Trip to Bangalore

I returned from India on Sunday, after leaving Bombay at 420am, a two hour layover in Dubai, and then a 16 hour flight back to San Francisco. Of my two bags, one was lost and at last check Emirates doesn’t know where it is yet. Well played Emirates, well played. I managed to get 10 hours of sleep in last night so we’ll see how the jetlag goes.

On my flight from from Bombay to Dubai, I was on the same flight at John Abraham, who apparently is some huge Indian movie star. I had no idea who this guy was except there was a crowd of men and women flanking him everywhere he went. I was in the boarding line with him and the only way I figured out who he was was by reading his name off of his boarding pass and then Googling it.

I left Bangalore on Friday and spent the weekend in Bombay with my sister and my grandma in Santacruz. On Friday night we went to this place called Escobar(great name, eh?) to hang out with and meet my sister’s friend. Quite fun.

Spending time in the Bangalore office reminded me a lot of the first few trips I took to the Microsoft Shanghai office in 2005. The team is full of energy, excited and eager to work on cool technology. I love getting to spend time with motivated and excited engineers. The office there is full of talent and I hope to be able to mke it there a few times this year. It’s almost alluring enough to make me want to move there for a while. I also had a chance to give a tech talk on Packager for iPhone to the teams there, which was also great.

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Getting to Bangalore

I’m in Bangalore this week to work with our engineering team here. That’s worth a post on it’s own at some point (tons of job related stuff that I should get around to posting). What I wanted to post about how incredible it is to get all the way out to India from the states, and the incredible complexity of travel this far. Our flight from San Francisco, on Emirates, was delayed four hours since the arriving flight from Dubai had not made it in yet. Since there was a huge delay, we ended up missing our connection in Dubai that would have taken us on to Banglore, thus we stayed in the Dubai airport for six hours waiting for the next flight. Made it to Bangalore Monday ~8am, an hour and a half ride later we were at our hotel then went on to the office.

Bangalore is a pretty impressive city. For one it feels a bit more progressive than other Indian cities I’ve been in. I was last in India January 2009, in Mumbai. The streets are quite clean, and there’s signage everywhere that says “don’t drink and drive” (in English). In fact, at this one round-a-bout, there’s a (for lack of a better word) sculpture of a guy who hit a tree on his scooter that says something like “don’t let this be you.”  There are apparently four subway lines coming to the city, with one supposed to be opening this year. Given how bad the traffic is here, that should be a godsend. It takes us ~30m to travel the ~5km to the office. Yikes.

We’re here working with the team to design a bunch of the major components of the product that will be made here (again, I should blog on the latest job news) and to kick off our next few sprints. It’s fun to work with energetic thinkers and spend time brainstorming on the whats and hows of our work.

I’m here till Friday, when I leave for Mumbai to spend the weekend with my sister. From there, it’s back to the states on Sunday.

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A Quick Day in Delhi

We started the north India leg of our trip today flying in to the Delhi airport by 2pm. We’ve booked this party all as a package tour, so we were whisked away from the airport in a small bus and checked in to the Taj Mahal Hotel on Man Singh Road. This, by a fair margin, may be the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

The attention to detail and the service are impeccable. For example, when you check at reception, your reception agent then gets up from behind their desk and takes you to your room, shows you around, and you sign your paperwork in your room. After which they then offered to send up some tea and coffee and asked if they can come later to clean it all up. The wakeup call was also the best thing ever. So you call to set the call, and the lady then took the time for the call, asked if I wanted a reminder call and when I wanted it. Then (and get this) asked if I was expecting any calls during the night — which I did not — so she told me they’d hold all the calls and take messages and give them to me in the morning. The last line before hanging up? “Sleep well sir, we’ll wake you up in the morning.” Loves it.

On the tourist side, we saw the Presidential Palace and India Gate in the afternoon, then went to Bukhara for dinner. All in all a good set of things to see and today we’re off to Agra to see the actual Taj Mahal. The photos on my web site are up to date since I sync’ed last night, too.

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Last Day in Bombay

Today’s our last full day in Bombay. We spent yesterday going to Haji Ali and Siddhivinayak Temple. I’d never been to Haji Ali, so it was interesting to see. Siddhivinayak was good as usual. The security there was the tightest we’ve seen so far. After visiting those two we went to my sister’s office and had a late lunch at Fragipanni at the Trident Hotel (where bullet holes can still be seen in some Oberoi tower windows). Afterward, my sister and I caught a local train at about 7pm up towards Santa Cruz from Churchgate to have dinner with my grandma and cousins.

