Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I feel that in my last post, I really didn't do Bangalore justice. Oh, Bangalore. The steadfast city of continued respite. While it may not have the cultural and atmospheric draw of some other regions of the country, Bangalore provided us with what we were looking for every time: a much-needed break, good food and, sometimes, a reminder of home.
For my own personal reasons of documentation, and because I always Google restaurant, hotel and trip reviews, I have decided that it is only right here to review here where we ate and stayed. (Don't laugh at me because I love food!) Of course, there's Sunny's, close to VC Mall, I believe, an American-type bistro that never let us down from start to finish.
If you're looking for Indian that isn't a hole-in-the-wall (which I love, but isn't advisable for unIndianized stomachs), check out the tandoor restaurant on MG Road, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Gateway Hotel - I think it's called Tandoor Restaurant - it's that simple. Great kabobs. And speaking of the Taj Gateway … loved it in Mangalore, loved it in Bangalore and wished we'd stayed there in Agra. Number one through and through.
Sadly, I will have to suggest that you're cautious when it comes to pedicures - they scrub long and hard, and my mom maintains that her pedicure caused her pain for weeks to come. Be afraid. (Though I must say - mine was fine.)
Friday, April 24, 2009
Since my parents were arriving right after a Monday holiday, Kraemer and I decided to check out of Hubli a little bit early to stop through Mysore on our way to meet my parents in Bangalore.
We took an overnight train from Hubli and, of course, took no time at all in finding an eager driver to cart us to the hotel we'd picked out based on our guidebook suggestion. The man assured us this one was no good and proceeded to find us two cheaper hotels closer to the Mysore Palace.
Mysore isn’t super big but has a decent amount going on. We decided to use the energy we had while we had it and take a morning hike up Chamundi Hill, some 700 steps up to the first pit stop with Nandi, the bull, and another 300 steps after that to the market. Legend has it that when the bull's left knee reaches the ground, it's the end of the world - at least that's what my landlord says.
It wasn’t too long before we figured out that our book was geared toward people with a deep pocket, as everything was a quatrillion miles away and required at least two rickshaws and a bus to get there if you didn't have a taxi. We wound up at a relatively sub-par garden (granted, we didn't stay for the 7:00pm lit fountain show that everyone had raved about) out in the boonies, which caused us to rethink another trip out that direction, and at a posh hotel restaurant, when we'd been hunting for a hole-in-the-wall.
But my favorite part of Mysore by far? Mysore palace and my run-in with the popo. Okay, okay - it was just palace security, but this man meant business. I PINKY PROMISE I saw NO signs banning photography, but I can't deny that I suspected it … whiiich is why I tried to be sneaky by holding my camera at chest level and pointing it up at the stained glass ceiling I wanted a picture of.
Unfortunately, flashes are not listed in the "sneaky" category. The man came over and insisted I turn over my entire camera - not just delete the photo (see one of the two the illicit photos here).
He threatened to take us to the station. Not sure whether he would have followed through with that. After five minutes of pleading ignorance, the man pulled us aside and Kraemer offered him money - just like that, it was as if nothing had ever happened. The bribe nearly negated the discount I'd received for being a Hubli resident.
Mysore and Bangalore are pretty close, so we took one of many busses down to B-lore to meet my parents, and we all spent a few days in the IT center eating, drinking and being merry.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
So many details that this post doesn't NEED pictures (not to mention that I don't HAVE any - don't think it would have been particularly appropriate)
And ohhhhh, the busride home. Apparently I don't have any better luck with busses than I do with trains…
First, actually, we DID try the train - no luck. We had been on the waiting list and unfortunately hadn't inched up at all. That meant we'd gone out of our way and proceeded to take a bus to another bus station to catch one back to Hubli. While we waited there for a couple hours, we encountered a rather rowdy family next to us, staring (what's new?) and spitting. On me (that's new). Yes, the grandmother was doing something very interesting with her soda, and the rest of the family was either getting a kick out of it or persuading her to quit.
Once on the bus, Kraemer and I deliberately sat near the front to avoid them, even though it meant sitting apart for a while. The family chatted/yelled cheerfully to one another, breaking into song at random intervals. Again, not that new. At a stop about halfway through, the two older boys in the family (early twenties?) chatted us up, asking all the usual questions.
