Day 4- Mysore: Land of mystery, history and grandeur

Yesterday was fairly uneventful other than heading over to the Yahoo! Bangalore office at Embassy Links Business Park, which is home to a ton of multinational tech companies and there's roughly 20-30K people that come to work everyday in the park for companies like Yahoo!, IBM, AXS and more. The day was packed full of sessions with Yahoo/Right Media engineering staff and was super productive, but not the most interesting thing for you to read about, so I saved you the pain.

Today however, was a completely different story!

Our hosts picked us up around 9am from the hotel and our plan was to head out to Mysore- which is approximately 145km (about 80 miles) from Bangalore. Now this might sound like a quick drive up the motorway to get over there, but my friends, there is NOTHING like rush hour traffic in Bangalore. It's like the 405 in LA on a bad day, every day, with hundreds of thousands of autos, 2-wheelers and cars all pumping thru local streets since highway infrastructure is a brand new concept here. You literally will not see anything that even resembles a highway until you are well outside the city limits, and this can take up to 2 hours!

Once outside of the city limits, the landscape changed pretty dramatically and the jungles of South India began to take over where humans left off. This isn't to say you don't see settlements and villages, but they hug the sides of the Mysore road and a few hundred meters beyond that, it goes back to dense palm trees and teak forest pretty quickly. Visually- it was stunning, although at times I did catch myself again feeling like this wasn't too far off from southern American states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida that I had traveled back and forth throughout as a kid, going from Denver to visit relatives.

The roadside villages are filled with dhabas (roadside snacks) and hotels (no, not ones you sleep in, but rather somehow here in India, hotel has come to mean "restaurant", though admittedly no one had a clue as to why), little shacks hawking wares such as sachets of tobacco mixed with Betel nut and cool drinks; medical shops; tea stalls; motorbike repair shops and everything in between- all crammed into little huts made out of concrete that had definitely seen better days.

We stopped for lunch once we arrived in Mysore at a place called the Metropole. Food was fantastic and the hotel (yes, real hotel) that the Metropole is attached to, was equally as nice. Would definitely come back to Mysore just to stay there, just maybe not in the peak of festival season!

After lunch, we headed to Mysore Palace- let me tell you something, you have never seen wealth until you see how the Rajas used to live it up.

This place was MASSIVE, probably hundreds of rooms, though we were only allowed to stroll thru a handful of the main chambers due to us visiting in the middle of a festival that leads up to a day called Dussera, which is one of the four most important holidays for Hindus each year. This festival remembers the 10 days that Lord Rama battled evil forces successfully and then returned home. In Mysore on Dussera, the Raja will come riding down the streets on the back of an elephant and there are drummers, musicians and contests celebrating Lord Rama.

The most amazing piece of the tour of the palace outside of the amazing architecture and sculptures that adorned the Palace walls, was the 300kilo+ solid gold throne that the King of Mysore used to sit on when he held court- all I can say is DAMN!

Post tour, we headed out of the city and over to our hosts campus to meet with their teams and handle business (the whole reason why I'm here in India, though I wish I WAS here for tourism). The campus is small but nice and they're expanding like crazy, getting ready to add an additional 2 buildings before the end of next year to handle something like 2000 employees to service their accounts.

On our way there, we also got to see Infosys' campus. Infosys is one of, if not THE largest IT solutions firms in India, employing over 100k employees around the world. Infosys also has the largest training center for a private sector organization in Asia. In 2009 a new training center was opened in Mysore to accommodate up to 10k trainees and they crank out about 4500 new software professionals a year.

Yes, I know, not your typical tourist destination, but hey- what can I say, when you work in technology, these kinds of things are pretty cool even if lame to the outsider.

After the Mysore campus tour, we headed back to Bangalore for some much needed rest. The ride back was quiet as we were all exhausted from the day (and jet lag still nagging our brains), and when we got back to our hotel (yes, real one), decided to call it a night and I personally crashed hard as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Tomorrow: Training up our offshore team...I know JUST what you want to read about...but there's some highlights post-training I'm sure.

Stay tuned.


Day 2: Bangalore Nightlife pt II

Techo/ Euro House generally isn't my thing, but considering the lack of options that don't involve possible cases of Delhi belly or getting ripped off by an autorickshaw again, when I saw that Ministry of Sound was throwing a shindig, I decided to freshen up and head on over to see if their brand of clubbing could save my mind and soul from the onset of Cabin Fever.

Arrived at event located at the ultraposh Vivanta @ the Taj...out in middle of new construction and a shining gem in the wilds of India...yet somehow felt strangley like WMC Miami at any one of the numerous poolside affairs that line Ocean Ave every spring or at The Standard in LA.

While there's apparently a "dancing ban" handed down to the people of Bangalore, that doesn't seem to stop the Desi youth from shaking their asses to 4 on the floor beats and throbbing bass.