The train wasn’t as bad as expected since we bought “first class” tickets (which isn’t saying much) for the ride up. People are insane at the train station. As the train starts to move or stop people just run everywhere, jumping on to the tracks to catch their trains. People are getting on to the trains before they come to a stop, and getting off as they’re rolling up. It’s madness. It’s no surprise that 4000 people die a year on the trains by getting hit.

In any case, we made it up fine and took a second class train back around 11 which was nearly empty and we were able to sit down. Today I’m spending the day with my other grandma and having dinner with the family. Then tomorrow we head out Delhi on a noon flight.

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Arrived and First Days in Bombay

After 16 or so months, I’m back in Bombay and 20 hours in the air. It’s been a good first day and a half. We went to Vikram’s wedding which lasted all day on Saturday. It was a great time and the food was awesome as well. Today we had a late start (post jet lag and all), had lunch at Indigo Deli then went to Elephanta Island. Unfortunately, we were rushed in the process since we got there quite late, but we got to see everything on the island while avoiding being attacked by the monkeys that live there. For dinner we went for pow bajhi across the street from Chowpatty after which we walked from there all the way across Marine Drive to Nariman Point to work off the butter. I’m off to bed, going to probably go to Siddhi Vinayak and maybe Haj Ali (the latter of which I’ve never been to). I’m not writing much since the internet is painfully slow and I need to get to bed. I’m getting 9 kbps right out off the interface in total.

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Juhu, Bandra, Mahim, Central Mumbai, Elephanta

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to blog, so I’ll try to bring this up to speed fairly quickly.

Sunday I spent most of the day at my grandma’s house in Mumbai and then went out in the afternoon and early evening with my cousin to see various things in Mumbai. We started with the ISKON (I think) Temple, which is a Hari Krishna temple. It’s very well kept and very clean, plus has lots of booths that show diorama style informational scenes from various parts of Hinduism. After that we went up to the top of this mountain-ish thing to Mount Mary’s Church, and I took a bunch of pictures from that side. When the sun started to set a bit, we went down the hill to the Bandstand area beach side where a bunch of film stars have homes and had some corn that was sold rode side and then had a coffee at the Barista that overlooks the water. From there it was back via Bandra where we stopped in some art galleries, did some sidewalk shopping and had (gasp) pani puri! There’s this resturant in Bandra called Only Paratas that sells pani puri made hygenically, so we had some there. I’m dying to have some more, they were so stuipd good. After that, we went back to my grandma’s house.

Monday I got up a bit early since I was going to be heading to my aunt’s in central Bombay, where my other grandma lives. I had breakfast and the like there and then took a taxi with my aunt over to this side (where I am now). While only some 10km or so, it took about an hour due to hideous traffic. Interestingly, once past Mahim on the way south towards more central Delhi, rickshas are now allowed so it makes the traffic a little more sane. In the afternoon in central Mumbai, I walked around the Fort and Kara Ghoda area nearby (which is an arts district) as well as a bunch of the little streets around here. In the evening, we went went on a walk on Nariman Drive during the sunset and then later on to the Taj Hotel for dinner at a Chinese place called Golden Dragon. Needless to say, it was far from authentic.

Today (Tuesday), I went to the Elephanta Caves, on an island an hour via ferry from the Gateway to India. They caves are in fact temples cut in to the mountain that form an entire Shiva temple within the mountain. They were quite a sight to see and impressive. I managed to get some really good pictures there (I think).

Either tomorrow or Thursday I’m going to head back to the suburbs to my other grandma’s house. Hopefully I’m going to try and take a train (the commuter rail system they say is “lifeblood of Mumbai”) since it’s probably fastest and it’s supposed to be a crazy experience. I’ve taken a local train a long long time ago, perhaps 10+ years but I don’t really recall. Then Friday, it’s off to London.

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Arrived in Mumbai

I arrived in Mumbai yesterday via a flight from New Delhi. I flew on Kingfisher Airlines, which is indeed owned by the beverage group. The plane was fantastic. Great food, good service, comfortable seats, friendly flight attendents. It was a very positive experience flying with them. The terminals on both ends left a lot to be desired but the in-flight experience was among the best I’ve had.

