I was sitting in the botanical garden Lalbagh in Bangalore. As usual, strollers stopped from time to time and started chatting with me. So did the group of men. One of them was a tall and military looking guy, grey hair and tough face. They were asking me the usual things - I found out that all of them were policemen of the Karnataka State Police and had a one-week training in the capital Bangalore. Everybody was talking except the tall guy - he was just standing there and observing me. Suddenly, he asked if I was a German policeman - Why? - Because of my haircut.
Hindi is the most common language in India, besides English of course. Most people all over India understand Hindi although Hindi has its roots in the North. It is amazing to see the similarities between Hindi and European languages. Both families have their origins in Sanskrit, a very old language originally from central Asia. "tschute" for instance is Hindi and means "shoes", "mera nam Martin" means "my name is Martin". Still, the regional language of each state (Kannada in Karnataka, Malayalam in Kerala etc.) has more importance in everyday's life.
At the beginning of my stay in Bangalore, I was very motivated to learn Hindi. The easiest way to do this is having a small lesson everyday (e.g. during breakfast time). A colleague in Siemens (Harkesh) wanted to learn some German in return - so I taught him some basic German vocabulary and tried to learn some Hindi. One day, we had the lesson of "Hello, how are you?" - "Fine, thanks. And you?". Harkesh said: "And you? - Un dida?" - I tried to pronounce it correctly and said "Un dida?" - He smiled and repeated: "Un dida?" - I really took care of exactly imitating his pronounciation: "Un dida?". Still, he was not satisfied - after several more backs and forths, I nearly got angry. I had exactly the same pronounciation as he told me all the times.
Eventually I asked him: "Just to avoid misunderstandings: is 'un dida' Hindi or German?" - Immediately we bursted out in resounding laughter! Unbelievable! He was thinking I taught him the German "und dir?" ("and you?") - and he tried hard to pronounce his new German vocable "un dida?"!
One beautiful morning, I was waiting for the Siemens bus (you guys remember, KR Road in Basavanagudi), and I saw a scooter coming up the road. A fat man was sitting on it and had a huge white pillow tied up on the rack. As he passed by, I saw that this "pillow" actually was a big bundle of chicken, with feet tied together and hanging upside-down.
Somewhere else, two similar bundles of poultry were hanging like shopping bags at each end of a moped's handle bar.
Generally, there is a lot of rush and traffic jam in Bangalore during the rush hours. So it is nothing unusual that the five-thirty buses of Siemens get stuck somewhere. But that day, we were caught for about one hour in a huge traffic jam. We thought: there must have happened an accicent or something. Or something. The 'something' was a truck loaded with huge tropical tree trunks - and a smashed gearbox exactly on a main road's crossing! Isn't a timber truck the embodiment of the term "long vehicle"?
To prevent the city's traffic from total collapse, resourceful mechanical experts have begun demounting the gearbox and nearly everthing else what could have helped to move the truck forward - right in the middle of the crossing. First things first.
Travelling by train is the most joyful, relaxing, and interesting way of travelling in India. In Europe, train travels are reduced on "high-tech transport from A to B". Opposite to India: in India, trains are an essential element of a journey.
The interiors are made of steel and the berthes are simple but sufficient. You can hear every piece of the rail (tucktuck - tucktuck), the horn of the locomotive, and there is a smooth swaying. In railway stations, you can get hot tea served through the window ("Chai-Chai! Chai!"). The trains are slow enough to have the window opened all the time. You can open a door, having your nose in the breeze, and surfing through the countryside. I could spend hours standing at the opened door and gazing around in the landscape filled with sunlight.
Mahatma Gandhi must have said: "If you want to get to know India, go by train!". Even if it is not a authentic quotation, it still is true - provided you take "Second Class Sleeper". This is the most common class: comfortable enough and really affordable. The best thing is that you will meet travellers from almost all social groups: educated ones, uneducated ones, men on business journeys, families, old ones, young ones.
There can be obscure guys, gaping for minutes and obviously not having seen an European girl so far. There can be an old couple on holidays, enjoying talking to us and having calm and content faces. There can be a family with a sad-looking young mother, hardly saying any word during a 24 hours journey. There can be a group of men smoking short brown cigarettes and playing cards. There can be a friendly old man with white beard stubbles, the only way to communicate with him are gestures. There can be an investigator of the "Special Police" relishing for making his fellow travellers feel secure.
Our train had a short stop in Manamadurai. A tea vendor asked through the window if we would like to have some chai. We said "no", then he asked if it was the first time for us in India. "yes." - then he put his hand through the iron bars of the window and said: "Welcome to India, Sir!".
On the way back, we passed Manamadurai again and had to change the train. A young boy selling tea came along the platform, asked if we wanted some tea and: "Welcome to India, Sir!" - He must have been the son of the first tea vendor.
Bus journeys can be very straining if the trip is too long - and your seat in the very back of the bus. There are public and private buses, of course, the private ones are more expensive but also more comfortable. But the potholes are the same for both.
I enjoyed a 19 hours ride from Pune to Bangalore - in the second last seat. Nineteen hours of bumpy road, ninenteen hours sitting in a narrow seat with my head freely lurching, nineteen hours of risky overtaking.
If possible, avoid long bus journeys. Still, shorter ones can be good fun. Often, they play some nice LoFi tapes of old Hindi movie soundtracks - while you are speeding through bright green rice fields, dark shadows, small villages, and dusty provincial towns. I even have seen farmers waving from a long distance towards our bus. Please show me one place in Europe where people are so fundamentally friendly. Travelling by bus is good fun during daytime but torture when travelling over-night.
A dosa is a kind of Indian pancake, but it is thicker and softer than a pancake. A "Masala Dosa" is filled with fried potatoes, onions, gabbage and chili. You can get this typical Indian snack in most smaller restaurants all over India.
During my stay, lot of people recommended me famous dosas of the MTR bakery in Bangalore. This well known restaurant is directly north of the main entrance gate of the botanical garden. I went there with Samarth, my Indian friend and colleague, and the two French trainees Arnaud and Guillaume. We ordered some masala dosa and some chai. As the waiter served the tea, we noticed that they have not taken the ordinary metal cups - they served us tea in silver cups. How nice is such a gesture of hospitality!
In our team at Siemens, there is the nice custom to give farewell diners for colleagues leaving the company. Generally, such farewell diners are held in quite expensive restaurants - but for the farewell of Palani Velu and Shashirikan we met at a simple road-side restaurant on Old Madras Road. This was one of the best evenings I have spend in India.
We were sitting outside, on simple plastic furniture. There was a breeze and the vivid road to Chennai (Madras) with all the buses and trucks in some distance. The food was excellent: gobi mandchurian, tandoori chicken, dhal, vegetable fried rice, parotas and rotis, and Kingfisher beer. Such road-side restaurants are quite popular - they have this special atmosphere, and the food is cheap and tasty.