Category Archives: Incredible India

2 awesome weeks in India but i am glad being home again

The second week of my stay was stuffed with more or less successful work. My rhythm was work, sleep, work, sleep. We achieved much less than we wanted and waited often for things to get fixed. This time though we spent talking a bit and to work a bit on other stuff.

As usual on these trips the days fly by and before you realise it, its already over and you head back. Its something that one cannot avoid when having busy days in the office. Tuesday though was a bit more interesting. I went back to my hotel, as usual taking an Uber. When I arrived at the hotel, the red carpet was prepared and live Indian music was playing. I mean that wouldn’t have been necessary but well :). I asked one of the guys at the entrance about what’s going on and he tells me that the Indian national cricket team is about to arrive. I have no clue about cricket, its rules and not at all about the national teams. As probably usual when a famous sports team stays at a hotel, tons of police was present and I thought that they are there to protect the players against crazy fans. Oh boy was I wrong. Once the players arrived all the police guys took out their cell phones to take pictures. Screw the security :).

A random Indian cricket player…no clue who that is 🙂

I actually wanted to get a coffee but all the hotel staff from the lobby level was busy taking pictures, so I just joined in. I have no clue who that is but he doesn’t know me either. I’ve seen him though a few days later on TV during the game. With my coffee finally done I took the elevator with 4 players that probably earn 10 or 50 times more than I do… My room though was on a higher hotel floor, so I had the better view… for some days 😂.

During the week nothing really worked the way it was supposed to. So  I’ve used the time to meet some colleagues I am working with already for a while. Friday though came and it came too fast. I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Bangalore cafeteria food so I went down to the food court and went for a Subway. On my way back I ran into a colleague I wanted to spend lunch with and to my surprise he had ordered together with some colleagues some Biryami and some meat. I joined in and again enjoyed the delicious Indian food. I hate to leave but at the same time I am looking forward to come home as I’ve spend the majority of the year so far in hotels rather than home.

Sathish

During Friday we’ve planned with some colleagues to rent a car or even one with a driver to go to the Mysure Kings palace approx. 150km southwest of Bangalore. Unfortunately some of us couldn’t join so it was only Sathish and myself going there. The Mysore Palace is a historical palace and a royal residence at Mysore in the Indian State of Karnataka. It is the official residence of the Wadiyar dynasty and the seat of the Kingdom of Mysore. The palace is in the centre of Mysore, and faces the Chamundi Hills eastward.

During the drive I was talking with Sathish about India, its culture and people and he was equally interested into the Germans and West Europe. The drive itself was longer than expected. We’ve past several temples, several statues of goddess…damn, how many gods to they have there, the country side and a white guy on a bicycle driving on the highway carrying a big backpack and a tent! 

That must be an interesting way of experiencing a country. Driving through it on a bicycle must be even more interesting than on a motorcycle. I am wondering though how healthy it is considering the smog and the fumes from the cars. 

If you ask someone from Western Europe what they know about India its mostly about cows, religion, spicy and good food and arranged marriage’s. And indeed, you see tons of cows. Cows that walk on the most busy roads you will ever see on this planet. Or simply some cows that stand somewhere in the middle of a shopping street without anyone being annoyed by it. Impressive is how all those religions you see in the streets co-exist without any trouble…at least on the surface. You see mosques, Hindu and Budhist temples, Christian churches and so on.

The royal elephants

On the marriage topic though there is no common ground that applies for everyone. Depending where you live in India and how traditional your parents are, you might live life the way you like and choose your partner on your own or you find yourself in a marriage with a person you barely now.  In the “western culture” it is considered maybe a bit strange if you still live at your parents with 29 years. In India though it is rather common whilst not being married. 

In Asian countries the family bond and therefore the importance of an own family is considered very important. So having your own parents or even aunts and uncles asking why you are not married yet is not very uncommon. 

Which brings me to the arranged marriages, and some might wonder how that even works. Well, let me tell you that it is a business on its own!

Just some random guys asking me to take a picture of them and after for a selfie.

