I've moved on from Tamil Nadu and am now in Karnataka, where I spent a couple of days in Mysore and last night in Bangalore.
On a recommended from Gomathi's husband, who is a Bangalorian colleague of mine at OpenTV, I tried to get a seat at a good restaurant in Bangalore. Unfortunately the two recommendations were closed, along with many restaurants I saw plus all the pubs. Why ? It's the Indian General Election in two days time and the government has mandated that all places which serve Alcohol need to shut. I chuckled at the thought of the Indian Government not trusting its citizens to vote sober, but when found somewhere to eat, the waiter kindly told me that its down to 'Maintaining Law and Order'. This says allot about India's conservative attitude towards Alcohol, neatly summed up on the Kingfisher beer labels; "Liquor destroys Family, Health and Life". I had already been wondering why you can get a square meal for 30 rupees and yet a beer cost 120 Rupees in Tamil Nadu, which is more than you'll pay in Reading's finest establishment, The Back of Beyond.
Arriving in Karnataka was quite a change from Tamil Nadu. The streets are cleaner, people seem a little bit wealthier, more English is spoken, there are traffic lights (and people use them !), motorcyclists wear helmets (but its OK not to wear one if your a pillion passenger!), there is some funny Australian thing happening with policeman's hats and the rickshaw drivers really think they can take foreigners for a ride! I was also very surprised to find Kannada spoken, which is not only a completely different language to Tamil but uses a completely different script !
Bangalore itself is a hedonistic mix of semi-skyscrapers, Piccadilly circus lighting, trendy Indian youngsters wearing western clothes, clean pavements, street hawker free zones and choking traffic. Its very different to anywhere else I have seen in India. I had my first rickshaw driver take me for a ride, first a north, then a south, city tour to clock up the meter. What he didn't know is that he had a geek in the back with a watch that also acts as a compass. So we got into an argument, which ended abruptly when as I took his number and threatened to walk to the police. Result; Free ride but I was now the other end of town from where I wanted to be.
A couple of days ago, I traveled down from Ooty on a private bus, the non-ac variety, which was about three times the price of a government bus and half the price of the luxury liners touting air conditioned Volvo buses. It was a strange experience, with a bunch of what appeared to be up-and-coming Karnatikan's. One chap summed it up nicely; He was wearing ear muffs and a fake Nike woolen hat in 23C heat. Trendy.... Once we descended to plains and the heat jacked up to 35C+, out come the headphones to broadcast music to the rest of the bus. And boy did he think he was cool. Like really cool, especially as he was sitting next to the token foreigner on the bus. I smiled and thought this must be the equivalent of Indian Chav. Traveling on the "Volvo AC bus" to Bangalore was a much more pleasant and relaxing journey filled with what appeared to be successful middle class Indians. That said, I've really warmed to traveling on the government buses with the cooling breeze of a windowless bus, super fiendly people (even though little English is spoken) and not much luggage (so there is room for mine), despite the buses being a little dilapidated.
I've spent a couple of days in Mysore to see the very impressive Maharaja's palace and a famous market selling all sorts of stuff; Hardware, Kitchen utils, fruit + veg, all sorts of fragrances, incense sticks, piles of wonderfully colorful kum kum powder, flowers and much much more. I was shown how to make a Incense stick using just a sandalwood powder which was fragranced with real honey. This was however a good sales technique to get me into the sho but it was great to see how insence was made. The piles of kum kum powder is something you won't see outside of India. Finally Mysore taught me another top accommodation tip; Don't choose a Hotel to next to a Mosque, unless your a Muslim. First call to prayer is 5.20am in India !
I am now well and truly on the beaten tourist trail and so have met a bunch of really great travellers in the past few days. In Ooty I met this guy called Jon who is spending a couple of years teaching in Pune (nr Mumbai). He was a good crack and had a few stories which I must tell as it sums up a little of India:
A fellow teacher of Jon's got a new house and hired a Gardner to tidy the garden up a bit. There was a huge pile of broken glass in the corner, so what does the Gardner do ? Throw it over the garden wall into the kiddies playground next door!
And another cracker that I liked: Jon set a geography exercise for the kids to map out where they would buy stuff in town. This one kid from a 'new money' family, put only one place on the map - Chor Bizarre. When asked, he explained that this is the Chor Bizarre is the thieves market and you can get everything you need there.
I've just arrived in Hampi where I'll spend three days before heading off to Goa.