India Travel 2013: Chennai & Bengaluru

TIPU’S PALACE

Visited Tipu Sultan’s summer palace in Bangalore. I love strong contrast of colors (no pastels, please!) and columns and arches. So this was my kind of summer place!

Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace in Bangalore

The woman in the green sari was using the palace as a workout place – she was wearing walking shoes and doing laps around the palace while chatting on her cell phone. What a beautiful environment to get a workout! If Lifetime Fitness looked like this, I might consider going there.

I will do a whole blog post of photos from there. Most people whizzed through the rooms. I always stop and look for details. And here’s what I was rewarded with, visions of former painted grandeur:

Painted Walls in Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace in Bangalore

More photos to come later!

HEALTH IS MORE VALUABLE THAN MONEY

I believe this. I felt unhealthy after 2.5 weeks. While it was a good trip, I was awakened all night every night by a HACK ACK ACK ACK cough. When walking along the streets or riding in a rickshaw, my lungs contracted in horror from exhaust fumes. Even close-by fumes from one two-wheeler made my lungs recoil. I could feel it happen. The cough popped up in restaurants. Sometimes while I tried to talk to people. Sometimes the hacking grew into an unstoppable force. I hoped I wasn’t in a restaurant when that happened. Other diners don’t know that I wasn’t contagious. What if I stood up and announced: “It’s not germs, no worries!” Or wore a sign. Wouldn’t that be goofy! This coughing and chest tightness never happened on previous trips to India or Thailand or other places where the streets are a bit polluted.

But, a few years ago I had bad breathing problems for a short while, then they went away. It was very weird. I did the tube blowing test at the doctor’s office and failed miserably. Maybe I’m becoming asthmatic after exposure to environmental toxins. I’m not blaming other countries, it’s happened mostly in my own home. The fumes from bathroom cleaning products are horrible to our health.

If only I could fill the exhaust pipes in India with natural scented oils and steam! It would be a more comfortable experience! Imagine, the streets smelling of lavender and lemongrass. Next trip to India, I’ll bring an inhaler and asthma meds.

And for a country very concerned about digestion, now I get why. You can get really messed up here. I didn’t get any bugs like e. coli, because that’s happened on previous trips to India and you know it when it happens. My whole system just got out of balance. My intestines felt very unhappy, twisting and squeezing. Maybe I should have eaten the curd rice more often? If you eat spicy food, it helps to also eat some dairy, like yogurt. This takes the uncomfortable edge off the spice. Our hotel’s buffet had the BEST curd rice. They sprinkled pomegranate seeds on it. The pomegranate pops and there’s a burst of sweetness to balance the slightly sour yogurt taste. It’s so good!

GETTIN’ AROUND THE TOWN

Instagram did a pretty cool collage that captures scenes from this trip.

Instagram Snaps

One day, I went out on my own and focused on the Malleswaram area of Bangalore. The next day I had a bigger broader agenda:

Bangalore Shopping Agenda

MISSING THE FURBABIES

Part of travel is missing those left behind. This is my Siamese Snowshoe, Seesa, surveying the stuff to pack.

Seesa the Siamese Cat Surveying Stuff to Pack

She is seven years old, so she has seen this quite a few times before. She knows what’s coming. The first time we left her home alone (with neighbor checking in of course!) for two weeks, her voice was hoarse when we got home, and she “yelled” at us. I felt terrible.

Now she has Chaai to keep company, but they don’t get along well enough to snuggle or play together. But I believe just keeping track of where each other is in the house gives them something to do, and they know “someone” else is there. Here’s Chaai, looking at me while I was Instagramming when I was supposed to be packing the night before our flight.

The Chaai Guy

I looked up and saw I was being looked at! Chaai is five years old. So he’s seen us leave a few times. I think he might know when we’re leaving, but if he does, he doesn’t show it. He’s not as communicative as the Siamese cat.

I wonder what they’re doing, and what they’re thinking.

ANCIENT CARVED TEMPLES

We visited the Nandi Hills north of Bangalore, and we enjoyed the cool breezes of high altitude air and the sights of gardens, baby monkeys and carved stone temples.

