Posts Tagged ‘February’

What can I say about India, that I haven’t said before?

Not much!

pani-puriIt bustles. (It REALLY bustles). Although where we are based this time, out on the outskirts of the city proper, it doesn’t bustle quite as much. It still takes a brave man or woman to cross the road at most times of the day – something that seems to be achieved with ease by the locals but which fills me with dread.

It smells. There is such a variety of smells too, from the rich and sweetly scented to the downright sewery pongs of open drain networks. Now we’ve spent a little time here, I think we realise that the running water (smelly running water) is pump-out from the many building sites up and down the road. It looks like the have reached the water table in the site next to us and are pumping the water out to build foundations.

You walk in the road. Most of the pavements we have to use on our 10-15 minute walk to work either don’t exist, or might have done at one time but have fallen into disrepair. Dust is everywhere and is kicked up by the relentless turbulence of passing traffic. Along our route, there are various commercial outlets – it’s difficult to use the term ‘shops’ because whereas some ARE shops in the traditional Western sense, others are tiny (tiny!) sheds with the vendor’s goods laid out on (for example) a carpet, or hand carts piled high with all sorts of things: grapes seem to be popular just now, we’ve seen a number of carts piled high with tiny green grapes. (There’s even an unrefrigerated pork shop!).

There’s rubbish everywhere. In-between those commercial outlets, in what appears to be no-man’s-land, is rubbish. Not necessarily smelly rubbish but all kinds of other detritus. Certainly, much of the broken pavement can be found in the rubbish piles, but there’s also bits of iron, old boxes, trailing wires, bags of unspecified garbage waiting (forlornly) for pick up and, in one place, huge piles of paper. In fact, I’ve now seen, several times, a man sat tying up sheaves of papers – so I guess that the piles of paper are his and that one day a truck will come along and take it away after paying him a small pittance for collecting it. No one says that the locals are not entrepreneurial.


I suppose all that suggests that I don’t like it here – but nothing can be further from the truth. 

This is my third visit and I’m still fascinated by India and by the Indian people. See previous posts:

I cannot comment on the countryside as I’ve not really seen any. On each visit to Bangalore we have travelled from the airport, which is miles outside the city proper, to our hotel and not really seen anything other than urbanisation and cityscape. The city is HUGE. The third largest population in India (some fact sites tell us) and it is still growing very, very quickly.

scaffoldOur hotel is surrounded by building projects.  On all sides there are cranes, banging machinery and some of the ricketiest scaffolding you’ve ever seen. From the roof terrace, there is not a direction I can look in that does not have building work going on (hence the dust).

We see workmen scrambling along the scaffolding and wonder how they don’t fall off. I suppose it’s some improvement in health and safety that they always have a clip-on harness while they do this but – who knows.


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As there’s a good chance I won’t get the opportunity to visit India again, I thought I’d better make note of a few of the new things I saw whilst there this time.

I saw many more of the little things on this, my second visit to Bangalore than I did on the first. This is probably because urban India is such a challenge to all the senses. It’s noisy, it has smells all of its own, it is in a constant state of movement – there’s no let up – even the beer tastes different.

This year I noticed the people.

When we went shopping on Commercial Street, we saw and met lots of traders, many of whom were probably sole/family traders and many of whom simply worked off of a push-cart or small table. One man and his wife were sat alongside a small cart full of crockery and I wondered just how busy they would be; it didn’t seem to be the most desirable of trades or likely to be the most profitable. Yet, as I sat outside one shop waiting for Alison I saw several sales made at this tiny crockery cart, with selections being discussed, then made, then wrapped in newspaper for purchase. So perhaps all was well in that family’s world.

Builders Merchants
Many businesses like that do seem to be family affairs. One morning as I looked out of my hotel window I saw a bullock cart loaded with sand. I didn’t think much more about it (it delivered to a house across the road and then set off back on its way – after the driver had along chat with someone passing on the road). Then later (and probably unrelated but worthy of note) I saw a small child playing in a big mound of sand. I just thought nothing of it until the photo was developed (well uploaded to the computer). Behind the child I now saw mum was pushing the sand through a massive sieve, obviously preparing for some work or delivery. Another example of Indian family life?

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Despite the prevalence of modern motorcars, the transport vehicles and trucks were not so up to date and often looked like they were held together by sticky tape and luck. Perhaps it’s a personal credit thing, which in turn makes everyone work so hard, even those who are lower down the pay scale. We saw a building being demolished, by hand. Over a period of about four days, certainly no more than a week, this building was demolished by a team of men using nothing more than sledge-hammers, shovels and an acetylene torch. The torch was to cut the steel from within the concrete blocks, so that it could be recycled (in the back of the Indian equivalent of a Luton van). And all this was done within feet of a major road and overlapped the narrow pavement only slightly.


