Kolkata (Calcutta)

I endeavored to “see” Kolkata – a steamy, teeming city of over 15 million people – in a single morning tour by taxi.

It is, of course, foolish to hope to visit and properly understand a city of 15 million people, once the capital of British India, in a single morning.  After my visit to IIT Kharagpur, however, that was my plan. Read on and check out the photo galleries!

India. Kolkata. Sights.
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Kolkata to Kharagpur

A long but fascinating drive from Kolkata airport to IIT Kharagpur.

I flew SpiceJet airlines today, from Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Kolkata (Calcutta).  A reasonable flight, though perhaps because it was Sunday there were many children and screaming babies.  A driver met me at the airport and drove me to Kharagpur, where I am to visit IIT Kharagpur [location]. 

I didn’t realize it was so far! Three hours, 122km through the outskirts of Kolkata and then out the National Highway #6.  It’s impressive to see an overhead highway sign tell you that it is 2,049km to Mumbai, and to imagine that this road crosses the entire Indian subcontinent.  Once out of the city, the landscape was rural.  We passed through some tiny roadside villages, but mostly we passed rice paddies: huge rice fields a km across.  Lots of piles of dried straw, which appeared to be used for roofing thatch houses.  Many truckloads carrying bundles of reeds – at least, they looked like dried reeds – that again I think were used for construction.   

This astoundingly overloaded truck carries reed mats. Uttar Pradesh.

For the most part, the road is a smooth four-lane divided highway.  On the other hand, the median is usually occupied by cows and goats, which sometimes stroll across the lanes at a whim.  100kph is the speed limit, except in little villages and when oncoming traffic decides to use the wrong side of the highway.  Yes, when the eastbound lanes were jammed up for miles (er, kilometers) for what maybe was an accident, our near-empty westbound lanes must have looked oh so tempting.  Thank goodness it was daylight, because then at least you can see the humungous overloaded truck barreling toward you at 60kph. A little unnerving.

When the other side has a traffic jam, trucks use our side. Yikes!

In several villages, they seemed to be building a large, temporary structure of bamboo and wood; some were as large as a two-story house. In Kharagpur I saw craftsmen making dozens of life-size figurines out of clay and grass. These are preparations for the upcoming Durga Puja, which “is widely celebrated in West Bengal and Tripura where it is a five-day annual holiday. Not only it is the biggest Hindu festival celebrated throughout the State, but also the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali society.” [Wikipedia]  (More on Durga Puja, including music and video, at durgapujas.com)

Life-size clay statues of Shiva and Parati for Durga Puja.

I was puzzled by a road sign, as we approached a bridge over a very broad river, that said: “Drive slowly, weak bride ahead.”  Looking down at the swirling monsoon-swollen river, and looking up at the large trucks that barrel across this bridge, I really wanted to read the sign literally; however, I encountered no wedding party.

Once in Kharagpur, I think we took a wrong turn, because the driver kept stopping to ask directions.  We ended up on a small but busy street, with two-way traffic.  Well, two-way traffic for the cars, trucks, bicycles, and scooters, but the cows, goats, and people pretty much went every which way.  And that steamroller, heading slowly toward us in our lane, trying to flatten 3” crushed stone into the mud.  Behind it, workers turned (by hand) the recalcitrant stones so they would fit better.

Yikes! oncoming steamroller.

Kharagpur is a small city of 207,000 people, and IIT Kharagpur was the first of the Indian Institutes of Technology, founded in 1951. (There is more on IIT Kharagpur in wikipedia.)

I took some photos from the car, and a brief video, of the many interesting things we passed.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

IIT Kharagpur

IIT Kharagpur was the first campus of the Indian Institutes of Technology, founded in 1951.

Today I visited the School of Information Technology (and met some people in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering) at IIT Kharagpur, in north-east India (location: 120km west of Kolkata).

The School of Information Technology. IIT Kharagpur.
Main building of IIT Kharagpur.

IIT Kharagpur (see also wikipedia)  is the largest of the IITs, both in physical size (2,100 acres) and student population (about 2,700).  It is also the first IIT, founded in 1951 on the site of a prison camp used by the British to detain dissidents who were arrested during the non-cooperation movement for independence.

I spent my time in the School of Information Technology, although they have significant overlap with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (indeed, both are chaired by the same professor).  I enjoyed meeting MS and Ph.D students who were engaged in research on security, cryptography, ad hoc networks, and sensor networks. 

In a walk around campus, I took some photos.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Kanpur

A few photos of Kanpur, India.

Not much to say about Kanpur; I just passed through.  I enjoyed IIT Kanpur [location], and found its campus beautiful and its academics impressive.  The city, though, had little to inspire.

I took some photos while driving through, which show an interesting slice of life.

Streets of Kanpur.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Lucknow

Lucknow is an ancient city, now the capital of Uttar Pradesh and bursting with nearly 3 million people. I spent a fascinating morning exploring some of the palaces and mosques of the nawabs.

I spent a morning visiting a few historic sites in Lucknow [location], before hopping a plane homeward.   I have many photos in a Lucknow album. Read on!

