Saturday, December 31, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

Unexpected India

Arranged marriages

While I was expecting people of my age to be against arranged marriages, some of them consider that form of marriage as an easy way to get married. More here.


It is not unusual to see three people on the same bike or motorists transporting unusually large objects on a bike. My records: three people and a huge backpack when travelling / two people and six bags when moving house.

Cheap books

Books are relatively cheap in India. I was amazed by the price and availability of educational textbooks.

Eve teasing

Eve teasing (an euphemism used for sexual harassment or molestation of women by men) is unfortunately frequent in India whatever a woman's skin colour/dress style. Having guys pressing their "parts" against me in crowded buses was absolutely revolting. More here.

Intrusive questions

Indians tend to be inquisitive and, as a result, don't be surprised if a complete stranger (e.g. auto driver) asks you how much you earn for a living or whether you are married.

Male friendship

At all ages, males sometimes hold hands or put an arm on each other's shoulders. It is only a sign of friendship.


People throw their garbage everywhere. I was even teased by my fellow passengers for not throwing mine through the train windows.


While I was expecting India to be a poor country, I was disturbed by the fact that people found normal to beg. More here.


"Thank you" and "please" are words that I have to painfully extract from my Indian boyfriend. In Western countries, saying civilities is ingrained into children from a young age. They are used with more parsimony in India where over-using them might come across as a little insincere. Politeness may be expressed through body language (smile, head nod) or by adding the suffix "ji" to the words for "yes" and "no" or to a person's name.


Mainly used for digestive purposes, paan is a chewing mixture made of betel leaf and fillings such as areca nut or tobacco. India has an eternal problem of people spitting (tobacco) paan on the streets and
“No smoking, no spitting” signs are commonly found in public places.


Indians don’t look at foreigners, they openly stare at them (which would be considered very rude in the West). While there is no malice in it, being permanently stared at can be irritating.

Tourist organised rip-off

Forget thieves and touts! Tourists are ripped off openly at a much larger scale. It includes paying higher airline fares and attraction entry fees (e.g Rs 10 for Indians and Rs 100 for non-Indians to enter a temple). Tourist fares apply even if, like me, you live in India and work on an Indian contract for an Indian company...

Konark Sun Temple

The temple is one of the most renowned temples in India and is a World Heritage Site.



If you are reluctant to use water, make sure to carry toilet paper or tissues (especially in rural areas).


You are allowed to drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit. Driving is on the left of the road.


If you can’t handle their (lively) presence, buy a cockroach killing chalk and strategically draw lines on the floor. The cockroaches will die moments after crossing them.


Electricity runs at 230V and 50Hz. While a variety of electrical plugs are found throughout India, the standard one is the Old British Plug (three large round pins in a triangular configuration). Power cuts are frequent.


Most festivals occur on different days each year as they don't follow the Georgian calendar. The main festivals by month/state/religion can be found here.

Indian numbering system 

The Indian numbering system is based on the grouping of 2 decimal places. The terms crore (1,00,00,000 = 10,000,000) and lakh (1,00,000 = 100,000) are in widespread use in Indian English.


Identification and a passport size photo are needed to buy a SIM card.

National Holiday

There are three national holidays: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October).


It is possible to send boxes by government operated post from India to your country. Note that boxes have to be wrapped in fabrics (which can be done by a tailor). Alternatively, use private companies such as DHL. They are more expensive but undoubtedly faster.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Travelling by bus in India

Given the traffic and the poor state of Indian highways, buses are usually slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. They however remain popular as the only cheap way of reaching places not on the rail network.

Both ordinary/service buses and luxury/express buses are available. The former are cheaper, more crowded, slower (multiple stops) and don't provide assured seating (no booking possible).

While the front part of the bus is generally reserved to ladies, eve teasing is unfortunately frequent in crowded buses.

School day is over

Bangalore-Hyderabad; Hyderabad-Delhi; Delhi-Frankfurt; Frankfurt-Brussels

Last day in Bangalore… Packed my bags, took pictures of the campus, spent a bit of time with my boy, called an auto… Time to leave… I'm quite independent and even if I develop strong relationships with people, it won't affect my willingness to travel and to discover the world. I don’t cry when I leave a place. I'm not scared when I'm in a completely new environment. One could think that I'm not sensitive, that I'm unable of linking myself to others on a long term basis. He would be wrong. I love my friends (and I always will) but I don’t want to dependent on them. This is my life… and I’m the one in charge.

This time was different. I use to travel a lot. I use to meet a lot of people. I use to have boyfriends. I’m not just leaving a place, my boyfriend and my friends. When someone leaves his country, he might feel homesick. But how to express the exact same feeling towards a country which is not mine?

I left the hostel room.

I cried.

The auto arrived.

I cried.

I passed the entrance gate.

I cried.

I reached the airport.

I cried.

My jaan had five exams over the next three days. No need to say that he should have kept himself busy with his studies. He went with me to the airport… I'll miss him…

At night, I reached Delhi. Never been there before. Had to move from the domestic airport to the international one. 12kms… Asked the rate for a taxi. Rs650! Well… No choice. No other taxi agency and impossible to take an auto with all my luggage. It was 10pm already and Delhi is the Indian city with the highest rate of rapes.

