Saturday, September 26, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The Taj Mahal
Getting to Agra
This was not difficult at all. I checked both American Express Travel and Expedia and found flights from Bangalore to Delhi, then from Delhi to Agra. Having heard a few horror stories about travel from Delhi to Agra, I was pleased to catch a Kingfisher turboprop flight out of the Delhi airport. To read about one such horror story, check out my friend's blog entry regarding night travel into Agra.
Unfortunately, I no longer see the flight from Delhi to Agra available. This would have taken you into a small military base and saved a lot of time. Perhaps it is a seasonal option. It sure was nice to start from Bangalore around noon and be at the hotel in Agra by seven.
Hearing sunrise was a great time to see the Taj Mahal, I got up early. However, there was no reason to rush as the fog was thick and nothing was going to be visible at sunrise unless you could touch it.
Plan B was to check out Agra Fort instead, waiting to see the Taj Mahal after the fog lifted. I found the fort to be extremely interesting and it offered the history of the Mughal rulers very well. This bit of knowledge was useful in understanding the purpose of Taj Mahal and to appreciate its construction even more.
Foggy gate into Agra Fort
Imaging fighting your way up this incline with boulders coming down
Where Shah Jahan was under house arrest for eight years
Click here to view more photos from Agra Fort.
Finally, the fog had disappeared and it was time to see the Taj Mahal. Or, was it?
One of the problems with paid guides and drivers is that they usually take you by a few shops to browse (and possibly buy) items. This is done to pad their pockets, as they get an amount for each potential customer thrown a shop's direction. I do not mind the game too much, but on this day I was not interested in looking at carpets. I ventured off down a local street and came across a man playing some Beatles songs on a sitar. After a minute of chatting, he wanted to show me some sitars he had for sale in his small shop, and I agreed. Once he realized I was not a sitar buyer, he switched gears to sell me other things. First, he asked if I wanted some hash, and I declined his offer to sell me some. Then, he basically forced me to smell some he had, shoving some in my face. I politely said I was not interested. Last try to make a trade, he told me I had a nice watch and that he would trade my watch for some nice, clean women. When I got back to the car and recounted the strange encounter to a co-worker, his response was, "How many women?" I guess I will never know. Shopping done, it was now time to visit the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.
The watch-for-women broker
The Taj Mahal
Taking over twenty-two years for construction, the Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the "Eighth Wonder of the World". I found it interesting that only one person was ever destined to be laid to rest here, and that by entombing Shah Jahan, husband of the intended, his sarcophagus throws off all the symmetry. Another interesting thing to note about symmetry are the two mosques, of which only one has ever been used. This is because the other mosque's doors are not facing Mecca.
Mosque at the Taj Mahal
One top dome for each year to build, 22 in all
Great shot of the Taj Mahal
Download for your desktop
Click here to view more photos from the Taj Mahal.
Visiting Other Wonders
After seeing the Taj Mahal, I was ready to see other world wonders. There are many reasons why I have given up on catching many of them, but I did get to see the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge this year, both of which were great.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Sean is on the left and Anjali on the right.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Robin is from Kochi (formerly Cochin) and invited me to come with him one weekend. He was heading to his home town in the state of Kerala to visit family. We took a bus from Whitefield to the bus depot and got on an overnight bus there. Before getting on the bus, I drank a 1L bottle of water, which turned out to be a mistake. On top of whatever liquid I already drank that afternoon, this water wanted out at some point, but the overnight bus was not planning to stop. Anywhere! So, I was uncomfortable for about seven hours of the journey from Karnataka to Kerala.
The Bus From Whitefield
Upon arrival in Kochi, the contrast in temperature and humidity from Bangalore was the first thing I noticed. I stepped off the bus thinking I had been transported to South Texas. We jumped into an Ambassador taxi and were off to Robin's parents' house.
Day one was not even close to being over. I met everyone and we had lunch, then in a rental car, Robin and I headed down to the mountains and tea plantations of Munnar.
Beautiful scenery, that is what Munnar is.