How do you chose a wife? Who’s organising it and how does the procedure works? Websites and companies are specialised on that and provide you online with a catalogue of women or men, along with their horoscope, educational background and even their current work status. The women in India often are the leader of the family and most often as well the initiator of an arranged marriage. First of all though the choice is done by the men or women. The appearance / look, is like always the first criteria followed by matching the horoscope. If its a match and both parties are “interested” a meet and great is organised where the couple to be can get to know each other…during one hour!!! I mean, how much are you able to learn about a person within an hour. Yes the normal…is the appearance like you’d expect it to be, do you click with the person etc…but really knowing the person? Ok. Assuming everything goes well, the next steps will be initiated and the marriage planned based on the moon, stars etc…You might think that our European marriages can be big with maybe 500 people if it goes out of hand, Indian marriages though are on a different level! Sathish´s brother got married and the party was big…3000 people big! OMG! But what happens if you don’t agree to get married that way and you insist of choosing your own girlfriend / wife? As said, family bonds are strong and important in India. If you brake tradition and want to go to look for your own partner you might face the situation that you need to let go of your family and don’t even dare to come back. Its a harsh reality and to someone not being used to it rather shocking.

Coming back to the palace :). After a 3 hours drive we arrived in the heat of Mysure. The car fair was for the entire day was around 50€ which is more or less like the price on Bali which is a good price considering that you don’t need to drive yourself and just sit back and relax. 

The palace is gigantic and each room you enter is more decorated than the one you just walked through. The palace itself compared to the museum has been “recently” built considering that the museum is supposed to be 600 years old. Both though still are in use by the royal family of Karnataka. With all the gold and silver they own you start to question yourself why those rulers eat with a silver spoon while the people outside beg for money, it´s an issue though that each kingdom probably has/had in common. The palace ground though consist more than just the palace itself. Little temples, an elephant kind of stall and a huge garden are within the palace walls. The footprints of Shiva…or was it Krishna… 🤔, well one of both, can be seen behind one of the temples and, of course, they are “holy” :).

Imagine you have to clean here…omg

The main building rooms are painted in jade and golden colour and decorated with furniture that is actively used while the royal family is present. A lot of rooms…or shall we call them halls within the palace are packed with mirrors and you might think that the king likes to see himself. Funny though is that people stood in front of mirrors like they’ve never seen one or taking pictures of themselves in front of it. 

I was wondering while we drove there how the Indians would react to white people. Its a common sight in cities like Bangalore, Mysure though is only a million people “big” and more traditional than Bangalore. So it didn´t take long until people started to touch me and asked to take selfies with me. No matter how often you are asked, you won’t get used to it. Funny though is that most of the white people greated each other, like “OMG A WHITE PERSON”! :). A blond women though was walking in front of the palace and OMG, she was swarmed by people asking to take pictures. So it it really depends where you are in India.

We took the same way back and the roads were luckily not too congested. The car itself isn’t bad, I feel though a bit uncomfortable when driving with a 100kph without wearing a seatbelt. I mean there is one, the female part of it though to secure it, just isn’t. Compared to our talks on the way to the palace we both tried to catch some sleep. I heard a faint snoring from Sathish but for me that just didn’t work out. I am not sure if it’s the thought of the “missing” seatbelt or the bench like backseat, I could not fall asleep. I am seriously wondering if the guys sitting in the back of a lorry in front of were more comfy then I was. While I was somewhere in the middle of this vast country and looked on the map I started wondering how s vacation on Sri Lanka would look like 😋 and finally fell asleep for some minutes till the horn of the truck next to me woke me up.

I’ve enjoyed my time in India and am back in Barcelona. I finally saw my friends again and see some familiar faces in the office…a very welcome sight. It´s good to be home again…let’s see for how long ;).

INCREDIBLE INDIA – part 4 out of 2…Something´s wrong with my counting

It´s Sunday the 24th of Feb…OMG! Only 10 months till Christmas :D. I need to do my Christmas shopping!

As said I had an invite to join a cooking demo/class and furthermore I had to change hotels. Sundays I usually catch up on my sleep and sleep as long as I want / can which could last till 11am or even 12 noon. This Sunday though I had to get up at 9.00am to have a relaxed breakfast and to slowly but surely start packing.

At 11am I was supposed to be downstairs in the kitchen and damn I was so on time…seems I am still a proper German :).

