Archive | February, 2011

Mysore Mini Break

27 Feb

Weekend in Mysore

Whilst I am working hard in Bangalore these few months I want to make the most of my home base by heading out of town when I can. I’m going north after my time in Bangalore so it will be good to spend some weekends visiting places here in the south.

This past weekend Alicia and I hopped on a bus on Saturday morning and headed to Mysore. The 3 hour ride was great; the bus was a local bus but comfy and seats for all (ie no-one hanging out the windows). It cost the grand sum of Rs95 which amounts to about $2.15. Yes, really! I enjoy travelling by public transport as watching India pass by the windows is fascinating. The villages, women in saris, gorgeous kids, cows on the road – life just unfolding in the chaos. You also see the random peaceful glimpses of India too, fleetingly existing between the villages; it’s so interesting to watch.

We arrived in Mysore around lunch time and took an auto to a B&B called the Guru Residency, which was recommended by a guy in my team at Janaagraha. I’d also recommend it to anyone, it was cheap (about $35 for the night for two of us) with standard room facilities, as well as clean and with friendly customer service. After lunch we took a walk around Mysore which is really quite charming. All my colleagues at work rave about Mysore, loving it’s quieter, slower pace for weekends away from the bustle of Bangalore, and I agree, it was a great change of pace.

We wandered through town to the Palace of Mysore, home of Mysore’s royal family. It is a magnificent building, breathtaking even as you start to walk up the path to the gate. Purchasing tickets is an energetic affair. There’s a line but if you stand in it you won’t get served. The throng around the ticket window is fierce, elbows are literally required to stand any chance of getting close enough to thrust your money in through the tiny opening and hold out the same number of fingers as tickets that you need. We worked as a team, I acted as a barrier preventing people pushing past and Alicia torpedoed her hand through the crowd and into the opening. Someone on the other side takes the money and then presses the tickets and change into your fist and pushes your hand back out. We never actually saw the face on the other side. Like most tourist places in India, there is a tourist price and an Indian resident price, in this case it was Rs200 for us and Rs20 for the locals. I don’t know how they figure it which you need from how many fingers you’re holding up. Perhaps the colour of Alicia’s fingers were enough to allocate us the right price!

The art of ticket buying in India: Alicia prepares for battle.

Once in the gate, you can walk around the outside of the palace at leisure – and it’s really beautiful. There is a one directional walking tour that can be taken through the part of the palace open to the public, showing a tiny peek at the amazing architecture, furniture and painted interiors. The intricate painted patterns on the walls and ceilings were really beautiful – and exclusive, no cameras are allowed inside the palace. We eventually left the palace for a while and sought some quiet refuge in a cafe as we seemed to attract a bit more interest here than in Bangalore, where we are hardly given a second glance. Of course being a tourist attraction we were approached a lot by hawkers at and around the palace, but the locals are just as interested too, many walking by and saying ‘hellooo madam’ and walking off. It’s kind of funny, but a bit tiring after a while. There’s no conversation, they just say ‘hellooo madam’ and then walk off giggling. And it’s pretty much exclusively the Indian young males.  Some of them started to take photos and video of us ‘secretly’ – if we look at them they quickly point the camera at their friend instead – strange!

Photo attention

We later returned back to the palace to see it at night – definitely the highlight! While beautiful in the day, the palace lit up at night is truly gorgeous. The atmosphere is also remarkably better – although the crowds are still there, the grounds are almost reverentially hushed, so peaceful.

After leaving the palace we detoured by the Devaraja market; we planned to go on Sunday anyway but thought we’d take the opportunity to soak up some of the night market atmosphere as well. Plenty of fresh produce and flowers were on display, as well as colourful mounds of tikka powder and bottles of essential oils.

The colours of tikka

We came across a hungry cow having the feast of his life from the scraps of the fruit and veg stalls, ignoring the hustle and bustle around him :)

Hungry market cow

When we returned in the morning we lingered too long at a bangles stall and each ended up with a bag of them. The owner of the stall was a lovely man who took great delight in taking photos with us, directing us to take more and checking out the end product on the display screen. He was a happy fellow however his photo pose was not quite representative of this; it’s funny how serious he looks :)

Before going home on Sunday we went for lunch at a relaxing outdoor restaurant called the Olive Garden which was also recommended to us. It was next to a resort called Windflower; and whilst Alicia went to their day spa to get a pedicure I relaxed with a book in the gardens. The peace was only interrupted when a nosy cockatoo came trotting around the corner to say hello (I later noticed a nearby cage, he must be kept as a pet). Not long after a flock of noisy geese came by… not so peaceful, but they were friendly!

