India 2005

Our vacation in India 2005. (RSS)

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2005-11-10 India Pictures

Traffic!! Three wheels, two strokes, one stench Brigade Road by night.  Go shopping. 5th Avenue shopping center on Brigade Road

We arrived at 5:00 in the morning. It had taken us about 20h to get there from door to door.

The night before, we had left in the early morning, too. We needed to catch a train at 5:02 at the main station, and we hadn’t packed much. All we had was this big pile in the corner of the living room. Claudia was writing last-minute mails. I was trying to get a grip on our plans and go through our inventory. At 3:30 I got nervous and called Claudia. I had expected to be ready to leave at 4:00. We started packing in a panic rush, running back and forth between bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and the pile. I practically puked, I was so tense and feeling so helpless and late and everything seemed so big. There was a key to mail, a card to write, the power cables to pull, the plants to water, we must have forgotten something. We left the appartment running. The trip had barely begun and my knees were already shaking.

Our flight to Paris, our wait for the next flight, and our flight to Mumbai was uneventful, long, and boring.

At Mumbai, the previous plane would not leave gate 19. No display listed our flight. The attendants walking arround kept telling us to go to gate 19, but there, our flight was nowhere to be seen. It was supposed to leave at 3:30. We arrived late. We had trouble at customs filling in the immigration forms they had not given to us on the plane. There was more form filling a bit later, too. The Indians seemed to love multiple checks and forms.

I changed CHF 200 at the airport. The smallest bills we had was an INR 10 and an INR 20 bill. When Claudia went to the bathroom at the airport to spray some insect repellent on, I thought that maybe she would be asked for some money, so I gave her the INR 20 bill. When she entered the facilities, she was followed by several cleaning ladies. They must have thought that her perfume smelled awful.

The women seemed not to know of what we call “Höflichkeitsabstand” – the minimum distance one should keep when being polite, about 1m for men, a little less for women. Claudia was tired, jet-lagged, confused by their babbling and anxious to get out, so she gave them the INR 20 bill and immediately regretted it when she saw the silent awe in their faces.

She left quickly.

At the airport we were welcomed by AlokSingh, Jenny, AadityaSood, and V, who had a flower bouquet for us. That was sweet. We went outside and the early morning air was grey. Aadis and Tiger promised to come arround in the evening and we left in Alok’s oldtimer. Only much later did I wonder whether he was driving an old Ambassador. It felt very weird to sit in such an old car. We didn’t know how common these old cars were at the time.

We slept until 15:00, then we went for a walk along M. G. Road. Later Jenny told us that practically every Indian city has a Mahatma Gandhi Road – M. G. Road.

Later tonight, Aaditya, Vaishalee, Noufal, and Harsha came arround and we small talked a bit. They wanted to know about out plans, but they were very vague. Mysore and maybe on to Kerala, basically. When they left, I distributed most of the 3kg of chocolate we had brought along.

Alok doesn’t like chocolate. He has the Emacs logo tatooed on his shoulder.


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2005-11-11 India Pictures

There's a big lake in Lal Bagh A family wants to have us on a picture Cool dudes, too At the bull temple, it's a girl's school Alok had organised a cab for us to carry us to Lal Bagh, the Bull Temple, and Tippu Sultan’s summer palace. Sightseeing in Bangalore!

The taxi cost INR 800 for eight hours or 80km. I was surprised, since we had taken very little cash to India because of the rush. We had about CHF 1000 in cash and CHF 300 in Travelle Cheques from a previous holiday. I had hoped that we might be spending CHF 200 per week on ordinary stuff, bought the rest using my credit card. This would have left us a comfy margin. CHF 200 is about INR 6000, so the price of the taxi was on the upper limit of what I had expected. Then again, it was our first day, and we had planned to take it easy for the first few days. So off we went.

Lal Bagh is a big park, with a collection of roses, a little lake with lotus flowers, a glass house (which we did not see), and many tourists. It turned out that many of these tourists were interested in taking pictures of us! Several groups asked us to join them and be part of the pictures they were taking. After the first request took us by surprise, we decided to ask for a picture in return.

In this respect, the Hindu culture is clearly a lot easier for tourists than an Islamic culture were people would feel uncomfortable when taking pictures of them, specially old and traditional people which impressed me the most when I was in Morocco. Here in India, with so many people wanting to take our picture, we felt no hesitation to take a lot of pictures ourselves.

