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Saturday
Jan062007

Hindustan Ki Masti

My week-long vacation in India was frankly awesome. It was amazing how smoothly the whole thing went; God was definitely on our side.

To start out with keep in mind the number of miracles, which it took for us to get out of Kabul in the first place. We had to get to the airport, the airport and its employees and parts had to be functional, the weather had to cooperate, and the plane had to come. Traffic getting to the airport was an absolute nightmare. Every road was packed as millions of people flooded into the city for their holiday shopping (for Eid-e Qorban, that's Id al-Adha to you Arabs and Passover to the rest of you--along with cars the roads were clogged with sheep for slaughter). It took nearly 1.5 hours to get to the airport. Then there was the problem of electricity at the airport. Out airline, Indian Airways, was all fancy and dependent on computers and such, so of course they had to wait till the power came back to process customers (Kam Air, the Afghan airline, had no such problem, as they seem to issue mud-tablet boarding passes with cuneiform). And finally the airlplane did actually take off.

The transfer to our Bangalore flight in Delhi was as normal as could be, meaning chaotic. I should interject here that we're not talking about long flights, the Kabul-Delhi one is 1:40 and Delhi-B'lore is 2:05. The Delhi airport is a great achievement in failed socialist planning. The airport was not intended for expansion, with the result being that most passengers are ferried by bus to their plane far out on the tarmac. The airport only has about 10 gates proper and no real procedure to international transfer. This means that you can't check your luggage through. According to Nathan, a group of people sit around confused in the passport control room, knowing that they can't go through customs--an official eventually takes a herd of people through a door and sits the down in the departures lounges, then they herd you around to get your luggage and connecting boarding pass (both of which are on the other side of customs). For we simply had to get to the domestic terminal. Of course this is not in the same building. It is in two rather small buildings some kilometres away. In other words the transfer involves getting to sit in traffic on the N8 freeway for a while. The airport does kindly provide shuttles, but they only leave once an hour so they are hardly useful if your transfer time has been squeezed down to about 50 minutes.

We did get into Bangalore around 10.30 in the evening though and had no trouble finding a room at the place I stayed at this summer, right in the middle of downtown on Brigade Road. It's nice to be in a normal country without the NGO price-bubble. A fine room can be had for only about USD 30 per night--a self catered meal for three from an Andhra restaurant cost Rs 250 altogether-the same amount would buy a crappy vegitarian dish in Afghanistan. Bangalore has little history and like most cities in India is relatively new, at least in relation to those in America. That's fine though--I'm generally bored by historical sight because they only amount to things and drawn rather to commercial culture. And Bangalore has great shopping.

The next day we (me and Nathan) managed to find Neda, hit up several malls, and then close down a bar. The weather was also perfect, warm and dry. This with some of the world's restaurants makes me so thankful I'm not in a place like Europe. After the bar had closed Nathan managed to fulfill his grand desire to play beer pong. All the while we were debriefed by Neda who is trying to sell to a friend of hers at Columbia, Vivian, who seems eligible on all counts. The day after that involved more shopping!

Finally we went over to Livio's place (Lorenzo's brother) in Indiranagar. It was a beautiful three-story place with a lovely roof deck. Livio works in Bangalore as an architect, which is pretty cool considering all the opportunities it offers given the construction everywhere. Saurabh and Lorenzo were both there from Kabul and we all went to a great Mughlai restaurant (it's called Tandoor if any of you come through there). Finally the next day was the big new years party. We all brought the year in in style with non-veg catering and lots of booze. It was a real mix of people, with all the Indians being especially impressive in that they were intelligent and articulate--not to mention that they all have beautiful accents which make you feel stupid. The only slight drawback was that me and Saurabh had not taken control of the music and hence the selection was below par. Nathan disappeared on the roof with a girl named Leila (from Tunesia, but living in Dubai!) where they "made friends". Meanwhile me and a girl from Nellore were totally loaded and sang (and tried to sing) old Telugu and Hindi songs.

Alas, due to our limited timeframe we did have to leave the party at a reasonnable hour. We decided to get our beach time in in Mahabalipuram, a town about 40 km south of Chennai (Madras) which is famous for its stunning temples and rock carvings. We didn't really have time to take the train, so I hired a driver who was to come on the morning of the 1st. Meaning that at least I had to get some sleep so as not to miss the drive. One thing I learned is that the roads are quite decent, well marked, and well paved, so it would be a lot more fun to rent a car in India--especially in the south. Of course car rental is kinda a new concept in a place where it's cheaper to hire someone to do almost anything than to do it yourself.

The drive was indeed beautiful, Tamil Nadu, the neighbouring state of which Madras is the capital, was really like a foreign country. It's flat and interspersed by the occasional huge mountain. The saris were amazing too. Tamilian saris get truly bright and and out of control which colour schemes unheard of anywhere else. Plus, like anywhere in India, the sheer variety of styles is amazing. I guess it's like looking into the future but in fashion. When you see the tremendous diversity of India, you understand where the South Asian pop-culture juggernauth gets its power from. There's an amount of strength, diversity, and plurality there that Western countries can only dream of if they're willing to open they're doors fully to immigration.

In Mahabalipuram we made for the nicest resort we could find an crashed there for two nights. The temperature was perfect--about 30 during the day and 25 at night, all the while with a nice breeze coming off the Bay of Bengal. Yep, we just veged.

On the way back we stopped for some awesome chicken manchuri and a "Kerala Chicken Fry" that rocked Nathan's world and redefined what the chicken nugget should be. It was excellent chicken breaded and fried in tandoori masala with spring onions and cilantro. Awesome. That night it was back to Livio's house to hang out with them and Saurabh until it was time to leave for the airport. Amazingly there were no difficulties in returning to Kabul either. So all in all it was a pretty stunning trip.

Of course I came back to be suprised by -25 night and the realisation that my water tank will be frozen for the near future, but that is another adventure!

Reader Comments (1)

I loved reading this Escott. Looks like you had a great time!

Jerusha

January 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterin the waiting room

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