I was handed a chef hat, something I haven’t worn since finishing my apprenticeship in 2002 and remembered back to the time in the kitchen. It wasn’t always an easy apprenticeship but I have to admit that it became much easier when the head chef that was there when I’ve started in 1999 has been fired…due to reason. He still was one of the old type of chefs thinking he could command everyone around which I definitely have an issue with. He once even kicked my ass because he thought I was not working fast enough….as said…fired due to reasons. After it became much more relaxed and I started to enjoy the time in the kitchen more and more.

To my surprise, I wasn’t the only one joining the demo cooking session. Another hotel guest from London joined in and we both followed the session and instructions closely.

We’ve started with the Lucknowi Chicken Dum Biriyani and went on to a Mutter Palak Ki Tikki. The Biriyani is, as said before, a rice dish prepared in a flat big pot. It can come with different types of meat but is mostly known in India with lamb/mutton. A vegetarian version is, of course, possible but traditionally its served with meat. I am eager to try it as well with rabbit as the taste might compliment each other quite well. 

The Mutter Palak Ki Tikki on the other hand side is a paste done out of spinach and green peas that is reduced till the point that it almost becomes as thick and dense like a dough. It has to be so much reduced so that you can create small patties you fry in ghee. While we listened to the Sous Chef explaining the different steps we’ve tried the different spices and herbs, took notes and tasted the different stages during the cooking process and damn…it was delicious. At the end, the chef said that we are even invited to eat a portion of it and if I am not mistaken…it was even for free. My companian…damn I forgot his name…Let´s call him “Bob” is from an African heritage and is used to spicy food. So the question of the chef, if we like it spicy, was answered rather fast :). It wasn’t too spicy though and the raita with green chilis wasn’t either. It could have been even a tick spicier but still, …it was simply perfect.

Unfortunately, there is the time when even the best cooking session is over and after 1.5 hours it was done. After some last pictures done I headed back to my room, packed my luggage, checked out, jumped into my Uber and with it directly into my first car crash😳. The drive to the new hotel was more or less ok. The driver honked at everything passing by, crossing the road or even at thin air. His mobile was quite often the centre of his attention, instead of the street, and with the traffic here it was just a matter of time when it will happen. No one got injured luckily but his front bumper and the scooter he drove into had suddenly some scratch marks and here and there a different colour. We weren’t fast just rolling with approx. 10 kph just right at the traffic lights but it was enough to knock down the driver and his other two mates from the scooter. Yes, his other two mates on the same scooter! 🙂

A heated discussion later I was not alone anymore in the car and was accompanied by two Indians in their mid-twenties I think….well…the more the merrier :). I somewhere have mentioned the part of the staring and that it seems that the Indians in Bangalore at least got used to white people. NOPE! My neighbour constantly stared at me, the other guy that was sitting in front of me did it the sneaky way and used the mirror…the one that should have shown the street on the left-hand side of the car Somehow though that mirror was directed at me! Here we are again with the Uber drivers not understanding the concept of a mirror :).

Well, I arrived safe and sound the hotel, unpacked, prepared my laundry as I didn’t pack for two weeks, did my pictures of the sunset lit Bangalore from my window front on the 14th floor and headed downstairs to the pool bar. I didn’t expect any entertainment but there was a bachelor party going on with loud music…YMCA!!!… I wasn’t invited of course, but somehow I was the only one going with the rhythm of the music and singing along…D.I.S.C.O…. The music was loud enough to have trouble to understand the waitress but definitely something to enjoy when working around 15 hours every weekday….Daddy Cool!

The hotel so far is nice but somehow I miss a bit the more “private” feeling of the Vivanta by Taj hotel. The bed is like falling into feathers and you literally sink into it. It´s nice but I prefer a hard mattress and sleep the best on it. The first night though in Vivanta was like sleeping on a wooden bench, still I loved it. 

Coming to the bathroom here…well…there is a FREE STANDING BATHTUB and just to ensure you don’t get bored in the tub someone put a TV in the bathroom mirror! What the heck!?!