Peace.... then Geese....

A lovely weekend in Mysore in all, I hope I have the opportunity to go back there again.

Indian Fantasy #1: Attend an Indian wedding

27 Feb

Before I left Australia, I had to attend an orientation day for the YCA program. During one of the sessions we had to write three lists; my Indian hopes, my Indian fears, my Indian fantasies. The last list went something (exactly) like this:
1. Attend an Indian wedding.
2. Attend a bollywood red carpet premiere (preferably also attended by Shah Rukh Khan).
3. Appear in a bollywood film either making my star debut or as an extra (ie a western girl drinking in the background of a bar scene set in a morally corrupt western country). Whichever.

I’m very happy to announce that in only week two, Fantasy #1 is underway! A wedding invitation has been secured and I have a legitimate reason to buy a sari, yippee!

Wedding invitation

The invitation has come from the groom himself, who is the best friend of Varun, Mrs. Singh’s grandson. I’d like to say we were graciously invited in an amazing co-incidence of fate, but I confess Alicia and I have brought the topic up at every opportunity since Varun mentioned the wedding to us when we met on our first day in India. But still. We graciously accepted the invitation that followed after meeting the groom last weekend. Excitement!

Of course photographic evidence of the event will follow. Please do note the part of the invitation that states the reception is being held at Jaymahal Palace. Perfect.

Back to Work

25 Feb

Janaagraha logo

The point of my extended stay in Bangalore is a ten week internship at Janaagraha, Centre for Democracy and Citizenship. I arranged this through the Youth Challenge Australia program in Sydney, though volunteers are welcome to approach them directly and are always needed.

Janaagraha was founded in 2001 as a movement to enable citizen participation in public governance. Its mission is to change the quality of life in urban India by improving governance and encouraging citizens to participate in civic issues.

Be the change

You're asked to make a choice everytime you get out of the elevator at the Janaagraha office and see this sign reminding you of Janaagraha's philosophy.

I’m interning in the Communication Department with a lovely group of people; Disha is the Communication Manager, Rashmi is the Communications Assistant, Pradyumma is the in-house Graphic Designer and Raisin provides Audio Visual support. I’ve had a very warm welcome to the team and they have PLENTY of work to share with me. I have a lot of opportunities to get involved with different projects and they are already stacking up, both print and web work.

The department works in a support capacity for all the various campaigns projects at Janaagraha. Some of these and the work I’m doing, are:

‘I Paid a Bribe’

The mission of this campaign is to ‘uncover the market price of corruption’ by giving citizens a voice against bribery in government departments, a significant problem in India and one that every Indian has had to deal with at some point. There is a website set up where citizens can anonymously report a bribe they have paid, or a bribe request they resisted, with details of where, how much and why. No names are given as the focus is not on identification or reprimanding. The campaign collects statistics to present to the government departments involved, with the aim of working with them to identify and change the processes that enable this system to continue.

The campaign is only about 9 months old but already they have had a breakthrough with the Transport Department willing to tackle the rather dismal reflection of bribes paid at the motor registries. I have just finished the artwork for a brochure that will be distributed at motor registries to inform citizens of their rights, how to respond to bribe requests, and the options they have to deal with it. It was a really interesting project both design and content wise, and one that will hopefully have quite an impact in disrupting the bribery cycle.

Bala Janaagraha

This campaign is a citizenship education programme that is aimed at empowering young Indians with the knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy. The programme educates children in the classroom on how government and societies work, and encourages them to use their voice to improve their community. The curriculum is taught by Janaagraha volunteers and involves identifying local issues and working with the local authorities to get it fixed.

The curriculum is currently being overhauled and I will be responsible for the redesign of the new student resource book. It’s a big project, a 70 page book of activities and information. The creativity potential is unlimited, so I’m really excited to get started.

Janaagraha Applied Research Program (J-ARP)

The Research Programme at Janaagraha is focused on 3 areas – Political and Social Research, Economic Research, and Legal Research. In each of these areas, partnerships are formed with globally recognised institutions, so that the research output can contribute to a greater collective understanding of the particular theme being studied.

J-ARP are one of the organisers of the India Urban Conference: Evidence and Experience, a conference in November 2011 beginning with a 4-day gathering of academics, public and private sector practitioners, students, and citizens in Mysore and will culminate in a session focus on national policy in Delhi.

