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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Angkor Wat

Today we flew into Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was amazing. I don't have anything smart to say about it at the moment, but if you have to chance to visit, you should. It's worth all the heat, etc., and there's enough to see for weeks, let alone days. More later, including pretty pictures.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bangkok Time

We're having a great time in Bangkok, visiting temples, eating great street food (the sticky rice wrapped around banana pieces and chicken "drumlettes" on a stick have been a big hit so far), shopping for cool clothes, and even feeding turtles. One temple -- Pyongyang? I think -- had a pool around a small shrine. For 10 baht (about 33 cents) you got cut-up pieces of banana or meat and a long stick. You then could feed the snappers and red-ear sliders without fear. It was incredibly peaceful and entertaining -- even turtles get to eat their "street food" on a stick here.

Tomorrow evening we fly to Cambodia. Although I understand there are now ATMs there, tomorrow we are going to exchange a bunch of Thai baht for US dollars, which is a major currency in Cambodia.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Handmade Signs

Thanjavur Art Gallery, originally uploaded by jrambow.

One of the nice details about India are that almost all signs are handpainted. They may not always be accurate, but they're usually pretty.

The art gallery, by the way, was amazing, and it made me wish that my knowledge of Chola bronzes wasn't so sketchy. The gallery is part of a palace complex, and by the time I'd reached this point, I'd gotten tired of paying my "foreigner" fee and my camera fee at every little exhibit. They have really got to get it together here and have some sort of ticket that includes everything. As it was I saved my 30 rupees and decided not to take pix of any of the amazing art inside. But why didn't I buy the "English book"? I bet that was good too.


Kibitzing, originally uploaded by jrambow.

These Brahmin priests and others had the right idea at the temple, getting under a little shade.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cambodia Here We Come

We're off to Thailand and then Cambodia tomorrow night for a week of temples, chi-chi restaurants in the so-called "Next Prague, and, er, I'm not sure yet. Posts will be light to nonexistent, but we'll do the best we can.

Lady Rickshaw driver

Lady Rickshaw driver, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Excitingly, my rickshaw driver in Trichy was a woman, more commonly known as a "lady" in India.

After taking countless rickshaws in a fair number of cities, this was a first, so I had to get a picture. She was nice, smiling a whole lot more than any other rickshaw driver I've had. (She was still tough on bargaining, though.)

She didn't wear a sari or a salwar kameez, she just wore the standard simple brown rickshaw-driver shirt and some light-blue pants that she rolled up.

Monkey Menace

I loved this Kanchipuram hotel's straightforward warning about the all-too-common Monkey Menace. (The text reads, "Dear guest, we request you to keep all doors and windows shut to prevent monkeys from entering your room.")

At first glance, it might sound fun to have a monkey guest show up, but when they began to grab things, turn the TV to that show about the chimp and the bulldog that run errands, and look for the costly silks you bought in this town that's famous for them, that feeling may quickly change.

I didn't see any monkeys when I looked out the window, but the manager showing me the place said that they're all over around 5 to 7 pm. That's when the monkeys come home to roost, I guess. I will say that I saw amble evidence that they had recently been on the ledge outside the window, though -- I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monster Gecko

Well, I liked our lizard, but the one above was hard not to like better. All eight or so inches or him came with the 350 rs. ($8) a night place I stayed at this weekend. When I checked out the room at first, I thought he was some kind of weird ornament, he was staying so still. It was only when I came back that I realized I had my own gecko for the night.

As you'd expect from the hotel's rate, it was not fancy -- a bring your own soap and toilet paper kind of place -- but the bug-eating lizard came free, and it evidently did it's job well. And a free lizard friend is not something that the Taj or Oberoi would think to include.

Friday, February 16, 2007


We're heading to Madurai for the weekend, and then I'll be off to a couple more places after that. Back on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday . . . . I promise to take lots of pictures of amazing South Indian temples.

The Lizard

We have a lizard that lives in the bedroom. I realize that sounds like the start of a 3rd-grader's story, but it's also true. We first saw him a week or two ago, but only for a little bit, running up the wall. But now he seems to have taken up a permanent house in the closet, by Don's fancy office shirts.

house geckoAlthough it's endlessly entertaining to watch him scurry around the ceiling and hide behind the mirror on the wall, the gecko's best trick is the chirping call he makes, usually early in the morning or late at night. At first it was a little creepy -- it sounds more like a bird than a lizard -- but now it's really great.

Of course, we also hope the gecko is eating any stray mosquitoes that find their way inside, but we're not sure about that. More about house geckos here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pondicherry Elephant

Everyone loves the French-provincial-town qualities of Pondicherry (lots of fresh paint; buttery seafood; wide, nearly empty, well-marked, rectilinear streets), but it's also in India -- and that means temples. Here's the Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple's elephant. You can give it a rupee and then it will give you a blessing by stepping on your foot. Just kidding, it blesses you by putting its truck on your head.

There was a sign that you couldn't give it any bananas or other food -- maybe it was reducing or the pilgrims' bananas had had a too vigorous laxative effect in the past. Either way, Don didn't like the looks of its stamping and thought it might go on a rampage at any moment. But it didn't, and we kept walking.

Incidentally, the three horizontal lines on the elephant's forehead, his tilak, marks him as a devotee of Shiva.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On the Bus

This weekend we headed to Pondicherry, about 3-1/2 hours south of
Chennai, via bus. It pays to go for the nicer ("ultra-deluxe") buses"
instead of the middle or lower rungs. The one we took down, the 55
rupee model, had not only a driver who constantly honked (pretty
normal), but also a TV blaring musicals nonstop and not much leg room.
It was a lot to take in at 10 am.