Have to find a place to spend the night. Vikas told me I could call his cousin in Delhi. No network. No phone boot. The rate for a hotel? Rs1600 (non-AC), Rs1800 (AC). It was 5°C. I guess the AC was not really a must. Anyway, told them I was not interested. Thinking of catching some sleep at the airport itself. In the taxi, the driver asked me what was my budget. I was sick of all those people trying to fool me. I said: no more than Rs500. He told me about a dormitory near the airport. In other words, a “hotel” for people with low income. Went there. Nice guys but they were looking at me like if I was an alien. Probably the first foreigner to go in such place. They didn’t want me to share a room. A bit scared for my security. Ended up paying Rs350 (=cost for 4beds (1 room)). Asked a guy to wake me up at 5.30 the next day by knocking as hard as possible on the door. Went to sleep…

Freezing… My flight was on time despite the fog. Left India… Spent a few hours in Frankfurt and then back to Belgium. I could see Brussels from the plane. Looked like a Black&White picture. No colour. No sun.

My parents and one of my friends were waiting at the airport. I expected to see my parents. But since I only vaguely told my friends when I would be back in Belgium (because most of them are studying for their exams), I was positively surprised to meet my friend. Her present: Beer and chocolate ;o)

Warm bath. Comfortable bed. Kilo’s of chocolate.

Material satisfaction is not of any help. I miss India. Can’t cure my mind by pleasing my body.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My Nandi hills

"Nandi Hills, 65 Kms from Bangalore and 1,478 meters above sea level is Bangalore's own hill station. It was Tipu Sultan's summer retreat and Tipu's fort walls still stand as testimony to history. The rivers Pennar, Palar and Arkavati originate from these hills. A flight of 1.175 steps lead from the base of the hills to the top. A popular hill resort of the Bangaloreans. The Tipu's Drop, a 600 meter high cliff, where prisoners were hurled down the precipice is an awe-inspiring sight. Atop the hill is the Yoganandishwara temple."

My boy and I had to find an alternative to our cancelled Outi plan. Opted for Nandi Hills but dropped the romantic element. Seven of us (and boozes) in a chaotic vehicle for a 3-hour journey.

The mini-bus driver was late and we reached Nandi Hills in the middle of the night. No resort, no hotel, no huts… Nothing! Got inside a private property in order to, at least, have a quick look at the landscape (or at least tried to!).

Luckily enjoyed the journey much more than the destination!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Travelling by train in India

Travelling by train is the safest way of travel in India. It is also economical, practical (overnight journeys are ideal when travelling on a tight schedule or budget) and gives you the opportunity to interact with locals while admiring sometimes breathtaking landscapes. If you have some sleep to catch up, ask for the upper seat (so you can keep sleeping when the other passengers are awake).

Tickets can be bought at the railway station or online. A couple of days before the departure date of a train, last minute tickets (Tatkal quota seats) are made available exclusively to tourists for an extra fee.

Food is available in long distance trains as well as at large stations where vendors will go up and down the train. Expect the familiar hawking sounds: "chai, chai, chai (tea)".

There are no fewer than seven classes of accommodation on Indian trains. Below are the classes in roughly descending order of cost. The first four are typically found in long distance night trains and the chair classes in short distance daytime trains.
-AC First (1A)
-AC 2 Tier (2A)
-AC 3 Tier (3A)
-Sleeper Class (SL)
-AC Chair Car (CC)
-Second Class Chair Car (2S)
-Unreserved / General compartments (GS)

I used to travel in Sleeper class which is cheaper and where I found people to be friendlier (even if playing cards in Hindi for 15 hours gets boring towards the end!). Beware that Sleeper compartments are sometimes over-booked and some passengers end up sleeping on the floor. In addition, if you travel in Sleeper class, make sure to bring a blanket (they are only provided in AC classes).


Check here for railway timetables.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My Orissa

As I wrote in a previous post, I planned to spend a bit of time in a small village. One of my friends from Bangalore has a friend whom relatives live in a rural area in Orissa. Unfortunately, he couldn't get a leave from his job… I left. Alone!

Kissed my boy at the train station. A bit strange to do so in a public place in India (But TT’s request!).

The train left. Ready for a 33-hour journey! Met a few great guys: students, software engineers, volley-ball players and, hmm, ended up smoking grass in the train toilets. The train was expected to reach BBSA at 12pm, then 1am, then 3am. At 1.30, was dead. Decided to sleep till 2.30. Bad idea… At 2am, the grass guy came: “Elise, wake up, wake up! We'll be in BBSA in 5min”. Unlocked my bags, jumped out of my bed (slow motion) and reached the door. In the darkness, saw four guys running along the train at the station. Looking for me?

We went to their apartment. Two bikes, 15kg of luggages, five of us. Chatted for a while, had some food and went to bed.

