Saturday, November 19, 2005


Another week. Work is going better than expected: it appears that I can pretty much do everything remotely that I could sitting at my desk in the UK. Obviously writing code can be done anywhere, the bonus has been in submitting work back. I work on a somewhat out of date codebase, as a result of being somewhat distant from HQ. I get new ones sent to me on DVD every now and then (this being the best available bandwidth, although the latency is hell), which means I tend to have to merge with what's happended since my DVD was burnt. Through the magic of VPNs I can not only merge with the current top level codebase, but also with items in the current putback queue. This means I can pretty much work without any special assistance from the good folks back home - good for me and them!

It's not all work though, last weekend we went to a hill station called Mahabaleshwar. This is located to the south of Pune, amidst some spectacular scenery, in the Western Ghats. Travelling there involved more exciting roads. Being in quite a hilly part of India there are lots of hairpins. Being in India, the drivers think nothing of overtaking around said hairpins. The first such stretch of twisty tarmac turned out not to be as bad as I first feared. The road was in fact one-way: on the return journey I discovered the other carriageway took a huge shortcut under the hill. However, the final stretch of road to Mahabaleshwar was definitely two way, yet the driver kept on overtaking as if there was no possibility of any traffic coming in the opposite direction around the blind corners.

Mahabaleshwar needs more than a single day to visit. Our lack of time was compounded by the hire car turning up late. Normally they turn up at least half an hour before you ask for them and make you feel rushed. When we really did need to leave early it was of course an hour and a half late: kismet. For all the reckless overtaking the journey is a slow one - about two and a half hours to travel 50 miles. The bends didn't agree with Roshni (19 month daughter) and we were further delayed cleaning up vomit. Actually San, my wife, did most of the cleaning on account of most of the ejecta ending up on her. Some pretty amazing forsight on her behalf saw, not one, not two, but four changes of clothes for Roshni. This turned out to be just the right amount to get her there and back in clean clothes - well done!

Mahabaleshwar town has a shopping street that appears to consist exclusively of stores offering the following: cute leather slippers, strawberries and mulberries, chikki (Indian toffee/nut thing of tooth destroying titanium hardness) and gaming emporia. The games were low level village fair gambling and some oldish arcade cabinets. Strange to see a Ridge Racer cabinet living out its retirement up in these Indian hills.

We eventually left the town (I had a good look at a 100 year old building in the carpark - now used for table tennis and billiards - whilst my wife was off buying the aforementioned cute slippers) to see one of the nearby viewpoints: Monkey Point complete with obligatory monkeys - these ones were eating sweetcorn tossed to them by the tourists. Monkeys are always good, but the views were better. Still no ADSL so the pics will have to wait, and it's hard to describe just how hilly the surrounding area is. The hills are not well spaced out rolling mounds of Scotland, nor are they rocky crags. They are densely forested all the way up - I believe the technical term is jungle - and densely crammed into the landscape. It is all sharp ridges and deep valleys with the hills seemingly contorted to fit into the available space.

From there we moved on to Tableland, a plateau featuring: a neon-tube bedecked Ferris wheel, people offering horse rides, parascending (parachute+rope+Indian Jeep racing across the dusty plateau). We passed by here on the way to Mahabaleshwar earlier in the day and left pretty sharpish after being absolutely mobbed by offers for horse rides. Coming back at dusk was much better: not only cooler, but people had started going home for the day so it was much more relaxing. We opted for a horse and cart ride around the plateau at sunset, Roshni was very interested in the horses and we could all go together this way. It was a fair trek to the far end, and the sun had well and truly set by the time we could see the view. The hills and lakes were still visible though, and very nice it was too under the moonlit twilight. On our return journey we passed a lake in which Ganesh statues are placed for one of the festivals. No elephant headed gods today, just lots of enormous bats flying over the water. These bats were big, at first we thought they were eagles returning to roost, until the silhouette of their wings revealed their identity. There were still waterfalls, forts and temples to see but time had run out. We will definitely be back here to stay for a couple of days so that we can take more in.

Back to Pune. The central region of town is quite interesting. There are a lot of old buildings still standing, albeit mostly is a state of some disrepair. Still, it makes a refreshing change to see the old rather than a relentless swathe of concrete as you do in so much of India. We live on the outskirts and the roads to and fro are in a bit of a state as a result of a very intense monsoon season. Repairs are beginning to start now that dry weather is more or less assured. The weather forecast from 'The Fast Show' will be as accurate as any for at least six months.

Yesterday there was an appartment meeting regarding hot water so we got to see a few of the neighbours. The hot water issue raised some temperatures. The problem: 3,500 litres of solar heated water per appartment block, water only heated during daylight (solar you see), people use hot water, used water is immediately replaced by cold water (well, ambient water - hardly cold). The resultant mixed water is soon no longer hot. The buliding management solution is that everyone showers, bathes and in general carries out all hot water activities from 6am to 9am. This lets the water heat up during the day, store at night and it will be there for the three hours in the morning. The residents' were having none of this. There was widespread agreement that the immediate replacement of hot water with cold is stupid. It means that you don't get full usage of the 3,500 litres that the sun has heated up. After only a third of the water has been used the mix is going to be too cold. This view was expressed by a variety of people along with the unacceptability of the management's scheme: Indians pointing out that no mention of a three hour hot water period whne they bought their flats; an American couple arguing in typically forthright style 'there's a problem, what are you going to do to fix it?', and everyone pointing out that people need to shower in the evenings after coming back from work. We left to go shopping before the meeting finished, but an impasse appeared to have been reached. I suspect further activity on this subject...


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