The one on the way back cost 110 rs. -- twice the price. But there
were nice curtains on the windows, a think to hold your bottle of
water, lots more leg room, and fans by the windows. And the theme or
the bus seemed to be "naptime" -- everyone was sleeping rather than
having to stare at the TV. It was great. Well, very good.

More on Pondicherry tomorrow.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Balaji Truck

Balaji Truck, originally uploaded by jrambow.
Here's one great truck grill. I photographed it in the Georgetown section of Chennai. The god is Balqji, also known as Lord Venkateswara. His major temple is in Tirupati, not too far north of Chennai. Tamil Nadu and most of the south are strongholds of his worship, but people from all over the world come there -- it might be the most-visited (and richest) religious site in the world -- most travel guides say it's neck and neck with the Vatican.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chennai Wedding

Today around 5:30 a wedding party went down the road in front of the guest house we're staying in. Everyone was dressed up in a Rajastani style, with turbans. There was also a Rajastani Marching Band as well as recorded music. And stilt-walkers! Finally, near the end, came the groom on a white horse. It was super. I didn't get any good photos, but I hope I have more chances in the future -- there are two huge wedding halls round the corner. (And I hope to not mistake any Jain monk processions for wedding groups this time.)

And in completely unrelated news, our evil cell phone service provider, Airtel, sent Don a hilarious text message yesterday. Not only did he have the opportunity to talk with an astrologer for 6 rupees (or so) a minute, but he could also win a prize by doing so. How? By being the person who had talked on the phone for the longest time! I wonder how much the prize-winner spent in winning.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Here's a slide show of some of our pictures from Mamallapuram, a town with some amazing Hindu bas reliefs and stone carvings from the 7th to 9th centuries (or so). Carved in granite, the sculptures are in remarkable condition and very lifelike. The town is about an hour drive south of Chennai, along the coast.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Astrology & Education, Close-Up

Astrology & Education, originally uploaded by jrambow.

I love the books for sale at this bookstore. It was closed when I walked by, so I have no idea if they have any books that don't predict the future.

Astrology & Education

Astrology & Education, originally uploaded by jrambow.

Terrifying Reptiles That We Love

I've been working on updating a travel guide's coverage of Tamil Nadu, so part of our time in Mamallapuram was spent touring hotels, asking about AC, and demanding to look at dinner menus in the middle of the afternoon, long before dinner was available.

One of the tourist sites we visited on the way out of town turned out to be so much cooler than I thought it would be. The Center for Herpetology is basically two scary spots in one. First, you have small ponds with lots and lots of crocodiles (and even a few alligators, in case you're from the Americas and feeling a little homesick).

center for herpetology.JPG

more muggers

The crocodiles are in sunken areas with pools, and there's just a small gap and a couple walls between you and them. At an exhibit of muggers (Indian-native crocodiles), you can get a guy to come out with a kilogram or so of chopped up mutton. He'll throw it all them -- a highly entertaining sight. It's a good trick to get guests to pay for feeding the animals, but it was also fun.


There's also an area in which snakes are milked for their venom, to be used in anti-venom. In addition to cobras, there were also kraits, a small, somewhat boring-looking snake whose venom is a lot deadlier than a cobra's. It was terrifying and awesome. In the picture below, all those pots in the background contain snakes. And the plastic bucket contains MASSIVE quantities of snakes as well!


There were turtles too, in well maintained tanks (a rarity in India). They were loveable, but come on, they're going to have to take second seat to deadly serpents and alligators and crocodiles.

Here are a bunch of families looking at a crocodile swimming around in its strangely graceful way. It was almost more fun watching the kids get all excited about it, though.

Alligator Tank.JPG

Friday, February 02, 2007

Panicker's Travel

Panicker's Travel, originally uploaded by jrambow.

This is my new favorite travel agency, even though I just walked by and didn't "avail their services," as they say in India.

Best of all, you can see in the small print their main branch in is Delhi, my choice for the best place to do the most panicking while traveling.

Speaking of traveling, we'll be leaving Chennai for the weekend to head to the beach town of Mamallapuram. It's about a 90 miinute drive -- back on Monday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flying the Good Times

We're now more or less all set up in Chennai. We flew here -- it's
about an hour's flight from Bangalore. It was great to finally be able
to take Kingfisher, United Breweries' airline and one of the better
ones. Just as the breweries' Kingfisher beer is "for the good times,"
the airline allows you to "fly the good times."

It was a good flight. Since most of my flights in India have been with
the bargain basement airline Air Deccan, it was thrilling to get
breakfast on the plane this time. (But even if we'd flown later in the
day, there wouldn't have been any Kingfisher beer available. Indian law
prevents any alcohol being offered on domestic flights.)

Best of all, the flight wasn't cancelled or delayed, an all-too-common
problem with Air Deccan. (Basically Air Deccan is for when you kinda
want to fly the good times, but would be just as happy staying put if
your flight is cancelled. For those "let's not and say we did" times.)

We're staying in a guesthouse -- an apartment that's been converted
into a hotel. There are 4 bedrooms with their own bathrooms, and then a
dining room and living room that's common to them. The place comes with
two servants, who clean the rooms each day and cook. Although it's a
little weird having guys hanging out in the place all the time, it's
been surprisingly easy to get used to having someone else make supper
and get the laundry done.

Chennai is hot, but not as horrible as we feared. Of course, it is
early in the year still, and most offices and stores have air

But Chennai is definitely as full of mosquitoes as we thought. I've
discovered that guide books, in addition to whatever other charms and
utility they may have, are great at crushing the little buggers.
Something about the large numbers of thin pages make them easy to close
quickly. Consider that my handy tip of the day.