From Lal Bagh, we went on to the Bull Temple. The walk up the hill was surprisingly short, maybe 100m, and the temple was much smaller than expected. Our first experience with taking off shoes when entering temples, our first Hindu priest in India, our first impression of temple architecture: Heavy stones, dark shadows, flickering candles, walking around the center of the temple in a little aisle with other people, making a small donation to the priest, strange thing about these Gopurams (domes above the entrance to the temple courtyard).

On the way out, we see something that we’ll see a few more times: Big groups of female Indian tourists. School classes?

The Gopuram guarding the entrance Shiva in a dark recess The bull itself seems to be too big to fit inside

We then drove to Tippu Sultan’s summer palace. (Tippu Sultan was the son of Haider Ali; he led the resistance against the British towards the end.) The palace was closed. We decided to go and see Cubbon Park instead.

The cab parked in front of the high court of Karnataka, just accross the Karnataka parliament building, Vidhana Soudha, and the new equally pompous Vikasa Soudha. Then again, Karnataka state does have about 70 million inhabitants, which is a bit less than Germany and about ten times as much as all of Switzerland, so we really need to adjust our expectations. It turned out that we’d be running into similar situations a lot: The sheer size of India, the incredible number of people living here, just boggles the (European) mind.

No pictures of these buildings, and none to be found on Wikipedia. Hm. Goole works quite well for these kinds of things: Images:Vidhana+Soudha, Images:Vikasa+Soudha, Images:Karnataka+High+Court.

What confused me to no end when Indians talk big numbers was that they don’t use “our” system of thousands, millions, and billions: They use their own system where 1 lakh is 1E5 and 1 crore is 1E7. See Wikipedia:Indian numbering system and compare with the two conflicting western systems at Wikipedia:Long and short scales.

Mixing modern plates and traditional banana leaves Commercial Street at night Lights, cars, and people.  Everywhere.

In the evening, we went in search of Coconut Grove in Church Street. We must have missed it two or three times, doing the rounds, up Church Street, back on M. G. Road, Church Street again. We were just about ready to go for a Chinese restaurant when I finally saw it. Indian streets have so many small shops, and not just on the ground floor, and not just on the main road, and they all have big colorful signs on the main road. It’s a jungle, and it’s hard to find a single specific job unless you know where to look.

Coconut Grove was a our first Indian restaurant. The guide book had described it as expensive but worth the money. And so it was, for INR 500 we had excellent food. Our first time with banana leaves as a plate. We took our time and when Jenny called, we were still at the Coconut Grove. She told us to stay there and she’d come and meet us.

Together, we went to Commercial Street, in order to buy “material”: Silk saree, material for a saree blouse with matching color (in a different shop), and finally to a tailer who worked in a little tiny room without windows together with two or three young men helping him, down a sidestreet and behind two other houses.

After handing over the material and discussing the cut of the dress, the folds of the saree and the details of the blouse, we returned to M. G. Road, paid the driver, and waited for Alok. We bought an off-the-shelf Sherwani for about INR 7000. I was quite surprised at the price, but since I was able to pay with the credit card, I didn’t worry so much. Still, this trip was going to be more expensive than I had expected with all these people at home claiming how cheap everything would be. Little did I know that our appetite would grow proportionally!

In the evening, Jenny and Alok invite the two of us for dinner at Ebony’s on the 13th floor of a mall/hotel. We’re having Indian food, they’re having French food. We have an interesting view onto Bangalore and the parade grounds. It is dark and hazy, and at the end of our dinner it starts to rain.

We walk home in the rain after waiting in vain for it to abate. It stops when we’re wet.


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2005-11-12 India

There’s a cinema on M. G. Road, and above the cinema is Ullas restaurant. We had breakfast, there. Our first contact with south Indian cooking: Idli and some sort of fried donut whose name I forgot. See Wikipedia:Idli for pics and background.

Our diary, four or five lines per day We returned to Ullas a few more times, later.

The shopping center here in Bangalore has Swiss chocolate – Toblerone. Chocolate, shampoo, Gillette razor blades are much cheaper than in Switzerland. I bought a new razor and some blades at the airport in Zürich because I had forgotten to bring them along. I must have spent about CHF 40 (more than INR 1000) on that useless piece of plastic and steel. On the entire trip I shaved exactly once.

My stomach is a bit nervous, I eat very little.

