India’s Food and Drinks
One of the best things is the cuisine. No, that’s understating it. India’s cuisine is one of the best in the world. Food in every variety, combination, ingredient, flavor, spice, scent, and color. There are far many more dishes than what we see in Indian restaurants in Europe and the USA. There are thousands of restaurants, of all types, qualities, and sizes. There are types of restaurants that we don’t have in the USA.
At many public places, such as the entrance to parks or zoos, there are street vendors, with roast corn, various types of nuts, cotton candy, fruit, ice creams, juice, sodas, or bottled water. In the photo, a woman is selling roasted ears of corn at the city park.
With millions of small farms, food is inexpensive. Biriyani (rice dish) is R40-50, or about a dollar. Most lunch is a dollar or less. A Pepsi is five cents (and two cents in the countryside). Tea is two cents. Restaurants range from air-conditioned to open-air, and even down to the bare minimum. On street corners, you’ll see someone set up a small propane burner, a frying pan, and make various items. Their “shop” is perhaps two feet by two feet.
Western restaurants have Western prices. TGIF burgers are $10. I saw a few Subway and Pizza Hut, but no other franchises. Although there’s McDonalds in India (with veggie Big Macs), I didn’t see any. There is KFC, which has spicy chicken, but I didn’t see one. In general, there are few foreign franchises.
There’s lots of fruit, incl. various types of banana, including small bananas that are very sweet. And there are lots of mango and papaya. Mango trees are huge. You see durians bigger than large watermelons.
There’s a full range of restaurants in Bangalore. One night, we went to Paparazzi, which Conde Nast lists as one of the 100 best restaurants in the world. It’s on the 10th floor with a great view of Bangalore. A full bar with martinis and a menu where everything is unique.
At another place, I had a sandalwood drink. This is really amazing. In the West, we don’t have drinks that are scented like perfumes. (Recipe for Sandalwood Drink: 1-1/2 quarts water, 4 drops sandalwood oil or 4 teaspoons sandalwood water, 5 cloves, 5 green cardamom pods, 1/2 teaspoon saffron, 1 cup honey or sugar to taste, juice of a lemon. Boil the water, cloves, and cardamom for 5-6 minutes. Add honey and sandalwood; boil until the syrup is thick. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and chill.) I don’t know why these perfumed drinks don’t exist in the West. In Persian cuisine, there’s rose water (rose-flavored water) which makes a delicious drink. Chanel and the various perfume lines could come out with perfumed drinks. These would be very cool.
Many street vendors sell fresh coconut milk. They open the coconut
for you. These fellows pulled up in a small 3-wheel truck
and began to unload coconuts to set up a stand.
As I said, it’s hard to find things. If you don’t know where something is, you won’t even know it exists. Friends took us to restaurants, where from the street, all you see is a small non-descript sign. You go around the back, go up three or four floors, and there’s a great restaurant. The few restaurants in Lonely Planet are not much in comparison.
In most restaurants, people eat with their fingers. You can ask for a fork, but you’ll rarely get a knife, which you don’t really need anyway. Restaurants often give you a finger bowl, both at the beginning and end of meals.
After most meals, there is a box of spices, which are breath fresheners.
Another thing that I’ve never seen in a US Indian restaurant is paan. These are small items that you eat at the end of a meal, after dessert. A betel leaf is filled with spices such as cardamom, anise, lime paste, grated coconut, betel nuts, and small piece of candied fruits. All of this is folded up in a small packet, pinned with cloves, and you pop it into your mouth. Incredibly delicious.
One of the common things about Indian restaurants in the USA is doggy bags (take home the leftovers). But nobody does this in India, and if you do, they think you’re cheap.
Somehow, you don’t expect coffee in India. You rarely see it in Indian restaurants in the USA. Yet India is the world’s sixth largest producer of coffee and there are lots of cafes. Cafe Coffee Day is the Starbucks of India and they have the full range of coffee.
Sugar cane juice is sold everywhere. Fresh sugar cane is crushed and you drink the juice. Sometimes, they add a bit of ginger. Delicious. Why doesn’t this exist in the US?
