Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Top 5 Best and Worst Experiences In India

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

This will be the last post. Hope the following information helps anyone deciding to work/travel in India. Thanks for reading.

Alvida,
Ehsan

Best

  1. Job Opportunities: Infosys definitely offered this. Not only is this for the IT training and the great facilities in Mysore, but also for being able to meet all the Indians, Brits and Americans. A student from Surrey also got in contact with me a few months back, he will be working for an Indian engineering company for his placement year.
  2. Traveling: Without doubt, India is a great place to go traveling, mainly because of the low expenses and has so much culture. Being located just near South-East Asia also opens up travel destinations.
  3. Scooters & Motorcycles: Most people would be petrified about driving in India, understandably so (YouTube). But if you start slow on a scooter and have a few years driving experience, it really isn’t that bad. Granted, the road conditions aren’t great with the unmarked bumps, cows, pot holes, black cows, the odd dangerous lorry driver and the almost impossible to see black cow at night; but there are plenty of people driving along as part of their daily routine in the organic, slow, chaotic traffic. Personally I’m really going to miss flooring Andrew’s Apache going up Chamudi hill. He never minded me revving it, and would say “Knock yourself out!”. The closest I got to crashing was to a black cow at night in a dimly lit road in Mysore. As it was crossing the road at right angles to me driving towards it, I was too late too countersteer around it (anything with two wheels  countersteers: Wikipedia, YouTube 1, YouTube 2) … but luckily the cow turned it’s head and I missed it by a whisker! It wouldn’t have been that bad anyway, I was only going about 15mph and I had my helmet on. But please note: avoid driving at night down dark roads, and if you do, make sure you know where the pot holes are in the dark (you can get used to it after a while).
  4. Food: The delicious food! Most of my Indian colleagues find battered fish and chips at work so bland, and rightely so when one compares it to Chicken 65, Butter Chicken, Mangalore Prawns or a mouth watering Hyderabadi Biryani.
  5. Weather: We really couldn’t complain about the weather. Very sunny and warm, it was perfect conditions to head out and scooter around. Part of me wants to put this bullet point in the worst section because it got too hot sometimes and I really hated the feeling of being dehydrated– it has definitely made me appreciate playing football in the warm rain the other day.

Worst

  1. Delhi Belly & Malnutrition: It did take some time for everyone’s digestive system to “adjust”. It wasn’t so bad I had to go to hospital but it was an annoyance. I really missed having a nice cold glass of milk there too, not as prevalent as it is here in the West.
  2. Dust, Dirt & Public Infrastructure. One thing that was visible was all the dirt on my clothes from the smog of the Bangalore traffic after being out of an hour or so. What was worse is the thickness of the air that you can feel at rush hour traffic. I’d advise buying a face mask.
  3. Internet Access: It is really annoying when one is unable to stay in touch over the internet which can be a challenge sometimes. I’d recommend buying a USB stick that can access high speed Internet over the mobile network as soon as you arrive.
  4. &   5.  I can’t really think of anything else, it really wasn’t that bad.

TVS Apache 160
Biking in the jungle: Andrew’s
old TVS Apache 160

Singapore

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

My sister Yasmin was in town so we stopped off here on our way back to India. I didn’t expect much from Singapore, but it is a fascinating little country. I read this 4.5 million populated island is a tourist friendly destination which attracts 10 million tourists a year (compared to India’s 5 million) and has heavy fines for petty crimes like littering, spitting on the street or being drunk in public.

However I didn’t know how very capitalistic the country is. The lazy don’t survive here. Students are closely monitored and any slip in performance means they can only work in skilled labor rather than pursuing higher education. This has produced a very developed city (the most developed I’ve ever been to) with intellectual based industries at the forefront of the economy.

Our main aim to hit the beach in Sentosa island. We met up with a few relatives and KT Tunstall was also in town, the gig which was decent. It was noticeable to see the number of ex-pats at the concert who I assume must live and work in Singapore.