The best salespeople are little children. Actually little children should not be here selling flutes at temples! But while they are here helping their moms, I hope their families are getting enough resources for the children to go to school. Or perhaps the children are such a sales asset, they will not be going to school. In which case, we  contributed to this. As my husband said, we didn’t want a flute, but we wanted to buy a flute from the little girl. I’m not sure that’s good.

The Flute Seller

We found what we sought on this weekend trip – ancient carved temples. I love this!

Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple Near Nandi Hills in Karnataka

That is from the Bhoga Nandeeshwara temple in a village near the Nandi Hills. I will be doing an entire blog post on these temple carvings. This is just one image of many more to come here!

Aw heck, here’s another one – love love love the artistry of these ancient carvings:

Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple Near Nandi Hills North of Bangalore

It’s an active temple and they were doing a puja with the temple’s traveling deities while we were there. We sat on the sidelines and listened to the jubilant trumpets and drums bouncing off the stone walls so loud they vibrated our stomachs. We watched the women in their best silk saris. Some women smiled at me and I nodded back. I’m glad that they were welcoming me to their temple. Personally I am not religious but I do respect everyone else’s beliefs, and it’s an honor to be able to see their practices.

As the colorful procession walked past us, my husband said, can you imagine building something like this 1,200 years ago and not knowing that 1,200 years in the future, people would still be here using what you built? Indeed. If only we all could have such a legacy.

AHHHHH SPA …

Our hotel spa was only steps from our room. So when we were all woozy after treatment, we didn’t have to walk far before collapsing on a cloud-like bed. Ahhhh! Because travel in India is not easy and carefree. Spas help make it better. I got a facial, manicure and pedicure. My husband did the full body massage and steambath but I didn’t – I can’t decide if it’s better to be steamed to death or stoned to death and I feel like I’m going to die whenever I’m in a room of steam. I once thought my last day on this planet was when I got zipped up into a blue plastic steam torture machine in Laos. We reminisced about that after the spa. At least I’m glad my husband liked his steam bath.

The ladies snipped, clipped and filed my nails so much, I felt like a horse or an elephant whose caretaker hasn’t taken enough care. They sanded my feet like a plank of wood!! Everything is baby soft and fresh afterwards.

CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION

Open note to hotels everywhere: If you can’t have the water pressure to support water jets in the shower, maybe don’t install them. Looking forward to some pounding water to massage away the aches in my shoulders, the jets instead delivered tickles that made me giggle! Oh well.

PRETTY SCENES CALM ANY FRUSTRATION

I was determined to go to the museum of modern art by myself. As a totally independent spirit since I was an infant (my first sentence, according to mom, was “do it self” as I grabbed a spoon from her to feed myself), I didn’t want to be shuttled around. From the map, it should have been a 15-minute walk. Somehow I turned it into a 1.5 hour stroll, all the while seeking an old bright white mansion with massive multi-story columns. Not finding that – and in fact making a big circle and winding up where I began! – I decided not to get frustrated and instead enjoy the sights. Maybe pretend I’m moving to Bangalore, so looking at the beautiful buildings of apartments, surrounded by gardens and iron curlicue gates. I loved this little scene with the lime bamboo leaves, brick and artistically-placed concrete pillars, and the squiggly sidewalk:

Bangalore Bamboo Scene

At this point, I was thinking if I couldn’t find the museum, at least I was rewarded with this modern view of wall and garden design. But!!! Lo and behold, the museum was almost across the street from this! I couldn’t take pictures in the museum, but spent a few hours soaking in the sights of contemporary paintings and sculpture, set within an old traditional building with courtyards of gardens and more sculptures. A beautiful experience. And, I more than burned the breakfast calories! A good day.