Road Repairs
The roads are not the best. Most are pitted and full of holes – some of which are quite large, and we wondered how often if ever, they were ever repaired. That question was answered one day when I took myself off for a walk. Try not to imagine the sort of walk we might enjoy here in our blighted isle – this walk was on some good pavements, some bad pavements and often, in the road. There’s no real respect here for one-way systems and for many small vehicles they simply don’t exist – so the walker (me) has to be constantly on the alert for that beep of the horn that is warning me to move out of the way. Some way in front I noticed a lady standing in my way with something balanced on her head and as I was wondering what it was, a young man scuttled past me and placed a similar receptacle as her feet. As he retreated back past me I turned to see where he was going and found another man walking towards me with a steaming pan of asphalt on his shoulder (see pics). At the lady’s feet were pans of small grade hardcore; the previously deposited pan of asphalt (another on her head) and hubby (I guess) was now coming along to begin the actual repair. Without much care for the cars whizzing past in both directions he now began to spread his load along the already prepared hardcore/gravel. The other pans of asphalt were recovered and spread likewise. I didn’t stop to see how it was tamped down, but I guess the traffic did that for them. Health and Safety? Really?

Foundry Work
Our hotel was situated in a fairly quiet part of town. From my bedroom window I could see a few detached (one looked as if it had been bombed) suburban homes, some coconut trees and some high-rise buildings – I could hear the nearby main road – but not too loudly. If I looked out of the end corridor window I could see the narrow car park and access that runs down the side of the hotel – and the Republic Hospital, which is just behind the wall. One day I looked out of this window and saw two men sat in the car park with a pile of pans around them. Looking closer, I noticed that they had a fire going and that one of the guys was holding a pan over that fire. Looking even closer, I saw that they were in fact tinning (lining) copper pans. Their mobile foundry was a box with coals for the fire, a turny-thing that blew air into the fire, some tongs and some thick gloves! If you see the video, you will note that the action of tinning is fairly simple but fraught with danger. Still – this is how they make a living.

Coconut seller

Street Traders
Here in Bangalore there are almost as many street traders as there are shops and they sell all sorts of things. We saw folks selling freshly cut fruit; melon, paw paw, mango etc, Coconuts: these were still surrounded by their protective green coir, a little of which was then sliced off, a hole made and the buyer was presented with a straw to drink the liquid inside. Following this the top third of coconut is sliced away and the customer is given the whole thing to eat with a scoop fashioned from the coir. Some folks had roadside newsagents selling sweets, drinks and newspapers. Others sold flower petals from the handlebars of their bicycle, or cups of hot sweet char from carts or flasks they carried with them. One pair did the ironing.

Close to where we worked all day each weekend and between 4pm and 8pm each evening there were two guys who stood out in the street ironing. They had a flat cart well covered with material and each had huge soft pads upon which they ironed all manner of clothing, bedding and furniture covering. A tarpaulin was stung between the boughs of overhanging trees to cover the whole enterprise. Their irons were massive – and probably very heavy. They were half filled with hot charcoal and topped off with cold charcoal (presumably to give the heat a longer life – I never checked how long it lasted). No matter what time we were there – they were ironing. The coconut guy held court across the road from them and both traders did a roaring trade.

As I said earlier, this is just my reflection of the people I saw. There will have been many many more that passed my notice. And, when I said ‘urban India’ above I meant just that – I have no knowledge of rural India, it was too far away for me in the short periods we had not working.

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Well BA managed to leave on time and on the right day this time. They also got us to Heathrow without (much) incident. Yet it wasn’t all that smooth – BA still has some work to do to be super slick. More later.

Last night we’d both hoped for a quiet evening; a light meal, a few drinks and early to bed but that was thwarted somewhat as we were invited out by our hosts, Merittrac.

Night out

We were driven out to a restaurant that was worryingly authentic and worryingly close to flying time. I’d had a slight tummy upset that morning so was especially careful to choose what I ate. In the end, it looks like I chose well as I’ve been fine. There was a buffet there that filled me with dread but I was relieved to see, once seated, that part of the experience was to enjoy grilled meats ‘cooked’ in front of us. Well, re-heated!

Our tables were set with holes into which the staff placed buckets of burning coals, covered with skewer supports upon which an array of cooked kebabs were placed. We were offered fish, chicken and prawns – all delightfully seasoned and spiced. We took these from the grill as and when we fancied them and they were replaced with different flavoured examples, which just kept on coming (until we lowered a flag at the end of the table – surrendered). Interspersed with this array of grilled meat and fish, waiters brought tasty, tender drumsticks and lamb kebabs.