Sentosa
Siloso beach, Sentosa

Skyline
Singapore skyline – that’s Yasmin

KT Tunstall
KT Tunstall

Hong Kong

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Next stop was Hong Kong. The main aim was “To get high in Macau. 100% natural high!” – this was is marketing slogan used by the bungy jumping company AJ Hackett who operate the world highest bungee jump (at 233 metres) on top of Macau Tower, and hour ferry from mainland Hong Kong. We paid for three jumps, the first at full price and the next two half price. The fourth jump was free!

Hong Kong itself was a great city: bustling, neon lights everywhere, tall buildings, large street TV screens at every other turn and a very reasonable but contemporary underground system that even has mobile phone reception. The local people we met were very nice. For example, Andrew and I went into a sushi restaurant and within seconds we met two locala who about 15 minutes later insisted on buying us some ‘meat fish balls’ from a street vendor.

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee statue

Macau Tower
Macau Tower

Bungy!
Backward bungy jump

The Peak
The Peak

Locals
Some friendly locals we met

Bangkok

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Andrew & I decided to go on a trip to the Far East. First stop was Bangkok. The main aim was to pet tigers. We also ended up seeing temples, a floating market, held snakes and watched Thai boxing bouts.

tn_far-east-trip-080.jpg
Temples in Bangkok

Thai Boxing
Thai Boxing

Floating market
Floating Market

Holding Snakes
Holding snakes

Petting tigers
Petting tigers

Petting tiger cubs
Petting tiger cubs

Amritsar

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Said to be made of 750 Kg of gold, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is the beating heart of Sikhism. We had to take off our shoes and step through a puddle of streaming clean water and cover our hair before entering.

The clear blues skies on the day gave the temple a gorgeous reflection in the water that surrounds it. We went inside after waiting in a patient queue and observed the singing and rhythmic beats of prayers. It made me wonder how music must be linked in with religion through our evolutionary past if one considers how main stream religions and tribes use music today, if not at least rhythm, in their prayers.

Golden Temple 1
Side view of the golden temple

Golden Temple 2
Front view of the golden temple

Golden Temple 3
Queue at the entrance

We had a free lunch there too. Donations allow food to be bought and followers to perform a selflessly free duty to feed anyone, even the poor. The dahl & rotti (lentils and flat bread) was quite tasty and filled me up.

Afterwards we went to Waga border. Here, everyday, a ceremonial lifting and bringing down the of Indian and Pakistani flags occurs right at the very border, only meters apart from each other. Surrounded by a large seating area on both sides, the crowds patriotically cheer on their nation. Tall soldiers perform with the utmost esprit de corps and lift their legs as high as their chests.

Waga Border 1
Soldiers at the border

Waga Border 2
Crowds at the evening ceremony

For dinner our taxi driver recommended a Punjabi museum/restaurant/entertainment show place that was on the road between Amritsar and Chandigarh. As we walked in a Panjabi drummer wearing a full dress was beating a loud drum that hung from his neck while a dancer spun and showed off a few moves. Inside there were clay model depicting the old village life of Punjabis, a camel ride, a Punjabi pottery maker, a Punjabi puppet show and also some live Punjabi dancers (see the video below). Bhangra music is very lively and has fantastic beats. The place was educational and entertaining at the same time. The restaurant inside served a full Punjabi village meal. The dahl, rotti, aloo rotti, paneer masala, and other items made it the best vegetarian meal I’ve had in India.

Taj Mahal

Monday, February 11th, 2008

So, the big one. The Mughal beauty definitely lived up to expectations.

We aimed to get there at sunrise but due to security restrictions we had to leave our bags at a hotel. We ended up having breakfast and catching up. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of westerners who also paid the 750 Rs ‘non-Indian national’ charge. The extra 730 Rs does buy you a bottle of water and shoe covers for walking inside the Taj though.

Upon entering the main gate the monument is a pretty spectacular view with the sunlight reflecting off the marble surface. It was fun seeing so many poses in action, including this one yoga student from Australia who posed while standing on her hands with the Taj in the background.

