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.

  • Cows across the street from the airport, just grazing in the field (above).  I was to see many, many cattle along the way, many of them right in the road.
  • Green fields, mostly small, with various crops. Some flooded.
  • A little girl, tending goats in the grass alongside the road.
  • Some huts made of mud bricks with thatched roofs. Old tires thrown on top to keep the thatch from blowing away.
  • A motorcycle, with dad driving, and mom sitting sidesaddle behind, with a little boy sandwiched in between.  He was sucking his thumb and looking sleepy. 
  • People walking alongside the road, balancing huge bundles on their heads.
  • Most structures were made of red bricks (and with little or no mortar); I also passed several brick-making ‘factories’, outdoor affairs with 50’ high chimneys.
  • Every few km was a little shopping center; a building with 3-10 bays, each bay smaller than a garage, containing a tiny shop. 
  • All the signs are in Hindi.  I was just getting used to Kannada.
  • Railroad crossing. All the traffic is stopped, waiting for the train. A swarm of boys weave among the stopped cars and trucks, offering various snacks for sale. 
  • In the median, next to the traffic stopped for the the train, was a deep puddle. In the puddle there were four cattle, clearly pleased to be out of the hot sun.
  • The train passes, with so many people on board they are hanging out the doors.
  • An old man riding a bike, with a huge crosswise bundle of reeds.
  • A cluster of women along the banks of a pond, washing clothes.
  • Nearby, every inch of flat ground was covered by what appeared to be blue napkins laid out to dry.  Maybe they were dyeing the fabric blue.
  • Bicycle rickshaws: on the front, it’s like a bicycle; in back, with two wheels, it’s like a rickshaw with seats for two.  A top that folds down like a convertible.  The ultimate in “green” transportation, quiet and low emissions!  Short range, though ;-).
  • The River Ganga (Ganges), broad and muddy, full with recent rains.
  • Sudden cliffs on the west bank, marking the edge of Kanpur.
  • The dingy outskirts of Kanpur; run-down road-side shops, trash, etc.
  • Several tanneries.  This area was once big in textiles and tanneries.
  • Muslim women covered in black.
  • The divided highway ends. Two-way traffic; although a line is painted down the middle, everyone ignores it. The line between the two directions of traffic is virtual, ever fluctuating, and requiring nerves of steel as traffic on both sides tries to claim the other lane.
  • My driver puts on his seatbelt, for the first time. 
  • I check, but my seatbelt is buried somewhere under the back seat.
  • Monkeys crossing the road, rummaging in the piles of trash for bits of food.
  • Pigs, goats, donkeys, horses, bulls too.
  • Men peeing alongside the road. Usually, though not always, facing away from the road.  (Of course, I see this in Bangalore too, all the time.)
  • A bicycle so loaded with bags of bread you could barely see the rider.
  • Schoolchildren, all in identical uniforms, even the little kindergarteners, walk home.
  • Many young trees planted along the road, some with signs saying “Green Kanpur”, most surrounded by a brick lattice-like cylinder, a meter high, as protection against grazers or others who might harm young plants.

The way back.

On Tuesday evening the plan was to simply take a cab to Lucknow.  I expected it would take 2 hours, like before. I was hopeful that we would get through town and down to the shores of the Ganges at around sunset, and I might stop to take a photo.

Hah! no such luck.  The President of India was in town.

Twice we were stopped at an intersection, waiting 15-30 minutes along with hundreds of other cars.  The wait seemed interminable, and yet everyone seemed to take it in stride.  People shut off their engines and there was a peaceful, quiet conversation among neighbors.  Finally, with sirens blaring, a convoy of official white cars, army trucks, and even a hospital car came whizzing past.  

At the second such intersection, we were near the front.  As soon as the traffic cop indicated that we could go, he zoomed off.  We followed the convoy, so closely that we managed to get through several other intersections while they were still closed to other traffic. When we reached a huge intersection, though, the convoy turned right and we needed to go left.  As soon as the convoy left the intersection, a huge cry arose from the crowds that were stopped on all roads leading into the intersection.  Within seconds, the intersection was packed with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, trucks, busses, horse carts, you name it.  The traffic cops jumped a fence to get out of the intersection – they seemed both unable and uninterested in regaining any order in what had become instant gridlock.    It was pitch dark now, so I have no photos. 

Honking, honking, everywhere, nobody able to move.

Slowly, slowly, we inched forward. Even though we were at the edge of the intersection, next to the road we needed to enter, it took 20 minutes to move those ten feet, and then another 40 minutes to get past the traffic jam.  A big reason was that traffic had filled all lanes – even those leaving the intersection – while waiting for the convoy to arrive. Thus there was no way to leave the intersection. 