And that was only the starters! [MORE PICS LATER WHEN UPLOADED] – See next blog post for slideshow of pics.

I tasted a little of everything but not much more than that. The meats were spicy but not too much so. When everyone went to the buffet for ‘mains’ I just had a tiny amount of biryani and a little sauce to wet it. As I say, I have survived.

The place was a madhouse. In the same way that Italian restaurants celebrate birthdays with a huge song and dance; here they did that literally. Waiters would come to a table and gyrate in front of it while singing to everyone. It was fairly scary I can tell you.

British Airways
Anyway, back to BA. Following last year’s debacle [ see ] I’d decided that having sold my car recently (we’re dropping from two to one) I would endeavour to come back from India in ‘Pod’ class. We tried to arrange this before setting off from the UK but they refused to entertain us unless we did it through the booking agents (£800+ each) – so knowing that others had regularly upgraded with BA whilst in India (last price paid, by Alison last year, just short of £300), we decided to wait.

Well, for a full fortnight, every time I checked ‘My Booking’ the price offered to me for upgrading was £1,900+. I’ll say that again – ALMOST TWO THOUSAND POUNDS! Well they can cocoa! Alison meanwhile was being offered the chance to upgrade for £400 – a special offer for her only. Grrrr.

As Alison is not known to rise before the sun is well into the sky, and the check-in opened at 7:00am, we agreed that I would book us in and secure our seats in Premium Economy. So once I woke up on our last day in Bangalore and went to the website, I was immediately surprised to be offered an upgrade, as was Alison. Whoopee. However, she had seemed uncertain about upgrading the previous evening and we’d not discussed this option, so having sent her a message I waited until later, hoping she’d wake and read it. By 10:30am, I was still being offered the upgrade but Alison was not. So, even though I’d decided to make the executive decision to book ’em and be damned, I couldn’t.

So I simply checked in and thought we’d tackle upgrades again at the counter.

The downside of this was that they had allocated a seat to me, but not to Alison. Which could have been a good thing, inasmuch as if the Premium Economy seats are overbooked someone has to be boosted to Pod Class. After all, that’s what happened on the way out – to my benefit.

So we arrived at the airport is morning, in good time and Alison went to the counter first, she having had no seat assigned. She left the counter – still with no seat assigned and having her offer to purchase and upgrade refused point blank. I then approached the counter and was immediately offered and upgrade for £399. I could only smile, but Alison was FURIOUS. I discussed the situation with the stewardess and she said she couldn’t do anything but if I purchased an upgrade, then Alison would probably get my seat in Premium. I did the gentlemanly thing and declined. Hopefully, this way, Alison, still without a seat would get bumped up.

Well, that didn’t happen.

I was bumped up and Alison was given my now vacant Premium Economy seat. 🙂

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The last few days have been frustrating. For our training we are housed in a tiny room with intermittent internet connection, aging computers and a break out room (even smaller) that we cannot use if the ‘Director’ decides to come in to work. Even so, had the website we were here to train the folks on, have worked properly, even those “Indian” problems would have been easy enough to overcome. So frustrating.

Our team

Still, we managed: Just.

Sadly tonight is our last night with the delegates. Tomorrow (after 24 hours) we have some mopping up work to do and some shopping will be required before we get to that. We leave the hotel at 4:00am Wednesday morning.


Our hotel provides a good selection of dishes from around the world. I wrote about the breakfasts in an earlier post but the lunches and evening meals are no less extensive. Like breakfast, the lunch menu has a wide array of buffet dishes from (mainly) across India. There are also special menu meals, only one of which we had because – quite simply – there is TOO MUCH to eat. Mostly, when we’ve eaten in the hotel of an evening, we have just had snacks, because the main dishes are huge.

Restaurant food

Lunch at the Biere Club

That doesn’t mean that the hotel is the only place to eat. We’ve eaten in several other places, sometimes more than once because a) the food is OK and b) the portions are not too large (and if they are the food is cheap enough to not worry about leaving any). Neither of us have overdone the Indian food, but what we have had has been delicious. However, many of our meals have been non-Indian (with maybe just a touch of Indian influence) 🙂

We’re frequented a place called The Biere Club  several times. They make a tasty really crispy based pizza and their ‘assorted’ fries are gorgeous. We must have sampled about a third of their menu on his trip and can honestly say that if you want a non-Indian snack or meal – this is the place to come. They even brew their own beer, which at lunchtimes, we’ve avoided (we have to work you know).

