The plane landed in Bangalore India early in the morning. This was my first trip outside the United States and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived.
On the plane we had to fill out an Indian Customs card to give to the immigration officer when we arrived. It asked questions such as where I would be staying and whether or not I was bringing in any seeds, meat, or plants that might carry insects. This seemed like an important concern because before the plane took off from London's Heathrow airport, they also sprayed an insecticide throughout the cabin to kill any insects that might have stowed away on the passengers.
Upon exiting the plane, the first stop was the Indian Customs. I had built up all this unnecessary anxiety over not getting through customs and the immigration officer literally spent 15 seconds looking over my passport and then let me through. He didn't even ask me any questions!
As I exited the airport, the air smelled thick and humid, but cool (the sun hadn't risen yet). It first smelled of burning wood, then of human waste. Within a few minutes, the smells had mostly faded (I think my nose adjusted because I hardly smell anything anywhere now).
My friend had arranged for a driver to drive us to his house. My first impression of the driving was that they're all suicidal and crazy, and that they constantly use their horns to make others aware of that fact. They drive fast, really fast. I will never again think American drivers from any state are crazy.
As we approached the first intersection on the highway, I noticed the traffic light was red. But we didn't slow down. There were other vehicles approaching the intersection, but that didn't seem to matter. As we flew through the intersection my friend told me that there's an unwritten rule that red lights don't matter before 6:30am. Awesome.
Every single vehicle we passed on the highway meant getting really close and then beeping the horn a few times. Most cars don't have side mirrors, so you have to beep to let people know you're passing them. Oh, and the lanes don't matter either. Everybody swerves between lanes or rides right down the middle of them.
There are big speed bumps, even on the highway, that force you to slam on your breaks to slow down almost to a stop. Pedestrians use such areas to cross the road, since they know everybody has to slow down.
There were lots of cars broken down or pulled over on the side of the road. Groups of dogs strolled along the sides of the streets. Construction trucks carried slabs of rock that were the same size as the truck itself. The backs of the trucks read "BEEP HORN" in big faded red letters.
When we got off the highway and the roads became smaller, many intersections had no traffic lights (not that it mattered before 6:30am anyway). Crossing a busy intersection involved barely slowing down and then kamikaze-driving right through the intersection. I still can't believe we didn't hit anything and that nothing hit us.
I was surprised by how many people were already out and about at 5:30am. I was told that lots of people use the early morning to walk or run for exercise before work (though I saw mostly walkers, not runners). They use the recreational parks, which are fee-free before 6:30am. The pollution made the air heavy and hard to breathe. I couldn't help but wonder if exercising in such dirty air was more detrimental to their health than it was helpful.
As we approached the house where I would be staying, I was told that less than ten years earlier the entire neighborhood around the house did not exist -- it was all grass and farmland. It's now full of shacks, houses, little stores, people, motorcycles, cars, horns, dogs, and garbage.
Bangalore was considered a retirement home for a long time -- a place where the elderly would go to settle down (much like Florida in the United States). The reason for this was because of the beautiful weather. Unlike the rest of India, the weather is usually quite mild and cool. The humidity is also very low compared to the rest of the country.
However, over the past decade the mild weather has also attracted tech businesses, resulting in a tech boom in Bangalore. With India's growing economy, the infrastructure in Bangalore was unable to cope with the extreme expansion. Construction is still going on everywhere. Land and home values have skyrocketed -- small plots of land that cost $20k ten years ago, now go for $350k.
The environment has suffered greatly. There used to be over 120 lakes in Bangalore -- now there are only 10! The lakes were drained to make space to build. Bangalore used to be full of groves of giant trees but now they're almost all gone. I drove along a road with over 50 freshly cut tree stumps! And these aren't small trees either -- they must have been over a hundred years old; their stumps over 4ft in diameter!
The contrast around Bangalore is ridiculous. It doesn't make sense at all. You've got people walking barefoot with barely enough clothes to cover themselves living in shacks right next to a property that just sold for $4 million.
Later that morning I tagged along with my friend to his office at SELCO where he introduced me to almost everyone we met. As usual I struggled to remember all their names (three days later and I'm finally starting to remember them). I spent most of the day trying not to fall asleep as I suffered the effects of a 12-hour jet lag.
For lunch we walked to a local cafe to eat a traditional vegetarian Indian meal. I was amazed by how much of the food in this area is vegetarian. Note that I said vegetarian and not vegan -- they still use plenty of dairy (milk and yogurt). Needless to say, I'm no longer vegan.
I was worried that I'd start to get sick from drinking the milk, because milk in the United States has always upset my stomach. Surprisingly, the milk doesn't appear to affect me here in India.
I'm not exactly drinking gallons of milk, but even the amount that I am drinking (small amounts mixed with coffee or tea, or cooked in food) should be enough to make me sick. My best guess is that the milk is more pure than that in the United States. What's also interesting is that Indian food usually upsets my stomach -- at least it always did when I ate at Indian restaurants in the United States -- but I've been eating spicy Indian food for three days now and I'm fine.
That evening, eight of us walked to a restaurant to have dinner. Everybody I met was so friendly. While most of them worked for SELCO, one of them was an intern from Switzerland -- she had only been in India two months and yet she already seemed so comfortable here. It was incredible how quickly I felt welcome around everyone. I had literally just met all these people and yet they already felt like old friends.
Here are the photos:
And here's a video I shot that shows the neighborhood around where I'm staying. Everything you see in this video was farmland and grass ten years ago!
Here's another video that shows more of the city as we approach the SELCO office. The roads are hardly ever this empty!