In India: 28 April: Off to see palaces in Mysore, and getting there was half the fun!

The morning came early, but we met Lokesh and Karthik at 6:30 AM in the hotel lobby.  They are two young ERL engineers who had been pressed into being our tour guides.  Our van arrived and at 7 AM we were off to Mysore.

Even that early on a Sunday morning, the streets were fairly busy.  There were cricket pitches with people out playing on them, a market garden filled with people, and the traffic was, well, not crazy, but busy.

I put on sunscreen but then immediately started to sweat and washed some into my eye, very painful.  I tried to wash it out with tears for over an hour, but finally, two stops at restaurants along the road, and rinsing it out, it gave me some peace.

The drive was… interesting.  So many different things on the road.  Motorbikes with 1, 2, 3, and 4 people on them (more to say on that later), auto rickshaws, cars, trucks, overcrowded buses, trucks with boxes filled with people, trucks filled to overflowing (hay for instance) so they were twice their normal width, bicycles, pedestrians – you name it.  A new one for me were truck frames with engine, a hood, a seat and steering wheel, and a young man driving it – no windshield, no cab top – we saw 3 of those.  I learned later that they were going from the frame plant to the body plant… fair enough, but in Canada, they would be on a flatdeck.  Not so here 🙂

Despite it being  four lane highway all the way, our speed was uneven, and generally slow.  People were entering and exiting the highway all over the place, pedestrians crossing. vehicles weaving in and out.  It is crazy trying to drive here, I’m sure.

We got to Dariya Daulat Bagh, where the last Muslim king of Mysore had his palace, at about 10:30.  There was a nice long formal garden with a palace building.  We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the palace, but it was full of murals, paintings, and photographs of the life and times of the Muslim king, his conquests, his victory over the English (he is revered because he’s the only one that stung the English in this manner), then subsequent defeat.  Very interesting.

Looking back at the entranceway


Looking along the formal garden to the palace
Aside to the left to beautiful lawns framed by trees sculpted into columns
The palace itself

We had just been commenting on how we’d seen all kinds of animals but no horses, and, well, there were two in the parking lot, pulling carts.

Onward to the Mysore Palace.  On the way, the driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the road, handed a person a few rupees, and got a garland of jasmine which he put hung from the rearview mirror.  Very nice smelling, mmm.

We had some fun around our cameras – we had thought that they wouldn’t be allowed on the grounds, so we left them in the van – but then lots of people had cameras, so we retrieved them.  Then it turns out that you cannot enter the palace building even if you just have a camera, so we had to check them.

We had to take off our shoes to enter the palace, walked the whole place in bare feet.  It’s a magnificent place, wow.  Full of opulence and spacious rooms, ornate fixtures, and beautiful artifacts behind glass.  When we emerged, we went further down and toured a small temple.  The pathway was so hot on our feet, ouch!

We put our shoes back on, took some photos around the grounds, then headed out.

There were dozens of folks hawking their wares outside the palace.  I bought postcards, since we had no pictures from inside the palace.  Then a young child started harassing Norbert about sandalwood fans, followed us to the van, and proceeded to follow us and harangue him through the driver’s open window, lowering the price and upping the quantity constantly, for something like ten minutes!  I think he started at Rs150 for one, ended up offering five for Rs250.  Norbert kept saying “no” but just couldn’t shake him.  When we finally pulled out onto the street, that was the end of that.  I kind of kept expecting this kid to pop up out of nowhere to harass us somewhere else later in the day, like some kind of movie, but thankfully it didn’t happen 🙂

We went up Chamundi Hill, more of a mountain really, where we went to Sri Chamundeshwari Temple.  We didn’t go in because the lineup was hours long, but we checked out the large marketplace outside the temple.  We then went down to Mahabaleshwara Temple on the side of the mountain, with a large bull statue.

We stopped for a bit of shopping and lunch, then headed back to Bangalore.

The traffic on the way back was heavier.  Then the rains came, a torrential downpour.  It took almost four hours to get back to the hotel.  Norbert had time to shower and then he was off to the airport for his flight home.