We go shopping for shoes (leather sandals to go along with my Sherwani, fancy sandals to go along with Claudia’s Sari). Alok and Jenny are coming along. We also go shopping for more material: Some chiffon, then off to the “matcher” to find matching cotton material for a blouse for Claudia’s friend, and we visit the tailor again. We also buy Bangles (very thin bracelets worn in large numbers).

On the way home we see big bats or what we call “flying dogs” in German – Flughunde. See Wikipedia:Megabat or Wikipedia:Flughund. One of them either shat on my head or shook something loose when it landed in the tree above me which fell on my head. At least it was try. :

If you’re wondering how we remembered all these names and details, take a look at the kind of diary we kept while travelling: About four or five lines of notes per day and the pictures help us remember...


Comments on 2005-11-12 India

The place is called Ullas (no possessive). Ullas means joy in Kannada.

AlokSingh 2005-12-05 07:01 UTC

fried donuts are called medu-wada.

– Anonyme 2005-12-05 15:32 UTC

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2005-11-13 India Pictures

Prepaid auto riksha stand at Mysore railway station Mysore, notice the auto-scooter on three wheels Mysore, notice the Kannada script on the shops Women dress beautifully in India

We went to Mysore by train. Our first Indian railway station. Our first Indian train. The first thing we noted was that the trains are incredibly popular, and the bureaucracy is relatively efficient, which explains that there is a strong culture of making reservations. Without reservations, it is hard to get a seat. And since distances are big, nobody wants to travel without a seat.

Harsha told us that he’d get the tickets, and that we should be at the station about an hour before the train leaves. The explanation was obvious once we got there: Harsha had not organized tickets, we still had to get them. So Claudia and I waited in a corner of the station while Harsha queued and bought the tickets.

It was very early in the morning and already the railway station was packed. There were families sitting on the floor, as if they were camping, wrapped in their shawls, some of them just about to get up, some of the sleepers had wrapped their brown blankets all around them. They looked like excavated mummies that had dropped by the porter of an archeology expedition.

The train was old. Very old. It was running on Diesel, and painted in blue. They used wooden frames for the train windows. And iron bars in front of them. Every compartment had three old fans covered in cobwebs hanging on the ceiling. The compartments were different than in Switzerland. Here, I’ve seen the following arrangements:

People are seated in groups of four left and right of the aisle. The seating benches are as high as necessary, but no higher. When you step into the waggon, you can see over the heads of people to the far end. This is the most common pattern.

In first class, you get more ellbow room: People are seated in groups of four one one side and in pairs on the other side, facing each other. Again, you can see over the heads of people to the far end.

For Sleepers and the like usually have an aisle running down one side of the waggon and compartments sealed off from each other and from the aisle by thin walls. You usually cannot see into the compartments because the windows have curtains which the people inside usually draw hoping that newcomers will not come and sit with them.

In India, people are sitting in groups of six on one side and in pairs on the other side of the aisle. The compartments are separated by walls but open to the aisle. So people looking for a seat can walk down the aisle and just sit anywhere. Once you sit, you can’t see the other compartments anymore. Interesting design decisions.

It was a three hour ride from Bangalore to Mysore, and we got there somewhere between ten and eleven. Claudia and I were white, and carrying backpacks. We had auto-riksha drivers all over us when we stepped out into the sunlight. Harsha fended them off and walked to the prepaid stand. You pay Rs 1 extra and get a fair price in return. It cost about half of what the drivers had asked for at the station entrance said Harsha.

We stayed at Harsha’s uncle and aunt’s place. They are a very nice elderly couple; he’s retired but still teaching management and organisation in state institutions.

When we arrived, we got some breakfast before anything else, with papaya and a vegetable couscous. Harsha’s uncle wanted us to eat fruit before anything else because he had learnt that this was better for your digestion. I wonder whether that’s true.

Alex and Harsha in the Mysore palace park Alex and Claudia in front of Mysore palace Mysore palace park has some nice Tiger sculptures The main gate of Mysore palace

Harsha’s uncle had organized a driver for us, and so Claudia, Harsha, and me were driven around Mysore. We saw the palace (see pictures), the museum behind the palace, and the gallery. I was not too impressed with any of them. What we were going to see several times again in India was the rapid decay of almost all buildings. There doesn’t seem to be enough money to maintain all the museums. And another thing that surprised me was that a lot of things kept in museums here is stuff that was actually imported from Europe in the days when the Europeans bought themselves into the hearts of the Indian rulers... So there’s chandeliers and watches from Europe, crumbling walls, dust and very little text to put things into context.

