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

Friday, July 27, 2007

Off to Mysore

See you on Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Three messed-up brothers, coming together through the power of India's "vibrant and sensual landscape," in a beautifully shot movie full of carefully chosen old-time songs. Emotional and spiritual lessons will be learned. Gotta say that this upcoming movie from Wed Anderson sounds awfully familiar. I'm still going to see it and probably buy the soundtrack.

Click above for trailer on Youtube. Higher-quality trailer here.

And after you watch, maybe you can tell me where all the Indians are. Every train I've even been on has been a little more heavily attended.

Dept. of Good Web Sites

Random Plug:
We don't have any immediate plans to go to Hampi again, but I have been checking out the unofficial site at a lot recently, for work. It's one impressive site, and the pix are nice to look at if Hampi's not in your plans yet either.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wine Time 2: Grover's La Reserve

In our second Wine Time feature, we decided to take the advice of a commenter and get some La Reserve, Grover Vineyards' premium product. The company describes it as coming from "vines imported from France, [which] are now thriving at our vineyards on the sunny hill-slopes of Nandi Hills near Bangalore, India. This fine red wine is a blend of [80%] Cabernet Sauvignon and [20%] Syrah [aka Shiraz] grapes. Aged in French oak barrels, it has a luscious bouquet of fruit and spices with a distinctive oaken flavour. Ready to enjoy immediately. La Réserve only improves with age."

Our bottle was of a 2005 vintage, bottled last month. We have bought this wine several times before, and I (but not Don!) remember it as being much better.

Like the Shiraz, it was one dimensional, with an overly sour taste. The taste disappears very quickly, so it doesn't work as a big wine, which I think is what they're going for. The main taste was sour, and the ending was slightly tannic, but not in a good way. I guess that was the French oak talking.

I would still consider getting La Reserve again, in hopes that my memory didn't mislead me, and that other vintages of the same wine are better. At some point (I can't find the actual article), Decanter magazine judged La Reserve the "Best New World Red Wine." Maybe there's hope. If India can be part of the New World, then who knows what other wonders are out there?

Where it probably couldn't complete is in an open or semi-open marketplace, because of its price. This wine cost 475 rupees ($12) -- given its quality, that's a real reach. If we had bought a similar wine in New York for $12, we'd have expected a lot more from it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, we give it a 5. It's OK, but just barely.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Simple Rules for the Phone

By and large it's not to hard to call people on the phone here. But sometimes it is -- you need another digit, or the number is always busy, or the number is toll-free but doesn't work with your phone company. That's why I loved these rules from a Hyderabad web site:

Changed Telephone Numbers

While works on updating the telephone numbers on its site after various exchanges have made modifications to their numbers, this is how you should use the current numbers on the site.

1: If the number has 7 digits and starts with anything other than 6, put a 2 in front of the number.

2: If the number has 7 digits and starts with a 6, make the first 6 a '55'. If that does not work, it means the number is a mobile and not a landline. In that case, instead of doing the earlier, put a 924 ahead of the number. (And if even this doesn't work, call 1952.)

3: For 8-digit numbers starting with a 3 (Reliance numbers), substitute the first 3 with '939'.

In general, call 1952 if the number doesn't work. Hyderabad's STD code is 040, and India's ISD code is 91. If you are calling from outside India, dial 009140 and then the number. If you are calling from India but outside Hyderabad/Secunderabad, dial 040 and then the number.

[This phone, with locking panel to prevent unscrupulous folks from using it, is from a museum in Udaipur. Not an exhibit! As you can see, the panel was busted.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Today I went to Malleswaram, a neighborhood northeast of where I live, to check out the Villa Pottipati and the ISKCON (aka Hare Krishna) temple. Although Malleswaram is not so very far away, I had only gone through it a couple times. Besides the temple, there aren't really any touristy sights there, and I really hadn't had any reason to go. But it does seem like a very cool, laid-back middle-class, traditional area, and it was fun to go for a short walk around.