On the ride back, I was again amazed at all the different vehicles on the road, including a family of four on a motorbike – dad driving, daughter sitting in front of him carrying something, son behind him, wife sitting side-saddle on the back.  All quite relaxed, zipping down a busy highway at 80 km/hr or so.  Wow.

After getting back to the city, Norbert and I went for a stroll and caught a sub at the Subway in the Bangalore Central store/mall.  On the way back, I stopped by a wine store to buy a bottle of red wine.  I was rather disappointed at the selection – only five different red wines – two imported, and three domestic!  None suited my fancy, but finally I chose a domestic Cabernet.  Well, it was Rs685 (about CA$13.70).  I used my Mastercard.  When the PIN request came up, the guy asked me for my PIN!  Yikes, I said something like, “the card is mine and the PIN is private.”  He said “sorry” and handed me the PIN pad.  Then he realized that he had entered the transaction as Rs485, not enough to pay for the wine.  He wanted to cancel and restart, to which I just told him I’d pay the difference in cash.  I had a weird feeling about that transaction.  I checked, nothing untoward has happened in my Mastercard account.  Not yet, anyway.

Norbert flew out of Bangalore late Sunday night (well really Monday morning), so as of Monday, I’m the only Canadian in Bangalore… or so it seems 🙂

In India: 27 April: A working Saturday, a late movie, and an auto rickshaw!

The Product Development staff at Easun Reyrolle work Saturdays.  That means we work Saturdays too, while we are here.  It was a very busy day, with meetings about both projects and with the Managing Director, Premnath.  A lot of discussion about how to ensure that the products get completed and into the market on time.  That’s difficult, because there are certainly issues that I see that need to be addressed before the products go to market.  It’s a tough message for everyone to handle, because they thought they were very close… but things have been dragging on.  Not that all of the delays have been related to the issues that we see, but certainly these need to be addressed, in order to ensure that the product is successful.

We wandered to the Royal Minakshi Mall for lunch.  Right outside the office, we saw some mangy dogs.  One separate, obviously wary of the other several dogs watching it closely.  As it trotted away, it turned once in a while and growled.  None of the dogs looked happy.  They didn’t look very prosperous 🙁

Norbert spotted two monkeys in a tree, about 20 yards away.  Nobody else even noticed them, but it’s a bit of an unusual sight for us.

Cute, Yes, but I’ve been warned to stay away.  They will steal fruit if you are carrying it,they can get aggressive, and sometimes carry rabies

Then, we made our way through the small industrial area right behind the office.  There are several small industrial shops here, making bolts & screws, metal scaffolding, designer clothes, and industrial equipment.

After passing through the industrial area, there’s a residential area, then a wide open space with a huge school across an open area.  The path here is difficult to describe as a road – it’s pretty rough.  We saw cows grazing on the garbage.  Yes, that’s a common sight here – there’s enough garbage in the streets for cows to live on.

A couple of cows eating garbage by the side of the road.  Well, it’s more like a stony trail in the middle of the city.  Note the “ruins” in the background.  With construction all around, there are many such abandoned buildings.  Wonder why?

So, here’s the mall.  Big, clean, and modern.  Quite the contrast to the cows grazing beside an abandoned building, only 200 yards away.

The Royal Minakshi Mall

We enjoy Chinese Food, Indian style.  From left: me, Srinivasan, Manikandan.  Missing: Norbert, who is taking the picture.

Norbert juggles three oranges to win a tetrapak box of orange drink (tasted like Beep apparently)

As we got back to the office, our monkey friends were much closer, on the fence along the road, and we got better pictures this time.

Ramu arranged for a trip to Mysore for us tomorrow, Sunday.  Mysore happens to be his hometown, so he was anxious for us to see the sights there.  The Mysore Palace is second only to the Taj Mahal in all of India, he tells us.  The catch?  It’s 150 km each way, and we have to leave early because it’s a 3 to 5 hour drive each way.  7 AM early, on a Sunday!  Ouch, my head hurts already 🙂  And, since Norbert flies tomorrow night (well technically 3 AM on Monday morning), we have to be back in decent time, so he has plenty of time to get to the airport, in spite of whatever traffic challenges there may be.   We need to be back by 8:30 or so, at the latest, as he heads off at 9 PM.