As for soft drinks, there’s Thums Up (made by Coca-Cola, and it’s sweeter and darker in flavor than Coke), Pepsi, and 7Up.
It’s funny that in restaurants, the Pepsi and water are presented, like wine. The waiter presents the bottle of Pepsi.
The beer is quite good; there’s Kingfisher and other Indian beers.
Because of the heat, dust, and humidity, you drink lots of water. It’s useful to have a water bottle carrier that holds a liter water bottle. You need several liters of water in your hotel room. However, water purity is not good and if you drink tap water (or eat anything that was rinsed in tap water), you may get diarrhea. This is difficult to avoid, but luckily, it’s also easy to treat. Indians also get sick, tho’ not as much. By growing up in their environment, their bodies can better tolerate the water.
So, try new foods or get sick? Easy choice. Despite the risk (and yes, I got sick, but so what?), I tried many things that I’ve never seen before. Lime Drink (juice of limes, flavored with cardamom, crushed fresh ginger, and sugar) is extremely delicious.
Indian women love sweets and there are lots of candy shops. At several stores, I bought one of everything. Despite the tremendous amount of sweets, there isn’t the obesity of the US; I suppose it’s because they walk more.
And then there are the tiffin wallah (lunch box guys). Bombay has an ingenious meal distribution system. Tiffins are lunch boxes that hold warm food. The wife makes warm lunch, puts it in a tiffin, and this is delivered to the husband at his office desk. Every day some 4,000 tiffin wallahs go on bicycle through Bombay’s suburbs, house by house, and pick up some 160,000 home-cooked lunches. They bring the tiffins to suburban railway stations and use a color-coding system to sort these by destination on the platform. The tiffins are loaded onto subways and passed along to other tiffin wallahs, who deliver these by lunchtime. Afterwards, the empty lunchboxes are collected from the offices and brought back to the home where they came from. A Forbes study found the tiffin wallah system has a six sigma accuracy, which means they deliver tiffins with an accuracy of 99.9999% (six nines). In other words, for every six million tiffins delivered, only one fails to arrive. That’s about one lost tiffin every two months. Only top Western engineering companies achieve six-sigma quality. Bombay’s tiffin wallah are illiterate, yet they manage to do this. Read more about the Bombay tiffin wallah and an article by Guardian on the Bombay tiffin wallah.
Caste and Religion
Everyone has heard about the caste system. There are four major castes, with sub-groups within each caste. There’s a fifth caste, the Untouchables (called Dalit). And there’s a sixth non-hereditary caste, made up of homosexuals, transvestites, and other social outsiders.
The caste system is much upon commented by foreigners, but this isn’t really very different from socio-economic groups in the USA. Harvard and Stanford graduates don’t mix with people from state community colleges; truck drivers don’t mix with middle class, and so on. We have a caste system in the USA, but we call it social classes, based on education, income, neighborhood, and race. The difference is that the Western system isn’t hereditary. It’s possible to move out of one socio-economic group into another, and some do.
Most Indians (80%) are Hindu. Hindu is a very complex religion. How complex? They have 300 million gods. There are tens of thousands of local versions of Hindu. Because Islam conquered and ruled India for 600 years, about 140 million (13%) are Muslim, making India one of the largest Islamic countries in the world.
There are also some 23 million Christians, mostly around Goa on the southwestern shore. The Christian community was founded by St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, 2,000 years ago, so India has been Christian far longer than most of Europe. There are also Sikhs (18 million), Zoroastrians (a 5,000-year old religion from Persia), Buddhists, Jains, and Jews (another ancient community.)
The West often sees India as a land of religion. In reality, India has a much deeper and longer secular and atheist tradition than the West. In the 1600s, Europeans were burnt at the stake for denying the christian god. Western secular thought is only 300 years old, and still not widely accepted in the USA. In contrast, India has had respected schools of atheism for over 2,000 years.