Lots of smaller temples here and there, lots of fruit and flowers and other things being sold from carts or literally on the side walk, and people mostly walking everywhere (rather than in auto-rickshaws or cars or on cycles). It was noticeably quieter, with lots fewer trucks and cars and honking. And very little English heard on the streets, although I imagine many people know it.

One thing I know it's famous for is the traditional South Indian food, such as dosas. I ate at a random place near the Villa Potapati that was good but not worth a special trip. Have to return once I have a better sense of where to head to.

And this recently discovered temple also sounds like it's worth a trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Bollywood Break

Today was a long day of running around doing travel guide stuff. I'm all wiped out.

In such times, what could be more refreshing than a Bollywood video? Here's a good one called Kajra Re from a movie called Bunty Aur Babli (2005). Ever since I saw the clip on TV a few nights ago, the song's been stuck in my head.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wine Time: Grover's Sante Shiraz

Selling and making wine is seen as a growth industry in India. All you have to do is to pick up just about any issue of a magazine or a newspaper's lifestyle section to be confronted with claims that more and more wine is being guzzled like crazy.

The reality is completely different. Wine can hardly help being a growth industry since there's so little of it drunk. As the Outlook article below states, "per capita consumption [of wine] is a mere six ml, compared to China's 300 ml." It's not just that a tiny proportion of the population drinks wine. It's that the tiny proportion of the population that can 1) afford such luxuries and 2) cares to drink actually drinks wine. Imported wine remains very expensive, primarily because of duties (although they are going down somewhat), and the wineries in India are still by and large quite new, with all the growing pains that that implies.

But all that being said, there are more and more domestic wines being bottled every day. As our humble service to you, we thought it would be fun to review all the Indian bottles that come through our door.

First up is a wine from Grover Vineyards, whose winvery is right here in Bangalore. We had their 2006 Santé Shiraz, priced at Rs. 275 (about $7) and bottled in 2006. The label actually listed a price of Rs. 225, but the clerk told us that it had mysteriously gone up. We didn't protest too much, but we hadn't tasted it at that point.

This is not good wine -- too sour. The label claims that there are those wine clichés of "black pepper and blackberries" inside, but if there were, the sourness keeps them well hidden. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 4. Do not drink, except in an emergency situation.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Voltage Stabilizer

When we got back to our apartment in Bangalore, we found that this little monster had been hooked up to our refrigerator and placed on the cupboard above it. Before we left, the boxy thing had just been lying unplugged on a shelf in the storage room. Sometimes we'd look and it and wonder if we should have been doing something with it, but its bulk meant that we just left it sitting there.

All the thing does is what its name implies: massage the sometimes wildly varying local voltage into something more constant and easier for large appliances to deal with.

I hate the stabilizer. It extends out from the cupboard, so the doors have to stay open a little. Even worse, it makes fast-paced noises that are somewhere between noisy typing and a bug zapper that's just killed a bunch of gnats. As you can see, this model dates from long ago, and I doubt that more modern versions are as annoying.

Now I'm wondering I should have my laptop charging using one of these things. Probably I should, but since it's gone a year without one, I'm not in a huge hurry.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Back in India

So I got in early yesterday, a day in which I spent several hours thinking was Tuesday but that was of course Wednesday. Where does all the time go? Oh yeah, it goes into crossing one time zone after the other.

The jet lag wasn't too bad -- around 6 am, when I got back to the apartment, I told Don that I thought that sleep was surely just a plot by "them" to make sure no one ever gets anything done. I felt great, despite sleeping very little on the plane. (There may have been a little napping in the afternoon . . . )

I'd have gotten home a little sooner if it hadn't been for one of the things I hate the most in Indian airports -- the dreaded luggage cart.

Hidden within that herd of carts is the slowly moving baggage claim belt. When you finally see your bag, it's an adventure getting close enough to actually grab it by its handle. The carts are free, so just about everyone takes one, even people with just a couple pieces of luggage, and that means that the luggage is sealed off from its owners by a hedge of shiny, hard-to-navigate metal.

