Bangalore Monkey

Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trip Coaching at Budget Travel

So today at noon I'll be answering questions about India over at Budget Travel. It would be foolish to pretend that I'm knowledgeable about all of India -- who is? -- or even that I am an extremely learned expert about any of its sections. But I am hoping to help people start thinking in the right direction about what they want to go and what they want to do.

By the way, my fellow travel editor (and former colleague) Diane Mehta also wrote a Trip Coach about India back in 2007.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another Blog

Hey, so I'll continue putting random India stuff up here occasionally, but head to the main blog for more current updates.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Goat Achieves Immortality


C215 - Indian Goat, originally uploaded by C215.

Hey, I'm really late with this, but remember that funny goat from long ago? Well, it got turned into a stencil by a street artist. Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another Yank Going Home

The entertaining "Firang Squirrel" is about the be leaving India as well. Her post about it (from earlier this month) is a good read.

Don and I are doing well, busy getting our stuff out of storage, re-connecting with friends, and rounding up some work. Weirdly the jet lag super-sucked this time, not sure why. Before it went away in a few days, but this time it's really taken a good dozen days to stop falling asleep around 4 pm and waking up ready to greet the dawn four hours early.

By the way, I'm going to post here occasionally, when I can manage something related to India.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Back in New York

And now we're in New York after a nicely uneventful flight on British Airways. I finally got to see Darjeeling Limited and would sometime like to visit whatever country it was supposed to be set in. It looked like India, but that's more or less where the similarity ends.

I also discovered that when you're checking in on BA, and if you do click that box specifying meal preferences, it actually works. I said that I wanted seafood -- and indeed all the meals were from the sea. I thought that such preferences were just for vegetarians, and those who might not eat certain things for various reasons, but no, seafood-philes can also use them. Unless there's some religion that only eats seafood. If there is, I would like to eat at their house.

I'll have more later, but I have to note that in spite of careful packing the big demon head broke on the way. Sad, right? It didn't break into too many pieces, though, so maybe something cool can be made of it. The glass covering at least one picture broke too, but we haven't had the energy to investigate it yet. Rugs and small idols of Ganesh and Lord Baliji are being deployed at important locations throughout the house.

Also, damn it's cold -- -2 C, 29 F.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Will This Demon Fit in My Carry-On?


Another packing toughie, like yesterday's nativity scene, this was a Pottery Town purchase. It's about 12", and the pottery is very thick. I've wanted one of these for a long time.

The figures are meant to be hung or placed on the outside of a house or construction site to protect it -- mine has a hole in the back of his head, just ready for a nail. Presumably they work by scaring away trouble. They're very common, but it wasn't obvious to know where to get a good one. Sometimes you do see them sold alongside the road.

I don't think that the demon has any particular name -- I think it's more a custom than a particular religious thing. But if anyone out there has more info, I'd love to find out more.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Manger Scene


Here's one of the things I'm struggling to pack up. A couple days before Christmas I walked to Pottery Town, an area near the Cantonment Railway station where lots of (you guessed it) pottery is made. The potters work out of their houses, and I think mainly have standing orders from businesses, but they will also just sell to people who wander by. The place really swells in the days leading up to those Hindu festivals that require idols, but at this time of year the potters also make nativity scenes. This one, with figures about 8 inches tall, cost 250 rupees and it is so heavy. The weird thing is that a friend had to point out to me that Jesus is not at all to scale. He's bigger than the sheep! Anyway, I think I might have to try really hard to get this home.

Tomorrow, I'll show you a very non-Christian item I also picked up in Pottery Town.

Packing Tape Is Your Friend

Unbelievably, our time in India is almost at an end. I know I've thought that twice before, just before we were heading back in July 2006 and then in April 2007, but this time it looks as if it's really the case. I'll try to write up some sort of wordy summing-up (who doesn't love those?), but don't hold your breath.

The last week or so has been full of packing tape, buying stuff (mostly cloth), visits to the tailor to have that cloth hemmed, giving away books, eating too much at fancy places in town, listening to Christmas music, thinking about being unemployed, putting things in piles, and seeing friends. We have no idea how we're going to pack up everything, but I'm sure it'll all end up somewhere.

Meanwhile, the apartment is reacting to our imminent departure by falling apart, even more than usual. A couple weeks back the automatic door closer on the apartment door stopped doing its job and in fact stopped closing in midstream, so I had to unscrew it to close the door. And there's a periodic leak in one bathroom. It's brown and from the floor above and I've avoided it and haven't done anything about it beyond alert the owners of the apartment. And then the electrical outlet for the TV got pulled halfway off the wall because the screws don't go very far into the wall. I used some of that packing tape to fix that one, but maybe I'll try for a more permanent solution. Speaking of the TV, the cable channels are going in and out even more than usual. The end of the month always seems like an unstable time for cable -- maybe it's the bills that the cable operators are putting off paying? And just now we discovered that one of the pins came off the plug to the microwave and stuck in the outlet. Who would even think that such plugs could unscrew? Anyway, if this happens to you, just turn off the switch and extract the pin with a pencil and the screw it back into the plug. That's my handy tip of the day.