We drove on in silence, through the darkness back to Lucknow, for another hour or more.  Every time the driver needed to stop or slow down, he opened his door to spit out his paan. At one point he stopped to run across the road to a tiny shop so he could buy some more.

The air was cool, somewhat, but very humid.  It reminded me of an evening drive in South Carolina.  Until, that is, we passed the tanneries.  Whew!  What a stench.

We pulled into the Hotel Piccadily in Lucknow.  After a long day, and the dust and noise of all that traffic, I was glad to have splurged on a 5-star hotel.

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, 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:

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.

Trash – recycling?

There is so much trash.

There is so much trash. In one sense, nothing seems to be recycled; on the other hand, some people say, everything is recycled. In any case, there is trash everywhere you look.

Bangaloreans seem to ignore the trash all around them; dumped in the creeks that pass through the city, heaped on vacant lots, and scattered about the streets and alleys.  Even here on the beautiful IISc campus, trash is inexplicably left here and there, caught in the weeds beside the road or dumped in the woods.   Indeed, the standard operating procedure for contractors seems to be to simply dump their refuse in the woods, beside the road, not even out of sight.  When electricians came to our apartment to replace old light fixtures, we later found all the old fixtures and packaging materials dumped in the back yard.  Around the academic buildings there are clear piles, some old and some new, of bricks, tiles, old sinks, and the like.  Despite the 100th anniversary celebration coming up in December, nobody seems concerned about the trash and dumps around campus.

Many people drink bottled water – when we go out to eat, it’s the only thing safe to drink. So India is awash in plastic bottles.  It is very hard for me to simply throw plastic bottles, beer cans, and wine bottles in the trash, but there is no other option.  

On the other hand, as one IT company person told me, everything in India is ultimately recycled anyway. The poorest people go through the trash, picking out bottles and other useful items. Pavan Varma writes, “A million kabadiwallahs (peddlers of junk) make a living from finding something of value in trash.  They are willing to buy or sell any junk, from newspapers to empty bottles.  Their business premise is simple: everything has the capacity of being recycled, because everyone is looking to minimize costs. Thus the neighborhood grocer keeps paper bags made out of trashed newspapers, the poor look to make a bargain on the throwaways of the rich, and used plastic bags are recycled by plastic manufacturers.  It is estimated that 60 per cent of India’s plastic waste is recycled, compared to 10 per cent in China and 12 per cent in Japan.” [BeingIndian] Not bad, considering that I’ve never seen a single recycling bin in India.

trash dumped behind a wall, not far from our apt.

Dinner time

Good home cooking.

We were lucky to quickly find and hire a cook, who comes to our apartment 6 days a week to cook dinner for us.  I think the convention is for a cook to come 7 days a week, twice a day, but it’s good to have a day off and we like to make our own breakfast. The kids get a hot meal in the school cafeteria.

Our cook, Vijayalakshmi, makes dishes in the local South Indian style, and so far we have asked her to stick with vegetarian food.  She typically cooks rice, a curry, a soup or side dish, and often a bread (roti, chapati, papad, etc.).  She makes everything from scratch, and generally does the shopping as well.  (This bit is important, as it is hard for us to get out to the grocery store and we don’t know enough about finding and using the local markets.)  I think most of what she cooks is fantastic, although I have no idea what it’s called – I need to do a better job of asking her the name for these dishes.  She uses many local vegetables I can’t identify, including some little leaves for which she even doesn’t know the name.

The first meal was very spicy – I thought it was great, but we’ve asked her to tone it down because the kids don’t like it as spicy.

I took a few photos of the kids eating a dinner that they particularly liked – chapatis and a potato/curry dish.  This meal, like many, is to be eaten with your hands.  More precisely, with your right hand, as Indians find it offensive if you use your left hand for eating.


I was naively expecting people in India to speak English.

I was naively expecting people in India to speak English.  Sure, I know very well that there are hundreds of local and regional languages, but I thought everyone also knew English, at least people in major cities.  Wrong.

The local language in the Bangalore region is Kannada; most signs around town are in both English in Kannada, although some state- and local-government signs (which they seem to expect only locals to read) are only in Kannada.  The language on the street is uniformly Kannada, and if you go into a shop the first shopkeeper you meet will, after hearing you speak English, beckon a second shopkeeper who might understand a little more.  Even on the IISc campus, which caters to students from all over India (who therefore know Hindi or another regional language, rather than Kannada), the maintenance workers and security-gate guards speak little English.  I need an interpreter to speak to the women who clean my office or the electricians who come to the apartment.

