Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Indian Family Homestay

Thanks to couchsurfing, we stayed for three days and nights with a wonderful family in the outskirts of Bangalore. Vijay and Niya are a couple expecting their first child at the end of June, and staying with them for the summer is Vijay's 15 year old nephew Gollu. They are a super nice couple who own and run a furniture design and manufacturing business, and Vijay designs bicycles in his spare time. He even created a custom bamboo bicycle and was profiled in an Indian environmental sustainability magazine. (The bicycle was on loan to a friend so we couldn't get any pictures but you can read the profile (sadly, no pictures though) of Vijay here.)

We were treated just like family and had a lazy, laid back weekend with them. They live in a four story apartment building and are very friendly with all their neighbors. All the kids called me and Jaimee "Uncle" and "Auntie" which was pretty cute and they enjoyed playing Scrabble and UNO with us. One afternoon I borrowed a bike and went riding around the neighborhood with Gollu and the other kids from the building (think the movie The Sandlot but with the kids' uncle along for the ride :-). And another afternoon we all went to Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, a huge 100 acre park in the center of Bangalore. Here we all are in front of a big tree in the park:
From Bangalore
India continues to amaze us. The divide between the rich and the poor is mind boggling. The neighborhood we stayed in is a fairly new development and in between the new apartment buildings live hundreds of people in make-shift tents. While Vijay and Niya have a housekeeper who visits daily to clean (and even does the previous night's dinner dishes!) and they drive a small Fiat sedan, the people in the "slums" outside cook on open-air fires and live under plastic tarps. While looking off their rooftop balcony you can see naked kids running around amidst garbage below.

Bangalore is an odd mix of old and new India. Walking around the city has a very cosmopolitan feel; there are lots of well-dressed young people, lots of malls, but also cows roam the streets and the ubiquitous Indian garbage is everywhere. It also felt strange when Sunday afternoon, driving home from the park we stopped on the side of the road for fresh sugar cane juice. A man took a whole sugar cane stalk and pressed it through a machine, selling us yummy glasses of juice for 7 rupees (15 cents) each! What can you get for 15 cents in the US? Yet just down the street is a mall with all the luxury brands like Tiffany, Rolex, etc., selling for standard US prices.
From Bangalore
The city also has frequent power outages, often lasting only a few minutes, but sometimes hours at a time. This added to the contrast as one day we were cruising through one of the downtown malls when the power cut out - the mall was an eerie quiet without the sound of the background music or hum of the air conditioning and all the escalators were still.

We ate wonderful food with Vijay and Niya, both of whom are great cooks. They tried teaching us a few different recipes, but as even the "simple" recipes require a cupboard of spices we probably won't be doing too much traditional Indian cooking back home. In addition to home cooking they also took us out to a night market where we had delicious street food, including masala soda (tastes kind of like Moxie).

It's been fun seeing how middle-class (upper class?) Indians live and seeing a non-touristy side to India. Tonight we take an overnight bus to the town of Hampi, a site of old temples and ruins from when it was a major city in the 1300s. We're not sure how much longer we have in India. Niya invited us to her family home in Gujarat, a little north of Mumbai; she's going back there in two weeks to stay with her family until she gives birth. Although it would be awesome to stay with her and her family, we don't know if we'll still be here two weeks from now. After Hampi we plan to visit Goa and then Mumbai, but for how long in each we don't know.

We didn't take a ton of pictures in Bangalore, but the ones we did take are here.

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