I really liked the main gate and the path leading up to the palace front, however. The palace front is open – basically there’s a big gaping hole in the building with a huge terrace overlooking the park up to the main gate, with an elevated seat for the Raja to sit and be admired. Unfortunately the pictures don’t really reveal this. If look at the picture of me and Claudia, you’ll see the big arches, and the big terrace behind the columns. (Picture of Mysore Palace elsewhere.)

Another thing we noticed while walking through the park was the incredible number of dragonflies in India. Here in Switzerland, dragonflies are rare. When there’s a lake there will be maybe two or three big ones, and several smaller ones. You’ll be surprised if you see one. In Mysore, all you had to do was look up at the sky and it seemed liked there was a dragonfly per square meter!

When we drove back home, we noticed that we had forgotten our video camera at the cloak room of the gallery – Jaganmohan Palace. The gallery had some very nice oil paintings in a far corner of the second floor. So we arrived at Harsha’s uncle’s place, did a U-turn, and headed straight back to the gallery. Luckily, the camera was still there, even though Harsha seemed pretty nervous. It sometimes seemed to me that the Indians were more afraid of being ripped off or robbed than we were.

I also found a link to Tipu Sultan, the “Tiger of Mysore”, in the BBC history section.

We also saw some Indian musical instruments in one of the museums. At the end of our trip I bought some CDs with Indian music to learn more about it.

Looking at Mysore palace from the main gate at night Mysore Exhibition, a fair

When we came back, we slept for an hour, and then we left again, hoping to see the Mysore palace in all its night-time glory, since it is lit up every Sunday evening. (See the links to the pictures of Mysore palace above.) Since an ex-prime minister (or was it an ex-president?) of India had recently died, however, they did not illumate the palace that night. Aimlessly, we walked about, looking for something else to do, while fending off the postcard vendors.

In fact, these postcard vendors were everywhere. And we kept fending them off. When we returned from India, we hadn’t written a single postcard. Oh well.

We then saw a big sign alit in the night saying “Exhibition”. Harsha explained that it was some sort of local fair. We decided to go. We also noticed how Harsha hesitated, explaining how there were problably too many people for us there. Too crowded. We are very urban and we love crowds, we said. There are not enough people for us in Switzerland. This is when I started to suspect that Harsha had been born in the wrong country. He didn’t like crowds! :)

Inside, we soon discovered a little stage where people were playing classical Indian music. We took some chairs and listened. Unfortunately we had arrived for the last act. When we were about to turn back and head home, Harsha heard some more music from one of the loudspeakers and said that this was a play, and that this must mean that there was another stage on these fair grounds where that play was being played. At first we didn’t find it and I started suggesting that they were just broadcasting the music without actually having the play here. But Harsha insisted and we finally found it. Unfortunately, the play had just ended! Functionaries came on stage and started congratulating each other and it seemed that there was nothing more for us to see.

Disappointed, we got up and started to head home again. Just as we were about to leave, however, the music resumed. Looking back at the stage, we saw that they had resumed playing again! We returned to our seats, and watched some of it. But we didn’t understand the words, and there was not much else going on, so we left, and this time for good.

Sleep! Sweet Sleep!


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2005-11-14 India Pictures

Tibetan temples in Bylakuppe Big golden statues inside the Tibetan temples

We got up early, today. A cab was coming to pick us up and drive us all the way to Bylakuppe, more than 60km away. Little did we know that it would take us about three hours to cover that distance!

I had received a name and an address from an Aikido buddy here in Switzerland. He explained that there were many Tibetan Settlements in India. Harsha’s uncle said that India had accepted about half a million people, giving them land to cultivate and build their temples on, but placing the restriction on them that they may not engage in political activities against China, as not to strain Sino-Indian relations. After all, India had already lost a war against China in the past.