Another place I would never have a) found or b) gone into without Alison’s recommendation was The Only Place. Here, I had what was the best steak I’ve eaten in many a year. I can’t honestly remember one as nice in the last twenty years, unless it was one I had in Australia in 1996. It was simply delicious. It had real flavour, something we don’t often get back home, and was cooked to perfection. The restaurant itself is BYO (as long as it’s wine the can serve you with disguised as coke, or tonic) and very Indian. Hat’s off to you guys – keep up the good work.

Last night we went to a place we’d never been before. The Glasshouse looks  a bit posh and to be fair they did their best to provide a friendly, open air, Mediterranean atmosphere. The food was really good: We both had Caramelized Goat’s Cheese as a delicious starter and followed that up with chicken dishes which were perfectly cooked but nothing to write home about.

Street food

Fruit sales

I really wish I dared to try the street food that we see everywhere. There are folks selling coconuts; they cut the copra away and allow the purchaser to drink the water inside (straws are optional) and then, the cut it open properly and scoop out the inside with a leaf. There are folks selling cut fruit: my problem is the amount of flies we often see around such stalls and the water the fruit may have been ashed in. There are folks selling, peanuts (freshly cooked and de-husked), folks selling sweet tea, folks selling all types of meals to eat standing on the corner of the road (which is invariably bedlam) and all kinds of other folks selling – stuff 🙂

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Our small group of trainees are doing superbly well, so well that we are in fact a little ahead of schedule. So today’s ‘Admin Day’ was a little freer than it could otherwise have been. (Wednesday).

Commercial Street

Adele, Alison’s daughter who accompanied us here, flies home tomorrow morning. So there was an urgent need to do some last minute shopping on Commercial Street and Brigade Road. Commercial Street is exactly like those areas of most UK towns that existed before the modernisation of town centres that begun in the 50s and continued up until the late 70s when supermarkets began their incessant, unstoppable march of taking shopping out of town – which has stalled only recently.

In Huddersfield – our version of Commercial Street was Shambles Lane.

From end to end and for several streets around, Commercial Street is packed tight with shops selling everything known to man and beast. Some streets have mainly shoes (ladies flip-flops/thongs @ £1 ish); some mainly women’s clothes (nightwear, day wear of all shapes, sizes and to suit all religions, wedding wear, ‘naughty wear’ J); some men’s wear – mainly shirts; household stuff, including shop after shop selling stainless steel sinks; trinkets, tourist stuff and well, everything else except big cars, bikes and houses. It is a fascinating view of Indian commerce.

We then went to the palace here at Bangalore. Built in the 19th century, it has been the home to Wodeyar dynasty on and off since then. From outside it is a magnificent prospect but inside that prospect changes.

Bangalore Palace

We found it odd that there was a seeming lack of upkeep. Pictures were faded and hung on faded walls that had scratched and stained paint. Dust was everywhere; on top of pictures, on window ledges and the floor. The palace could have been beautiful rather than simply interesting. The air of neglect wasn’t reflected in the entry regulations of £6.50 if you wanted to take photos (on top of the £3.75 ish entry fee) or £2.80 to use a cell phone camera!!! Embarrassingly we didn’t have enough rupees to get in so we had to negotiate the value of a £20 note – which worked. The headphones provided were informative and helped us to find our way around, so we knew when we were in the male resident’s quarters and when in the female quarters. Strangely, this part of the building had some really raunchy paintings on the wall – not just naked women but naked women in suggestive poses. Perhaps it was a 50 Shades thing!

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangalore_Palace

Following the palace we had a late lunch at The Hard Rock Cafe and came back to the hotel.

We’re back at work training this evening. After some hours preparing we introduced the trainees, finally to the online platform they would use. Until now, this had just been a promise and we’d worked on paper resources as we first of all struggled to get the Internet working, then working fast enough to be useful, then getting MS Access software installed – all of which was requested prior to departure. Anyway – they enjoyed that session and are now eager to get into real live online marking.

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Whilst we’re here working; on weekdays, Monday to Friday we are only required on site during the twilight shift: 4:00pm until 8:00pm. However, Saturday and Sunday are full days: 9.00am – 5:30pm. Other weekday times are spent catching up or preparing for the job.


So, continuing Saturday’s frustration with the Internet; on Sunday we found that the newly installed LAN was only marginally better than the WiFi. We delivered as much as we could with paper and skilled procrastination until the IT guys asked if it was better now. When we tried, we found that it was indeed better, still not what we needed, but better. They said, “let us know, because we can always turn it up”!!!!!! What! Really? Can they turn access to the Internet Up and Down like a tap turns water on and off? Well, we hope to find out later today, Monday, when we get there.