Here’s a drawing of the circuitous route to the museum:

Long Walk in Circles in Bangalore

SOUTH INDIAN BREAKFAST FOR AN AMERICAN

My husband was usually up and out to the office early, so I would have breakfast on my own. On the first day, I had an American pancake and egg breakfast at our hotel buffet. And the first night we waited 1 1/2 hours for someone to show up for a meeting, and by the time we walked out for dinner, I was about to keel over. We popped in Domino’s which is a few steps away from the office. Ugh!! My husband asked if the pizza was good. I said it was like filler material for a pillow, something to stuff my stomach. So the next morning I craved South Indian breakfast. I bypassed the pancakes and eggs, and the hotel staff looked surprised, and they hovered while I opened the lid for the idlis. Did they think they needed to show me what to do? Perhaps. But hey, I know what I’m doing! Loaded the plate with idli, medhu vada, coconut and coriander chutney, and sambhar. Yum! They also had the ripest, reddest, sweetest watermelon.

South Indian Breakfast

Most Indian restaurants in the U.S. serve foods from the northern states of India. If you’d like to try South Indian food, look for an Indian restaurant called Udipi (or Udupi) or Woodlands – they usually have South Indian food.

YOUR FATHER’S NAME

Now that my husband’s business has an office and employees in Bangalore, we’ve learned a lot about how hiring and business practices differ in India from the U.S. One thing that is often requested is your father’s name. For years this info requirement made us scratch our heads with a total lack of understanding about why it was needed. But we’ve recently seen the benefits of this, and perhaps the reason for it.

Bangalore has infamously heavy traffic, and people working for my husband were traveling two or more hours one way (!!!) to work. So he was keen to relocate the office closer to where everyone lives. There was a long list of desirable qualities in a new office, and an office that met everything for a good rent became available in a central business district. Because the office is so desirable, a bidding war happened. Oh no! But because my husband’s father’s name was provided, the person handling the “awarding” of the office saw some connections – they know people in common! They are originally from the same neighborhood in the same city. And so he wanted the office space to go to my husband’s company and so it did. And now on a Thursday evening they are chatting about business and Indian politics. He wanted to come meet us for the first time on a Thursday because it is an auspicious day. And that is how I came to be blogging for a bit from a conference room in an office in Bangalore.

Bangalore Office Conference Room

As a parting comment, he said, you should do well here, the office is facing north and east. That is based on vastu shastra principles, which believes that how energy flows in a building can affect health and prosperity of people and business.

ONE SHOE LESS

This photo, where I was photographing an old studded coffee table we bought for the India pied-à-terre on my previous trip to India, is the last time my cool rock-n-roll studded flip flops will appear in any photo. While climbing onto a train in Chennai, one slipped off and fell under the train! Oh well, I got over it pretty quickly, it is just a shoe. (One of my in-laws’ neighbors lost his life under a train). But it was an all-leather Italian shoe found for great price on sale at DSW! My husband said, “at least it will compost, then.” Ugh.

Studded Indian Coffee Table and Studded Italian Flip Flops

I didn’t have to hop around on one foot too long. We had all our luggage and we remembered which suitcase had my shoes. After that, I studied what shoes people were wearing – most wore much more secure shoes. And, as another travel tip for India, maybe it’s a good idea to carry an extra pair of shoes with you. You never know!

ON THE ROCKS

Here’s my husband and niece on a Coromandel Coast beach behind the Fisherman’s Cove hotel. It’s on the East Coast Road (ECR) south of Chennai. We stopped there for a buffet lunch on our way down ECR to Mahabalipuram. After this, they got yelled at by security for standing on the rocks. Apparently it is very dangerous. Not because of danger of slipping – because of snakes!

Fishermans Cove Beach

If you go to Chennai, where you stay might reflect what you want out of the experience. My personal preference – even though it can get loud and tiring – is to be in the middle of things in a city. But places like Fisherman’s Cove (a Taj hotel, so it is nice) are also around. If you want a place to stay that’s quiet and beautiful, with a great pool, this might be the place. As you can see, there was no one else on the beach – hard to find places without lots of people here. They even had a musician playing the blues. My husband, a blues fan, loved that!

Here’s a shot of individual villas at Fishermans Cove, right on the beach. It’s a bad photo, but apparently I was also a bad tourist because security yelled at me for taking a photo of the villas. Okay, so … well, you would have lots of privacy here!

Fishermans Cove India Beach Villas

ON HIGHER ROCKS

In Mahabalipuram, we visited all the popular tourist sites from the Pallava dynasty. As you can see here, at one of them we climbed really high up.

