A Passage to India

I am writing this from my hotel room in Bangalore India. It is nearly 6pm local time or 7:30am back home. This is my second day here. I arrived early yesterday morning so I’m still dealing with jet lag though that hasn’t been as bad as I expected.

Getting here involved three flights. DC->London, London->Mumbai and Mumbai->Bangalore. For some reason none of the more direct options (e.g. DC->Frankfurt, Frankfurt->Bangalore) were available for me probably due to the time of day I was leaving. After going through this I can wholeheartedly recommend not traveling through Mumbai. I nearly missed my connecting flight because of getting bad directions. It seems that if people don’t know the answer they make one up.

They also like bureaucracy. I went through security where my baggage was x-rayed and I was screened with a magnetic wand. I then walked 75 feet to exit the building to get on the shuttle to the plane where the same exact process was repeated. I’m not sure how things could have changed in that short distance but that’s the way it worked.

Bangalore itself is….interesting. It’s a very dirty city and certainly not a designed one. Roads go off in any particular direction and I’m not sure I’ve seen any road go in a really straight line for any distance. Navigating through traffic seems to be an adventure. Lanes seem to be a suggestion rather than a rule and traffic signals seem be if not ignored then freely abused. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use a turn signal here. Horns are frequently used for various things from “I’m passing you” to “I’m annoyed with you”. It makes Boston traffic seem tame by comparison. At least in Boston you don’t have to worry about avoiding cows that might be wandering in the middle of the road.

Poverty coexists with high rise modern buildings. The area where the hotel is is in a gated community that would fit in with any American suburb, but just outside the gate is the free-for-all of Bangalore. Almost every available spot to hold a sign has one. The shops for the most part seem small and fairly poor. We certainly have our share of poverty at home but here it’s more exposed. At home we seem to confine our poverty to ghettos. Here it seems all mixed together.

The place is also crowded. Someone told us 24 million people live in Bangalore though the websites say around 7 million. Either way, I feel like I met most of them yesterday. It’s hard to find any public place that isn’t occupied. At least I didn’t see one yesterday. As crowded as northern Virginia has become it’s still spacious by Bangalore standards.

Yesterday, when sightseeing, a lot of those people seemed to be staring at me. It wasn’t threatening and children were a lot more likely to be blatant about it than adults. But, westerners aren’t very common here and we do stand out in a crowd. The stares weren’t aggressive, simply curious. Still, it felt a bit like I was under a microscope.

Putting all those things together, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable wandering around Bangalore alone. It would be incredibly easy to get lost and since you can’t visually distinguish safe from unsafe neighborhoods (or at least I can’t), it would be far too easy to end up in someplace better off avoided.

It’s clear that human labor isn’t valued the same way as it is at home. From the number of doormen, elevator button pushers and other jobs, it’s clear that cheap labor is readily available. I guess that means that the difference between the lowest wage jobs and the highest wage jobs is much higher here than at home. Because of that, there are people to do jobs that I, raised to do many things for myself, am content to do myself. I even feel a little odd having someone do that for me. Having a driver hurriedly hop out of a car to open the door for me or having someone push an elevator button. It almost feels uncomfortable to be waited on like that. But, it’s their job and so I try to let them do their job.

One job that seems to be fairly common is begging. And westerners are prime targets. At Bull Temple, we were aggressively pursued by a pack of kids. We had been warned not to give them anything or we would be even more aggressively pursued but it was hard to ignore them and I felt like I should have done something.

The weather has been hot but not horribly so. It’s humid but again not terribly bad. We’re close to monsoon season and it rained heavily for an hour or so last night.

The food has been good, but I have to keep reminding myself to stay away from fruit. The hotel says they purify their water but the warning was to stay away from any water that wasn’t from a sealed bottle unless it has been boiled. The warning even specifically included hotels that said they purified their water because the fruit and vegetables they buy probably have come from sources that didn’t have purified water and so the danger still exists. For the record, it’s hard to not use the sink tap when brushing my teeth. Instead I have to reach for the glass if bottled water and somehow it just isn’t as satisfying.

I did get some photos yesterday but not as many as I’d hoped. I probably won’t get to look at them in any detail until I return home. I’m hoping to get some more but I don’t know how much opportunity will present itself.

In the meantime, I’m trying to get adjusted to local time and soak in as much of the place as I can.

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