March 29th, 2004

Mr Rajinda arrived at 6am to take us to Agra. It was strange to see so many people around this early in the morning. The park opposite IIT was full of people playing cricket. 06h30 is probably the best time of the day actually, its reminded me of a cool summers evening in England.

I fell asleep in the car on the way and woke up at a toll point where we had stopped. I looked out of the window to my left and saw a man sitting down next to a big furry animal. I asked the guys – “What sort of dog is that?” – “What?” – “What is the type of the dog?” – “It’s not a dog its a biiiarrr” – “A what?” – “Biiiarrrr” – “oh ok”. I thought maybe a Biiaarr was some form of breed of New Foundland dog as these dogs where huge! It was not until one stood on its hinde legs that I noticed it was actually a bear. I think the last time I saw a bear was in London Zoo and that was about 15 years ago and I don’t remember it anyway. They keep the bears tied up and make then do tricks for tourists who take photos of them. I didn’t take any photos of the bears because it was very cruel.

After two hours on the road we arrived in Agra, India’s oldest city and the home of the Taj Mahal. We went to the Taj Mahal first. It really is a cool thing to see. It’s the worlds largest construction in the name of love. Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his queen Mumtaz Mahal. It took about 20 years to build. More information here.

I, of course, took the photo everyone who goes to the Taj Mahal must take –

And here it is from a different angle. The Taj Mahal looks the same from all four sides.

This is a photo taken from Red Fort looking over to the Taj Mahal –

Lastly we went to a place called Fatehpur Sikri which I was a little scared of because of the amount of wasp nests above the entrance –

We got back after a long tiring day at around 9pm but an excellent tourist day out yet again! More text soon, I just have not the time…………

March 24th, 2004

The economist has a picture of Blair, Howard, Bush and Aznar with Aznar crossed out. Very clever.

March 22nd, 2004

The Hot Zoup application that I created for RSS/ATOM aggregation got a review by a guy called “Heinz Tschabitscher” at About.Com, who is obsessed with email by the looks of his bios.

It got 3/5 stars which is not bad for a first try.

Heinz write (sic) –

Hot Zoup Reader is a simple, friendly and easy to use RSS feed reader. It works well for following headlines and news, but leaves more advanced functionality — searching, archiving, or virtual folders, for example — to be desired.

If the news are a hot put of chicken soup steaming with delicious smells, then Hot Zoup Reader is the classy, simple spoon that lets you concentrate on the soup and just the soup. Through a nice and prosaic interface, Hot Zoup Reader lets you read headlines or complete articles comfortably. You can choose between a newsletter-style news page that collects multiple articles or a three-paned interface that allows you to skim and selectively read articles and headlines quickly. It’s also great how feeds can be collected and read in groups in Hot Zoup Reader. Unfortunately, Hot Zoup Reader’s tools for organizing don’t include virtual folders that automatically aggregate relevant posts. You can’t even search feeds in Hot Zoup Reader. What you can do, though, and what is very useful is flagging individual items for later processing. Hot Zoup Reader also offers a nice way of reading comments posted on blogs. It doesn’t seem to recognize relationships between blog postings, though.

See the full story here.

Hot Zoup is here it has had over 2000 downloads to date, I wonder how many of those people still use it.

March 22nd, 2004

The difference between a cappuccino and a latte in the UK, from what I could work out, is that cappuccino had chocolate on top and latte didn’t. In India, the difference between a cappuccino and a latte is the size of the cup you get the coffee in!

I don’t believe it is possible to be any further away from the United States than I am now, so going to the ‘shopping mall’ in Gurgaon for McDonalds/Subway/Marks and Spencers for lunch still doesn’t feel right, I don’t think I’ll get used to it any time soon, let alone the people who live here.

After leaving my SPV mobile in my black bag in midday sun for a couple of hours last Sunday and it consequently breaking; I have purchased a new phone here in India. Phones are about Rs. 6500 (£80) cheaper than the UK so I got a nice Nokia 6100 at a very reasonable price, I am so glad I have gone back to using Nokia, it has such a great easy to use system on it.

There was an Earthquake in Delhi on Thursday, but I did not notice it 🙁

This is our new driver, Mr Rarjinda who told us a story about a fight between a monkey and a dog in Hindi once. He is so much better than Mr Saruj, and also the guy we had for a day who’s name I didn’t get, who I was sure didn’t actually know how to drive.