Clothes in Bangalore is a mix of traditional Indian clothing and Western clothes. Women wear sari, salwar kameez, or western clothes. This is a long loose knee-length shirt over a pair of light pants, adorned with a light silk scarf (a duppatta) around the neck. This is either very light cotton or silk, with colors and print patterns. The kameez is related to our Western shirts, as you can see with the name camisa in Spanish and chemise in French. It’s also the origin of the Shimmy, a dance invented in Paris by Josephine Baker, who danced it wearing a man’s open shirt (and nothing else).
For men, it’s slacks and a button plaid cotton shirt. Young guys wear California graduate student clothing: a baseball cap, polo shirt or T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers or sandals. However, men don’t wear shorts. Farmers and laborers often wear sarong or loincloths.
As for footwear, both men and women wear mostly open sandals. I’d guess 80% wear sandals or flip-flops. Otherwise, they wear sneakers or various types of sports shoes. Farmers often don’t wear shoes and many don’t even own shoes.
Clothes are inexpensive. India has a huge cotton industry and cotton is well-suited to the climate. Because of the warm weather and the humidity, sweaters, wool, and fleece jackets are useless in the south.
Nobody colors their hair. Although it’s very popular among young Japanese women to color their hair brown, red, or blonde, this fad hasn’t yet reached India. Everyone has dark hair. There isn’t much hair styling like in California. Women have long hair, which they generally wear in a bun. Men have short combed hair.
Bangalore is the most westernized and modern Indian city, with a huge software and engineering industry, yet of about seven million people in Bangalore, there are only 15,000 foreigners (that’s only 0.2%). TIME magazine reports there are only 30,000 foreigners working in India. Basically, you don’t see foreigners. Maybe one or two if you go to MG Road, the main tourist area. At Cubbon Park on Sunday or the crowded City Market, I saw no foreigners of any kind: Chinese, Japanese, African, European, etc. In California, there are people from everywhere.
I was also in Mysore (700,000 people), a very popular tourist destination, and I didn’t see any foreigners. In the evening, I went to a cultural event, where there were perhaps 20,000 people. I was perhaps the only non-Indian.
In comparison, Paris has 50,000 Americans and several hundred thousand people from other countries. It surprised me that there are so few foreigners in Bangalore. On second thought, India only opened up to the West in the mid-90s, so it’s still fairly new to go there.
In Mysore, I was chatting with some people (people are friendly and easy to talk with). After a while, one asked if I was Indian. I said no, I was from California. Then he asked if I was a red Indian. The “non-Indians” they see are NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), who are “Foreign-born Indians,” also called Desi. They are the children of Indians who came to the USA and Canada in the 60s and 70s. Many of them don’t speak Hindi or know much about India. They can get a passport and don’t need a visa. So the people in Mysore, who never see foreigners, assumed that I was a NRI. Who else comes there?
There’s a difference between Indians and Desi (Desi are the Indians who live in the USA and Canada). A number of people in Bangalore asked me why Desi were so socially conservative. India continues to develop due to their internal dynamics, but the Desi left India 20 or 30 years ago and their cultural values are frozen at the year they left. Desi also tend to be educated in medicine or engineering and work for large corporations, so they have an upper-middle class corporate outlook. Living outside of India, they don’t have exposure to the subcultures that make up daily life in India, and, as outsiders in the USA, they don’t have contact to many American subcultures, so they tend to have an idealized worldview. I’ve noticed the same with Germans and Danes who left Europe 20-30 years ago. The Europe they knew is long gone. I’ve met Germans who came to the USA in the 40s who think of themselves as Germans, yet they have literally no idea what modern Germany is like. The same happens with Americans who left the USA in the 60s and live in Europe; the USA they know is from the 60s, as if the 60s were still going on. If you deal with Desi in the USA, keep in mind that they’re not like Indians.
There is a general chaste sensuality. Long before California girls wore short tops to show off their tummy, Indian women wore sari which has a bare middle. Yet this isn’t meant to be sexy like the US girls. There’s plenty of advertising for cosmetics and fashion clothes, but nowhere as erotic or sensual as American advertising.
There’s very little touching between couples on the streets. You don’t see flirting like in California, and you certainly don’t see sexual interest like in France or Germany. There’s no touching in general. People don’t give a hand to each other or touch each other at all.