By the way, that "dancing ban"- it has an AWESOME loophole....the Morality Police in their infinite wisdom stated that dancing is only banned when you have a drink in your hand. So shake it like a saltshaker- just put the drink down before you do. You might shudder at the thought of a Mexican prison- just imagine that times a bajillion and you might come close to what the local Bangalorean jail looks like.

All in all, there is something that cannot be contained, repressed or walled off from what the exuberance and vitality of youth comes with. And those in power that seek to do so are basically condensing things into a powderkeg that have no other choice but to explode- whether it be thru music, dancing, art, sex, drugs or revolution- the inherent truth is what it is: You tell us not to do something, we're only going to want to do it more...so we "just say no" to repression, thanks anyway!

One refreshing note to mention...

I've been going to electronic events since the early nineties and I can honestly say that outside of places of worship, this was the most sober party that I've ever been witness to- and yet the kids were dancing their asses off, screaming, clapping, having a raucous time...full of Foster's (as I'm told, Australian for shite), Bacardi cocktails or some other booze, and a handful of nicotine, completely happy to dance until the 6pm closing bell!

On another note: I something that was total "India moment"....some guy from hotel up to front of stage where DJ Rae is playing and began to cut down the screen that was covering up much of the front of the tables...Rae grabs mic and screams "is this "Welcome to India" or what?" in her heavy London accent. Next thing you know, a whole crew of hotel staff are tearing it down, hammers and all...smacking it with their hands and trying to get it pulled down, all while Rae is mixing!

After her set, which had some GEMS from days gone by plus a handful of just DUTTY bizness, I decided to call it a night (since the event ended at 6:30p anyway) and head back to the hotel.

Word of warning: Again not thinking about it or knowing better, I opted to take a hotel car to/from event...BAD idea! The ride ended up costing me 3500rs plus tip. The plus was that I didn't have to flag a car or wait for a taxi, since the driver waited there at the event over 3+ hours for me, but $70 USD is ALOT out here and not really worth it. Opt for a taxi or an auto, you will save a ton.

Tomorrow: Visiting Yahoo! Bangalore offices to meet some of our engineers and open up some channels of communication between our teams.

Stay tuned!


Day 1- Bangalore Nightlife pt. I

So after a day of getting used to being on the Indian subcontinent and getting a lung full of exhaust, I decided to treat myself to some much needed alcohol therapy, but had no clue where to go besides the "old boys club" type bar that was in the Hotel.

Due to recent changes in the laws of Karnakata, nightlife in Bangalore has taken a serious hit. Once known as the "pub city" of India, options are pretty limited now that there is an 11:30pm closing time and I hear that there is a "dancing ban"...sounds alot like NYC during Guilliani's quality of life campaign when he resurrected the Cabaret Law and NYC nightlife ground to a slow throb.

I fired up the WiFi and started looking around- lo and behold, one of Bangalore's hottest clubs, Athena, is actually in my hotel! I showered and changed and headed downstairs, honestly skeptical of just how "hot" this clubbing experience would be. I have to admit, after playing music in clubs throughout the US and Canada, I am pretty jaded when it comes to club life but I have to admit Athena was a pleasant surprise.

Located in the sub-basement of the Leela Palace Hotel, it's not the biggest club I've ever been in, it's more of an ultra lounge, very similar to what you might find in South Beach-, but it didn't feel cramped, had a throbbing soundsystem and some pretty interesting seating options and design.

Speaking of South Beach- Bangalore has a very familiar vibe and I can't help but draw comparisons, only difference is that instead of Boriquenos, Cubanos and Dominicanos, it's Indians- but back to the club!

When I got there, it was a little early and there were maybe 50-100 people already inside.
By the time I ordered my first round, the crowd had easily swollen to about 200-250 and more were heading in. Athena looks like it could hold around 500 patrons easily, so there was plenty of room to dance and check out the scene. The music was a blend of house and top 40 mashups, and the kids were having blast- singing mostly in Kannada, but as soon as a tune with English lyrics came on, the place went wild!

I hung out until close to 11:30p, but didn't want to deal with the throngs of kids trying to leave when the lights came up, so chalking up a pretty decent first time Bangalore club experience, I decided to call it a night and head back to the room to try and shake off the jet lag.

Tomorrow: More exploring...

Stay tuned!


Day 1: Lalbagh Garden

I have seen great parks in the US, Canada and even Paris' grand parks, but even with it's decrepit walkways and obvious lack of care taking, Lalbagh Garden is bad ass! Approximately 260 acres of tropical wonder with great examples of plants and trees from around India and Asia. They even have an amazing Glass House that is based off England's Crystal Palace.

With so much to see around you, it can be easy to forget just how rundown the place is, which makes me wonder- WTF do they do with the 10 rupees per person that they collect? Does it go to the neon plastic whistle blowing, giant wooden nightstick wielding, park security? To the water bill? All I know is that it sure as hell doesn't look like it's being put back into park upkeep!

