A journey from broad-band to broad-land

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
Trip End Nov 16, 2004

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

:: Bangalore's lure ::

Before leaving San Francisco, I picked up E. M. Forrester's, A Passage to India, as a silent editorial companion to accompany me on my solo Indian journey. The city I've called home for the last week, Bangalore, is most apropos as the novel's setting. It's depicted as a heartland in a vast, open expanse of undulating plains. This once princely state claims, "It charms not, neither does it repel." Today, it's the political hub of the state, Karnataka, and claims to be the fastest growing state in Asia boasting nearly 8 million people. People really are everywhere. The concept of personal space stops at the edge of clothing fibers. Conversations occur nose-to-nose to save space for the masses. Let me just say that minty fresh breath is not an obsession shared by many of our global brothers and sisters.

In the 1980s, Bangalore became a cutting-edge city as high-tech towers painted its landscape along with savvy cyber attitudes amongst the young and trendy. It also has a softer, greener side with its public parks and open spaces. When I stepped off the plane this "Garden City" immediately proved its nickname as evidence from my sneezing! You wouldn't recognize me now since I have a face without a nose; I'm almost certain I've blown it off. Lacking an olfactory sense has helped in dealing with the environmental pollution. Apparently, the pollen of the prettiest little yellow flower I've ever seen afflicts many in this city. I heard achoooos all night long echoing from the walls around my hotel room. This incessantly annoying habit of mine continued until I landed back in Hyderabad where I now remain, sinus-free, for another week.

The culture in the Bangalore office is much more energized and easy-going than the corporate hype in Hyderabad. That's saying a lot since Indians by nature are extremely laid-back. I've learned to s.l.o.w. myself down a lot which has lightened my step despite handling a rather heavy workload and a moderate amount of stress reaching my business goals. The office is a smaller, understated space, too, which helps promote the "boutique" shop feeling I had which was reminiscent of my San Francisco dot-com days. The office hum was born from a contagious creativity that ricocheted from cubicle-to-cubicle. Its lyrical climax occurred after 8pm when nightly US conference calls demanded nocturnal jam sessions. After just one week with this team, I am certain several of my peers will be friends for life albeit the virtual kind. The Hyderabad team is special, too. I feel so lucky to have had this professional opportunity that has turned into wonderful, fun personal relationships. Both offices are extremely kind and have shown me the epitome of Indian hospitality. In India, you live to work since your entire social network, outside your family, is at your job. In the States, a myriad of competing interests and fear of mixing business with pleasure prevents crossing the proverbial line between work and play.

Besides being a high-tech haven, Bangalore, is a stopover for most travelers. The lack of cows indicates its Western orientation. It is known for its food, shopping, pubs, and electronic industrial parks. After the 80s boom, skyscrapers and malls popped up to cater to the newest class but soon the fragile infrastructure became to big for its britches and the city started to crumble. Enter Hyderbad, the new "cyber-city" created by those who fled the chaos of Bangalore. Today, Bangalore is back in the game after a local firm won AOL's help desk contract.

:: Magical Mysore ::

The weekend sent me exploring outside the city's boundaries to one of southern India's most treasured destinations, Mysore, an old-fashioned haven just 4-hours south of Bangalore. Its rolling land is part of the Deccan plateau and extends beautifully to the horizon, which is why wanted to take the 2-hour train ride but decided against it as it would have bypassed the 10th-century Srirangapatnam Vishnu temple I wanted to see a few miles north the city. So, my company set me up with a driver, named Aman, who came "highly recommended".

I was excited for my daytrip and woke early to meet him for a 6am start to avoid the weekend traffic. With 8 million people you always have traffic. I acquiesced and rose to meet my driver at the crack of dawn. I waited and waited and waited and decided if he doesn't show by 6:45am I'm going to take the bus. At 6:35, my "highly recommended" guide arrives promptly on Indian time. We exchange pleasantries that consisted of repeated nods and smiles. I successfully managed to say his name correctly, thanks to its brevity but he didn't respond to my inquisitive conversation. The air is quite for several miles until I start another conversation. With every sentence, he responded with a toothless grin and a, "Yes, m'am, yes." Ohhkay... but, I wasn't asking a question. I noticed that I would talk s.l.o.w.e.r and LOUDER in hopes he'd understand. That was fruitless and made me laugh at myself. Eventually, it became apparent that my guide only spoke five English words and the rest were in one of a hundred languages known by Indians. This made for an interesting day where body language served as the universal tongue. Somehow, we managed and I relied on my handy "Rough Guide to India" to elaborate on the sites.