We hired a guide who told us all sorts of facts. The Taj Mahal (“Crown of the Palace”) was built for an emperor’s favorite wife after her death. They had 14 children together. The Taj is crowned with a brass finial several stories high and the towering minarets stand two degrees away from the main building, just incase they ever fall. Up-close the there was plenty of detailed Arabic writing, marble carvings and marble inlays.

It was nice to catch up with the gang, especially those who all traveled all the way from southern India.

Entrance to Taj Mahal
View from the main gate

Close to the Taj.
At close range

Everyone who came along
Rest of the gang on the day

New Delhi

Friday, February 1st, 2008

I had a few spare hours in New Delhi while traveling to Chandigarh. To kill the time, I paid a taxi driver to take me around Delhi’s sightseeing highlights. Here are some pics:

Qutb Minar
Qutb Minar. Built in 1193 AD
which announcedthe advent
of Muslim sultans.

Qutb Pillars
Me near some carved pillars
at the Qutb complex.

Rajpath
Driving down the famous Rajpath
used for the annual republic day
parade. The India gate is in
the distance.

Lahore Gate
Lahore Gate. This is the
entrance to the Red Fort.

marble throne
A white marble throne-balcony
at Red Fort.

Peackock Throne
The Diwani-i-Khas Peackock Throne.
A past Shah used to be housed
here with his nobles.

Gilded ceilings
Gilded ceilings at the Diwani-i-Khas.
The Mughals lavishly decorated
the fort  with marble and gold.

Jami Masjid
Jami Masjid, India’s
largest Mosque.

Best and Worst Transportation

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

J2EE training has finally drawn to a close. The last few sessions included some soft skill training and observing Infoscions in production. I think the 7.30pm teleconference I shadowed with a US client on a Friday evening shows how hard people work here.

Jason and Andrew have been placed in Chennai. Too late to book a flight on Friday evening, I caught an overnight train to Chennai (460 Km away) to see them. I originally wanted to buy an overnight sleeper seat, but since the train was fully booked, I ended up traveling third class all the way for £1.45! This included sleeping on the floor for a few hours. I really didn’t mind it; I predicated it would happen. I got to experience what it is like to travel third class: a lot of poor people crammed into a fully booked train; the angry ticket officer checking for tickets; the poorest people without tickets crying and pleading for forgiveness; poor people sleeping rough and utalising newspaper as bed sheets; the scenic misty morning view of the country and finally the slums next to the railway as we entered the heart of Chennai.

Train
Typical express trains that run
between Mysore and Chennai

Chennai itself was a good city. The development centre (DC) was quite pretty like in Mysore but appeared tiny, though it wasn’t tiny, the Mysore campus is just a monster in comparison. The food court was air conditioned and the rooms were just like those in Mysore except they included wireless internet and a small fridge. In the evening we went out to an excellent Thai restaurant, easily £50 a head in London. There are also many bakeries, with deserts just like in Germany. They were surprisingly cheap too, without compromising on quality. We also went to Marina Beach. It was nice to have a stroll down the beach, but unfortunately the sand was heavily polluted with plastics and paper ice-cream wrappers.

ChennaiDC
Basketball & Volley Ball
courts at Chennai DC

AfternoonSun
Afternoon sun barely visible due
to the pollution in Chennai

RepublicDay
It was republic day, hence
the artwork at the entrance

I took a flight back to Bangalore for £36.77 and experienced the best flight available, and it truly is the best flight I’ve taken. Firstly, the bus carrying us to the aircraft had leather seats and flat TV screens for advertisement. At 55min, I didn’t expect any food on board, but they served up a really nice ‘Singapore stir fried chicken with black bean & celery’ with a chocolate truffle cake as desert. It was immaculately presented with metal cutlery. They played Tom & Jerry on TV. The air hostesses were pretty attractive too! The flight safety, take-off and landing instructions were given through the TV screens by this model looking presenter (link).