I will be creating the collateral for the event including invitations, programmes, brochures etc. Event design work is always good fun, so I’m full of ideas already! 

 

Part of the photo mural in the Janaagraha meeting room.

The experience working in Janaagraha for the past two weeks has been brilliant. The team environment is really dynamic, fuelled by the passion and enthusiasm of the people who work here. The projects are based on a meaningful philosophy and it is a privilege to be here working towards the common goal of improving the quality of life for so many people.

So that’s an introduction to my internship experience so far. No doubt there will be more posts to come about my time here at Janaagraha and the people I work alongside.

 So far, so good!

Eating my way around Bangalore, week one

23 Feb

Eating in Bangalore is definitely one of the main highlights and I admit it seems to take up a good chunk of my time here. Variety in cuisine and budget is great – we’ve paid Rs24 (AU 60c) for a full lunch meal with two curries and roti, and we’ve paid Rs120 (AU$3) for a cup of earl grey tea.

There are already some favourite places, I’m sure there will be more to come:

Infini-tea, Cunningham Rd – India’s first dedicated tea house which has every variety of tea you can imagine, brought to the table in glass tea pots and placed there with a big wooden hour glass to countdown the brew time before the sipping begins.

Infinitea

The lovely tea things at Infinitea

Ramana’s, Cunningham Rd – we enjoyed our very first Indian meal in India here, and we’ve already been back twice! It was recommended by a colleague at Janaagraha and although on the slightly pricier side, it’s amazing. The bonus is that the menu is entirely vegetarian, yay! The head waiter there is lovely and recommends dishes for us to try, along with plenty of naan bread, which I could eat all day long. The only no-go there is the masala coke. Coke, with a whole lot of mixed dry spices floating around. We ordered it on our first visit, feeling pretty adventurous. It is disgusting. A one sip only affair. Couldn’t even manage to make more of an effort just to save face. The head waiter eventually asked us if we were going to drink them and we ‘fessed up. In reply we received lots of head wobbling and ‘not problem, not problem” and he perched them back on his tray and carried it one handed back to the kitchen. A split second of silence followed his exit through the swinging doors to the kitchen followed by an uproar of laughter from the kitchen staff. Us Aussies sure are amusing! A few minutes later he appeared again, straight faced, professional, he returned to the table and placed two non-masala cokes on the table. “At least we gave the kitchen a good laugh” I said, and his eyes twinkled and the corners of his mouth turned up. Breakthrough! Slowly bringing down the formality of the Indian service industry. He’d be shocked to know in Australia it’s all you can do to get waiters to not sit down at your table with you while they take your order. In India they stringently hold on to their social hierarchy; it is all ‘yes ma’am, thank you ma’am’. In the restaurants that is. They’ll plough their motorbike into you on the road no problem. Anyway, getting off topic.

Jain Hospital Canteen – yes, it is in a hospital, no that’s not weird. It’s clean, and cheap, and across the road from work. This is where you’ll get that two curry and roti for 60 cents. It’s a bit of a process to order, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s worth elbowing through the throng to take your turn giving your order to the guy taking the money, getting your bit of paper to take over to the kitchen to hand to one of the staff who’ll dish it up and hand your delicious lunch over. Then you stand around one of the tall tables and eat with your hands. They also serve delicious coffee here in little tiny glass cups. Yum.

Dolce, off Cunningham Rd – a little bit of Europe with yummy light bites and a mouth watering dessert case with pastries, tarts and cakes for well under a $1 each.

Koshys, St Marks Rd – There’s a bit of a weird vibe here, but good for a homey comfort meal, especially if you’re like me and from an English family. This place is clinging on to the colonial days with it’s British table settings and menu with baked beans, cucumber sandwiches and fish and chips. Koshy’s was established pre-independence and apparently hasn’t changed much since then which explains why the decor has a sort of stuffiness to it, but it’s quaint, cosy, and very dignified old chap, jolly good and all that!

Koshys Restaurant
Koshys Restaurant

That’s the round up for week one; no doubt there will be many more new favourite food places discovered in the coming weeks.

Ah Bangalore, one week and already I adore you!

18 Feb
MG Rd, Bangalore

Chaotic MG Rd, Bangalore

My first Indian post comes at the close of my first full week in this crazy beautiful country, which is pretty appropriate as a week is probably required to absorb and adjust and find my Indian groove. Not to mention sort out the intensely complicated tasks of getting a SIM card for phone and net access and crack those 500 rupee notes down to denominations actually accepted by the everyday Indian trader.