My first stop was an island fortress, Srirangapatnum, on the Kaveri River just 10 miles north of Mysore. Built in 1454, the fort served as the capital of Mysore. It's famous for its ruler, Tipu Sultan, whose sole desire was to rid India of its British invaders. Befitting his nickname, the "Tiger of Mysore" he used tigers to torture his British prisoners in dark dungeons that reside just inside the fort. The fort's first line of protection was a mote followed by land for roaming predators. Its last line of defense was a huge towering wall, which was partially destroyed by the British. At the heart of the fort is Sri-Ranganatha Swami temple that was graciously spared by its invaders but pillaged for its gold.

I started walking towards the temple and was approached an eager little old man who was slightly inebriated. He thanked me for coming to the temple and was most hospitable almost as if entering as a guest in his own home! He wouldn't leave me alone. Aman was a distant shadow off my left while the little old man--with an unpronounceable name--leached to my right. By default he became my guide and shared many stories about the main deity of the temple, Sriranganathaswamy, who is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. I was led barefoot (Hindu law) through three distinct sanctuaries that were built in different centuries and through very turbulent times. The oldest and innermost sanctum of the temple held a huge statue, carved from a single slab of granite, of the reclining Lord Vishnu. Its image is forever etched in my memory since photos can only be taken from outside the temple.

After following me around for an hour and sharing extensive his knowledge, the little old man presented me with a fee for the tour, 200 rupees ($4). I told him that I did not ask for a tour and wasn't going to pay for something I didn't buy. I looked to Aman for some assistance since technically I was paying HIM to give me a tour but he just stood there silently. Finally, he rattle off something in Hindi and the next thing I know the little old man is sitting in our car as we drive down the road to Mysore. What?! The two of them are actually quite friendly with one another and I'm thinking I'm in yet another scam. Apparently, in order to earn his fee he's giving me two more temple tours. I agree like a good American with dollars to burn and learned a great deal from my drunken animated friend. After a while, we come to a crossroad where he gets out but not before collecting his 300 rupees. Yes, that's right, now it's 300. Somehow the fee had risen without explanation and I argue to this ridiculous increase until tempers flare and I hand over the rupees. He did a good job and I would had paid him the affordable $6 if he was just honest in the beginning about it. Since there are so many local Indian languages scams very frequent even amongst Indian nationals.

On to Chamundi Hill whose apex is the setting for the temple to the Goddess Durga (see Durga Puja travel entry) who slew the demon buffalo, Mahishasura. I took a photo of my guide next to this demon, as there were times throughout our journey that I wanted to slew him as well. He liked the photo and I warmed to him more after that small but not insignificant bonding experience. It is believed that the temple at the top of the hill strikes déjà vu in you. One of the displays states "5000 years ago at this time you visited this place at the same way you are visiting now. Because world drama repeats itself identically every 5000 years." I wonder what that meant for Aman and me? Descending the hill, I see a massive bull carved out of one solid piece of granite. Created in 1659, the bull temple known as Nandi carries the God Ganesha on his back. I was given red and yellow dot blessings on my forehead by a Hindu priest, which was a nice experience. Then, I was promptly asked for money. There really is no scared place in India where one cannot be approached to give money or food. And, by approaching I mean pulling and tearing at your clothes; its not just a simple question. The homelessness that tears at my heartstrings in San Francisco pales in comparison to the desponding expressions I see on the faces of so many here in India.

The road trip is going well except I'm nearly dehydrated. After drinking lots of water the first couple of hours, I decided that I had to stop as it had huge drawbacks especially for me who's Queen of the Itty-bitty Bladder Committee. The "ladies room" that seldom lined the road was extremely frightful. Having a sinus infection and blocked passageways didn't aid me in my visit. I captured a photo to share a bit of the visual pain.

Saving the best site for last, I arrive in Mysore and set my eyes on an architectural fairytale and jewel of the city, Maharaja's Palace. It takes hours to soak in this spectacle all without the aid of my camera, as it had to be checked in at the gate. I removed my shoes as well and wandered around the twelve temples that surround the palace which dates back to 1912. Elephants adorned with howdahs (a frame to carry passengers) parade around the site. At night, the palace is lit with over 5000 lightbulbs. Inside is an ornamental fantasy of turquoise, magenta and mustard colors with fabulous textures all in exquisite detail. I loved it. The best part for me was the Wedding Hall that is still used for concerts during the Dussehra festival in mid-October. Its dome was set in gorgeous stained-glass images of India's national bird, the peacock, known to be the harbinger of monsoons and the symbol of fertility and good luck.

Heading back to Bangalore, I reflect upon the day's events as I watch raindrops beginning to dance repetitiously on the windshield. With each passing day, a magical feeling incarnates itself within me just like one of the many Hindu Godly beliefs. It can be an infuriating feeling at times especially if one expects everything to happen like clockwork. While my crazy driver whizzes home at a deadening speed on slick and tenuous roads, I marvel at how an open mind and a flexible attitude, can go a long way in exploring the magic of not only India but in all people and places, too.

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