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

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

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

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

395 rupees

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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wine Time 13: Seagram's Nine Hills Shiraz

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.

Friday, December 07, 2007


We left Gangtok this morning, driving about 4 hours over very dramatic roads to Darjeeling, another mountain town. Darjeeling was once a hill station, where the British Raj went to escape from the heat of Calcutta, but now it's a very large city as well. It may be even a little colder than Gangtok. My fingers are a little numb as I'm typing. We've had some fried rice and momos (dumplings) for lunch, we're walked through a tea estate and bought some of their specially-packaged-for-tourists tea, we've looked at many shawls, and after we call our credit card companies to tell they to stop refusing our charges, we'll be making our way back to the hotel. Like Gangtok, it's difficult to find your way after dark, since you have to get to the right level in the town, and of course there are few signs.

Tomorrow we're going to take the Toy Train, a munchkin train that runs as a tourist attraction, just 7 kilometers to a nearby town and its Buddhist monastery. After that, not quite sure. but it may involve carpets and/or hiking.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Heavy Breathing

We're in Gangtok in the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim at the moment. We just drove in a couple hours ago. Although it's not super-high, it's high enough that I feel a little dizzy. It doesn't help that the sprawling city is on a mountain, so going from one street to another involves big flights of stairs. Even with the cardio I've been doing, it's a bit much. So if there are even more typos than usual, that's why.

We had a whirlwind trip of Calcutta that included the following: Park Street Cemetery (super-great and full of very Victorian sentiments), Howrah Station (as Goutham said below just amazingly full of people and very intense); walking over the Howrah Bridge; and an attempt to visit the famous book stalls of College Street (didn't manage to get there -- we tired out first). About the railway station: I'd always thought that Bangalore's terminal was pretty busy, and it is, but Howrah station makes Bangalore's look provincial. Also the Indian Museum and the Victoria Monument. Also some very good food, which I'll post about later.

And also we had the most horrible hotel. It actually would have been OK if it had cost, maybe 1000 rupees ($25) or less. But with taxes and everything it cost $75! What a rip-off. We'd made reservations elsewhere but they couldn't find them when we arrived. And since we didn't have much time in Calcutta, we had to go with the first place that had an opening. I'll post pictures of the luxury-free lodgings that $75 bought us when we're back in Bangalore.

Tomorrow, Buddhist monasteries and more walking up hills. (huff huff)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Calcutta et al

So as we continue our attempt to see a few more of the places we didn't reach yet, we're heading off this morning to Kolkata, Darjeeling, and Gangtok. Our friend Katherine just flew in from the states yesterday for this trip. In Kolkata we're looking forward to College Street and its many streetside books, Bengali fish, and of course over-the-top British Raj monstrosities, I mean monuments. So I'll try to write in a couple posts this week, but otherwise we'll be back in Bangalore next week.