We left work a bit early (4:30 PM), went to the Central store / mall again (1 km east from the hotel), where Norbert hoped to get some more of Danny’s planes.  Success!  Danny’s son was on duty, and we bought a bunch more packages.  Norbert was pleased – his wife’s schoolroom is going to be full of excited kids, flying planes around the class like crazy!

Darshan went down to the Gopalan Mall (roughly 2.5 km east) right after work, and picked us up two tickets to “Iron Man 3”, dropped them at our hotel.  So, we went to Gopalan Mall for dinner – ended up at KFC, was most appealing place – and hung out until the 10 PM late show.  Wow what a noisy mall.  I guess it was a Saturday and all.

The movie was in 3D, so we had to get those 3D glasses.  We had to put 100 rupees down for each pair of glasses (100 rupees is approx CA$2), fine.

Well, you know me, Mr. One Eye – but it wasn’t bad at all.  I had to put my prescription eyeglasses on underneath the 3D glasses, and that was a bit awkward, but overall OK.

“Iron Man 3” was OK, but I haven’t seen the first two, so some of the inside humour was lost on me.  The movie was pretty full – I would imagine about 400 people.  It was the second night of the movie showing here.  It didn’t debut at home until a week later, ha ha.

Anyway, the movie was clicking along, then suddenly the screen went blank, and a few seconds later the lights came on.  A malfunction, curses!  I said something, but nobody else seemed upset.  In fact, many got up and wandered out of the theatre.  Well, what do you know?  An intermission!!!  Brilliant, to get folks out to the concessions.  A few minutes later, the lights dimmed without warning, and the movie resumed.  Wow.

Afterward, we had to file out through the back exits.  Down the hall, there was a guy collecting the 3D glasses in a box, and giving out 100 rupee notes for each one.  He saw that Norbert and I were together, and pretended to give me 2 x 100 rupee notes, but somehow only one 100 rupee note ended up in my hand.  The crush of the crowd pushed me down the hall, and there is Norbert, holding out his hand, trying to get the second 100 rupee note.  Well, he was persistent enough, he finally got it.

By this time it was 12:30 at night, and we just didn’t feel like walking the 2.5 km back home – oh, and remember we have to be up early.  There were dozens of auto rickshaws in front of the mall.  We decided that we’d take one.  Yikes, I always thought those things looked dangerous.  Oh, well.  150 rupees for what should be a 10 or 20 rupee ride.  Oh, well, again – remember that it’s 50 rupees to the Canadian dollar, so we’re talking CA$3.  Later I was told that the price goes up substantially after midnight.

An auto rickshaw (photo borrowed from a tourist web site)

 What a ride!  Like a minibike with no muffler, a rough ride, bounce bounce bounce, and the side bars aren’t much to hold onto.  I was petrified.  Good thing the road was deserted!  We had a motorbike and a car pass us, and both kind of appeared out of nowhere, beep beeped, and swooshed on by.  Fun fun!  We survived, and got back to our hotel in time to crash around, oh, 1 AM.  Tomorrow will start early, like around 5:45 AM.  Ouch.

I was going to have a shower before bed, but there was no hot water.  Enough of that noise, no need for a cold shower these days 🙂

In India: 26 April: Progress in the Lab! Later, not so much :-(

Norbert went to the office, the boys (a reduced crew) picked me up and we went to the lab.  Unlike Monday, things really clicked.  We got very methodical, with Manikandan entering results directly into a spreadsheet, me dictating which test was next, and focussing on only one test, leaving the rest for later.

Lunch was at the Hotel Nandhini, known for its food from the Andhrea region of northern India, apparently acknowledged as being the most spicy in all of India.  Yikes!  Non vegetarian.  Yes, it was hot & spicy, but it was also very tasty, excellent!  I couldn’t understand what Manikandan told the waiter, I think maybe they toned it down for me.  Nonetheless, I am really enjoying this Indian food.

In the afternoon, we had victory after victory, pushing the performance of the unit up and up.  In the last hour or so though, we fell flat on our face – even when we “undid” recent changes, we couldn’t get back to where we were in the afternoon.  It was appropriate to break at that point.

