Minimum maintenance, travel at your own risk

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The roads in India are a major barrier to development.  On the way from the airport the first morning (about 4AM), I learned that there are wonderful highways here, but they don’t really get you to where you have to go.  They just end, in dirt/gravel roads which would make the infamous roads of Bike and Build look like the Autobahn.  The potholes here look like they were made by Durandal runway cratering missiles, and they’ll do a number on your car if you’re not careful.  there are speed humps in the middle of the highway, so people can cross.  a four lane highway with level crossings makes no sense–a bridge over wouldn’t be that hard, relatively speaking, and in some places they have tunnels for pedestrians and presumably animals…

Cows (holy to hindus) do indeed roam free.  in Bangalore they just sit in the road and do what they will.  in the rural areas, there are many more of them, and they even graze on the highway median, under the supervision of their owners.  Nothing like a herd of cows blocking the highway.  or even men at work sweeping.  sweeping!

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road rules are somewhere between flaunted and nonexistent.  In Bangalore it’s a free-for-all, with auto-rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles and cars jockeying for position, avoiding the potholes and trying to make the few lights.  where there are no traffic signals or policemen, there are no apparent rules.  In rural areas, there are streams of obviously overloaded trucks, plus auto-rickshaws, etc. all going at it on even more potholed roads.  And there are tractors and animals.  Not everyone seems to understand that you’re supposed to go with traffic on the highway–we had a few close calls with tractors and cars going the wrong way on the highway.  And as opposed to the West where people going the wrong way is either a drunken mistake or an exhibition of psychopathology, the tractor driver didn’t look to perturbed when we went zipping by at 100km/h.

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our driver, Kumar, is ready for the world rally championship.  dealing with the bad roads, traffic, and animals, he drove at speeds any sane person besides Walter Rohrl would consider excessive.  Actually I think even a WRC winner would consider the speed Kumar was driving to be somewhere north of "insano".  the Kumar-Mobile, below.


Last night we watched The Hunting Party, a film about journalistic impartiality.  I had my own brush with that, stopping to take pictures of a road crew in rural India composed of young girls.  For a pittance, they scrub the road and move rocks with their bare hands.  that’s right, scrub with brushes like I would use to scrub the tile in the bathroom. 

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I didn’t really know what to say or do, besides crouching down to their level to snap photos and get back to our van before the boss man got angry.  I don’t know how much they get paid, but it can’t be much–and it’s backbreaking labor with primitive tools.  Seeing this kind of poverty is hard, but that’s party of the reason I came to India–to see it as it is.


Gone Fishin’

At Devbah Island, the intrepid, khaki clad nature guide took a liking to me and called me over when some fishermen came byDSC_0034

The next night, he took me to their village to see them haul in the catch and see how they live.  In the pitch darkness, we walked along the beach to where the boats were lined up on the sand.  By the light of the oil lamps, these men unloaded the day’s catch

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their boats certainly don’t have fish finders, or for that matter fancy anything.  But I can vouch for the quality and freshness of the catch–every night at the bbq they had grilled fish.  it was excellent.

they pack the fish in ice as soon as they get it to shore–they have a hut with an icemaker and coolers

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their village is actually more spread out and larger than I thought it was.  there were several small temples, which my guide enthusiastically showed me, and exhorted me to take pictures. 

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These folk may be considered pretty poor by western standards, but they work hard, bring in a good catch, and keep themselves afloat.  The town life sounded pretty rich in terms of the noise coming from houses at 10PM, lights on, TVs flickering–it’s the way of the world out in rural India.

