4 Dec 2015

My passage through India

After the pick of the crop of the Indian photos in the previous post here's the first batch of the rest.
My trip started in Bengalaru - more usually known by its former name of Bangalore-reached via Singapore on always consistently good Singapore Airlines.
When you call a company's call centre nowadays or when one of those scam callers pretends to be Microsoft technical centre the chances are that they are in Bangalore. It is the call centre centre of the world with literally thousands of call centres domiciled there and it is India's IT capital. Problem is that it does not look like it. The airport is very smart but it is downhill from there. I spent two days in Bangalore and it poured with rain the whole time. The traffic was appalling,the roads are a mess,the pavements (sidewalks) are in a terrible state and the place is filthy. I saw six other westerners whilst I was there.You could not confuse it with Silicon Valley.
My hotel was pretty poor although the staff tried hard. My humour was not helped by the fact that it did not serve alcohol-after a day in Bangalore a beer is almost a necessity. All I can say is if your Indian journey takes you in or out via Bangalore stay there for as short a time as possible.
But whilst you are there do have lunch in the bar at Koshy's. It's a Bangalore institution. It looks as if it has not been renovated since the British left in 1947.The waiters are immaculate in white waiter's tunics. The food is Indian and western -it is good and cheap and the beer is cold.
After Bangalore it was a drive south to one of India's leading tourist attractions,the Palace of Mysore. It really is magnificent but my visit coincided with an Indian national holiday and it was beyond crowded. Apart from the Palace Mysore is another dirty city.The photo of the cow in the street was taken early morning in one of the main streets in Mysore.
Photography is banned in the palace so cameras have to be placed in lockers at a gatehouse. However mobile phones are not banned so of course tens of thousands of tourists were shooting away with their smartphones whilst camera users scratched their heads. But every evening from 7 until 7.30pm the Palace is illuminated by thousands of old fashioned incandescent bulbs. It is pure kitsch and quite wonderful and there are no restrictions on photography.

The camera/smartphone issue has to be addressed in Indian tourist sites.Even when cameras are not banned there is often a charge to use a camera and a bigger charge to use a video camera but no charge for a smartphone which is obviously silly. The regulations were drafted before smartphones and like so much in India it will take a long time to adjust the rules.
India really is bureaucratic. Pay for lunch in a restaurant like Koshy's and your waiter could take your credit card to a man in a glass booth who will stamp your bill and pass a chit back to the waiter who will bring a credit card reader to you so that you can insert your pin number- they have wifi card readers and pin numbers. He then returns to the booth where another chit is generated and passed back to your waiter and then passed to you.
When I exchanged money at a hotel I was somewhat surprised to be asked to sign my receipt which was promptly handed back to me. Passing paper is the number two pastime in India still despite a high degree of computerisation.The number one pastime is trying to get killed on a road journey.

From Mysore I travelled south to Nagahole National Park in an attempt to see a tiger in the wild. More on this futile execise in an another story.

Then from Nagahole it was a long and winding journey into the hill country taking in a trip on the Southern Mountain Railway. This is a narrow gauge rack railway built by the British in 1908 to carry them up to the hill stations and away from the summer heat. The 26 km long railway is UNESCO World Heritage listed and still runs steam locomotives although sadly not pulling the train I travelled on. I was expecting a prim toy tourist train,like those in Austria and Switzerland,full of western tourists but in fact it is a serious railway carrying locals and freight up into the hills and although it was crowded there was only a handful of western tourists on it. And like everything in India it was scruffy .But it was authentic and great. Higginbotham's book stall-see photo- on the station at Ooty is a classic and I particularly like the smiling passenger-with her feet on the seat-in the train I photographed at Coonoor Station.That's the best things about India-it is all so different -and there are  smiling people everywhere.

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