The second gate to Bara Imambara; Lucknow.
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IIT Kanpur

IIT Kanpur is one of the five original campuses of the Indian Institutes of Technology. I visited the Computer Science and Engineering department to give a talk.

I visited IIT Kanpur’s Computer Science and Engineering department, as part of my goal to visit the major universities of India.  I arrived [location] on Monday, spent the night in the Guest house, and spent Tuesday meeting with faculty and students before delivering a talk about my research.  The campus is beautiful, and the CS department’s building (about 10 years old) is fantastic.  I was impressed by the people I met, and am grateful to them for hosting my visit.

India. Kanpur. IIT Kanpur.

I had some time to walk about campus, and took some photos.  All of the faculty and students live on campus, with their families, and when I was out early in the morning I saw many, many children on their way to school.  Everyone bikes there, since the campus is large and the academic core is generally off-limits to cars.  The grounds are well-tended, and I saw many wild peafowl (peacocks), the national bird of India. 

Beautiful place. See the photo gallery.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Lucknow to Kanpur, and return

A road trip to reach Kanpur.

After landing in Lucknow airport, I took a taxi to IIT Kanpur [location], about 75km and about two hours.  A fascinating visual experience.

On the way back, I experienced traffic gridlock surrounding the visit of the President of India.

The taxi ride was visually fascinating.  After living in the bustling city of Bangalore, it was different to drive through a rural, agricultural area.  Unfortunately, my camera jammed after taking the photo below, so I’ll try to capture some of the highlights in words.

On the way back, however, I snapped a lot of photos of Kanpur before the light faded. I saw many things I could not photograph; read on!

Continue reading “Lucknow to Kanpur, and return”

“Being Indian”

Pavan Varma’s interesting and insightful book.

I’ve been reading Being Indian, Pavan Varma’s interesting and insightful book about the culture and psyche of India today.  At times it is a bit repetitious or tedious, but for the most part it is a fascinating look at India.

Here’s a book review.

Here’s a link to the book at Amazon.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Air travel

Air travel in India is easy.

Air travel in India is easy – based on my limited experience – and inexpensive, due to some low-cost no-frills airlines that induce competition.

Today I took my first trip outside Bangalore, flying Kingfisher Red (the former Deccan Airlines), a low-cost carrier, from Bangalore through Mumbai to Lucknow.

It was trivial to purchase e-tickets online, using cleartrip.com, the best on-line travel site I’ve ever used.  Its website is clear and clean, and once my flight was booked they instantly sent me an SMS with the details as well as an email.

I arrived early at the Bangalore airport.  The airport is brand new, open only a few months, and is beautiful; lots of nice shops and places to eat, clean and bright and comfortable.  (It is a far cry from the icky old airport, which I used on my trip last year.  Crowded, dirty, few services, and fewer chairs than passengers.)

I was caught by a few surprises.  I was sent back from the security line because I needed to have put a new bag tag on each piece of hand luggage. (They stamp the bag tags when you go through security, and later check when you board the plane.)  Then I made it almost through security, but they told me that my boarding pass (printed at home) had not yet been stamped.  They handed me my bags and I left security again to go back to the front counter.  While waiting in line there, I remembered something that made my stomach sink.

My laptop was not in my backpack.  I had removed it for the xray, of course, but when the guard handed me my bags he had not thought to include the laptop.

I did a little nervous dance, thinking of my laptop sitting at the end of the conveyor, but knowing I could not get to it until I got to the front of this line and got the little stamp on my boarding pass.  tick tick tick.  Stamp!

I dashed back up to security, got new tags for my bags – because the guard took the other ones off for some reason – and waited in line at security.  tick tick tick.  Lots of people going through.  People getting their laptops out.  People putting their laptops back in.  tick tick.  I finally get through security, and there’s my laptop, sitting right in the same place, waiting to be claimed.  By me.  phew.

The flights were comfortable, although the seat pitch was the smallest I’ve ever seen, and everything was smooth and on-time.   When the captain made an announcement, I must say I was struck by the pleasant but surprising sound of a woman’s voice, with that sing-song Indian accent.  The entire crew on this plane was women, the first I’ve ever seen that.

I can’t say much about Mumbai.  I never even left the plane.  As we landed, I noticed large areas around the outskirts of the city that seemed polka-dot blue.  That seemed odd.  As we came lower, I realized that they were slums – miles of them – a hodgepodge of shacks with corrugated roofs, perhaps 1 in 10 of them covered by a blue plastic tarp. (below)

Landing in Lucknow was different.  Green was the color of the day – a vast patchwork of green fields, a totally flat agricultural terrain.  Areas that were slightly lower than the rest were flooded – this is the monsoon season, after all.

Mumbai from the air:

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

IISc photos

Some photos of our new campus home (Aug-Dec 2008).

I’ve been playing with my new digital SLR camera; I’m just starting to get the hang of it.  The IISc campus is a rich opportunity for photographs. Here are a few photos from around campus; this gallery expanded to include more photos taken in 2008. The original 2008 galleries, posted when this blog was on MobileMe, were split into several albums and may have included a slightly different set of photos. In 2020 I re-created them as best I could when that blog was migrated here to WordPress.

IISc street sweeper.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.