It´s definitely something to enjoy, though somehow I always feel a bit at the wrong place when staying at these luxury 5-star hotels. Yesterday when I arrived, for instance, I arrived in shorts and a sports shirt as it´s Sunday and I want to feel comfortable and I simply don’t care if I walk into an Mc Donalds or 5-star luxury hotel. I am who I am and not someone society wants me to be. Down in the lobby though everyone was walking around business clothes with ties and stuff like that. Of course, everyone can wear whatever he/she likes and I am the last one to judge on that…but common, it´s Sunday…a day off, boiling hot outside and you walk around in a suit? What do you wear when relaxing home and reading a book or watch TV, a smoking? Damn…now I’m judging. 🙂 Nah, if they feel good in it, let them be. Don’t get me wrong, people said that a suit suits me, still, I prefer the more comfy clothes instead of this very formal way of dressing.

Well, a new week starts tomorrow and I’ve planned for the next weekend to go to the Mysore palace and hope to take a picture during sunset. The palace is open till 5.30, so let’s see if the Indians can be flexible and allow me to stay till 7. It’s worth a try so I’ve just sent an email to ask for permission to stay to take a picture. Wish me luck.

By the way, let me know if you want me to post the recipe of both Indian dishes.

Incredible India… Part hum 3 out of 2 :)

Window shopping and walking through the streets of every packed foreign city is exciting but as well exhausting. So after a while of strolling through the streets, I went to the one place you will find the tourists. I went to Starbucks. I am drinking tea since I am here as it is healthier and easier on the stomach. Sometimes though you have to give in to your craving and go for it. Furthermore, it was a place to cool down as it was air-conditioned. My walk through the streets was so far not too crazy and since last time I’ve been in India much has changed and people don’t stare too much anymore. Last time Indians wanted to take pictures with us, stared at us and even wanted to touch us. It was a bit strange, sometimes a bit uncomfortable but it’s something I definitely do remember off as it’s something totally uncommon from where I am coming. I am wondering how a stranger would react in Europe if I’d ask I could touch him or her. 🙂

I don’t want to call it the western world, in Europe though touching between heterosexual men only lasts a few seconds during a handshake or a hug. Everything longer, for hetero, becomes a weird situation…let’s call it the 5 seconds rule :). India…? Totally different. Men holding pinkies walking the streets, women holding the entire hand. Something you wouldn’t see in Europe. Different country, different culture, that’s what makes travelling so interesting. 

Coming back to Starbucks 😃. It was filled with people from around the world. I heard French, I think Norwegian 🤔, English… obviously and Spanish. Add me as a German and you have a rather funny mixture of people. I’ve met Daniel and Angela, a French couple making plans for their next destination to Singapore…damn I am jealous. Others were writing their blog like me and enjoyed their cold or warm coffees or tea. This morning I remembered that I still need to try a tea I bought in Istanbul 3 weeks ago. Looking forward to an orange tea bought in one of the bazaars in the heart of Istanbul. 

On my way through the streets, I came across a colourful house and saw many people with cameras and was curious about what’s going on. I always go by the rule: If you don´t know it, simply ask someone around. So I quickly asked an Indian photographer close by and he told me that the group of young women, that still standing on the other side of the street, did a sort of performance. I’ve missed that part unfortunately but still took some pictures. I didn’t know if the group planned to repeat their performance, so I took my chance and simply waited and observed the scene. A few minutes in, a guy and I think his sister, friend or even girlfriend joined on the same spot holding up a sign with “Free Hugs”, something quite common to see in Europe. The local police, that was around due to the performace, didn’t find that part funny and called for backup.

A few minutes later a higher ranking officer, all the other police people saluted to, arrived and confronted the young guy with the free hugs sign. They asked for his ID and stopped the entire action. A crowd formed rather fast and you could see in the faces of the girls they were afraid of the police. I didn’t dare to take pictures of it as I am just a visitor and simply don’t want to get into trouble. Point is that a rather happy situation was turned down by the police. It shows that the traditional way of thinking of India is still quite dominant and that spontaneous actions like this are still not tolerated by the police/government. I won’t judge the situation as I have no right to do so, still, it shows a booming city/state that is still very much conservative on such actions.

The women group was an organisation to raise awareness of internet crime against women, like online stalking. Women in India unfortunately still get harassed, raped or even killed and one can hear that quite often on the Indian radio running whilst taking an Uber. So it´s an organisation that is worth to support. I was the only white guy around but certainly not the only photographer. 2 women out of the group approached me though asking if I could send them pictures I took and I gladly will do so.