Western Ghat Mountains
Mountains, mountains, mountains! It had been fifteen weeks since I had been behind the wheel of a car, and I was driving in mountains! Every sight around Munnar was grand: mountains, trees and rivers. Even most of the trucks on the road were clean and ornately decorated and colorfully painted.
Kids Play in the River as Adults Wash Clothes
Majestic Trees Line the Roads
All good things must come to an end, so I pulled over on the side of the road to exchange seats with Robin. He was concerned we might get pulled over and hassled by police in the city if I was caught driving without a license.
The next night was going to be spent on a houseboat, or kettuvallam, on the backwaters of Alleppey. But, before heading away from Koshi, we visited a local fish market.
A Kochi Fish Market
Fishermen on a River in Kochi
We got up early and headed to the market to pick up fish and prawns for the next day's meal. After seeing some local Kochi sights, it was time to head toward the lake and backwater canals of Alleppey.
Kettuvallam in Alleppey Backwaters
Lone Boatman on the Lake
The houseboat experience was very nice and I highly recommend it. Mosquitoes were a pain, so I suggest you carefully pick what time of year you visit Alleppey. When the boat docked for the night, I was able to wander around the local neighborhoods. The entire time, I kept thinking about the property value of this non-commercialized area. Along all these canals there were nothing but simple homes with people who were by no means wealthy.
Guys Playing Cards
Woman Happy to Catch Fish
Having enjoyed some time in Alleppey, it was time to join Robin's family for lunch back in Kochi, where a surprise was waiting for me.
I had heard about a local drink named toddy, which I was told to stay away from. I was told that if I were to try it, do so only at the start of the day and that by mid-morning, you should never try the stuff. Here it was, after noon, and I was being given toddy to taste. Robin's dad poured an entire glass of the stuff for me. I tasted it, thinking it was nasty, and then quickly downed the glass to be over and done with the experience. As soon as I set down the glass, it was full again, Robin's dad smiling as if he thought I liked the stuff. Ugh! So, I gulped down the second helping of it and then held onto the glass.
Glass of Toddy
Toddy Bar in Munnar
I had been paying attention to the toddy bars seen all over this area, and toddy was the first word I learned how to write in Malayalam. Robin thought that was funny, saying a person's (child) first word written should be "Mom" or "Dad", not an alcoholic beverage.
A quick lunch of the fish and prawns picked up the day before and we were heading for the train station.
Back to Bangalore
Train Station in Kochi
We hopped on a train for the overnight journey back to Bangalore. The discomfort of the train car was bearable once I found out Robin's mom had packed some prawns for us for the ride home, along with bread made from the remaining toddy instead of yeast. Toddy that way was quite nice.
Train Car for Return to Bangalore
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Support ticket for rubberbands
This was pretty funny. The ticket was not meant for the systems team, but it is always fun to see requests like these come through. And, here is another:
Catch your running fridge?
Monday, September 14, 2009
The song mentions many people dying before their time. Now, Jim joins the list, as he passed away last Friday, September 11. Fifty-nine years old, he died while working at his desk from a heart attack. A line in the song says, "He looked like 65 when he died. He was a friend of mine."
Thanks for the music, Jim
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Not Enough Outlets
At my office, workers were constructing a video conferencing room. For this work, many power tools where needed: circular saws, drills, etc. Every tool's power cable had the plug cut off. Why? Well, if you have three items needing power, but only one outlet, you simply stuff the bare wire ends of your cable into the same outlet. Why purchase a power strip with multiple outlets?
No one seems concerned with keeping wiring secured from people, nor the elements. So, electrical boxes are unlocked and most of the time left wide open and utility poles have wiring exposed. I have yet to see a single transformer site which is in decent shape.
Having said all this, the power at home has been up all week that I can tell and for that I need to now find some wood to knock on. Consistent power means stable Internet conne
Thursday, September 10, 2009
OK, here are the rules. Test your memory and your love of live music by listing 50 artists or bands (or as many as you can remember) you've seen in concert. List the first 50 acts that come into your head. An act you saw at a festival and opening acts count, but only if you can't think of 50 other artists. Oh, and list the first concert you ever saw (you can remember that, can’t you)?