Tibetan Temple from the outside The inside of one of the temples

We went to the first monastery, and stared at the huge statues, at the colorful wall-paintings of saints and demons. As we were standing there, a monk approached us and started to explain things to us. Well, he wanted to explain things to us, but his English was very limited. He basically just things like “Tibet. Gods.” Harsha wanted to know what the aisle behind the milky glass up on the second floor was. It seems that those were aisles for the advanced monks to walk around the temple while studying. It took us a long time to understand it, and it took Harsha a long time to realize that he was not allowed up there. ;)

When I showed this monk the name and address I had been given, he led us outside, and we took our cab to one of the other monasteries. There, he asked the gate keepers, but it seems that our contact was not in town. Our new-found friend showed us into the next temple, the large hall where monk would sit and listen to lectures, the small room in the back to the right of the statues, where the advanced monks would study (and where I imagine their peace of mind was being put to the test by the dozens of moskitos I saw!).

We went to a third monastery, more statues, more lecture halls, more gate keepers, more wall-paintings. We were dazzled.

On our way out I realized what all the dead bees on the steps were about. There were huge bee hives on the outside of buildings! I was amazed! Harsha laughed and wondered why I had never noticed them before – he said that bee hives were common on public buildings. And indeed, from now on I noticed them all over the place. It did take me a few days to discover it, though. You’ll notice them on one of the pictures – the black patches hanging above the windows, maybe a a dozen or more of them.

Street life

South Indian food on banana leaves

We started on our way back. The traffic. The construction works. The crazy overtaking and honking. We listened to songs from Indian movies and I tried to sleep. Claudia tried to stay awake. Somehow she felt that watching the road would help prevent an accident. When she got tired, she asked me to keep watch. I was still dizzy and agreed. As soon as she slept, I fell asleep, too. When she woke up and found me asleep, she complained: “Why are you sleeping? You promised to watch the road!” There was no helping it: The road had to be watched. No wonder we always arrived dead tired after these long road trips.

We arrived back in Mysore in the afternoon, and Harsha took us to a typical restaurant. They served traditional food: Rice and Sambal on a banana leaf. No spoons, no forks. We had eaten some Indian food with out fingers before – mostly the kind of thing where you use bread (Naan, Roti, etc) to scoop it up. But if you have only rice and sauce, there’s no avoiding the direct touch of food. It’s amazing how strong my inner resistance was. My mother certainly drilled it into me: No touching of the food. No playing with food. Today I felt like I was breaking all the rules.


In the evening, we rushed to Srirangapatna. We didn’t have much time, so we looked at the summer residence, glanced at the painted walls, looked at a temple, went to the old mosque, and got followed around by an elderly guide-wannabe that really got on our nerves.

I don’t know how to deal with these people. I know they are poor, and we are rich by comparison. When people try to sell me overpriced things, I haggle, and aim for a good price because settling for the rip-off price makes me look ridiculous. It’s a question of honor to not be cheated. But guides seem to offer something that I value, some sort of education and knowledge. So if they offered knowledge for a reasonable price, why should I not accept?

I think the problem is that I can only learn so much. The summaries that Harsha gave us were more than enough. Our friends and our guide book knew more than we could digest in the few hours available to us, anyway. Having a guide talk to us, telling us more, would have overwhelmed us, I think.

We never took a guide during our entire stay.

We returned home, ate something, and then we went out again, to Brindavan Gardens. They were built below a huge dam and seemed to be a very successful tourist magnet. There were tons of cars and buses. The sun had set and the fountains where illuminated by colorful lights.

When we came in, we explored the left part of the park. Time passed. We hid our camera from the security because we had not paid for the license to take pictures. We walked up to the top of the dam. When we tried walking along the dam, security stopped us. After some back and forth we went down the same way we had come. Harsha assumed that they were looking for a bribe to let us pass.

Time to explore the other half of the garden! I had seen a sign somewhere saying something about the music stopping at some particular time depending on the day of the week, but I had soon forgotten. We were in the park, but we were not in the musical garden itself. There, the fountains did something to Indian classical music. We wanted to see it, and we were getting nervous. So we hurried from one end of the park to the other. We heard the music. We climbed up the stairs and weaved our way through the crowd. Then the music stopped.

We looked at each other. We laughed it off. Always late, always too late, it seemed! It had been a long day. Together with thousands of other brown faces we walked back to the entrance, under the lights illuminating the grass and the walkway and the pools, and looked up into the starry sky, and over to our left at the huge car park, and the buses coming to life, and we passed groups of locals, and tourists, and they all had unfamiliar faces, and used languages we hadn’t even heard before coming to India. It was very weird.

It took us a long time to drive home. We were tired. We slept.