Before Americans start to think they live in a loose society, they should see advertising in Europe. Many European ads, especially French, German, and Danish, can not be shown in the USA. The US, even California, is socially conservative compared to continental Europe.
Another difference is the general lack of teenage girls on the streets. In California, it’s very common to see groups of teenage girls, in two, three, or five, at the shopping centers, malls, and downtown, and usually dressed very provocative. But I saw very few teenage girls in Bangalore. Young unmarried women live at home and generally have to be at home by 9 pm. They’re not allowed out at night by themselves. Popular culture (fashion and so on) is created by teenage girls in Japan and California, but India so far has managed to prevent their teenage girls from becoming the center of popular culture. Models in advertising are in their mid-20s and 30s. In general, society is middle-age centric: young people marry in their early 20s and studied hard to enter professions. The desired state of life is to be a professional and married with children. Nearly all Bollywood movies are boy-meets-girl and ends with a marriage. In contrast, Californians and Europeans spend their entire 20s unmarried, and may live together, or often just live alone. Indians in their early 20s are mature and sensible, in contrast to Americans, who are mostly dazed into their 30s.
In the Sunday papers, there were four pages of marriage ads. None were for dating or whatever. It’s only matrimonial. The ads are sorted by location, religion, caste, language, nationality, or profession. And the ads are often placed by the parents.
Here’s an example: “My daughter is a finance professional with certificates in computers. She is traditional and religious with a pleasing personality. She loves reading, Indian music, traveling, and sports. We belong to a respectable and educated family from West Bengal. We are a close-knit family and value our traditions and customs. I (her father) retired as Vice President (Finance) from a reputable firm. Her mother is a fine homemaker. My eldest son is married and works as senior IT professional in a Fortune 50 company in the USA. My daughter-in-law is a fine homemaker with a post-graduate degree in Hospital Administration.” In another ad, the father states that he is a doctor who owns a 100-bed hospital and is looking for a wife for his son, who is also a doctor.
I don’t think you’ll see that in the personal ads in the USA. To see some of these ads, visit TimesMatri.com
I didn’t see any openly gay men, which is common in California. I don’t know what’s going to happen when CraigsList opens up in India.
If you want to get an idea of India, watch Bollywood movies. Over the last six months, I’ve watched quite a few. Some are very good, such as Dil Chahta Hai, with three major Indian actors: Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Akshaye Khanna. You can get these through Netflix and most video rentals.
As for books, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City is a description of life in Bombay. In a series of portraits, he talks with gangsters, Bollywood producers, politicians, businessmen, prostitutes, and police detectives. Another good book is Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian. Sen is a Nobel Prize winner in economics and a professor at Cambridge and Harvard (incl. professorships at Oxford, the London School of Economics, and so on) He is a major writer on the nature and impact of globalization. It’s difficult to summarize his book in a few lines. See Amazon’s page on the Argumentative Indian. I strongly recommend his book. I also read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s August, English (a very funny satire of the Indian civil service. A slacker gets a job in the civil service and is sent off to a village, where he deals with his superiors, hangs out with his friends, smokes pot, and makes comments about his surroundings.)
Considering the broken sidewalks, it would be very difficult for handicapped persons to get around in Bangalore. I never saw anyone in a wheelchair, and I can’t imagine how they would live there. Curbs are very high, often 12-18 inches, and sidewalks are often impassable. Some building owners don’t want the expense of maintaining elevators, so they just board up the elevators. You walk up four flights of stairs.
I wrote about the police and bribes. The bureaucracy is another cause for bribery. With so much useless paperwork for everything, it’s common to bribe civil servants to get things done. This means civil servants form a wealth class, with extra summer homes and so on. Corruption is widespread at the top of Indian politics. The inefficient infrastructure (bad water, poor roads, insufficient airports) may be due to corruption and siphoning of funds.
Like the sleepy crocodile and the dozing dogs, Indians may be one of the least athletic people on the planet. India’s field hockey team won gold medals in the Olympics back in the 30s and 40s. That was enough sports for India. Although they have a billion people, India rarely gets any medals in the Olympics. Instead of twitching around on a sports field, they put their efforts into education and academics. There are literally hundreds of colleges and professional schools.