As the action took a while I missed to go on with my stroll through the street to find some scarfs/cloth. The sun was about to set. Knowing that it will take me at least an hour to head back to the hotel I called an Uber and went back not knowing yet what will happen at the hotel.

My driver today was Rakshith. He is not from Bangalore comes though from the same state and lives here for 3.5 years. We were trying to communicate with me not understanding one word of Hindi or any language spoken here in Karnataka but I understood that he’s coming from a village close to the jog fall waterfall…I’ve looked it up… Oh boy!!! Based on his information the waterfall is only big during rain season in June, July and August… Calendar entry has been done 😜. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVYkaotsvkQ

With the walk through the city I was getting hungry and I really fell for the Indian Biryani. Biryani, also known as biriyani, biriani, birani or briyani, is a mixed rice dish that originates from the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. This dish is especially popular throughout the Indian subcontinent, as well as among the diaspora from the region. It is also prepared in other regions such as Iraqi Kurdistan.

So I went to the “roof” terrace of the hotel to enjoy a cold beer and to eat something. The head waiter greeted me as usual and I used the situation to ask him if he could organize somehow the recipe for their chicken Biryani. I wasn’t expecting though what was about to come.

He quickly did a phone call with the kitchen and led me directly to it to introduce me to the head of the restaurant and asked him to explain to me how the Biryani is cooked. It was followed by a hands-on introduction on how to make Indian Naan and explanations between the different types. It didn’t stop there but went on to a full show of all their herbs and spices used…it went on for almost an hour! WOW! Indian hospitality at its best! I took my notes but the chef´s English wasn’t the best and my notes therefore not very accurate. I went back to the bar ordered my Biryani drank my beer as suddenly the Sous Chef (head chef of the entire hotel) stood next to me and offered to do a demo cooking on Sunday. WTF!

Cheers! Tofu

Incredible India part 2/2

Even though I didn’t do too much today a lot happened and I need to split it, otherwise it becomes too long.

One week is done and so far so more or less good 😜. Today is Saturday and if you have slept 12 hours without waking up once you know that your body needed some sleep. I was the last one today showing up for breakfast in the hotel and therefore it was rather empty. The service in the hotel is pretty good and sometimes too good. I don’t mind the service and that they want to make your time as memorable as possible but it is a bit too much if you have three waiters coming to your table within more or less 2 minutes asking if you want anything else and if everything is good. 

I’ve discovered the gym today and spend some time in it knowing that the big blue pool in front was waiting for me. Some “many” minutes and exercises later I was at the pool sunbathing and relaxing. Needless to say that it was damn hot in the sun and I had to move rather soon to a place with an umbrella to at least have some shade on my head. The pool was, as usual, freezing cold but it was very much needed due to the burning sun and 33 degrees in the shade…and they call that winter! My colleagues though say that it is a pretty hot winter but that it, unfortunately, becomes more common in Bangalore.

This city is/was known for its parks, gardens and its “mild” climate during winter due to the green. Since years the city is going through an economic boom and companies from all over the world open their offices here. Generally speaking, that isn’t too bad. The companies bring well-needed tax money the city grows with it and the people living in the city step by step can afford more and could live “a better life”. Like everything, it has its downside as well though. A lot of parks, gardens and trees are cut down to make the place for the company and apartment buildings needed to accommodate and attract people. With it, more people move into the city and the climate changes.

One thing I still need to figure out…it’s freaking hot outside but everyone is wearing long pants. I’d die due to the heat! Men usually wear jeans with a shirt or a polo. Women leggings and a colourful traditional sari above. Some even a colourful scarf…it’s all about the accessories, even in the hottest so densely populated country. There is though as well the very modern India where the young were clothes like we are used in Europe or in North America. It is an awesome mixture of traditional and modern India. I am curious though how this “clash” is playing out between still traditional parents and their modern kids. Kids that even dye their hair completely green. 

9 years back when we’ve been here we took the hotel driving service as there was no Uber or something similar. I am currently in the heart of the city close to MG road which is the most commonly known road in the city. Almost every Indian city though has an MG road mostly known and used to do some shopping.