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2005-11-15 India Pictures

On Chamundi Hill

In the morning, we went to the hill overlooking Mysore – Chamundi Hill. It was a short drive compared the all the previous driving we had done. The hill overlooks the city, and you can see a lot of Karnataka. There are a lot of small lakes and water reservoirs, a lot of rice paddies, a lot of green.

On the mountain top, there were cows lying on the grass, remunching their breakfast, people selling souvenirs and donations for the temple, beggars, tourists, monkeys in the ruins of a building, and more people. We also saw some ordinary houses in the back. Harsha said that there not many people here, compared to some religious festivities. Phew!

The temple itself was dark and heavy. There was light, colorful room at the end, but in the beginning, we followed a passage circling the central statue, dark stone walls, little light from above, huge slabs of stone, like an artifical cavern, dark, opressing. As always, the golden statues were hidden in niches a few meters deep with a railing separating the sacred grounds that only the priests were allowed to walk from the passage that we trod on. The people in our group were mostly believers. They pressed their palms together and mumbled prayers, approached the priest and were given a tiny splash of water between their palms which they then drank.

Harsha warned us several times: Do not drink the water! It will make you sick! And we were obviously unbelievers.

Back outside, we saw monkeys, cows, pilgrims, beggars, school kids, people selling food and clothing and many other things. It was busy, the sun was out, the air was clean – we were on a hill top! It sure felt nice to look down on Karnataka again.

Driving back was scary, though. Our driver drove like a madman, like a native from the canton of Wallis in his own valley, if you know what I mean. While the valley walls are steeper in Wallis, they drivers here do a lot more honking and overtaking. The streets are busy!

We had lunch in the AC hall of a restaurant. This was the first time I saw the typical divide between the cheap take away downstairs, where working people ate without sitting down, a constant movement of customers coming in, ordering, eating, wiping their mouth, looking at the foreigners, talking to their neighbours, and leaving. Up stairs, a different thing: Tables, chairs, people eating calmly, waiters. And in the back, behind glass windows, the AC hall. Here it was colder, and darker. If I had been in charge, I would have eaten in the hall outside, but Claudia and I followed Harsha and his aunt. We wanted to experience as much as possible! (The food was delicious, as always.)

Today was the first day I withdrew some cash from an ATM machine using my Maestro card. It worked. I was amazed. I gave Harsha our share for the cab, and talked to him, and we walked back to the car, when we suddenly saw a little procession. We sat in the car and looked back. The procession was coming our way. A marriage? A funeral? Harsha was confused. He thought they were carrying a statue of a god. It took a while for his aunt’s answer to sink in: It was not a statue, it was a dead man sitting in that palanquin, his head tied back to the backrest, eyes closed, adorned with flowers.

Harsha’s aunt explained the significance of the red dot on people’s brow. The widow would be receiving this mark for the last time today, now that her husband had died. We watched the procession with mixed feelings.

The roads are bad Village life Unexpected roadblocks Somanathapur Somanathapur

In the aftenoon we drove to Somnathpur. It was another long drive. Poor roads. South Indian villages, donkeys, buffalos, carts, lorries with hay on their back piled several meters high so that they look as if they are going to topple over at any moment, rice paddies, sugar cane fields, poor farmers on bicycles carring rice bundles, lorries carrying sugar cane.

When we finally arrived at our destination, we seemed to be in a little Indian village. We had just passed some men sitting idly in the shade under some straw mats, talking. The cab stopped, and we got out. Through a little gate, and into a park. There was a huge tree, and to the right, another wall. Small steps leading up to a gate, some shoes, and white foreigners trickling back out.

They were speaking in French. Harsha didn’t know what language they were speaking. It’s strange for us to find somebody who doesn’t recognize French when he hears it. Another indication of how big India is.

When we entered the temple, we were alone. The last foreigners had left. A small courtyard, an outer wall with a kind of gallery a meter above ground with many cells, and in the middle, on a raised platform, the temple.

Inside, it was again rather dark. When we looked up, the ceiling consisted of various cupolas, lined with little buddhas and other figures. Up in the center strange rocket exhausts where pointed at us. Later Harsha’s aunt told us these were Banana flowers.

Inside in the shadows, the turned stone columns were perfectly round, polished, each one of them unique in their cut patterns. Again, Harsha’s aunt told us later that knocking them with your knuckles would produce a different tone from each column.