Everyone is busy. Even the poor are busy; they set up small stands to fix shoes. Someone sets up a chair and cuts hair. A knife sharpener goes around, sharpening knives for housewives. Flower vendors walk through the streets, selling garlands of jasmine. In tiny shops, a woman has a sewing machine and is making tailor repairs. Bring her whatever you have, and in two days, she’ll make a replica of it for $4. In front of every temple, park, and public place, there are lots of stands selling fruit for five cents, snacks, water, and so on.
Everywhere I went, people were friendly and polite. Of the people I work with in Bangalore, they are highly educated (often with two degrees, some with degrees in both engineering and MBAs) and very bright. They understand complex issues immediately. In discussions, they make insightful comments. They are polite, considerate, and very easy to work with. With 20 years of TV, movies, MTV, and the web, they have a Western attitude and easily work in global business. They are like Californian graduate students, who just happen to eat a great deal of Indian food.
Although people in Bangalore complain about rents and home prices, these are low compared to California. A nice apartment rents for $200-240/month. A condo in a upscale complex is $60,000 and this includes swimming pools, tennis courts, a private park, and so on.
It’s very safe on the streets. I walked around in many parts of town and was never bothered. You can even walk late at night; there are hundreds of people on the streets.
There weren’t as many beggars as in Spain or Mexico. At major tourist sites, someone will ask you for money. Just ignore them. Before you buy anything, find out the normal price. Many shops will increase prices by ten times for you.
As for women travelers in India: Stephanie traveled in north India by herself and spent most of the time with several guides. On the few times she was by herself, she got too much attention. North India is also poorer so people harass tourists. In Bombay and Bangalore, Stephanie was able to walk around by herself.
Why Is there a Technology Boom in India?
Why, of all places, is there so much technology in India? Most Americans think India is a third-world country with Hindu gurus, Mother Teresa, and cows in the streets. How can India compete against US technology? Well, they’re doing it.
How did this happen? How did a third-world developing country suddenly develop a highly-computerized infrastructure? This came about through various actions and accidents. Nobody planned this.
After the British left in 1947, India generally copied the Soviet Union’s economic model. They nationalized the industries and socialized many social services. For forty years, from 1950 to 1991, a number of laws restricted growth and controlled business activity.
However, in the 50s, Prime Minister Nehru also built the IIT (India Institute of Technology), which became one of the world’s leading engineering schools. But with the lack of industry and little career opportunity in India, IIT graduates went to the USA and Canada. Why those two countries and not Europe? Because Indians speak English, but they rarely speak other languages.
In the early 90s, Manmohan Singh, a professor of economics who was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, became the Minister of Finance. After more than four decades of socialist economics, India was basically bankrupt. The nationalized industries were backwards and unproductive. Singh simplified the tax laws and removed many of the bureaucratic barriers and burdens for business. For example, if a company builds software for export, it is tax-free. This created the legal and economic conditions for India’s technology boom in the 90s. Singh is now the Prime Minister of India.
By the late 90s, the IIT graduates from the 60s and 70s began to retire and return to India. They had become extremely wealthy in Silicon Valley (many are billionaires who started or funded large SV corps, incl. SUN, Google, etc.) and they used their connections and money to build more companies. With 60 years of world-class education and a society that highly values education, India has a large pool of highly-educated technical workers that also happens to speak English as a native language.
Another accident was the dotcom boom in the USA. In 1996, President Clinton deregulated telecoms which created a massive amount of investment activity. VCs poured hundreds of billions into fiber optic cable. They over-invested and built not merely four times more than what was needed; they built 32 times more capacity. This of course was unsustainable, so the dotcom market crashed. The fiber optic networks had cost hundreds of billions but when these companies went bankrupt, other companies bought the networks for pennies.
Suddenly, all of this came together. A vast pool of technology workers who spoke English, lots of Indian venture capital money and people who could manage investments, a post-dotcrash US market that demanded new companies to be both financially efficient and profitable, and a vast global telecoms infrastructure that was available for basically free.
Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India. Wipro and InfoSys, two major Indian offshoring companies, are headquartered there. Many global corps also have large campuses, including IBM, Microsoft, SUN, and so on.
Most Americans think of India as call-centers (they handle your calls when you call an airline, car rental, etc.) But that’s the lower end of the system. India’s engineers are designing, developing, and building much of the computer hardware and software for large corporations.
This is a very serious issue for the American workforce. Thomas Friedman’s The Earth Is Flat compares the quality of education in India and the USA. While India’s students study very hard and are excellent in science and mathematics, American students watch too much TV and do little homework. Compared to other countries, American students are near the bottom and are sliding downwards. Friedman points out that if the USA were to have a massive investment in education and completely revamp the American education system, it would take ten years to see results because you have to start with kids in the fourth and fifth grade (and basically write off the entire current generation of high school and college students). But in ten years, India will be yet further ahead. And we all know a major restructuring of the education system isn’t going to happen in the USA.
SoÖ where will the future of the economy be? For the last 60 years, the USA has been the center of the world economy. But this has shifted now to a global economy. The technology infrastructure of India, China, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and the rest of Southeast Asia is growing very fast. I wrote above that the airport in Bangalore was shabby compared to American airports. Well, I’ve never seen an American airport as beautiful as the airport in Singapore.
Finally, a few notes about traveling to India.
There are two necessities in India: bottled water and cell phones. India is on the GSM cellular standard, as the rest of the planet except the USA. You buy a GSM phone handset in Hong Kong or Singapore for $100. In India, go to any major cellphone service and buy a SIM card. This assigns a phone number to your handset. You also buy minutes. Just push a button and you can see how much money you have left. There are cell phone stands in every street where you can “top up” the SIM card and add more minutes. The cell phones also send SMS messaging. It’s necessary to buy a cell phone because it is so difficult to get around. You call friends, set up meetings, call people in the USA, and so on. Since it’s GSM, you can use the cellphone when you go to Europe.
As for water: one day, Stephanie said “Watch that bottle. Water is more valuable than gold here.” And it’s true. You can only drink bottled water from a sealed bottle. Otherwise, you can get very sick and lose several days of your trip. We take clean water for granted in the USA. One night, I ran out of water in my hotel room. I called the front desk, but they had no more water. You need water; the air conditioner runs all the time and the air is very dry. I had to buy several 7-Ups. It’s very odd to brush your teeth with 7-Up.
Don’t take dollars or traveler’s checks to India; it’s nearly impossible to exchange money. On the first day, I tried to exchange some dollars. I went to four different banks. At the fifth bank, the exchange process involved four staff and quite a bit of paperwork and signatures. ATMs are much easier: pop in the card, withdraw, you’re done. I think that’s why there are so many ATMs; banks are very inefficient. There are ATMs everywhere.
Before you go, look into vaccinations. Depending on where you are in India, you may be exposed to malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, and rabies. Get vaccinations and prepare to get sick. With so much dust in the air, you will get sick. Diarrhea is easily cured with Imodium (start with two and take one on every bowel movement). If it lasts more than six hours, take Cipro (Ciprofloxacin, a prescription bacterial antibiotic) as well. This can cure you in a day.
It’s also useful to bring a thermometer. Both Stephanie and I got viral fever, which is common before the monsoon season. This includes high body temperature.
Westerners get sick because we’re not used to the amounts of bacteria and virus in the water and air. Indians also get sick, but not as often. Their immune systems have built up resistance. Still, they get sick and accept it. They don’t realize that it’s normal for us not to be sick. As I said, I got viral fever and I haven’t been that sick in maybe ten years.
When I go to Europe, I travel light and wash clothes at Laundromats. But this doesn’t work in India because there are no Laundromats.
Clothes are sent out to be washed by hand and this takes three days. The clothes are collected and sent to places where a dhobi wallah (a washer guy) beats your clothes on a rock. They really do this. Then your clothes are dried in the sun, folded, and returned to you.
With so many people, it’s cheaper to hire them to wash by hand than to buy a expensive machines that require maintenance.