I still have not seen a cloud, I wake up in the morning hoping that it might be ‘overcast’ for the day. Normally blue skies would leave the average person who spends most of their time in a country where it rains a lot thinking great! However, I feel I am getting cloud withdrawal symptons. It would be nice to just see one of those little guys floating in the air, maybe just a little plane contrail cutting through the vast blueness of the sky, but no. Not a sinnnnnngle cloud.

I said last post that I thought the Hindustan Times was a little bit harsh when it said that Delhi was unsafe for women. I’ve changed my mind, this city is definetly not safe for women on there own, especially tourists. Gruesome Story Here.

This Saturday I went on a serious tourist tour of Delhi with Nitin. This is a picture of the Lotus Temple, where people can go and pray. It’s very nice, you are not allowed to talk when inside and there’s even microphones under the seat that will catch you talking and subsequently get you kicked out.

These are the trees in the garden of the Lotus temple. There the roundest trees I’ve ever seen –

We also went to a place called “Bhagwan Mahavir Ahinsa Sthal” where I had to take my shoes, socks and belt off and then I had to wash my hands before we could go up to see the place of worship. Your not allowed to take photos of it so I didn’t.

We then went to a place called ‘Dilli Haat’ which sold loads of nice India style things. I bought an Indian style shirt and some presents. This is a picture of a lady dressed in lots of colors (she must have been boiling though as it hit a max of 37 degrees today) –

Lastly this is Qutb Minar which was built in the 14th century (the picture angle idea was stolen off a photo taken by one of the people from Holland I met) –

One emperor started to build a bigger Qutb Minar but he died one year into the project and this is as far as he got –

We also went to TGI Fridays and a Shopping Mall where I got some CDs for a 3rd of the cost in the UK! Brilliant! A great day out, Sunday I just spent the day by the pool. The monkeys were back again in force, one even jumping for a great height into the swimming pool. Eventually the hotel management came out in force and then some guy showed up with a rifle, so monkey brain may be on the hotel menu tomorrow…..

March 15th, 2004

Well I finally had to crack open the Immodium packet today, and I was doing so well I thought. Looks like its not possible to come here and not get ill. I will probably become used to the food at the end of the four weeks and then have to go through all these problems again when I have to get used to eating Australian food.

This weekend I spent most of the time by the pool trying to get some form of a suntan, it is very bizarre sitting by a pool in +30 degree heat at the start of March. I am actually missing seeing clouds, I honestly have not seen a single one in the sky since I got here! Next weekend I am planning on doing some hardcore tourist site visiting. I have had all the advice on where to go from a load of different people, so I should be able to just go to all the good places. My Microsoft SPV phone has finally given up working; the dust and temp. here must have killed it. Which is a shame as all my contacts were on that telephone, so I have virtually no ones phone number now – not a good situation to be in.

This is a picture looking into Delhi from the office. The bright white light on the horizon in the centre is National Highway 8, possibly the busiest road I have ever been on. Next to NH8 you can see the two huge office buildings, they have glass fronts and clean reflective windows and of course people living in poverty in shacks below.

This is some very naughty monkeys by the hotel swimming pool. As you can see mother monkey is keeping a lookout/eating some bread while the baby monkeys are having a swim/wash in the pool. We were in the swimming pool earlier (sharing a pool with monkeys is a sure fire way of getting Ebola I would have thought).

We then saw this peacock on the roof. We had no idea peacocks could fly, we ended up thinking that the naughty monkeys may have carried the poor peacock up there while he was asleep!

Here are Loes, Corne, Ilke and myself getting read to have an American Burger and chips in a restaurant. Corne says he may lend me his guitar for a few weeks while they are travelling around India coooooolllll!!!!!!

This is a video of outside the office, pigs and all…

March 11th, 2004

I woke up this morning thinking about how I could get Mr Saruj off the roads, but seeing how Nitin told me he “bought” his driving licence without ever having stepped foot in the driving seat of a car, I stopped thinking about it. So here I am.

On the front page of the Hindustan Times today reads the story ‘Speeding Qualis kills three near Connaught Place’ (not joking). The same vehicle as we were in and the same area at one stage. I hope Mr Saruj reads this and slows down. I made it clear to my colleagues that I don’t want to go in a vehicle with Mr Saruj ever again. If I ever find myself in the situation with a non-english speaking person I am going to use vivid hand signals to get them to SLOW DOWN. One of my colleagues asked me if I new what ‘Saruj’ meant in English. My guess of ‘maniac’ was wrong, apparently it means ‘son’. They also asked me if Indians visting England could drive there, I told them I hoped not.