Harsha's uncle and aunt

Tired? Ready for bed? Not so! The day was not over, the sun was still out – Harsha’s aunt took us to an Ashram. There was also a Bonsai garden there, and I see now on the ticket to that Bonsai garden that the full name of the Ashram is Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Ashrama. Harsha explained that the Guru here was very famous for his (electronic) music. In the big auditorium, there were paintings of famous Indian and European composers and musicians. There would be some famous Indian musicians I did not know next to Mozart and Beethoven, more Indian composers, and Brahms, and Antonín Dvořák... It was confusing at first. But when we got to the part of the Ashram where statues of Hindu gods as well as status showing Jesus and Mary, it was even more confusing. It seemed that the Guru effortlessly integrated all faiths and spread an universal message of love and peace.

I’m sure the Catholic church would not agree. ;) With me being basically atheist, the religious aspect did not impress me at all. I did not care. What impressed me on the other hand, was the incredible levity of it all, with sheer innocence, Christians and Hindus and all other religions are reduced to a few basic (trivial, common sense) messages, ignoring all the bloodshed, all the history of violence, all the missionary efforts, all the fanatic energy that are an inseparable part of religion. Here in Europe, the common perception is that the differences between protestant churches and the Catholic church are important, delicate, a subject to avoid, and real religious discourse is rare. Thus, the amazing bravado of lumping it all together did impress me quite a bit.

As I said above, we also saw the bonsai garden, which had a large collection of little trees. Not the kind of bonsais I’ve seen here in Switzerland, the trees maybe twenty or thirty centimeters high – this was an open air garden, with small trees about a meter high.

We also saw two white swans. They seemed to be pretty exotic here. The thought that there must be a gazillion swans on the Zürich lake alone makes me smile.

The sun was about to set, and it was time to go; Harsha had a train to catch. He was going back to Bangalore.


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2005-11-16 India Pictures

Roads in Hassan On the way up to the Jain statue The Jain statue is being cleaned Cucumbers being sold by the side of the road

Harsha had left the previous night, and we stayed one more night at his uncle’s and aunt’s place. The two were very nice indeed! I remember how Harsha’s uncle showed us the water filter they had installed in the kitchen, and he led us to the garage where he had big stacks of books and pointing out the water tank he had installed. We looked at the microwave, the waffle iron, the juice-making machine, the gas stove, and all the spices in the kitchen. And I remember Harsha’s aunt sitting with us as we ate, talking about religion, marriage customs, young people these days, her son in England, how he had met his wife, the home sickness, the lingering fear of being abandoned by your children in your old age, and working life.

This was the day we were going to leave for Hassan. When we arrived, we knew very little about places we wanted to see, but thinking about the temples in Halebid and Belur, and the Jain statue in Sravanabelgola, the little time we had left, we decided to stay in Hassan. Our guide book suggested to take it easy, ignore Hassan, and stay in one of the much simpler hostels in one of the three temple towns. Hassan was dirty, loud, busy, and the other towns were nice, remote, interesting – mysterious!

We didn’t have the time, however, since we had called Noufal in Bangalore, and we had decided to spend the coming weekend in Kerala, all four of us: Noufal, Harsha, Claudia, and me. Thus: Hassan it was going to be.

Harsha’s aunt had called a friend the evening before and gotten some hotel suggestions. The hotels were also listed in our guide book, so we were satisfied. Like typical tourists, the guidebook was like a little native, sitting in our pocket, ready to give some advice. Sometimes it knew more than the locals, sometimes it didn’t. It was hard to ignore it, and it was hard to heed it when the locals gave us contradicting advice. Not this time, however. :)

Travelling from Mysore to Hassan by train. Install ourselves at the hotel and take the bus to Sravanabelgola and the Jain statue on the hill.


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2005-11-17 India Pictures

Market in Hassan A picture from the main temple in Halebid The light reflects inside the main temple in Halebid Most of the tourists are Indian The Gopuram atop the gate to the Belur temple The main temple building in Belur Looking from one building in Belur to the next Aranging for some food outside of the temple And more food back in Hassan

What we wrote at the time from the Internet Café below our hotel in Hassan

We are alive and well. :)

We arrived on Thursday morning 5:00 more or less, went to Mysore on Sunday, spent two nights at Harsha’s uncle’s place, drove around with a taxi and saw tons of things, went to Hassan, stayed a night, and will stay one more before returning to Bangalore. There, on the same day, we’ll catch a night-bus and go to Kochi in Kerala (12h trip), stay one night on a boat in the backwaters, stay another night in Kochi, return to Bangalore, and on the 24th we’ll be flying to Delhi, take the train to Pathankot, and go to AadityaSood’s and V’s wedding.