So, bring sufficient clothes and when you need things to be washed, send it out early.
Let’s be clear about this: it’s not easy to go to India. I’ve flown back and forth to Europe so many times that I’ve lost count. Europe is a long flight. But it’s an extremely long flight to India. The San Francisco-Singapore flight is 18 hours. The layover in Singapore can be ten hours. Door to door, it’s 30-35 hrs. But the flights generally depart at midnight, so you’ve been awake all day. On the return flight, I was awake for 52 hours. I woke up at 7 am on Friday and arrived in Palo Alto at 2 am on Sunday. It takes a solid week to recover from a two-week trip.
We flew on Singapore Air (their motto: “You can’t possibly get bored”). If you’re going to spend 30 hours on an airplane, each seat has a video panel and they offer 60 movies, 90 video games, and 200 CDs. There’s also endless food and an open bar. The airport at Singapore is a mall with every major global brand. You can take a free bus and see the city. For that much sitting in airplanes, wear loose clothing and loose shoes. I took an extra set of clothes so I could change halfway.
Our tickets were arranged by our office manager, so I didn’t deal with that. If you’re looking for tickets, I bought tickets for a flight to Europe this summer. Be careful with prices on ticket sites: they say $1,000, but then they add airport taxes, and these can be $200-300. So, look for the final price, taxes included. I compared the same trip on QIXO.com, Kayak.com, CheapTickets.com, Hotwire.com, Expedia, and Travelocity. Kayak.com offered the best prices ($700 cheaper than Travelocity) and a selection of flight times.
Weather and Climate
Bangalore is 920 m above sea level (3,000 feet) in the center of south India. There are mountain ranges (the ghatt) along the eastern and western side, so Bangalore is protected. In May, it was in the high 80s (F) and low 90s. However, the humidity is very high. There is extensive use of air conditioning. Loose, light clothing with sandals is sufficient.
I live in Silicon Valley, where it is in the low 90s in summer. For me, Bangalore’s weather was fine. Others tell me that it’s very hot in north India, where temperatures often reach 110° F.
Things to Buy
I didn’t buy much stuff. If you want music CDs, these cost about the same as American prices, or you buy them in shops that make duplicates. You can also get CDs with MP3 music, which means as many as 190 songs on one CD. Stephanie bought several sets of clothes. At the Leela Mall, she bought a gorgeous silk blouse, silk pants, and a scarf for $12.
On the streets, there are vendors who sell pirate copies of books for $1. You can get The DaVinci Code, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, and most best-sellers for $1. In most cases, you have to bargain. Otherwise, prices are doubled or tripled if you don’t know. Ask friends first to get an idea of what prices should be, and then negotiate with the book wallahs. In malls and larger stores, prices are stated on the items.
In general, because of the vast labor pool, things are inexpensive. At Mysore, I went to the sandalwood oil factory and bought soap and incense, and other items. Enough incense to start my own temple was only $3.
They use rupees, which are about 45 to $1US. 100,000 rupee are called a lahk. For example, a car costs 4.5 lahk. People say their salary in lahk: “She earns six lahk.” They also use crore (pronounced kror) for 100 lahk (i.e, ten million rupee, or about $222,000.) The price of buildings and large projects are stated in crore. It’s also popular to say bucks instead of rupees.
From what I’ve written, you can see that it’s impossible to summarize in a few sentences. Amartya Sen points out that India is perhaps the most multi-cultural country on earth. India has been poly-lingual (with 1,600 languages), poly-religious (Christianity has been there for 2,000 years), and poly-cultural for nearly 5,000 years. They even have 30 different calendars. India is many different countries all in the same space.
So, what’s the bottom line? You must go to India and see it, even if only once. It’s an overwhelming experience of total chaos, amazing complexity, incredibly delicious food, and great people, all in a very active country racing forward. India will become a major player in the global economy.
Feedback and Comments
If you have comments, questions, or additions, let me know: andreas.com
- Return to Part 1
- Want more of my road trips? Read My Trip to Europe
- Another trip: The Fall of the Berlin Wall
- See also Time Magazine’s cover story on India (June 19, 2006)