The Hindustan Times generally reads like The Onion. I thought this logo after reading some random story was a little bit harsh –

Don’t let that worry you if you are female and planning on coming here or maybe even if you are half of the population of Delhi that already lives here, as another story reads, (and I quote) “It was a diamond heist, with a curious twist. Four men robbed Noida jeweller B.S. Shaw of diamonds worth Rs 1.5 crore on Monday night, but 24 hours later the police said they found the stolen goods – in the showroom itself”, so was he actually robbed? It goes on (sic) – “The cops’ assertion was at odds with accounts by area security guards, who’d seen the robbers leave the showroom with a polythene bag containing the hiest. The police also scaled down the value of the ‘stolen’ goods, till it reached Rs 30 lakh by Tuesday evening. The only thing still missing was Shaw’s Lancer, in which the robbers made their getaway”. So, actually, it wasn’t a diamond heist, the polythene bag did not actually contain a heist and Rs 1.5 crore of diamonds did not actually leave the shop, just B.S. Shaw’s car. This entire frontpage article should read “Car stolen from outside a shop” rather than “Rs 1.5-cr diamonds ‘robbed’ and ‘found'”. The actual twist of the diamond heist was that it wasn’t actually a diamond heist at all! I am taking this paper with a pinch of salt. (No offence Colleen if you see this)

The gap between rich and poor here is disturbing, as well as the amount of people that do what appears to be the most boring jobs in the world. For example, the security guard at the office that does nothing when the metal detector beeps when you walk through it. The man who looks like he is wearing pyjamas who occasionally comes into our office with a glass of water and the women that guard the toilets. To get a visual feel of this bothering gap between people, have a look at these pictures. This is our office in Gurgaon with its Coffee Shop and Marble interior which wouldn’t be out of place in London, New York etc.. –

This is the homes of the people who live directly below the office block –

I was going to write about how I have not been bitten by a mosquito yet, but I don’t want to tempt fate.

To prevent my stomach from going any further down hill, I decided to try something western on the menu. I went for the Penne Aribiatta, an Italian pasta dish. It was absolutely amazing, it has a Indian spice to it that makes it really very good. I recommend anyone to actually experience the taste of western food in the east, it’s magnificent (although won’t solve any outstanding stomach problems).

March 10th, 2004

This cannot be topped. This is probably the most scarey journey I have ever been in. Mr Saruj, the driver, looked about sixteen years old and did not speak a word of english, he also had a habit of opening his door at 80km/h and spitting onto the road. This is a picture of Mr. Saruj (notice his left hand is glued to the hooter) –

Your probably thinking, yeah, well I’ve driven around the M25 at rush hour, that cannot be beaten. Well checkout this video of Mr Saruj, bear in mind also that the vehicle is a 4WD. See how Mr Saruj uses the “hard shoulder” as a go faster lane and puts the vehicle in any gap he finds when in traffic and uses the main beam lights to signal other road users to MOVE! I was going to leave the sound in but I decided to cover it up with music, the lyrics go “my life in the speeding car, too much to lose, my life to you” – this is what I was thinking while sitting in this car. The sound is just Mr Saruj on the hooter anyway. When we stopped at the hotel the only thing I said to the guy was – “you need to slow down Mr Saruj” he didn’t speak any English so just gave me a blank stare, waited for me to close the door behind me and then sped away into the night. Mr Saruj also ran out of petrol at one stage and he went running off to get some (after having to borrow 100Rs). Leaving me and one of my colleagues stranded in a parked vehicle in lunch time heat somewhere in Delhi near a roundabout.

Anyway, time for some nice things. Here is a picture of India Gate, isn’t it lovely, you can see the presidents home in the background. We left as soon as the tourist hagglers turned up with their postcards and books “just have a look” they demand –

This is a picture of the shops underneath CP (Connaught Place) –

This is a picture of me near Connaught Place absolutely boiling whilst carrying my 20Kg bag –

This is IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) a huge campus –

The Hindustan Times on Tuesday has a story about Delhi Belly on the front cover, and I quote – “…over half the British tourists to India developed diarrhoea, also known as Montezuma’s revenge, caused by infection of enterotoxigenic E. Coli. Statistics showed that British travellers were worst affected as many reportedly did not wash their hands…” – I found it amusing.

March 9th, 2004

I am currently at the Indian Institute of Technology due to the fact we don’t have Internet Access at our office yet, we also don’t have any computers neither (this is a big problem for a software development company).