So, in India, they like their tea.  They break for tea in the morning, and in the afternoon.  Each day, when the others had their tea, I would fuss about, sometimes reading, sometimes pondering the challenge at hand.  Well, they needled me enough, that I decided to have some tea – black only, of course.  What do you know, it was great!  So from then on, I drink black tea with the guys, each time.  Hard to believe, huh?  Those of you who know me, know that I don’t drink coffee or tea, as a rule.  Well, it’s true!  Here’s photographic evidence:

The ERL management team took Norbert and I out to dinner at an interesting restaurant – The Barbeque Nation.  Here, there are large square holes in the centre of the table, where the waiters carefully set in open grilles full of hot coals.  You can feel the heat as they lower it into the hole with big hot pad mitts on.  Then they bring pre-cooked skewers of different foods and set them into slots on the open grilles.  You can eat as much as you want, they keep filling it up.  We ate, drank, and were merry, but when we were full, our fearless leader advised us that this was only the appetizer round, and that the buffet was next!  Oof, again.  I had a polite, small sampler of several of the dishes, and pushed back from the table.  Overall, a good time was had by all.  We also consumed no small quantity of red wine.  Generally, this is a noisy restaurant, and I think I know why.  No screams of pain from burns though, and that is impressive 🙂

Needless to say, when I got back to the hotel, I could do little more than crash.

We knew that we had to work on Saturday!  Yikes.

In India: 25 April: We find the shopping centre… or do we?

We were back at the ERL office on Thursday, working & planning the next day’s EFT testing at the lab.

For lunch, we made our way back to The Royal Minakshi Mall, but this time up to the food court.  Norbert and I had U.S. Pizza, which was fine.  No beef 🙂

After dinner, Norbert and I went for a walk in the direction where I had failed to find that shopping centre.  We went a block further than I went, and – voila!  There it was!  But… it wasn’t a shopping centre like we know it.  It was an old building with a few small shops in its storefront, then dozens and dozens of small stands inside (reminded me of the flea markets of Mississauga, although not quite as crowded), selling all kinds of stuff – jewelry, food, picture frames, toys, small appliances, flowers, trinkets, furniture – you name it.  Then, outside, there was a street market full of fresh vegetables and chickens.

Norbert purchased nice silk scarves, bracelets, and a bit of jewelry for his girls.  He was pleased with himself.

We wandered a bit more, saw some more back lanes filled with small, brightly lit shops, selling designer clothes, jewelry, electronics, and food.  This truly is a city of entrepreneurs.  At least in some areas.

In India: 24 April: Yay, McDonald’s ?!?

On Wednesday at breakfast, the waiter asked Norbert if he wanted a dosa – an Indian food that’s like a pancake, but crispy on one side.  He said, “sure.”  Well, it came rolled up like a dunce hat – we had a chuckle, thought he should wear it instead of eat it.  He ate it, and it was very good.

Norbert and his dosa

Then, we were back at the office, trying to understand why we made so little progress the day before.  My personal theory was that there were too many cooks.  We made plans to go back to the lab on Friday, but with far fewer personnel.  Besides, the novelty of coming to see the boy from the Canadian Prairies make magic, kind of had worn off 🙂

At lunch, I kind of wanted something more, um, North American.  Manikandan mentioned that there was a large mall not far away, and there was a McDonald’s there.  We shrugged, and headed off.

Well, ERL is located on what would be considered a back alley, in Winnipeg terms.  That is fine, but the traffic on it would be like, say, Moray near Ness.  So, you have to be careful.

Once out to the main street, you think things would get better.  Well, no, the sidewalk is uneven, broken in places, and in a couple of spots you have to walk on the side of the road.  Here in Bangalore, folks think that it’s no big deal to walk with your back to traffic whizzing past you within a foot or two, but it makes me nervous.

Well, we got there, and sure enough, The Royal Minakshi Mall is very impressive, very modern.  And, yes, they have a McDonald’s.  Guess what?  No beef.   So I had a spicy chicken sandwich.  Yikes, was it spicy!!!

There is a small window out onto the mall – this is the take-out window.  People wander up and order off the mini-menu.

There’s a KFC across the hall.  Can you tell that they don’t do beef, only chicken?