After walking around the park and getting stared at quite obviously for a while (I guess 6'3" 220+ guys with armloads of tattoos aren't very common in Bangalore) I decided to leave the sanctuary of the park and headed back into the stench of belching autorickshaws (or "autos" as the locals call them), mini delivery truck contraptions and 100cc motorbikes and get freshened up back at the hotel.

If you're just catching up here, let me say this again...ONLY USE AUTOS WITH METERS!!! Or you will inevitably deal with something that goes like this:

Driver: Where you go sir
Rider: Leela Palace Hotel
Driver: How much you pay sir
Rider (remembering that he dropped 250rs last time and knows he got ripped off): 200 rupee
Driver: OK sir lets go

What sounds like a straight ahead transaction, can quickly turn into "I have kids, let me take you to this shop where they give me 1L petrol voucher, you don't have to buy", which you repeatedly tell driver to piss off or even better yet, when you actually get to hotel, driver will try to hustle you out of even more, trying to say that distance is longer 1 way than the other.

Consider this- you can actually get a driver for the DAY for somewhere around 1000-1500 rupee or an "expensive" cab charges ~250 rupee flat rate to take you anywhere in the city and you can usually pay them to wait for you as well...

So all in, I dropped 500rs on 2 autos for what should have been roughly a 150rs MAX round trip. Lesson learned!

Now it's time to freshen up and go have a MUCH needed drink- the only question is, WHERE?

Stay Tuned!

Day 1: Bull Temple

OK, so I guess I should know by now, that anywhere that is labeled as a tourist attraction is usually JUST THAT- and Basavanagudi Nandi Temple or "Bull Temple" was no exception. No transcendental experiences, no God touching your mind's eye, just take your shoes off, ask the priest what's the big deal about this place, walk around it, pony up the cover charge as a tribute, and leave with a red dot on your forehead and no more enlightened than when you entered . Then to top it off, you get shook down by a little girl for "shoe watching fee" (couldn't tell if she was legit, but c'mon, how do I argue with a little girl...).

Speaking of legit- watch yourself with the tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) drivers. They're shady as hell. GREAT way to get around the city and see it all (granted, you get a lung full of exhaust, but hey, it's cheap and you see a ton), but make sure to ONLY TAKE TUKTUKS WITH METERS THAT WORK. I dropped 500 rupee in a days worth of outings learning the hard way...and tell them to piss off when they try to hustle you into stopping into places they recommend, it's all crap and overpriced.

Now with THAT out of the way, came the fucking cool parts of this adventure...

I walked back down the path a bit from the temple and there was a path leading up over a large boulder. I decided to check it out, and at the top of the boulder was a shrine of some sort, but then the path passes by and down into this amazing park/garden.

When I say amazing, seriously, us "developed nations" need to take a page from these guys on open space. Anything that this park lacks in size, it makes up for in lush plant life, shrines, giant fruit bats hanging from the tree tops and the nursery that workers keep the park up with.

NEXT STOP: Lalbagh Garden


Day 1: Arrival In Bangalore

Arrived in Bangalore from Dubai around approximately 3am. Airport was pretty dead, but what do you expect at 3am? (I guess population density isn't much of a factor when everything has to shut down at 11:30 every night.)

It had been raining all night before I arrived, but started tapering off as I was getting my bags. A bit disoriented from the 19 hour flight, I managed to find ground transport, only to find that the car that the hotel was supposed to send for me wasn't coming because they thought I was arriving Saturday.

So that on top of my room not being ready when I got to the hotel, left me feeling like they were definitely far from batting .1000, but they scrambled to get it ready and sent me tea and biscuits in the AM as a token apology.

After I woke up, it was pretty rough, my body thinking I'm still on SF time, so while it's noon here, my body is wondering why I am still up. But hey- some food, maybe a beer or 6 and I'll be top notch and ready to conquer this city...well, not in the British sense of the word, but you know...

Breakfast at the hotel, consisted of daal with slivers of red chilis, basmati rice with cashews and cilantro, tandoori fish, a South Indian variation of curry chicken and bottled water. Still buggin' out that bottled h20 is SUCH a necessity in this seemingly fairly modern South Indian city. Blows my mind even more that with a population density like they have here, that recycling wouldn't be pushed harder. No recycle symbols. No Re-Use, Re-New, Re-Cycle stickers anywhere. Nope, just "Crush bottle when finished" and it ends up in a bin or stinking pile on the side of the street. So much progress, so far to go...

After breakfast, I took a quick stroll around the hotel gardens, and the rest of the grounds, before shaking off some of the jet lag and heading to the nearest ATM to grab rupees for my day's adventure.

FIRST STOP: Bull Temple