Let’s start with something cultural. This is McDonalds India style. Notice the lack of Whopper, Hamburger, Cheeseburger…

This is Pizza Hut (ummmm…I have been to Indian places as well by the way) with Ilke and her friends from the Ashram –

These are my collegues in our empty office on the 14th (actually it’s the 13th floor as the ground floor is the 1st floor according to the elevator). There are a few call centres in the building we are working in. I am desparately trying to get a photograph of one. We tried to sneak a look in, but the mean security guard wouldn’t let us in!

Travelling in a taxi at dusk, it is still about 20 degrees –

This is a view from our floor of the office (makes a change from the basement) into the East, looking out over Gurgaon. None of these buildings were here five years ago.

This is us all in the taxi speeding down the highway to the office (video).

This is Ilke and company trying to get us an Autorickshaw to Saket for the smallest amount rupees.

March 8th, 2004

The crazy story so far…..

Got to the airport with plenty of time to spare to find that the flight was cancelled! What a great start!!! They put me on an earlier flight….that was delayed by 1.5 hours! Waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad and now begins my 13 months away from the United Kingdom….

Arrived in Frankfurt at about the same time the Delhi flight was supposed to take off. Before I knew it I was on the Delhi bound plane and had completely forgotten to even look out the window in Germany, a country I have never been to before and probably the first country I have been to where I have not spent more than 15 minutes in.

The flight from Frankfurt to Delhi feels like it took an absolute age (actually it did)! They played an Indian film that I had been partly watching/subtitle reading, something about a guy with 5 sons that he would do anything for, but when it comes to him needing something they all turn him away……..I was beside myself with emotion at the end. I was sitting on an isle seat in the middle of the plane. There were three people to the right of me, a couple and a girl of my age on her own. After four hours of sitting in silence I attempted to make polite conversation with the girl, she didn’t seem very interested in talking. The man in the couple went to the toilet and collapsed outside it! A 10,000ft drama was unfolding…. He seemed to be okay after a while, him and his wife got a free upgrade to business class. Maybe I will fake a similar problem on the 9 hour flight to Australia. The girl that didn’t want to talk to me was then told that her luggage was not on board. I felt a bit sorry for her, I asked if she would be ok when she arrived, she now seemed more happy to talk. It always feels better to talk to somebody in circumstances like this.

Work were kind enough to get me a MP3 player as a leaving present. Unfortunetly the laptop I have has a ridge above the USB port and so I cannot plug it in! I am thinking of ‘modifiying’ the laptop, or prehaps I will just shop around in India for an USB extender.

I have heard terrible things about the airport, namely the hassel in getting a taxi and the extremely high risk of being conned or taken to the wrong hotel. There is a vulnerability about arriving in airports, especially if its somewhere you may never have been before. Delhi Airport was much as I had expected. The customs officer checked my passport and stamped it, muttered a few things to me, in which my response each time was “Sorry?”, after a while I just gave up trying to understand what he was saying and just smiled politely. After I got through customs, I got 100USD changed into rupees (you cannot bring rupees into the country) and made my way into the arrivals area. It seemed all very relaxed, there was no shouting as I had expected and the man from the hotel with the sign was there to meet me! We walked to the car down lots of little passages and through car parks where people just seemed to stand around. I could see mosquitoes in the air and wondered if I would get the fatal malrious bite minutes after being in the country, like what happened to a collegue at work. The taxi driver was very nice, I asked him a few questions, which his answers were mostly “yes”. For example, Question: “Where are all these trucks going?” Answer: “Yes”. I soon decided my best course of action was to ask questions I already knew the answer for and were definetly “Yes”.

I arrived at the hotel safely, a 10 minute journey from the airport. The first thing I find amazing about India is the amount of staff the hotel has. There is a guy playing the piano most of the day in the lobby, a man who’s sole job it is it to look after the swimming pool. The men that stand at the gates that take pride in their uniforms and the women that stand outside the toilets dressed in purple uniform. The complete opposite of England where you are lucky to find a member of staff anywhere and when you do they are normally unhelpful or impolite. It is the opposite here. The second thing I have noticed about India is their obsession with Cricket! A man in Saket asked me where I was from. After telling him I was from England he went on to tell me how much he would love to meet Ian Bothan. The Hindustan Times has a ‘Geoff Boycott on Cricket’ cartoon in the sports section –

I was really looking forward to going bowling in this hotel. As supposedly it had a 5 lane bowling alley, there’s pictures of it on the Raddisson Delhi website. I had big plans to get a lot of bowling in, maybe even reaching a semi-professional level before leaving. After about 30 minutes of searching I realised there was no bowling alley! Gone is the possibility of drinking white russians and bowling every evening for the next 30 nights as well as that killer line to the ladies – “Wanna come back to my hotel?…It’s got a bowling alley”.