My was today is to find some cloth and maybe to take some nice pictures. I remember Bangalore different though and remember cloth selling people sitting on the sidewalk…but it seems that someone picked all up and moved them to another place. I didn’t find any! I haven´t had luck today around MG road and will give it a try tomorrow again. My new hotel is in walking distance to the most known shopping street in Bangalore and if I don´t find anything there then I simply ask the concierge service of the hotel where I can find cloth. 

Tomorrow…a women organisation formed to fight online crime/stalking, how the police turns down a spontaneous action/performance by an Indian guy and Tofu returns to the stove/kitchen 🙂

Cheers Tofu

Incredible India (1/2)…on a business trip

Incredible India

Back in Asia, back in India. 9 years its been that I´ve been here and it feels great. Back in time, I’ve been sharing the experience with some colleagues and we had a great time here. Bangalore was back in time already a buzzing international city located in the southern part of the country but it has changed a lot! Of course, it’s been crazy compared to what I am used to in Germany and even Barcelona, but already back in time, the difference between Bangalore and any other big city I’ve seen till that point was big.

Back in 2010, we came here to train the new colleagues and tried to build bridges between European and Bangalore teams. I am happy that some of the connections made back in 2010 are still holding and still we are in touch from time to time. India and the people impressed me and the trip itself was an eye-opener. It was my first trip so far away from home into a totally different culture and I knew I will go back.

Now I am again here for a business purpose but still, I  want to come back again. I still want to go here on vacation to have the freedom to go during the day wherever I want and not being pushed and obliged to go to the office. During my last vacation on Bali, I’ve rented a scooter to discover the island and I really enjoyed it as it gives you the freedom to roam around even on the small streets cars cannot pass. On a two-wheeler, you simply see more and can experience not only the landscape but as well the smell of the country and get in touch with the people easier. This year maybe not due to other priorities, but next year I really want to do my license for the motorcycle.

Due to some miscommunication with a colleague my hotel is located in the “outskirts” of Bangalore. I am supposed to work with different teams on this trip to test some functions of a new system we implement but at the end, the team I am working with is in the heart of the city, 14km away from my hotel. It doesn’t sound much but with the traffic of India 14 km can take up to 2 hours to drive. It’s hard to explain someone that’s never been here how the traffic really is, the comedian Russel Peters brought it to the point though. I can’t really quote him but “most of the countries have a sort of a traffic system which is that you drive in your lane. India has the system “create a lane”.” and that’s not exaggerated. It’s mayhem!

Like every day, I am taking an Uber as it’s the most relaxed way to get around and every time you see something different happening on the way. So far my drivers were rather relaxed and didn’t try to kill me and themselves when driving. On Wednesday though I drove with a Michael Schumacher style of a driver called Sharanappa. I doubt that it is him though as the profile picture in Uber shows someone 80kg heavier and bolt. Wherever he saw a tiny space he went for it with the pedal to the metal… and he was not even wearing the seatbelt!

No matter which driver I had, I think they all misunderstood the concept of the inner mirror in the car. In all cars, the mirror was put to see themselves but not to what is happening in the back of the car.

The drive went on and the car in front had a sticker on it stating literally “If the dude is driving like a maniac, call this number, press 0″…I am wondering though what will happen if you call and wish my car would have had such a sticker. So here I am in my Uber, listen to Indian rap, trust my life to a guy that turned now from Michael Schumacher to Sebastian Loeb to go off-road through tiny dirt roads… aaaand Sebastian is now raping along a Snoop Dogg of India.

Today is Thursday and I just arranged to stay for one more week as we keep on testing. So far my stomach is good, except for last night. I don’t want to go too much into details but Montezuma’s revenge got me and I finally fell asleep around 4 am. I am better now and everything I ate during the day, even though it was not much, stayed in or left my body the right way. 🙂 The weekend is coming up and my initial plan was to jump onto a plane, fly up to Delhi and take a train or car to Agra. For a weekend trip though that’s way too short and I’ve asked my colleague Sowmya if she can give me some tips to where to go for some shopping. So I will be wandering around the commercial streets of Shivaji Nagar, in reach of my new Hotel :).

Cheers Tofu