two years yet...?

(Anyone with any knowledge of desis should understand why these two conversations are significant...or perhaps...insignificant)

In addition to, or rather, to complement the cheapness and the “davat-scene” taking place during the 9.5 hour flight, “aunties” were constantly standing in the aisles chatting with one another and families trying to get the most out of the galley by stuffing snacks into their bags.

I might as well post another complaint I have regarding people's behavior on airplanes. Why don't all passengers first get to their seat and then take turns placing their carry-ons into the overheard compartments? The current procedure that most take of finding their seat and immediately placing bags in the compartments creates a tremendous delay in boarding. This inefficiency is only amplified by the fact that people bring carry-ons larger than regulation size and also store their bags in compartments not assigned to them.

To conclude on a much more positive note, my experiences in both Heathrow and Bangalore airports were fabulous. The people were all respectful and efficient; they were friendly and hospitable. Heathrow is a huge airport, but its bright and consistently placed purple “Flight Connection” signs makes navigation easy, the sort of easy that borders on even being fun.

My experience at the new Bangalore Airport was also very simple and would have been extremely quick had the luggage arrived earlier on the belt. Also, for 4:30am, the airport security staff were warm and personable in welcoming us to their city and country.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

India Preparation Sources

As I prepare to depart tomorrow for Bangalore, I thought I would compile a list of internet sources that proved extremely helpful, entertaining, and convenient. With all its added challenges and rewards, Tourism in India has long remained a cult favorite for those hoping to experience something more than the sterility of Europe. Needless to say, there is a plethora of sources on the internet to service a traveler to the Subcontinent - and the best are developed by fellow travelers who have repeatedly made the trip, repeatedly overcome the challenges, and repeatedly acknowledged their "aha! moments."

ENGAGING User-Developed Sources:

IndiaMike - a monumental website that hosts an open forum for discussion on a wide range of subjects relating to travel/residency in India. IndiaMike also hosts a series of user-developed articles that detail various aspects of travel such as "How to Cross an Indian Road." In addition, there is a fairly expansive photo gallery posted by fellow travelers. 

TripAdvisor - a mainstay for travelers to any destination in the world, TripAdvisor aids in scouting out the main points of interest in any destination. The site's system of ranking attractions, hotels, etc and coupling the rankings with travelers' reviews and photographs permits one to efficiently process information. TripAdvisor is great for those who do not want to wander through forums, for those who want to make quick, calculated travel decisions.

Bolly-what Forums - the "India, Greater South Asia, and the Diaspora" and the "India-bound!"sections of the forums provide more interesting threads - whether you are planning to travel or not. Like IndiaMike, these forums are full of engaging anecdotes from fellow travelers. Also, be sure to wander outside of these two sections to learn more about Bollywood's sphere of influence as well as to brush up on your Hindi and Urdu. 

DRY Government Sources:

Guide Book: Lonely Planet India is the most widely read guide book for India and it has held this place since its inception in the 1980s. Lonely Planet also makes much of the basic planning information found in its books accessible online

My next post will be covering the ORD-LHR-BLR route. Stay tuned!