Wine Time 18: Flamingo Chenin Blanc

Flamingo Chenin Blanc 2005
380 rupees
14%

Yet another wine we drank a while back. It was hard to be thrilled by it. It had a nice, sweet, honey-like frangrance, but the taste itself was way too sweet for us. Not so memorable. We have to give it a 5 for being boring.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wine Time 17: Sula Blush Zinfandel

Sula Blush Zinfandel
Rs. 395
12% alcohol

As usual we drank this entry before we could take a picture, so I don't have any photographic evidence of its orange-red, tawny color, perhaps its best aspect. The smell was pleasing -- subtle and fruity, but quick to evaporate. It's not very deep, but it doesn't have anything unpleasant about it either. It's an insubstantial, fruity, fun wine. We give it a six, and we say drink it when you feel frivolous.

By the way, this wine recently one a bronze medal at the India Wine Challenge.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating it today. This kolam-like message was found in the Russell Market area today.

Last night we had Christmas dinner over at the neighbors. It was pasta with tuna. Not exactly a traditional Christmas goose, but it was wonderful. And then, plum cake. Of course.


And this morning I went to a couple church services. I wasn't sure where to head, since I didn't have any schedules. The first one I reached was St. Mary's Basilica, a huge church. Their nativity scene was attracting a big crowd.




I love the garlands on the reproduction of the Pieta that's outside the church:



I stood outside the church for a while, but this mass was in Kannada or possibly Tamil, so it was somewhat hard to follow. So I left and headed off to another large church, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, handily located on St. John's Church Road (it's a churchy part of town). The cathedral is 75 years old this year, and all that bamboo scaffolding is there for repairs that are underway. All the poles make it look very post-modern.



Here too the crowds overflowed the church -- you can see the tent out in front so that people could sit on plastic chairs in (mostly) shade.

In related news, I have a post up at Gridskipper about An Indian Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wine Time 16: Sula Brut


Sula
410 rupees
11.5% alcohol

Christmas and (even more to the point) New Year's are right around the corner, and for some people that means a flute of sparkling wine. If you're going for real, honest-to-goodness French Champagne in India, be prepared to pay through the nose --- at least 1200 rupees, and possibly closer to 3000 inr ($75). At prices like that, you'd best make your parties on the small side (maybe just two -- or one!). One of the major English-language papers was recently trying to convince that simply tons of Indians are guzzling down champers every chance they get, but I think it's safe to say reports of Champagne dancing off of shelves are highly speculative.

Luckily, Indian sparkling wines options are readily available, and these include the Vinsura we drank a while back as well as this entry from Sula. They're hardly cheap, but they do start looking reasonable compared to the French stuff.

So how did this one do? It's good, it's nice, it's dry. There's a slight, hard-to-pin-down aftertaste (grass?) that not so great, but not terrible either. It reminded us a little of the Spanish sparkling wine Freixenet -- maybe a little boring, but still a good standby. I'd rate it slightly better than the Vinsura, with a 7.5 for overall goodness. I'd like it even better at 300 rupees, but it's still a reasonable deal at its current price. At least with Sula rather than Moet et Chandon, you can invite more than just yourself to the party . . .

Wine Time 15: Sula Chenin Blanc


Sula
2007
395 rupees
12.5%

This wine is semi-dry, which for secret Wine Expert reasons actually means "slightly sweet." I'm sometimes a little leery of such wines, because I think a bad sweet wine can be awful, much less bearable than a bad red wine.

Anyway, this one is really, really good. It smells a little like honey, a little like flowers. The flavors are clean, crisp, and not overpowering. We thought it was very tasty. An 8.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rambo Beer Pub

Since it's almost the same as my last name, I loved the Rambo bar of Calcutta. I discouraged us from going in since it looked so grim, but maybe I shouldn't have: a backpacker site says it's "seedy and toxic-smelling," "a dive for sure," "quite famous" but also "foul and definitely not famous." Intriguing!

Anyway, "off-cum-on" means you can buy liquor for drinking off the premises as well as for drinking on the premises. Either way, we kept walking.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Our Nightly Entertainment

Here's a short video Katherine shot with her camera. Behold the bats, who fly out of the trees in back of our apartment every night around 6:15 or whenever the sun sets. A little before they do their thing, many of the birds all start flying back to the trees. So there's a little bit of sharing going on.

Wine Time 14: Bluefolds Shiraz redux

We already did this wine, but it found its way back into our house all the same. It seemed like a 5.5 last time, but maybe it's a little better than that. How about a 6? It's still thin and kind of dull, but it did improve once we left it open for a while and let it breathe.