I went down for dinner at ‘Cafe NYC’ which bares little resemblance to anything you would find in the New York, which to be honest, is probably a good thing. The waiter opened the menu in front of me and stood next to me waiting for an order. I looked at the menu infront of me it read – ‘Whiskey’ ‘Gin’ with a list of different brands. I turned the page, ‘Tequila’, ‘Vodka’, the list went on, I said “ummmm, can I just have a tea?” the waiter looked a bit shocked, took the spirit menu off of me and walked off. When I finally got the food menu I decided to go for something local, so I ordered an ‘Aloo Bukhara Kofta Curry’ it was very nice, the first of many I imagine!!

Day two, Saturday and I am all set to meet Ilke, my friend of a friend from the Netherlands who is teaching out here. In the morning I sat by the pool, although its 30 degrees centigrade it is not a moist heat, it is not too bad. I bought a fruit danish pastry for the equivalent of 27pence. It was beautiful. I also ordered a Iced Tea, and then realised I had been warmed not to drink anything with ice. Getting it replaced for a normal tea was a real issue for the guy, persistance and staying cool is the key here.

I got into a taxi to take me to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, to meet my new friend Ilke. It was great to meet her and her friends. I drank tea out of a funny tin and ate sponge cake. We walked around the grounds of the Ashram and had a look at the primary school in which they teached. Some of the class rooms were outside, it was all very different to how I remember primary school. I had a look in Cornes’ room and played some Smashing Pumpkins on his guitar (I so wish I had mine, there’s only so much air guitar I can do), he had a room all to him self, where the girls have to share a room between 6, I couldn’t find out for sure because boys are fobidden in the girls area and the same vice-versa!! We walked past a man that invited us to see his turtles. He showed Ilke and myself about 4 in total before we said goodbye and thank you to the turtle man. I felt I should have invited Ilke and her friends to stay at my place as the room is about 5 times bigger than it needs to be and mosquito free, unlike their Ashram!!! I gave Ilke the salty liqourice that I had promised her. I tried one and it was absolutely disgusting!!!! Must be a Netherlands only thing. Hopefully I have persauded them to come to my place next weekend. I told them all about the pancakes and syrup for breakfast and the swimming pool etc.. I hope that will make them want to come! We rode an Autorickshaw (this three wheel device that operates a lot like a go-kart) we got hit by a water ballon thrown at us from the street (it is Holi Festival this weekend, but there was no paint thank goodness) to Saket, an area with a western style shopping mall where we went to Pizza Hut. The gap between rich and poor here is so huge that it is very strange. We could have been in Pizza Hut Piccadilly London, but a look out the window and there’s people begging and living in makeshit box houses outside, actually a lot like Piccadilly London….. I was not too hungry after eating pancakes and pastry in the hotel earlier and the fact they had opened the upstairs for us and it was not initially air conditioned so was like a sauna! After dinner and a lot of good chat I got an Autorickshaw back to the hotel for 70 rupees (about 88 pence) a 20 minute journey, we had to stop at a newsagent to ask for directions on the way back as that driver clearly had no idea where the hotel was (I suddenly wished I had taken the advice in England to hire a car with a driver for the afternoon) I actually thought I’d never make it back, we skidded to a halt twice and got hit (apparently, I didn’t notice it was such a bumpy ride) by an Ambassador car behind us, which ended in a 5 minute argument between the two drivers in the middle of an intersection. I spent half of the journey actually off the seat as we hit huge bumps and holes in the road. At one stage a bus was edging out of a side street infront of us, the driver or my vehicle didn’t seem to be slowing down, just more furiously using the horn as we steadly speeded towards the side of the bus, I shut my eyes at this stage. All I can tell you is that the roads are crazy, although not quite as insane as Cairo (they use their lights at night here), so thank goodness it was not too much of a shock although cows walk around aimlessly and lay down in the middle of the road! Drivers just go around them. I gave the Autorickshaw man a US dollar that I found in my wallet as a tip for getting me back alive. I may have made his afternoon giving it to him as he tooted the horn and waved at me as he sped off into the night, but he gave me a journey on his little moving tin machine I will never forget!