In Mumbai, my aunt picked me up from the airport and we went to my grandma’s house in a part of Mumbai called Santa Cruz. I’ve been coming to this house for pretty much my whole life whenever I’m in India and it really feels like home. My cousins were a bit busy with school during the day and so I hung out and had tea and the usual during the afternoon. Once in the evening and they were a bit more free I went to the bookstore (Crossword) and picked up a few books by Indian authors that looked pretty good and came with recomendations.

For dinner in the evening, we went out to a Goan resturant in some part of town I can’t remember (M-something). The food was totally totally different than anything I’d tried before and was awesome to boot. For those foodies out there, try to check it out. It’s unlike any Indian food you’ve had. The owner was really friendly and came by to chat at the table and told us of a new Maharastran resturant he’s opening up next door and we took back menus. The cuisine they were serving was full of things that I grew up eating and apparently it’s the first (?) Maharastran resturant that’s been opened, period. I’d like to check it out, but that’s seems a bit ridiclious given where I’m staying.

We got home a bit late, but it was a great day. In Mumbai, the city feels a life and full of energy yet more organized and logical (e.g. they follow traffic lights). While the streets and roads of Central Delhi might be better and perhaps cleaner, they feel too sterile while in Mumbai it feels like the city has its own heartbeat. The comparison of Beijing to Shanghai is fitting.

Today we’re probably going to go around a bit and see a few things, and then not sure what the evening will bring. Tomorrow I’ll likely relocate myself to more downtown Mumbai to where my aunt and grandma from the other side of my family are and stay there for a few days.

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Jaipur Day 2 and Back in Delhi

My riksha driver picked me at up 9:30am on Thursday and we made our way to multiple multiple forts through the day. I’d eaten something funny on Wednesday and I woke up with a stomachache that haunted me all day long.

Instead of starting on the itinerary we’d discussed in the morning, we stopped by an oil store to pick up some motor oil for the riksha. What good would a quart of motor oil be without having your engine serviced? So we stopped on the side of some street and had the riksha serviced and oil changed before we acutally got on our way. At first I was getting irritated but decided to let it side and just assume this is part of the experience.

We then really started at the Lake Palace, then went up this huge hill (mountain?) in his little green and yellow autoriksha to start at Nahargarh Fort. Then we crossed through the mountain top to Jaigarh Forth, which I wasn’t too impressed with. It was just large and there wasn’t much to see there. We then went on to Amber Palace, which was just amazing. As you approach, it’s even higher on the hill top, with steps and elephants and monkeys crossing up and down (not to mention people as well). I opted for the little more foreigner-with-upset-stomach approach, and took a jeep up to the top and decided to hire a guide at this fort as well. It’s stunning on the inside with marble rooms in places, huge gardens on the inside, mirrored walls adorning columnades, internal cooling systems, etc, etc. Simply fantastic.

By this time it was about 2:30pm and I’d done most of the major sites so I made my way back to the bus stop and managed to catch the last seat on the 4pm Volvo bus back to Delhi and was picked up near Iffco Chowk about an hour ourside of Delhi proper. Pretty grewling 36 hours, but well worth it.

Today was pretty low key. I went back in to Delhi, saw the National Museum (the first floor of which is awesome, the second and there were iffy at best mostly due to presentation rather than content). Then I went to Connaught Circus and hung out there in the afternoon browsing through the streets and the spokes off the wheel. In the evening, I had dinner with my other uncle who lives in this area and just got back. Tomorrow, I’m off to Mumbai on the 10am flight (via Kingfisher Airlines no less, the company known for its beer).

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Jaipur Day 1

I woke up at 6:00 this morning to catch a taxi my aunt had ordered for me at 6:30. That early in the morning, it took only 40 some odd minutes to make it out the Delhi (Bikanar House). I booked a ticket on the 8:00 coach from Delhi to Jaipur. After about 6 hours in the bus (with a stop around noon), I made it to the bus depot in Jaipur. The ride was only some 250km long, but I guess that’s largly due to the traffic and general chaos that exists on the roads en route.

In Jaipur, I took a auto-riksha to my hotel (Umaid Mahal), which is quite lovely. It’s a bit over priced for what it is, but the decorations inside look picturesque. It’s just that the rooms don’t really match what I’m used to expect for that much money. In some ways, China has spoiled me in terms of these things.