Should you choose this challenge, here's what you do:
Copy my note. Click on notes under tabs on your profile page. Select _write a new note_ in the top corner. Paste the copy in the body of the note. Make your list. Once you've saved, don't forget to tag friends (including me) on the right. I am tagging people I went to some of these shows with, as well as Carter.
12 Joe Satriani
14 Circle Jerks
16 John Mayer
18 7 Seconds
19 The Police
20 Tommy Emmanuel
22 Eric Johnson
23 Angkor Wat
24 Jay Buchanan
25 Liars, Inc
26 Eric Sardinas
27 John Petrucci
28 The Dan Band
29 Blue Man Group
30 Suicidal Tendencies
31 The Dead Milkmen
32 Presidents of the United States of America
33 Iron Maiden
35 Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
36 No Use For A Name
37 The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
40 Bad Religion
42 Bouncing Souls
43 Less Than Jake
44 Flogging Molly
45 Manic Hispanic
46 The Offspring
This is all fine and well, but someone is not paying attention to reality. The buses and auto-rickshaws here spit out black gunk like crazy, and those things run all hours. I would be amazed if any one rickshaw in Bangalore could pass an emissions test. If a Whitefield bus backed up to the testing center, the attendant would die of asphyxiation! I doubt that motorcycle and car engines are the source of the majority of the air pollution.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I first listened to REK at Bocktoberfest in Shiner, Texas, where he was the headliner. He is a great songwriter and performer. If you have never heard his music, you should at least download his latest effort for a free listen.
Keep this in mind when purchasing electronics, which can come from the factory with some issues: use your American Express card. You get great consumer protection with no hassles.
Monday, September 7, 2009
A while back, some guys at the office came up with a plan for a group of us to ride our motorcycles to Wayanad, in the Indian state of Kerala. I decided not to go, then came back to going, then on the evening before leaving decided to ride in a car. Monsoon in Kerala is likely not the best time to be on the back of a bike for more than ten hours in one weekend. Anjali and I joined the bikers at a few points along the way, since we were all going in the same direction, and I snapped a couple pictures:
Just outside Mysore on Saturday
Since I had flip-flopped between going and not going on this trip, I lost the prime real estate for the resort where most people were staying. A search for an alternative lead me to Blue Ginger Resorts, and I was able to secure their Cascade Cottage, which overlooks a river and has a waterfall view.
To get to Blue Ginger, a 4x4 Jeep had to pick us up from the main road. We spent the next hour bouncing around for the four-kilometer ride up to the resort, at an elevation of more than four thousand feet above sea level. All the water we drank was a bad idea: we should have emptied our bladders before heading up the mountainside; painful.
Meals at Blue Ginger were not the best, but we had ghobi "65" with lunch on Saturday, which was really good. I had to ask what the sixty-five meant and have subsequently looked it up online.
The Cascade Cottage
We stayed in the Cascade Cottage, which is located in the far back of the resort property, built over the river. The views out our windows were amazing:
Never a bad view, no matter which direction you looked out. In addition, the sounds of the water rushing was great to fall asleep to.
But Wait, There's More...
After coming back from lunch on that first day, we were discussing how great a memory staying in Wayanad is going to always be. We talked a bit about future memorable trips we plan to embark upon and how long into the future we see ourselves happily remembering the moment we were sharing. I asked Anjali if she would always want to recount memories of us as we were building new memories together, and when she said yes, I told her how much I wanted that as well. It was then I got down on one knee and presented her with a ring, asking her to marry me.
The Proposal Site
Relationship Status Change
The Happy Couple
Sunday meant a long ride back to Bangalore, but the time was filled with many phone calls, updating loved ones on the change in our relationship.
The next steps have not really been considered, but we are engaged and happy. We are looking forward to our life together and that is really all that matters.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
At the office, all employees were given hand sanitizer bottles:
We have held a training session on how to deal with swine flu. There are posters put up showing how to properly wash hands. Now the company is giving out masks to anyone feeling under the weather. At least someone has maintained a sense of humor through all this, as you can see below:
I know it is a real illness and people are dying from it. However, the knee-jerk reaction is a bit overboard, don't you think?