Mahabalipuram Stone Carving

I will do a whole post on the ancient Mahabalipuram stone carvings, because carved stone motifs are one of the things influencing me for decorating the India pied-à-terre.

PUPPETS LEFT IN THE SHADOWS

At DakshinaChitra, an arts and cultural institution in Chennai, we saw a puppet show where the artist explained that it’s a dying art. It used to be, in the days before TV, a puppet show would be put on in a village by as many as 15 men, telling stories to keep people entertained, and likely used as a way to pass on culture and values to children. Now it was one man, a few puppets. The show was in Tamil, so our niece translated it for me – a tale of good and evil.

Dakshina Chitra Puppet Show

FELINE, FOILED

It doesn’t matter where they are. Everywhere in the world, cats are THE BOSS. Like this guy (or girl) here, surveying the territory. This one used to wind up in my in-laws’ house. Sometimes you’d open a door and walk in a room and there’d be a cat there! How did it get in there?! Its claws would scatter and it would high-tail it out between the window bars. Aha. Now, the windows are covered and no more cats getting surprised in the house.

Chennai Cat

APPRECIATING THE LITTLE THINGS

Although Sundari Silks in the T Nagar neighborhood of Chennai is filled with yards of gorgeous woven and embroidered silks, this little scene before you even go in – at the entrance door – captures a few of my favorite things from India: carved wood, bright color and bronze:

Entrance to Sundari Silks in Chennai

THE GROUND AND THE SKIES WERE ALIVE WITH FIRE

The choreographed fireworks displays of the United States, I’ve now learned, can’t compare to the chaotic bursts coming from all directions during Diwali in India. You just have to come to India and experience it! It was an exuberant symphony of deafening noise. But in the best way.

Diwali Fireworks in India

Here’s our nephew setting off a firework:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny3Sg27nO40&w=500&h=700]

DO YOU EAT THE STREET FOOD

Street food can be the best. An explosion of flavor. And authentic. Sometimes I eat it, sometimes not. Depends on whether it’s open or closed fruit , and if it’s cooked how long and hot it’s been heated. I opted out of this – I’ve been sick in India before and it really does a job on your plans! I used to be more open but after a few experiences, yes, I’m more conservative now when we have a jam-packed schedule. My husband and niece enjoyed this chaat:

India Street Food Yum

Indian Street Food in Ponagal Park Chennai

GREENERY

It’s sticky and humid but just looking at leaves makes me feel cooler. This is inside the gate to the India pied-à-terre property:

Cool Chennai Leaves

This is a neighbor’s house a few doors down:

Chennai Garden

720 DAYS LATER

I didn’t expect to see him. My fuzzy street boyfriend. I expected that he died sometime over the past two years. But he is here. He now no longer has any fuzz. His naked scabbed skin makes him look like a Yoda. His once-soft ears are now clawed raw.

Mangy Street Dog

He’s a street dog in T Nagar suffering for years from mange. The few times I’ve seen him this trip, he can’t stop scratching. Imagine. 720 days … and more because he was already mangy when I first saw him in 2011 … of constant itch and pain. His eyes are no longer kind and soft. They look tired of this life.

I have few emotional defenses against street dogs even after all these years of seeing them in various places. This boy is not neutered. So he’s been able to make more dogs consigned to this rough life.

I’ve been following the story of Loki, a three-year-old feral dog in arctic Canada who had a target on his life but he was saved and now he’s slowly getting acclimated to a home. Eldad Hagar, who saves street dogs and whose videos of the saves go viral, helped save Loki. I wish this mangy Chennai dog could be my Loki.

LIME IN THE COCONUT COLOR

A fellow road user in Chennai, snapped on way in from the airport:

Chennai Coconuts

It was 6 a.m. and the air was still crisp and cool, refreshing. And so is the water in those coconuts! Later in the day we bought coconuts and enjoyed water in them, from the vendor who sells them in our neighborhood in Chennai.

3 Replies to “India Travel 2013: Chennai & Bengaluru”

  1. I’m enjoying your posts. My daughter is also in India for Diwali right now. So between your pics and hers, I almost feel like I am there.

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