On the other hand, Indian authorities love formalities.  To get anything done you need a formal letter from someone important.  To get a pass for the gym, I needed a letter of introduction from the department chair.  Same for the library.  Same for the pool.  Same for the security gate.  I have other letters from Fulbright.  The language in these letters express a formality that I guess comes from British days. My favorite phrase is that which asks the reader to “please do the needful” and accept the request of the letter’s carrier.

The limited English ability of many Indians shows on the English written on many products. I find this odd, considering that Indian manufacturers could surely find someone with strong English skills to proofread their labels.  I found this cereal box especially amusing, partly for its “Inglish” and partly for the sentiments it tries to communicate. “…avoids dowdy or slacking & keeps one alert, attractive, young, impressive, dominating, and longevity. … maintain smart physique, stamina & sexual urge.” You don’t see health claims quite this explicit on US cereal boxes! 

Bannerghatta National Park

We visited the Bannerghatta National Park and reserve.

We made a day out of a visit to Bannerghatta National Park, an 11,000 hectare reserve about 25km south of Bangalore [location]. Although it seems close, it is nonetheless a 2-hour drive from our home in the northern section of Bangalore.  Heavy traffic and poor road conditions, not to mention frequent diversions around cows in the road, make for slow going.

We stopped for a quick lunch at a tiny, run-down restaurant along the way.  The food was cheap – the five of us ate for $6 – but I perhaps I can characterize the atmosphere by its bathroom facilities: his & hers outhouses in the backyard.

Our first priority was to take a ride on the Lion and Tiger Safari.  About 20 people piled into a small bus – with windows covered in strong mesh – for a 45-minute drive into the reserve. It was easy to find, and get close to, the lions and tigers, because they do not roam freely over the park; they live in fairly small enclosures.  The park has 6 lions and 25 tigers in the forested enclosures, plus more lions in their circus-lion rehab center.

The zoo itself was interesting, with many fascinating creatures: leopards, cobras, pythons, macaques, birds, and even some from Africa (zebras and hippos).  My favorites, though, were the elephants and monkeys.  At one point, the elephant handlers brought three elephants on a walk through the zoo, and stopped to let us touch the elephant.  Neat!  I was told that there were many wild elephants that roam the broader park, but they only come out at dusk after the park closes.

The monkeys were not part of the exhibit. At a US zoo, you might see squirrels roaming the grounds, picking through the trash and perhaps even checking out some of the zoo animals.  At this zoo, local monkeys roamed freely.  They and their babies are very cute!

See photos.

What we miss

The things we miss.

India is great – we do like it here – but of course we do miss some things from home.

  • Mara misses snow already. (Pretty good, since NH has yet to see Fall!)
  • John misses his friends, his cats, and his house.
  • Andy misses his favorite toys, particularly a box of electrical parts he uses to make contraptions.
  • Pam misses a soft bed and fitted sheets.
  • David misses good beer, rowing, and foggy September mornings. And all the above 😉

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi is an important festival day.

Ganesh Chaturthi is an important holiday, “a day on which Lord Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees” [Wikipedia].  We luckily chose to visit one of the major Ganesha temples in the city and got to experience the whole ceremony.  

Ganesha is seated at center right.

When we learned that school was closed for the day, so that families could celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, we decided that we should explore and find a way that we could learn more about this festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesha.  We headed out mid-morning, and noticed that the majority of shops had been closed for the day.

We arrived at the Bull Temple, usually one of the more interesting but rather quiet tourist attractions in the south-central part of Bangalore.  Ah! But right next to the Bull Temple is a Ganesh temple, lavishly decorated for the occasion, with a huge crowd and a long line to get in. 

Ganesh temple near the Bull Temple

We waited in line for an hour, with many other families – no other tourists like us.  The mood was festive, and children in line were dressed in their best.  Near the front of the line we passed many sidewalk vendors, doing a brisk business offering the goods you might need to make an offering, and a few beggars.

We passed through the temple, receiving the blessing of Ganesh and then a small meal – a rice curry served in a bowl handmade from dried banana leaves, plus a modakam (a sweet ball of coconut, dried fruits, and sugar).  

Bull Temple

We visited the Bull Temple too, though it was decidedly less crowded on this day, Ganesh’s birthday.  

Tonight, as I write this at home on the IISc campus, I can hear many fireworks displays; at 10pm a rowdy truckload of students passed by, chanting something about Ganesha.

Ten days from now, as I understand it, all the families who have purchased a Ganesha figure for their home (like these) will take it to a nearby waterbody for submersion.  [Read more on Wikipedia.]

See my photos.