Not too long after everyone boarded again, a loud commotion broke out at the front of the bus - new. The taller of the two boys had another young man by his throat, shouting Kannada words I couldn't understand. But we got the drift: this man was NOT his favorite person and had clearly done something to upset the guy. That said, the guy didn't fight back and hardly looked like he'd hurt a fly. I think at one point the father slapped his son around a good bit, but that could have come later. You'll see. The conductor broke them apart and we resumed our relatively quiet bus ride.
Not for long. I was jolted from my favorite bus pastime - keeping tabs on all the wild, weaving oncoming traffic - with our favorite family as the starring characters. The Muslim woman behind me, who appeared to be traveling only with her baby of less than a year, started WAILING. And I mean, she probably woke up people in Pakistan.
Apparently, the woman had lost her earrings. At least, that's the impression we got at first, and Kraemer couldn't wait for her to pipe down, thinking the jewelry couldn't have been that valuable. Not so in India. Many people here wear their wealth, and this must have been hers.
The brothers got up to search, using their cell phones and my headlamp to peek around the luggage on top and people's legs and feet. People tried to be as helpful as possible, slightly raising their bums and peering around their seats. Still no luck, and the woman continued to sob. She'd completely disregarded her little girl at this point and was tearing through her purse.
Shortly thereafter, we pulled over at a police station - we were less than an hour away from home, and it must have been 11pm by now. A police officer started a search of his own, which turned up one of the big, gold flower earrings, stuck into the crevice of a seat. Now it was clear these were stolen and not just lost. The woman hadn't been wearing the earrings; she'd only been transporting them, and they'd been tucked carefully in her purse in a little plastic baggy.
The officer called some of the men from the back and started patting them down right in front of us, requiring to strip off their shirts and pull up their pants. They didn't have much on underneath, but I pointed out to Kraemer that they'd failed to search the rolled-up cuffs of the shorter brother.
With that, a plain-clothed investigator cleared the men off the back of the bus and really went to town. He quickly found a huge wad of money at the very back where all the women had been sitting, which started a huge uprising, with the women in tears as they were all ushered off as well.
The next thing we know, the boys are being walked gruffly toward the building. Through the open windows, we can see them being thrown up against the wall and interrogated - or at least shouted at. We later learn that they found the other earring on them - in his rolled up cuff.
Oh, and the boy they were threatening earlier? They were upset because he'd gone to the back of the bus to lay down in some empty seats, which were, in their mind, simply too close to the women in their family. Thought the guy was trying to be sneaky.
Not your everyday return trip!
Monday, April 20, 2009
And why not?
Kraemer is not a man who likes to stay put, so I figured I better hightail it out of Hubli if I wanted to keep him around. ;)
We decided to celebrate Valentine's Day a weekend early, and with Aparna and Lesley, all stayed in a cute house (with stained glass) tucked behind some shops and a bar on the main road, owned by a sweet man named Maurice.
Only there for the weekend, we did our best to make the most of our time and hunkered down for a morning at the Tibetan market, a huge tent where Tibetan-only vendors set out their wares daily, mostly jewelry, but also clothing, singing bowls, incense burners and more. Every one we walked up to wanted to give us "best price, morning price," as we were potentially their first customers, and it's in their best interest to give the first buyer a deal so that the rest of the day brings good luck. In the end, I cleaned up with a couple of nice pendants and chains plus some awesome silver fish earrings that all Kraemer's doing. (thank you!)
The rest of our time included walking, running, eating and beaching, where we met a ridiculous amount of British tourists, many of whom came to Goa for weeks or months at a time, every year. Not many Americans.
As usual, Lesley did best in the shopping department throughout the course of the trip, but this time she came home a few days later than the rest of us with something else … a boyfriend! The guy she'd spotted at the nightclub turned out to be a keeper.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Today we celebrated Holi. The story behind Holi seems slightly convoluted (not surprising given the number of gods total and the number involved in each festival story, the number of forms they each take and the number of possible stories behind each holiday). To make a long story short, this guy tried killing his son in multiple fashions, but because the son was a strict follower of Lord Vishnu, he was protected by the gods and made it through every trial. Finally, the dad decided to have his daughter wear a special fire-resistant shawl and carry the son into a fire. Bad news. Shawl was mysteriously lifted from the girl’s shoulders – who was then burned to death in the fire – while the son survived. The girl’s name was Holika. Thus, the Holi festival. The night before Holi is celebrated with bonfires.
Don’t worry, good ol’ dad got his due – Vishnu came for him later.
