Southern India for a Week 
Sunday, March 2, 2014, 04:29 AM - Trips
I went to India for a week for a smart grid workshop and conference. Additional photos from the trip are here.

I arrived in Bangalore after 24 hours of travel and easily caught a cab to the hotel. It was 5am so there was not heckling or issues with crowds at the airport. I was expecting Kathmandu-like conditions, but found the roads better maintained and (surprise!) functioning traffic lights. I couldn't check in until noon, so I took a walk through the neighboring park. It was Sunday and there was a 5K/10K run/walk with thousands of people participating. Definitely a cool scene since they shut down the roads through the park for the run. I cruised by Vidhana Soudha, home to the Secretariat, but they were closed on Sundays so I only got to check it out from the outside.

I spent most of the day walking around getting oriented to the new country and appreciating the abject poverty that most people were living in here. Between my business obligations, I would take strolls around town or catch autorickshaws to different tourist spots around town.

The first time I caught a tuk-tuk, it was a wild experience: firstly the driver told me to not worry about starting the meter and he would make the drive for INR50. Then, despite my protest, he stops the tuk-tuk, says he's going to buy me a beer, and rushes into a store. He gives me a beer and explains its not a problem in India to drink when you're in the back of a tuk-tuk. I'm suspicious of the drink and the scam that I'm about to be subjected to, but I indulge on the way to the Bangalore Palace. The Palace was nothing particularly spectacular, but I could appreciate the Maharaja-era, all the photos of elephants and slain tigers, and the british influence throughout their occupation from 1858-1947. After touring the Palace, I noticed there was some loud music next door and ask my suspicious tuk-tuk driver to head over that way. He didn't do a very good job but I eventually got him in the general direction (thank goodness for the iPhone GPS), but the music had stopped. He then brought me to his buddy's shop with "very cheap prices and no tax." Ok, so that's the scam - fairly benign. I breathed easier and headed into to shop. It was very nice with all the usual tourist stuff: scarves, clothes, carvings, etc. I had read on the flight that it's highly appropriate to wear a tie at business meetings in India. I didn't bring one (unusual for me) because it seems to be going out of style in the US and I didn't feel it was necessary until reading that in my India Culture book. So I bartered for a tie, getting it for about half of their asking price. Who knows if I got completely ripped off, but it was only about $10, so I figured I couldn't go too wrong. Next the driver took me to his other friend's shop. They had cheaper prices so I picked up a few small carved elephants. Then the driver took me to another shop, and I told him that I was done shopping. He refused to leave until I went inside. So I walked in, told the owner I didn't have any money, and walked back out. I informed the driver I wanted to go to ISKCON, the Radha Krishna Temple (a Hare Krishna thing that I still know very little about). He refused to drive all the way out there, so I got out of the tuk-tuk and didn't give him a rupee for the effort. I'm sure he'll get his kickbacks from his shop friends.

ISKCON was an interesting experience. I had to take off my shoes, wash my feet, refrain for photographing anything, and then hike up through three levels of what seemed to be hindu shrines to a main room where people threw themselves to the ground in the presence of colorful deity carvings. I was clueless, but one thing did know was I shouldn't eat the food they gave out to all the visitors. I headed back to to the hotel with a legitimate tuk-tuk that ran the meter. I paid him the INR250 gladly for the hassle-free ride.

The smart grid meetings went well and we got a wonderful tour of the Central Power Research Institute. At the end of the formal meetings, all the members of the workshop went outside an planted a tree. It was a very sweet ceremony - and completely unexpected by everyone.

On one of my longer walks I ended up finding a washing area from the polluted runoff of Ulsoor Lake. There was at least an acre of laundry drying on clotheslines. I couldn't believe all the manual labor in India: streets are swept clean by women during the day while traffic whizzed past and lawns were trimmed by hand with snippers. And the smells were so potent! Some of those smells were terrible (open sewage running down the streets) and some of the smells were wonderful (all the yummy curries). The food was to die for. Naan, curries, tikka masalas, tandoori, and so much more were fed to us and I ate way too much on this trip.

The roads were a constant flow of cars, busses, autorickshaws, bikes and other interesting modes of wheeled transport. The horns would plast 24/7.

Some street-level action:

View from my hotel room:

Laundry drying in Bangalore:

CPRI high voltage lab:

The highlight of the trip was a train trip to Mysore on my free Saturday before returning to the US. It was a disaster to get the tickets and the train was about an hour late, but once I was on the train, it was so much fun! I got to hang out the door for 3 hours, snapping photos of the countryside. With the wind in my hair and the tingle of danger, I was completely stoked. When I got to Mysore, I found a driver to take me around for the day for INR500 ($8). First, we went up Chamundi Hill to Sri Chamundeswari Temple. I awkwardly gave a a few hundred rupees to a hindu monk who dotted my forehead with a Tilak third eye. Next we visited Nandi (Shiva’s bull), and headed back to town where I met my friend from the conference, Robby, who was another Georgia Tech alum. We took the long tour of the spectacular Mysore Palace. It had ornate carvings, monstrous rooms with stained glass ceilings, armory, and gallery looking out on the palace grounds. After that tour Robby and I got a few dosas, at a place where they were served on wet banana leaves. I was certain I would be getting on a plane in the morning sick, but I didn't end up with Delhi belly. Robby and I had a quick beer by the train station and I jumped on the train back to Bangalore while the sunset lit up the sky.

Train ride to Mysore:


Train ride back to Bangalore:

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