Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
71Trip End Jan 19, 2008
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Where I stayed
Streets are clean to our new, india-adapted standards - there are actual rubbish bins to be found - traffic surprisingly grinds to a reluctant halt at red lights and there are few beggars around.
The place is full of Western brand shops at near European prices. Bangalore is India's IT-capital and business must be booming for people to be able to afford all this. According to one newspaper, the average age in this metropole is 34. Most of these professionals wear Levi's jeans, Bata shoes and Ralph Lauren poloshirts. It's not unlike walking in London, albeit cleaner and with better food and climate. There are lounge bars, international cuisine restaurants, shapping malls and entertainment centers.
It's pleasant to walk around here and witness that India isn't as hopeless as it may seem at times - in terms of squalor, pollution, and poverty, for example. A much larger share of the population seems to be benefiting from the new-found prosperity and if current economic trends persist we can only hope other places in India will follow it's lead.
We leave the few sights for tomorrow and do some shopping. I find a nice present for my sister and we buy some wooden toys for the babies that have recently been born into our families. Dinner is very posh in restaurant Tandoor and we feel we deserve it. Which doesn't mean that we aren't terribly underdressed in sweaty shorts and t-shirts, but tourists can get away with much worse than that in India. (For example: apparently, it's not at all necessary for foreigners to stick to their seat reservation on the train. Take whatever bed you want and the conductors will move local people around to make it work without so much as a word. Complain about a bed and they will make someone change with you - we refused this offer though.)
Raquel asks if her vegetable dish can be cooked extra spicy. Baby corn, roasted peppers and other vegetables come served in the first truly mouthsearing, eyewatering sauce we have had in India. The waiter complements Raquel on having been able to polish it off. He claims he wouldn't have been able to eat it himself. There's also - finally - some meat on the menu and I opt for a lamb korma with tandoor bread which is prepared in a glass-walled kitchen in front of us. Around us business men and young lovers try to uphold an atmosphere of class and style. It's waisted on us though as the food is brilliant and we dig in like hungry wolves. No beer unfortunately though. Mahatma Gandhi's birthday isn't much of a party as the whole country is suffering another dry day.
Wednesday, October 3rd
We start off our sightseeing day with a rickshaw to the bull temple. An arch of bullhorns welcomes the steep road up to the temple in which a massive granite bullface - symbol of Shiva - decorated with offerings of flowers and coconuts is proudly displayed. We walk around it for good luck as told and donate a few rupees because for once people aren't too pushy about it. It earns me a prominent red dot on the forehead before I can say "No, thanks" and a bunch of jasmine flowers is pressed into my fist. I feel like a right twat walking around with it, but feel it might be considered disrespectful or even insulting to wipe it off. Since most people will probably take me for a twat anyway, I decide to leave it on.
The jasmine comes in handy to fight the exhaust fumes hanging over the city. When we pass a particularly disgusting man covered in diarrhea from the back and vomit from the front I inhale the flowers' fragrance deeply to prevent retching.
We call Raquel's mum to wish her happy birthday (feliz cumpleanos, Crinstina!) and proceed to the palace. Every city in India seems to have a few dozen palaces and this is no exception. Architecturally, this particular one is hardly impressive, but it is well maintained and houses a mildly interesting exhibit on the ruler who had the thing built. Apparently he was quite a mechanical wizzkid in his days and invented some sort of clever rocket, the only remaining examples of which are now on display in a museum in England, the very country which soldiers he was aiming them at. Ah, the irony...
On the way to the botanical gardens it gets a bit rough as we enter the muslim neighbourhood. Here are the city's butchers and mechanics,smells of burning rubber and roasting meat. The park is massive. Herons, bee eaters and eagles dart or soar over the lake and striped squirrels jump from tree to tree. We are hungry though and leave this oasis for the urban jungle to check out the highly recommended restaurant Koshy's.
This restaurant has served food to India's first president and the king and queen of England, among others, and I certainly hope they had a different chef at the time for their sake. We already tried it for lunch yesterday and were disappointed, but we want to give it another chance. Today is worse. A reputation thoroughly undeserved.
After a game of bowling and a long time updating the blog we get back to the hostel. I want to change my clothes for something more comfortable to wear on the train and try the reception bathroom. There is only a urinal and no lock. Just as I'm lowering my pants one of the waiters walks in. He quickly runs out. When I come out in my new outfit he's waiting with some of his colleagues, all staring at me with smirks on their faces. Everything all right sir? When I confirm he asks again "Are you sure, Sir?" They probably think I shit my pants. Raquel laughs all the way to the railway station.
In conversation with another passenger waiting for the train I tell him I think that it's a very long trip, 24 hours to Jodhpur. He starts laughing. "It's not 24 hours, sir, it takes 44 hours!" Bloody hell..................