We visisted the temples in Halebid and Belur today.


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2005-11-23 India

We went to Kerala, spent a night on the houseboats with Noufal and Harsha, spent another night in Kochi, came back to Bangalore (12h trip on the bus!), did a little shopping, and wondered whether we should go to Nrityagram today. It’s a two hours drive there, another two hours back, bad roads, and it rained yesterday, so we would not be sure that we can actually walk arround at the place. And we don’t know whether there will be any shows on, either. “Call back at 10:30 and talk to the management,” they said on the phone. But we really want to be in Bangalore at 17:00 to make sure the tailor is finishing on time – because we leave Bangalore tomorrow and fly north...


Comments on 2005-11-23 India

Great having you folks here. Maybe we’ll meet again sometime. :)

Noufal Ibrahim 2005-11-24 09:12 UTC

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2005-11-24 India

We started on our trip to Palampur!

It took us about 30h.

First, we caught a plane from Bangalore to Delhi. Since Claudia and I had booked our return flight from Delhi, that meant packing everything. All the presents. All the clothes. I had my trusty seabag and a 60l backpack, and a number of plastic bags. We spent hours packing during the night.

On our flight north, we had a stop-over in Pune (I think?) We arrived in Delhi, took a cab to the train station, and left our luggage in the cloak room. I was a bit worried about our stuff getting lost, since the official policy is that you can only leave locked luggage. Fat chance with a backpack like mine. I had a lock on the seabag, however. The air inside the cloakroom was full of moskitos. There were lightbulbs burning overhead, but the corners where shrouded in shadows. It was crowded.

We left the station. We were hungry. More people, cars, honking, a traffic jam. Should we take a cab? Too many people! We opened our book, looking for a restaurant suggestion. They didn’t have anything near where we were. But since we had a few hours to spare, we decided to take the Metro to Cunnaughts Place – a large square only a few stations away.

When we got into the Metro, I was astonished. Everything looked so big, so clean – it was newer than the London underground, it could have been any European city with a new metro, except it was quite empty. And most European cities have old metros. There was a checkpoint where the police checked all our luggage. Alok said there had been bombs not too long ago. We felt uneasy after that.

We found a nice restaurant without our guide book after all, ate wonderful Indian food, walked a bit around, saw a rooftop bar from down below, took the elevator up, and found a bar for the rich and beautiful people around here. In Switzerland, I’d never go to such a place. The drinks would be too expensive, the people to alien. Too rich. But here, we decided that it was just right and I ordered some ice-cream. No risk no fun! :)

Later that night we went back to the station with one of the last Metros, got our bags, and made for the train platform. This was going to be an overnight trip.

I was surprised to find that the train was very similar to the one we had taken from Bangalore to Mysore: There are compartments à six beds each, but they’re all open to the aisle. Again, I worried about thiefs. And again, I was wrong. In fact, we didn’t get robbed at all in India.

Before falling asleep I noticed somebody across the aisle snoring like a lumberjack with an archaic chainsaw. It turned out that it was a woman (!) snoring. Oh well. I was tired. I slept well.


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2005-11-25 India Pictures

We arrived in Una early in the morning, and noticed a chill. Clearly, we had arrived in the north. We got and looked around. This was the final destination. Everybody was getting off. Soon we were approached by the driver who was supposed to drive us the last leg of the journey: 3h to Palampur.


More more pics of Palampur on V’s blog.

The Himalaya giants in the background
Himalaya by V


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2005-11-26 India Pictures

Claudia and me with Tiger and Aaditya
Picture from Aadis' set on Flickr

More pictures on AadityaSood’s wedding picture set on Flickr.


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I am a random visitor to your site. (from India). The photographs you have posted are really very nice and liked them all.

– R Gambhir 2010-01-17 10:45 UTC

Thank you. :)

AlexSchroeder 2010-01-18 00:38 UTC

Brings back memories.

NoufalIbrahim 2010-01-18 19:01 UTC

It turns out that Indian music we got with Harsha, blogs, and Twitter keep these memories very much alive. I ❤ the Internet!

AlexSchroeder 2010-01-19 00:09 UTC

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