In India: 23 April: Dean takes a hike

When we got back to the hotel, Norbert had dinner but I was restless, so I decided to go for a walk and find a shopping centre.  I had seen it on Google Maps.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a data plan on my phone, since I’m outside of Canada, so I can’t keep track of it while away from the WiFi of the hotel.

I went north, looped around, walked about 8 km.  Never did find that shopping centre 🙂  I saw lots of little shops, and wandered through a “Metro” grocery store.

I got a lot of quizzical looks from the other folks on the street.  Even at 9:30, most of the shops were open, and the streets were full of people making their way home.

I stopped at a cell phone store and bought a new SD card for my camera – the existing one disintegrated when I tried to take it out, and my computer wouldn’t read it – ick!  Well, the camera can read it, so now I just have to find a cable for my camera.

I stopped at a Subway restaurant to eat.  That was a different experience.  There are two sub sandwich preparation counters – and they are clearly labelled – “veg” and “non-veg”.   You can have any meat you want, so long as it’s chicken, ha ha.  There is no diet soda drink.   The sandwich was different – the chicken was cubed – but it was fine.

In India: 23 April: At the test lab, round 1 – once we found it!

The guys from the office hired a van & driver to take us to the test lab.  They loaded the van at the office, then picked us up at our hotel.  Unfortunately, their regular driver had a family emergency, and this driver didn’t know the exact location of the test lab.  If you haven’t tried to navigate around Bangalore, you wouldn’t realize how serious a problem that is.  Ugh, it must be impossible to be a taxi driver here.

The company actually sells the equipment to build test labs, and has put together a small demonstration lab that they let us use.

We finally found the lab, unloaded, and set up the equipment.

The basic equipment setup. Our relay is the small box on the brown raised shelf.  The other larger box is the device which generates the deadly surges that we are using to test our relay.

We saw how the equipment performed unspectacularly when subjected to the Electrical Fast Transient (EFT) surge, and then proceeded to make changes in an attempt to get it to pass, or at least to get insight into why it fails.

We had quite a crew there – something like eight of us!

Left to right:Norbert Wegner, Ananthramu, Darshan, me, Manikandan, Ilango, Sowmiyan, Srinivasan

At lunch, we piled back into the van and went to a restaurant nearby, “Gokul Krishna”, all vegetarian.  It was very nice – the food was great, and the service was excellent.  Again though, far too much to eat!  Oof.

We fought with the problem through the day and into the evening.  They were supposed to kick us out at 6 PM, but we begged and they let us stay until 6:30.  We made some progress, but not a lot.

In India: 22 April: First day on the job at ERL

The hotel provides complimentary transportation to and from the office, for its “executive” guests.  I guess we are “executive” guests then!

Riding through the traffic in Bangalore was an eye-opener.  Cars seemingly going every which way, darting in and out, beep-beep-beeping at each other.  Of course, driving on the left, it’s the right hand turn that’s the treacherous one – they wait for a small break in the oncoming traffic, and dash through – expecting the oncoming traffic to stop for them.  Amazingly, they do!

This is a quiet traffic morning.  Really.

We got to the office in good time, and very few folks were there to greet us.  Finally, some of the guys came down to collect Norbert and I.  They insisted that we use the elevator (oops, “lift” per the British tradition), even though we advised that we’d rather climb the stairs.  They were working very hard to be nice to us.  We got set up in the boardroom and prepared for the day.

We had quite a whirlwind of a day, meetings, meetings meetings.  Ananthramu, the Product Development Manager, introduced us to all the staff – but I have trouble remembering all those names!

When it came time to have lunch, we went up to the lunchroom in a glassed-in terrace room on the roof.  The food was definitely Indian, traditional.  Our hosts patiently explained everything to us, and helped us determine what we could eat.  And, guess what: I love the food, spices and all!  Yeah, no kidding.  I’m surprised too.  But, it makes it a whole lot easier to get along here, if you like the food 🙂

We got briefed on the status of the two main development projects that we were here to help with.  We chatted about the problems and possibilities at great length.

We worked into the evening, leaving at 6:30.  It was a long ride back to the hotel.  We ate & crashed.  We survived the day!