In Bangalore I got to catch up with a few friends. I met a friend of a friend who is currently working night shifts for a US accountancy firm, from 7pm till 4am in the morning. Real-time communication is so imperative that work has to be conducted live. Even with all the western negative press of ‘back office operations’ in Bangalore, he really enjoys the job and the experience in the finance sector. I don’t think it’s that bad either: young Indians gaining knowledge in western white collar jobs and working with colleagues half a world away. I recently said goodbye to a friend working for a major client in Seattle. He worked for them off-shore for a while and is now over there working on-site. That is great to see, that today, young bright open minded people here have opportunities to earn jobs, live in enticing Western cities and become professionals just like aspiring yuppies back home.

Mangalore Prawns
Sambu and some delicious
‘Mangalore Prawns’

Hemant in Bagalore
Hemant in Bangalore

Xmas & New Year’s

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Happy new year everyone! Hope you are having a great start to 2008!

Due to exams it wasn’t possible to go anywhere far for Xmas or New Year’s, but I definitely enjoyed them both in Bangalore. We stayed at the dazzling Leela Palace both times. For Xmas I took a bog-standard 75 Rs. (£1) 3.5 hour bus from Mysore to Bangalore. It was fine really, just a bit noisy. Once meeting up with Andrew, Jason, Sambu and Hemant we toured around Bangalore in a nice chauffer driven Leela owned saloon. We also went to a packed Forum mall and had nice Thai massages too.

Xmas Forum Mall
Shambu & Jason at
the Forum Mall

Our chauffeur
Our chauffeur

For New Year’s we arrived by train and there was plenty going on at the Leela again. On New Year’s day we went paintballing which was great fun but exhausting due to the heat. It was an hour out of the city in where we saw plenty of software company buildings such as those of IBM, Accenture, Oracle and Intel. Accenture’s building actually has a helicopter landing!

Andrew on the train to Bangalore
Andrew on the
train to Bangalore

Overstaffed?
Overstaffed?

Topless Lamborghini
Another nice car at the Leela Palace.
This time a topless Lamborghini.

Paintballing
Paintballing

Johnny gets serious
Johnny getting serious

Motorcycle Trip to Wayanad

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Three weekends ago Jason, Andrew, Jimmy (Andrew’s dad) and I went to Wayanad, a district in the southern state of Kerala. All the pictures we took are available here, courtesy of Andrew.

Knowing the roads will by bumpy, I hired out a Hero Honda CBZ (which has a funny TV advert, like many adverts here in India). Andrew and Jason hired Jimmy a Royal Enfield Bullet which looked like it was from the 1940s (there is a reason for this, the old Royal Enfield company dissolved in the UK but continued production in India, even today). Here is Andrew filming us during our three hour ride to Wayanad, the sound has been muted because it was just wind noise.

The roads when entering Kerala were in excellent condition: no potholes, no bumps, just nice long winding roads through the forest. That was fun to ride through. We stayed at a tree house villa that overlooked a jungle.

Front of the tree house
Jason entering the
the tree house

Inside the tree house
Inside the tree house

Branch going through the bathroom
A tree branch going through
the shower section!

The balcony
The balcony

It was at an extremely welcoming home-stay called Tranquil and the hosts where very lovely people. At one point they called in a Royal Enfield specialist to fix Jimmy’s bike which in the end was fixed without too much inconvenience. Their home has so much attention to detail the place could honestly qualify to be in a Bollywood movie.

The bar area
The bar area

Swimming pool
Swimming pool

Next day we climbed up a hill, went for a swim in the pool and on a safari in the afternoon. We were false charged by an elephant which was pretty scary!

All on a rock
All on a rock

Jimmy & Andrew. There was a 20 feet steep drop to their right.
Jimmy & Andrew

Me on the edge
Me on the edge

This elephant that charged at us!
This elephant charged at us!

On the ride back we went through some scenic country routes and also some of the worst roads I’ve experienced in India so far that had huge potholes. It was actually still possible to go 15-20kph by standing on the motorcycle.

Jason taking the side of a pothole-ridden road
Jason taking the side of a
pothole-ridden road

We also spotted elephant on the way back
We also spotted elephant
on the way back

It was the most adventurous weekend so far, had a great time with the guys and was a good crash course in handling a motorcycle over tough terrains.