Then there’s this whoooole color thing. Something about Krishna getting color painted on his face by his mom, and this happened during the Holi festival time. Something like that.
So around 9:00am this morning, the doorbell rings. I’d already been out running and had seen a few crowds of boys with colorful faces, so I knew the routine. But my landlord had said they weren’t playing Holi this because her son had exams the next day and they were locking the gate outside to avoid all craziness. Who could this be?
9:05am. I answer the door. It’s the housekeeper from upstairs. She’s probably in her early 20s, sweet girl, no English. She shows me one of her hands, full of yellow powder and beckons me outside. Svalpa, I tell her. Just a little.
9:07am. I change out of my tank and wash it vigorously, followed by a good face scrubbing. Fortunately, I’m not looking too jaundice. Back to the laptop.
9:15am. Text from Naveen: “You are invited to my home to play holi, feel free to bring friends.” Great! “Come anytime after 9:30,” he says. I’ll figure out what time everyone is heading over, probably around 10:30 or so, dressed in clothes I don’t mind destroying – I’d been warned.
9:18am. Doorbell rings. Geez! I don’t answer this time, I’ve already gotten my due and am planning to go out again. I hear a ruckus and some shouting. I wait a second and then feel guilty – better see what’s up and make sure nobody is in trouble. I scoot open the door and am met by three bright pink faces. What the heck?!!! Who let these crazies in my house?! I don’t KNOW this guy. While I’m screaming “beDa” (I don’t want any!), they’re forcing my door open – turns out it’s my landlord’s brother. I promise them I’ll be out in an hour, they shake on it and head out.
9:31am. Doorbell rings. Again? Really? Doorbell rings A LOT. Some pounding. This time Arati and Lesley start yelling that we’re being surrounded by a mob … which turns out to be my Fellows and Naveen (who was apparently unrecognizable). Guess they couldn’t wait for me to get to Naveen’s house. I come to the window – they really DO look like a mob and are difficult to identify with all the gunk they’ve got all over themselves. I put up a finger and tell them I’ll be out in a minute.
And so I go. And so I got it. Powder of all colors, smeared into paints, and buckets and bottles of water just to rub it in. I’ve got at least 20 pairs of hands rubbing the color into my face, ears and hair, and about 30 seconds into, I look like I’ve been hit by a rainbow typhoon.
We spent the next hour and a half trooping through Naveen’s neighborhood, throwing color on the unsuspecting (actually, I’m sure they knew what was coming – if I knew, they knew) passerby and applying new colors to each other with a vengeance, breaking only for holiday sweets and snacks. Somehow, it was endlessly entertaining. If my eyes hadn’t started to burn and I’d had a tissue to blow my nose (hey, what can I say? I’ve been sick.), I woulda stayed around for a bit longer, just to witness the scene.
As you’re reading this, I’m probably still tinged with a hue of peacock blue.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
As a result of the Mumbai attacks, tragic and with continually frustrating ramifications, my New Year’s comrades and I canceled our plans for a big night out in Bombay, trading it for what we hoped would be a relaxed beach night in smaller Mangalore, off the coast of west Karnataka.
Our hotel, the Gateway (part of the Taj chain) turned out to be at least 30 minutes from the beach, but proved to be just the locale for the relaxation we desperately needed, which led to a vacation lived in the hotel itself. You could have barely dragged us by our hair from that place, we were so enamored.
Every morning we woke to a sumptuous buffet breakfast, had the small fitness facility to our selves, spent the day lounging by the beautiful pool and then wrapped up with a delicious dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.
Unsure of what to do for NYE, we elected to attend the party at our hotel (and heck, why not? We loved everything else about it!) The event was poolside and jazzed up by a pool fountain, flame throwers and a live band.
We were wined and dined by the hotel staff, and Kate and I narrowly missed winning the prize for Best Dressed Couple who won a free stay in a Taj (sigh) , earning instead a gift certificate to a clothing store, which we promptly lost. After most of the guests had returned to their rooms, the DJ entered the scene, pumping what I can only guess was the most current Indian pop, and we spent the rest of the evening dancing on the deck with the hotel staff who’d been so kind to us throughout the week.
Because of my incredible love for food (not like I have to tell any of you that), one of the girls joked that they should give me a tour of the kitchen. Conveniently, the evening before we left, they offered us a peek, so we all dawned hairnets and went inside to drool over the chocolate "molten lava" cake and apple pie. Who says India doesn't have edible sweets?! :)