run through the jungle

Devbah Island is a Jungle Lodge (indian national park service) resort on the arabian sea.  the water there is very warm and the beach is quite nice.  you reach the island by a boat rather reminiscent of the Jungle cruise at Disneyland.  The cabins are fair and the food (included in the price of the stay) is actually pretty good.  they have a bonfire and cookout every night and it’s kind of fun to be out on the beach when the lights go out and all you have is the bonfire and the lights of the towns across the Kali river to look at.
The nature hike was just me and dad plus the guide which made for a private tour.  the flora and fauna here is amazing, and our khaki clad guide took us for an E-ticket tour through the jungle.
a jungle onion, and a rather forlorn houseboat in the background.  It looks like something out of Heart of Darkness!
A ‘touch-me-not’ – this flower’s leaves fold when the leaves are touched, and then open in about an hour.  I’m not sure why they would do that, but it’s fun to lightly brush the leaves and see them fold in slow motion.
These ants make nests of leaves and some sort of excretion.  the nests hang in the trees away from preadtors, and close to their food supply.  I’m not sure if this is the same type of ant that stung my foot, but it it is, they pack a sting that has some deterrent power! Fortunately it hutst for only a few minutes and didn’t leave a welt, unlike the mosquitoes…
The crabs which live in the sand and mud are quit interesting, and really run fast, sideways.  they have their eyes on stalks, giving them a slightly better view and a little more defense against attacking birds.  they dive into holes in the sand as quick as they can scuttle into one, zoop!
The jungle along the Kali river is a yellow-green, lush, and full of life.
in Kali we went to another jungle lodge, this one with a jeep tour through a wildlife preserve. 
The preserve is over 400km^2, with only a small portion open to the public.  The guides said there were 15 tigers and about 30 other big cats in the open part, but of course they stay away from the road.  We didn’t get to see much, but at least we didn’t get stuck in the mud during the rain.  the other jeep did, and we had to wait about 30 minutes for them to unstick themselves and get out of the jungle.
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Black faced monkey.  they move pretty fast–too fast for the rather low shutter speed I was forced to use due to lighting. (1/200th, f6.3)
Jungle Peackock
Giant Squirrel
I look like an erstwhile agent of the Empire in this shirt, for better or worse.  It was on sale, and supposedly repels insects.  I think it might actually work, considering only my legs and feet got bitten up by the mosquitoes.  the 100% ambient humidity (it began to pour about 5 minutes after this photo was taken) caused my hair to stick up lik Bill Clinton… I need a haircut!


Today we went Bowling, that’s right, bowling.  The bowling alley wouldn’t have looked out of place anywhere in America, and it was under a high-end mall with a Hugo Boss and a bunch of other fine stores.  We were with the Round Table group, which is an organization which sponsors schools in poor areas, and today they had a social event–next weekend they’re planning a giant party for Diwali.
The bowling alley and ‘Tablers’ as they call themselves
The mall, with flower-filled fountain
Attached to the mall is a luxurious hotel, with lavish interiors and beautiful gardens.  It’s really a sight to see.
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And next door is a field of debris and shanties.  India is a developing country and it is moving at a very unequal pace.  The new and rich next to the poor.
In a bookstore in the mall, I purchased Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods, which is giving me some background on how India came to be the India that I’m seeing.  It’s fascinating to try to understand what’s going on, and how India has ‘skipped’ the industrial phase of development, and is jumping (partly) straight to the services economy from an agrarian economy.

Welcome to Bangalore

Welcome to Bangalore (not Palo Alto)

Bangalore has a very nice new airport, which reminds me a little of SFO. 



Driving through town in the middle of the night, I couldn’t really take any good photos, but suffice it to say this isn’t Palo Alto.  The highway abruptly ends and turns into a pitted dirt road.  Piles of trash lie in the gutter, and the 3-wheeled little cart-things still ply the roads.

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This is going to be a very interesting trip.

Passage to India

BuffaloàChicagoàLondonàBangalore.  It’s going to be a long trip.

Once in India, we’ll be with Subbu, an enterprising man who owns a software company, who we met in the Buffalo Airport a few years ago.  He and his family had planned to go to Niagara Falls, Canada, but didn’t have the right visas and being a nice guy, dad helped him out.  Now he’s returning the favor.

In Delhi, we’ll be with Shilpam and Chris.  Chris has been on sabbatical from UB in Australia all summer, and is now taking some family time in India, where Shilpam’s family is based.  He’s an interesting character, an expert in disaster management.  This should be very interesting.

My travel companion is the indomitable J.H. Miller: world traveler, armchair philosopher and all around good man.  Riding the coattails?  Of course.  Can’t pass up a miles ticket and 5 weeks in India, with some very interesting people and deluxe accommodations!  It’s not the traditional ‘roughing it’, but it’s been his dream to take me to India since I was born – and in one sense even before.  I have with me as well two cameras and quite a lot of memory, so hopefully I’ll get some good pictures to share.  Who knows, we may find the famous two-headed cow of India ’78 (dad’s most famous slide from his first trip to India).