If I ruled the airport system of India (scary thought), the first thing I'd do is make the carts cost money (maybe 100 rs., with half of that refundable when you return it). Most important, I'd make the area immediately next to the moving belt a no-cart zone.

[Those signs saying "We Are Being Watched" are encouraging airport advertising, not Big Brother. We did have a lot of time to read them, it's true.)

Airport Movie Round-up

300: campy, bloody, entertaining.

Hot Fuzz: I liked it, but what happened in the middle? I think I was resting my eyes then.

Practical Magic: Nicole Kidman had pretty hair and a very large house.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Terminal 5, You Need More Fun

Hello Everybody, I'm at O'hare waiting for my (slightly) delayed flight to get going. It's not very exciting in Terminal 5 (no restaurants and hardly any stores are available after you pass through security), but at at least I'll be on my way soon. Or soonish.

Once I arrive in Bangalore, I'm looking forward to fresh lime sodas, being in India during the monsoon season, but of course most of all seeing Don again.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

No Room Service

Unlike yesterday's, these photos really are from Varanasi. It's from the dining hall of the hostel we stayed at in Varanasi. Somehow I think all these times could have been boiled down a little better -- and I wish I'd taken time to avail the "Hot Drinks Time" -- all 15 minutes of it. At this place, room service would have been a problem in any case -- I don't think the stripped-down rooms had any phones.

[click for a close-up]

The hostel may not have been very fancy, but the view seemed like one of the best in town:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Octopussy Today Tomorrow Forever

As I mentioned below, I'll be flying back to Bangalore on Monday. Don's there already, taking in the always changing cable choices (Ugly Betty, US edition! Jewel in the Crown! Battlestar Galactica! A million more nature specials about tigers and crocodiles and snakes!) and getting used to Bangalore, Monsoon edition.

In the meantime, I thought I'd pull from the vault some of our classic (i.e. old) photos I didn't get around to posting last time.

Here's a sign from one of the many dreadful, backpacker-style restaurants in Varanasi Udaipur. If you stay near the ghats, these places are by and large your only option for hanging out. Handily located on the roof of a backpacker hotel, they usually feature a simple menu of badly prepared "continental" cliches like fish-and-chips and pasta stuff (there's lousy Indian too!). Still, they are a nice place to get a good view of the city around you.

Because Octopussy had scenes filmed in town, these restaurants show the movie on an endless loop at night. Some mix is up a bit with other flicks, but not nearly enough. I think a few Bollywood movies would be a good addition. Or anything, really.

[Update: Sorry, Varanasi! It's Udaipur that got the James Bond treatment.]

First, Draw a Line Through the Letters

I thought this article about "The Hindi-fication of a Typeface" was interesting. It's about a type designer in Australia and the font he designed for a museum show about Bollywood. The comments to the post include a couple about "ethnocentrism" and other faux pas. I don't love the typeface (the random capital letters bug me), but it's hard for me to see the harm in it.

I've got soft spot for this and other "Hindi-fied" typefaces, which seem to appear a lot in English-language signs and billboards throughout India. Obviously, they're always used in a jokey fashion, and a little of them goes a long way. The words are usually hard to read.

But it isn't just Hindi that gets this treatment. In Bangalore I also saw Chinese-ish typefaces, which mostly appeared on restaurants and on beauty parlors (there are a couple really good examples around St. Mark's Road). Seeing these signs made me homesick for the U.S., since Chinese restaurants here use similar cornball typefaces. (That's where this example came from.)

When I get back to Bangalore in a few days, I'm hoping to find a few examples of English typefaces that have been Kannada-fied or Tamil-fied. I think I've seen some, but nothing specific comes to mind. A little help? And for the grand championship, are there any non-English signs that ape typical English-language typefaces?

P.S. Here are the photos by Jonathan Torgovnik that appeared in the exhibit. They're worth a look.