I headed out via a riksha I’d hired for the afternoon to a bunch of places in Jaipur. We started by crossing in to the city walls (e.g. in to the Pink City), which reminded me a lot of the walls at Xi’an, except with a distinctly Indian flavor rather than Chinese. Unfortunatly, it was quite late already so I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at all the various places this afternoon. I started at Hawa Mahal which was awesome, then went over to City Palace, and then to Jantar Mantar. That took up the large part of the afternoon.

Of worth to note, I was chatting in a part of the afternoon with my riksha driver and after a while we exchanged names. I first gave him my name to which he responded “oh Indian name, Indian face” (since I’d prior told him I’m from the states). Then he gave me part of this name and then in the briefest moment of hesitation gave me his full name. His full name very certain Muslim name, and he told me that he was Muslim right away and immediatly asked me “is that a problem?” I, of course, answered that it’s not a problem at all and he replied saying “Muslims, Hindus, all the same people.” It was an interesting exchange.

On recomendation from my aunt and uncle, I went then to a veg resturant apparently of some fame in Jaipur called LMB and had some chaat there. The food was fantastic and the chai was so good. I was there too early to have dinner, but the snacks that I did have were great. Also of note City Palace and the Jantar Mantar area, there were tons of Asian tourists, mostly mainland Chinese (I heard some Cantonese as well as some Japanese). At one point I gave a hand to a few of them in Mandarin. It totally shocked them when I started speaking Putonghua to them.

On the flip side, everybody here expects that I speak and starts speaking to me in Hindi, which is almost a total loss to them. I can understand maybe about 10% of conversational Hindi (e.g. what time things open and close, directions, etc) but that’s about it. Thus, when people are speaking non-specific Hindi, I can make out the gist of what they’re saying but if it gets at all specific or starts using anything but the most basic vocab/non-shared-with-Marathi, I’m lost.

Tomorrow I go to see the rest of the major sights in Jaipur and I’m going to try to catch a bus back to Delhi at around 4pm.

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Day in Central Delhi

I spent the day in or about in central New Delhi. I started off at Qutib Minar and hung out there for about 45 minutes. I’d been there before, so I snapped a few pictures, walked around the grounds and went on my way.

I was dropped off for the morning at the National Museum. From there, I knew I wanted to try to get to the Mogul Gardens (they’re only open one month a year), so I started on a 1.5 hour treck to first try to find the Parliment House and second, to try to get behind it to the gardens. After much asking in English and people replying in half-English half-Hindi, I managed to find my way there (not without almost giving up at least once).

The gardens were quite cool. The first part is a herbal garden which shows off various types of herbs that are grown along with plaques describing their medicinal (or otherwise) properties. The walk continued to an area that contained the main, mulit-acre (?) garden which had flowing fountains and water paths that criss-crossed in perfect symetery. The other part of the garden of note was a circular pool that was walled and on the inside was a set of plants/gardens/whatever that hugged the diameter of the pool. Unfortunatly no cameras or even mobile phones were allowed inside, so I didn’t get a chance to take any shots.

After the Mogul Gardens, I took an auto-riksha back to the Central Secretariat metro stop. The Delhi Metro is new, about three years old, and wasn’t even open when I was here in 2003. Now it’s got about three lines. The rolling stock seemed simular to the ones used in Shanghai Line 2, but apparently they’re not (Delhi’s are some Mitsubishi JV built) and the ticket system was identical to Bangkok’s (with the plastic RFID tokens). It was clean and largly civil inside the system. I rode it out the Delhi Main, got out in to the absolute madness of Chandni Chowk and walked over to Red Fort.

In the area, I had a masla dosa for lunch at Haldiram’s (not sure if it’s the supposed original one), and if I end up back in that area I will most definintly try to find the gali parathe walee which I’ve read and heard about. After lunch, I spent a few hours at Red Fort, walking through the various buildings and edifics that remain and that have been restored. It’s all quite nice and all, but I’d been there at least once before, so I took it quite easy.

From there, I went back via Metro to the Central Secct area, and then went to the Lodhi Gardens for an hour to look at the old buildings from the time of the Lodhi Kings, then headed back to Guragon. Tomorrow (Wed) and the day after (Thu) I’m going to be in Jaipur. I’m taking a taxi from here to a bus station in Delhi at 6:30am to make the four hour bus ride.

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