I did some online work this morning (Monday) before going out with Alison and Adele to Lalbagh Gardens and the shops on Brigade Road. There are really cheap Adidas and Converse shops here, so it’s a great place to come of that’s what you want. We had lunch in Starbucks, which is one of the few WiFi Oases around – everyone seems to have some kind of data contract and everyone has a phone. Apparently those places selling alcohol are not allowed to provide WiFi; at least that’s what we’re told.

Lalbagh is an extensive, beautiful park, first developed in the 18th Century, right in the middle of a mayhem/mess of roads. Once there, after some time in traffic that can only be imagined, you find yourself in a peaceful oasis of calm and reflection. Monkeys can be seen, chipmunks are abundant and there are trees and building of all kinds – enough to keep one enthralled and occupied for as long as you like. Alison had warned me that ‘white’ people are another attraction of the park (us!) and although we attracted no attention last year – this year we were thronged with requests for photographs and approached for handshakes and ‘hello’s”. Everyone we met this way was delightful – very friendly and full of fun. Of course the main attraction for most boys we met was Adele, Alison’s daughter (18) but they still asked for pictures with me, which I DID find strange!

Three wise monkeys

Even walking around today, random folks would come up to us and say ‘good morning’ and sometimes shake hands. It’s really nice. After work today (it’s now Tuesday) we went to the Biere Club near UB City and instead of walking back, which we’d done previously, we caught an auto rickshaw. Once we were back I thanked the driver and said thank you in Hindi. His reply was “Muslim sir, Muslim’ … so not knowing what Arabic for thank you was I simply said ‘Salam aleikum and offered him my hand, which he took and replied with words and a smile.

Such bliss to be part of a reasonably centred human race.

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TraineesThe breakfasts here at the Adarsh Hamilton Hotel in Bangalore are to die for; and if I tried to do them any justice at all – that’s exactly what would happen to me! I’d die.

I’ve been settling for one small banana, 2 slices of brown toast, some marmalade and an idli.

Idli are a weird textured local delicacy and from last years experience, completely tasteless unless you dip them in some sort of fiery, IBS inducing sauce. However, the hotel restaurant here has provided a variety of idli each day, with an array of dips/sauces/chutneys etc. to eat them with. Yesterday, day 2, Saturday, I tried a coconut and neem leaf idli and ate it with some marmalade. Now, to purists, that will be anathema (or just plain weird) but it got me to continue experimenting with idli. Today, I had had one with peas in it and this time I risked a coriander chutney (tasty, not very hot, green) and a tomato chutney (tasty, took the enamel off my teeth, red) – and marmalade 🙂

Nevertheless, despite my renewed interest in idli, there is much more to the breakfast here than I restrict myself to. I could, if I wanted to have a freshly cooked omelette, with any of a variety of fillings. Likewise, I could choose from a wide section of (what we would call) curries with paratha, rice, dahl etc. There is unpeeled fresh fruit, peeled and prepared fresh fruit, cereals, breads – including croissants and Danish – porridge, bacon, chicken sausage, chicken salami, eggs, juices and … well, you get the picture! My younger self would have feasted here and been happy and replete. My present self is happy to eat my meagre toast and to just admire the selection of food on offer.

Yesterday was our first full day working with the new trainees. Although only five turned up, they were a complete delight and, working with Alison, it was like the good old e-Guides days. I mean really just like that! We had little or no internet connection just like we used to (not) get at some of the early e-Guides venues. I arrived at one venue in Manchester and found that there was no internet at all. The venue had been asked by Niace ‘do you have WiFi?’ to which they had answered yes – but given that it was the early days of WiFi they hadn’t realised that Niace had meant ‘for the delegates’. Hey ho.

LunchStill, we’re here to train the team on online marking – so unless it’s fixed soon we will be really flying by the seat of our pants.

Lunches at the training venue are real Indian take-aways 🙂 All of that we see here in this picture is vegetarian and all really really tasty. However some of the ‘tastes’ are so fiery hot that I can no longer take more than a cursory bite. Top right here, we see a really sweet, cold, rice pudding but it’s not a Müller Fruit Corner. It is in fact the same tomato chutney that almost took the enamel off my teeth, with the idli yesterday. The rice was moderately mild, the dahl, a little hotter and the other savoury bits EVEN hotter. However, this is not a complaint – even a taste this hot satisfies me more than a full dish at some of the restaurants back home.

Sunday onwards next.


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