Their owner was expected to come at 9am the next day. Hosting a girl (even worse, a foreign girl) in a guy's apartment? Not a problem. As long as nobody knows. Conclusion, woke up at 7. Went to their campus. Warm shower and back to sleep in the girl’s hostel. Didn’t do much on my first day in BBSA. Roamed around and met plenty of people.

Was supposed to spend the night in the girl's hostel. But... curfew at 7! Went to a birthday party instead. Translate: a registered wedding (love marriage not totally approved by the parents. To be kept secret).

Next steps, Chandipur and then the village. We reached the village later than expected. As far as I was concerned, it was difficult to communicate but I really loved the place and the people.

They are in such direct contact with the nature. They are deep-minded people who don't feel the need to talk to say nothing. No stress, no hypocrisy, no need to pretend. I was glad to hear nothing but the wind.

Had food and went for a walk in the wood. Time to go back as my friends didn't want me to spend the night in the village due to very limited amenities. Honestly, I wouldn't have cared. True, I was a bit uncomfortable when I had to go to the "bathroom" in the river. But it was clearly not because of a lack of comfort. The reason: 15 people were standing 20 meters away from me when I was doing so…

I did not dare to take pictures but this is the kind of villages in which we went. Source

Instead, we slept in a colony at one of my friend's place. Once more, I was surprised by the great Indian hospitality. Guys on one side. Girls on the other. Slept in a bed with the mom and the two sisters!

Train to Puri… Amazing and crowded beaches. Tried the local sweets. Tasty ! The place was beautiful but I was disappointed by the policy implemented by the city. No foreigner allowed in temples. The main reasons : foreigners eat meat.

" For centuries now, the beach at Puri has been the venue of countless pilgrims taking the traditional purification dip for Puri is the abode of Lord Jagannath and considered one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage destination. However, for decades now, both Indian and foreign beach lovers have made it their special haunt. The fine white sands of Puri beach and the roar of the breakers rolling in from the Bay of Bengal have fascinated visitors throughout the ages."

And then, Konark. Difficult to describe it with words… If you have only one day to spend in Orissa, I would recommend you not to miss this place.

“The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark is the culmination of Orissan temple architecture, and one of the most stunning monuments of religious architecture in the world. The massive structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary splendour surrounded by drifting sand. Today it is located two kilometers from the sea, but originally the ocean came almost up to its base. Built by King Narasimhadeva in the thirteenth century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the sun god, Surya, across the heavens.”

Spend one more day in BBSA. Met more people. The girls were excited to know that I had an Indian boyfriend. First question: Did you kiss him? No comment!

Last step, Chilika. Went alone. By train. Met a pastor who tried to convince me of the existence of God. Reached the place. Me, the sun, the lake… and two nice guys to take care of the boat. Tried to drive the boat. Not that easy ;o) Visited the temple. Hard time to find an auto on the way back without being fooled. Asked a guy (sign language) where to find a bus to the train station. Waited for a while. Then, he stepped on the road and stopped one of the rare auto’s (which I would have never done because the auto was already completely full). The result: 11 passengers in the auto. Normal load: 4 or less. ;o)

“Just south of Puri, the sea mixes in with the 1100 inland Chilika Lake to create the largest brackish water lake in Asia. These shallow waters enclose an immense area of marshes, lowlands, and islands. There are more than 160 varieties of fish, and, in the winter season, the area is home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well.”

Back to BBSA. Packed my bags and caught the train to Bangalore. Slept most of the time. Washed my hair in the train toilets. Sleeper class, remember… ;o) and arrived, almost fresh, at the station. Late? Only by 4 hours. Boyfriend waiting for me. Have been missing him for 9 days… Badly... And talking (twice a day) on the phone was not of a big help.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Old man at a train station

Picture taken from a train in Orissa...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Squatting in Konark

Squatting... Uncomfortable position for many Westerners but happily adopted by most Indians.

Family travelling by train

Monday, December 05, 2005


Orissa (2001 provisional pop. 36,706,920), 60,162 sq mi (155,820 sq km) is a state situated in the east coast of India.

The relatively unindented coastline (c.200 mi/320 km long) lacks good ports save for the deepwater facility at Paradip. The narrow, level coastal strip, including the Mahanadi River delta, is exceedingly fertile. Rainfall is heavy and regular, and two crops of rice are grown annually. The state is known for its temples, especially in the cities of Konark, Puri, and Bhubaneswar.

Orissa and Puri are popular tourist destinations. Puri, with Sri Lord Jagannatha's temple on the sea, and Konark, with the Mukhasala of the Sun Temple, are visited by thousands of westerners every year. Along with the Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar, the Sri Lord Jagannatha Temple and the Sun Temple of Konark are the must sees for anyone doing research on the arecheological marvels of India.

The dense population, concentrated on the coastal alluvial plain, is Oriya-speaking. The interior, inhabited largely by indigenous people (Adivasis), is hilly and mountainous. Orissa is subject to intense cyclones.

Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Brushing teeth along the road

Picture taken from a rickshaw during my trip to Puri.