So, one week in and I can happily report how much I love Bangalore; living here, working here, eating here, making friends here, negotiating traffic here. It’s weird how at home I have felt pretty much from day one. Bangalore is a pretty cosmopolitan city as far as India goes, and Bangaloreans are certainly very blasé about Westerners and our ways. We’ve barely warranted a second glance in fact. English is widely spoken; jeans worn by much of the population, and the Indian Gloria Jeans/Starbucks equivalent, “Coffee Days” cafes, are aplenty.

I arrived midnight last Friday night and had the two day weekend to orientate myself before starting my internship on Monday. I’m staying in a self contained apartment, above the garage at the house of Mrs Singh. I’m sharing the room and the internship experience with Alicia, who is an urban planner from Melbourne.

Home Sweet Home in Bangalore

Home Sweet Home in Bangalore; Fifi watches the gate, but she'll let you right in without a glance. We live in the self contained room above the garage.

Our first weekend was spent settling in and checking out the town. Our first stop was to have tea with Mrs. Singh and her Grandson Varun at the main house where we are staying. Mrs Singh is a lovely lady who gave us a warm welcome. She has lived in Bangalore her whole life, having built the house she lives in with her husband before the area had even been developed. She was a professor of Botany at the university and worked there her entire career before she retired. She knows all there is to know about Bangalore and is an excellent host, pointing us in all directions to enjoy our stay here.

We checked out two of the main roads in Bangalore. Cunningham Rd is the area near the organisation we’re working at. It’s busy with a constant flow of weaving vehicles and requires a certain rhythmic dash across the road in stages to make it to the other side. MG Road is a pretty crazy place, lined with shops and clogged with traffic, usually not moving as much making it easier to cross the road here. There are some great places to eat around both and I can admit our first two days revolved mostly around food, and sussing where we could get it, what was on the menu, how much for, and was it safe to eat. Happy to report that one week in, India has been kind to my health!

We checked out Cubbon Park on Sunday, after finally finding our way in. The streets were crazy congested, and after we were asked again and again ‘Australian? Australian?’ by the Indians on the sidewalks, cheeks gleaming with painted Indian flags, we realised the masses were heading to the cricket stadium for a friendly match between India and Australia (they won). We enjoyed the peace in Cubbon Park, expansive parkland in the heart of Bangalore (India’s ‘City of Gardens’) along with lots of families, couples and groups of friends.

That evening we took a drive with Varun and Kartini, the grandchildren of Mrs. Singh. We went for a walk around Lake Ulsoor, one of the remaining lakes in Bangalore (many have been filled in and developed on).

Lake Ulsoor, Bangalore

Lake Ulsoor, Bangalore

It’s pretty amazing how only a few days were enough for my inner Indian to come forth and feel right at home. I’m negotiating with auto drivers and sauntering across peak hour traffic chaos like any self respecting Indian, and I am already feeling the instinct to head wobble with the best of them. Hoping that’s one habit I’ll lose before returning to Australia! All in all, loving Bangalore, loving India!

India-bound!

10 Feb

Tomorrow afternoon I will be boarding a flight in Sydney bound for Bangalore, where I will kick off the first of 119 days, or 17 weeks, in the land of India. The excitement and anticipation is mounting as I make the last few preparations in a frantic rush to the finish line of an absolutely crazy, chaotic twelve months!

Landing an internship on Youth Challenge Australia’s India project around the same time as launching my design business and taking on a significantly time intensive web project at my full time job in January 2010 set me on course for the craziest year of my live – I did survive, I learnt heaps and I admit I’m glad to be leaving it all behind me for four months as I take some time out for a completely different experience.

My trip is broken into two parts – a ten week volunteer internship at the Janaagraha organisation in Bangalore followed by seven weeks travel around India.

I’ve decided to keep a blog while away for myself and for the interest of my friends and family who want to keep track of me. I dedicate the effort of blog keeping to everyone who supported me this past year and didn’t tell me to shut up about it after the first month! My fundraising efforts for the volunteer part of my trip and the extra work I took on to fund four months off work consumed me for much of the year and I appreciate my amazing friends and family who tolerated this temporary version of myself as I worked my way towards my goal.

My blog may also help out other India bound travellers who are sifting the net trying to find out a bit more about life in India.

Please feel free to comment where you like, it’d be good to know I’m writing to someone other than my future self :)

My other blog – Project Junkie – documents some of the fundraising events and other projects that kept me busy in 2010.