Bangalore Gloom

All is gloom in Bangalore today. It's rainy, cold, and gusty. It looks like this:





OK, that's really Minnesota from a couple weeks ago. But here in Bangalore it feels very damp and cold all the same. Everyone who had a sweater or something similar had put it on. And just about everyone seemed a little down in the dumps. On the other hand, my auto-rickshaw driver kindly agreed to slow down a bit near the post office so that I could jump out, put the first batch of my Late January cards into the postbox, and then get back in the rickshaw for the rest of the ride home, all without really stopping.

Do you celebrate with Late January cards? They're exactly like those for Christmas, except they're more surprising, coming as they do three to four weeks after the holiday they celebrate. Try it sometime -- you'll be glad you did.

Which brings me to the free offer. Anyway one sends their address to bangaloremonkey at gmail dot com will get added to this year's Christmas Late January list. We reserve the right to cancel this offer as soon as our hands start hurting or we run out of Scratch and Sniff stamps, whichever comes first.

Emergency Microwave Goan Fish Curry

For a few days, we had no fire in the kitchen. The propane tank that fuels our two-burner stove was empty, leaving us with no source of heat except the toaster and our approximately two-watt microwave. For the first day this was a good excuse to clear out the leftovers from the fridge. On the second day we gamely heated up prepacked meals in a pouch. By the third day we were ready to do our own cooking again, but we still had no gas. Could we make a decent dish in the microwave?

When my family got its first microwave oven, circa 1982, we received as a bonus a set of free microwave cooking classes, which we attended two or three times. The idea was that you could use this new technology as a replacement for conventional cooking. The recipes we tried at home didn't work out too well -- I remember a rubbery omelette and a couple of strips of flabby bacon -- and like everybody else we ended up using our microwave for leftovers, frozen pizzas, and popcorn. (My mother still has that same original microwave, by the way, and it works great.)

Still, I like a challenge, and the following dish turned out pretty well. The trick was finding a recipe that did not require any browning or frying and adapting it for the microwave. The following is based on a prawn curry recipe in The Essential Goa Cookbook.


1/2 a fresh coconut, grated (or a cup or so of unsweetened coconut flakes, soaked in 1/2 cup water)
two plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
one medium onion, sliced
four cloves garlic, chopped
one green chile, sliced
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
2 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
1 walnut-sized lump of tamarind paste (or juice of 1/2 a lime)
1/2 pound of boneless fish (cut into 2-in chunks), or shrimp, or scallops

Put the onions, tomato, garlic, chile, salt, and spice powders in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until more or less liquefied. Add the coconut and process for a couple of minutes more, until you get a smoothish pulp. Empty this mixture into a large microwave-safe bowl along with one and a half cups of water. Stir. Microwave on high (uncovered) for about four to nine minutes, depending on oven wattage. Stir again. Repeat twice more, for a total of 12 to 18 minutes of microwave cooking.

Add the fish or other seafood and stir thoroughly. Return to the microwave and cook on high for four to nine minutes longer. Stir and check the fish for doneness. Microwave at two or three minute intervals if needed until the fish is completely cooked.

Add the tamarind or lime juice and stir thoroughly. Correct seasoning. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wine Time 13: Seagram's Nine Hills Shiraz

Seagram
465 rupees
13.5% alchohol

I usually keep the empty bottles of wine we've drunk until their contents either get written up here or we've completely forget what exactly the wine was like. I'll try to clear up the backlog, and then at least the apartment will stop looking so much like a frat house.

Here's another wine from Seagram's relatively new Nine Hills line. We reviewed the Chenin Blanc a while back.

Well, we thought this was a good everyday wine, but it's not going to amaze you. It had a very pleasant, smooth, fruity taste, and it was fairly full-bodied and balanced. It other words, it didn't taste like watered-down juice and it didn't have any particular overwhelming taste -- I think most people who like red wine would find this pleasant.

And it also happens to go well with the spicy dark taste of plumcake -- and that's a big plus at this time of year. So we give it a 7.5.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Goat of Ghoom



The Goat of Ghoom cracked us all up. How does he get his hair so curly? And why is he inside the basket? Ghoom is a town a few miles from Darjeeling. It's on most tourists' radar as the first stop the Toy Train makes from Darjeeling. There's also a great monastery.

Soon after I took this picture, Don grabbed the GoG and ran like hell for the Toy Train to make his escape. But the train only goes at a brisk walking speed and he was easily apprehended by more law-abiding goat-fanciers. So we had to give the goat back.

Photos Are Fun


We used to have this blog, see, where I'd post random pictures and go on and about Indian wine, goats, traffic, and other obsessions. Not so much anymore! I hope that will change.

Anyway, our friend Katherine has posted lots of good pictures from her recent visit and vacation with us. Click here for the slideshow.