In India: Our accommodation: The SFO Hotel

The hotel we are staying in is called “The SFO Hotel”, by someone with an obvious love for San Francisco.  Most of the hotel is San Francisco themed.  The name reflects the 3 letter airport code for San Francisco International Airport.  There’s a huge concrete sculpture-mural-collage on the wall of the lobby.  The floors all have photos of San Francisco in the hallways, and each floor is themed after a different area of the city.  There are two restaurants.

One restaurant is on the ground floor with overflow onto the second floor, called “The Cable Car Restaurant”, with a mock up of a cable car on each floor (kind of like the train car in The Old Spaghetti Factory).  This restaurant serves Italian style dishes done up all vegetarian.  They don’t serve alcohol.

On the top floor, there is a restaurant called “Pier 39” which has facades all around the walls of stores, shops, and locations in San Francisco.  They have a small “Hard Rock Cafe” facade, and several others.  This restaurant has a small bar at one end, and serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food.  This is also where the complementary buffet breakfast is provided each morning.

Both are quite good.  I’m not going to lose weight on this trip 🙂

There are a few curious things about the floor numbering.  First, the ground floor is called “Floor 0” (that’s a zero) and the second floor is called “First Floor”.  I’m on the “Second Floor”, which in the North American tradition would be the third floor.

Also, since the main floor and the second floor (oops “Floor 0” and “Floor 1”) are taken up by lobby and restaurants, the rooms on the third floor (“Floor 2”) are all numbered starting at 101.  I’m in room 111, on the third floor, but it’s called “Floor 2” here in Bangalore.  Confused?  Yes.

I’m not complaining, the room is fine.  A bit of serenity, not far from the madness of the traffic on the street.

In India: 21 April: Exploring: Taking a Walkabout

We slept well, but short.

We decided that a nice walk was in order, to see our surroundings.  We walked out of the hotel and headed straight east into a different world!
We had been warned that the traffic was so busy at all times, day and night, that we wouldn’t even be able to cross the street.  Bah!  There is a large intersection right to the east of the hotel, Marenhali Rd and 11th Main Rd.  Mind you, it was a bit hair raising – they seemed to barely respect any rules, let along rules-of-the-road as we knew them.  We got across nonetheless.

We were greeted with signs, sounds, and smells unlike anything we ever saw in Winnipeg.  There were little shops of course – many, many shops – and then there was the shanty town.

Hmm, look at the auto rickshaw in front of the music store… more about them later!

About a block east of the hotel, there is a steep drop off of about 6 feet beside the sidewalk – the whole block to the right is dropped down about 6 feet, actually.  In that area, there are two rows of ramshackle shacks – slums – in which people obviously live.  Yikes.  Corrugated tin roofs, doors and walls cobbled together from scraps.  Just like in the movies.  Everybody walks by, but nobody seems to notice, or at least, to care.

If you click on this photo and zoom in on the open doorway, you will see a young boy working on his sister’s hair, with a TV set playing behind them.  Yes, people live here!

We came across a Honda motorbike dealership, a large electronics store (India’s answer to Future Shop?), and a large department store called “Central”.  We wandered in Central and had a look at the prices.  I bought a belt.  We wandered up to the food court and had some gelato.  Did I mention that it was a hot, hot day?  Something like +37 deg C.  Wow.

On our way down, we noticed a display with a fellow throwing a paper airplane that would always circle and come back the thrower (like a boomerang).  It turns out that this was Danny’s Planes, and the inventor was there himself selling his product.  He was not connected with Central but was renting a small area in the store.  Intrigued, Norbert and I each bought a few packets – Rs50 each (approx CA$1 each) and each packet contained 4 planes.  Later, Norbert told his wife about them, and being an elementary school teacher, she was quite enthused to have one for every child in her class, so we had to find time to go back.

From left: Norbert, Danny, Danny’s son

We walked a few blocks further, then wandered back.  While wandering, we saw a sugar cane press along the sidewalk.  Check out this video:

We were tired, so we ate at the hotel restaurant and crashed.  Of course, neither one of us slept well that night – waking up at odd times, wide awake, not being able to get back to sleep.