Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fantastic Freeways!

We have been on the desi freeways a few times since our return. And overall, I am impressed! The quality of the roads is fantastic. Not a single bump will you notice. The last time we were on the Bangalore-Mysore freeway was about 5 years ago, when we were here on a vacation from Calif. Then, it was like a village road, filled with pot holes and very narrow. Coming from the US, it was really sad to notice the absolute contrast. But now, you have these beautiful 4 lane freeways that can easily compete with the freeways in the west for quality. See pic below.

The engineering is very good. The roads are banked well. Banking was never done on the Indian freeways before. You had to navigate the ups and downs, and the turns and curves with the clutch and brake. Now, you can simply step on the gas, much like on any freeway in the US. You can touch 120-140 kph! The pic to the left shows the banking pretty well. This pic and all the following pics were taken on the way to Chennai.

The roads also have boards with National Highway number, the different places that the roads lead to and the respective distances in the typical green board, just like in the west. Also notice the shoulders for pulling over. Amazing, isn't it?

And like a typical Indian road, some stretches also have trees lining the roads, making it scenic and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it is not all good. You still face some typical Indian problems while on the freeway. The road sense is fairly lacking amongst the users, making it very difficult at times to predict what you will meet with on the road. You actually have people driving in the opposite direction on a divided freeway!!! Since the freeway is divided, they just assume that they can use the side of the road that most satisfies their individual needs. So, as you drive on these beautiful roads, you can very well expect a vehicle to come right at you!!! It could be a huge truck too! Unbelievable! You just have to make way and "adjust". Once, we saw a tractor guy actually arguing with the police who was reprimanding him for being on the wrong side of the road. The tractor guy just didn't get it that he was wrong! Sigh!

You have all kinds of vehicles using the freeway. Everything from a cycle, auto rickshaw, tractor, to the cars, buses, trucks etc. Since the moving speed of every vehicle is different, you can't really cruise at your own speed. You will always have to be watchful, and not miss a cyclist by accident. Scary, eh!

And when the freeway cuts through a town, like in the olden days, the freeway magically transforms into the main downtown street of that town/village! This considerably lessens your speed, and you have to navigate through cows, pedestrians, bus-stops, vendors, etc! The pic below kind of typifies the scenario.
This is mostly never the case in the US. The freeways pretty much stay out of towns and even if they do cut the towns, the town traffic can get in and out of the freeways only using ramps/exits. I say 'mostly' cause in old cities, the freeway still transforms into the main street of the town/city. For example, the 101 in San Francisco.

The Indian freeway is still just a road for the pedestrian to cross/jay walk. Pedestrians magically appear almost anywhere. And when the road is wide, and the sun is bright, and you are speeding at 100 kph, you can only imagine the difficulty in even noticing the jay walker. And at times, the freeway actually has a zebra crossing! What the !! Do the road designers except the speeding motorist to suddenly come to an absolute halt at a zebra crossing? Cause there are no signals at such crossings!!! Notice the zebra crossing and the pedestrians below. Notice also the lack of signals.
The shoulders typically are also spots for a variety of activities. and these activities can actually spill onto the freeway!!! The first pic below shows some political activity happening right next to the freeway. Look at the number of people standing along. The second pic shows a typical shop set up under the trees. People pull up and shop right there on the shoulder/freeway.
Having listed the +es and -es, I still have to say that the roads are a 1000 times better than they ever were. And with Sri. Vajpayee's Golden Quadrilateral, the largest express highway project in India, coming to completion, we can actually travel around India on road!
Image source: National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)
I still fondly remember all our innumerous road trips in the US. We always preferred the roads, mostly cause it was so easy! And not to mention, very pretty! Some of California's and Oregon's freeways along the Pacific coastline are also some of the most scenic. To think that we can do similar road trips here covering most of India is exciting, to say the least. And with India's varied culture and landscape, it will be an absolute pleasure to go on a Golden Quadrilateral road trip. :)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pre-schools in Bangalore

This topic is primarily for folks who are interested in pre-schools in Bangalore and who have emailed me for information.

There are lots and lots of pre-schools in all areas of Bangalore. And, there are also lots of pre-schools that are new and have modern, read western, methods of teaching young kids the basics. Typically these newer pre-schools have lots of learning equipments in the classrooms. And the ratio of the teacher to the students is very good. The modern/western, friendlier pre-schools are also the more expensive ones.

Some of the pre-school chains that I am familiar with and those that have branches in Bangalore are listed below:
Please Note: The numbering has nothing to do with their ranking. I am just listing the ones that I have heard of.
  1. Eurokids - See my earlier review. Eurokids has about 23 branches in Bangalore.
  2. Kidzee - One of my friends sent her daughter here for nursery and was pretty happy with the school. Kidzee has about 16 branches all over Bangalore.
  3. Neev - I first heard of Neev from Silkboard, when he mentioned it in the comments here. Since then, I have also met parents who send their kids to Neev, and they have only good things to say about the school. In my review of Eurokids, the couple of things I said I was not really happy about were the very few hours at school everyday and the number of closed days in a year. Neev is good on both of these counts. They have longer hours and are open on most holidays. This school, however, only has 2 branches. One in Whitefield and the other in Indiranagar.
  4. Kara - I personally do not know kids that go to a Kara school. But, from the little I have heard, it sounds good. They have 2 branches. One in HSR layout and another in RMV 2nd stage.
Apart from these chains, there are some good preschools that I have heard of. Each of the following seems/sounds very good.
  1. Gaia - Comes with very high recommendation from parents who send their kids here. So, I am guessing it is really good. I have known some U.S-returned parents who cannot stop talking about this school. I have not visited the school, and so wouldn't know much personally. The school is in RT Nagar.
  2. Buddhi - I have been to the campus and it looked pretty good. The school is not restricted to pre-school. The campus is in RMV 2nd Stage. You can learn more about the school and it's programs on the website.
  3. Prayag Montessori - I know nothing about this school. However, when I searched online for pre-schools in Bangalore, I came across this school's website, and it seems to be a true Montessori. It is in Padmanabhanagar.
Most of the schools that I have already listed here also have pre-schools. If you know of some other good pre-schools, please let me know and I will include them here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bangalore FMs

The good thing is there IS FM in Bangalore. I hate having to pick and play music in the car. I love that there is FM radio, and even happier that there are about a dozen* channels! What is wonderful is you also get to hear some old Kannada and Hindi songs, the ones that I grew up listening to. My mom played the Vividh Bharati regularly when I was a child and the melodious tunes still bring out a happy cheer in me. I had almost forgotten some of the songs and didn't realize how easily I could still sing along. There is a good mix of English songs, and you actually even get to hear classic rock!

The bad thing is the 'teenage cacophony' (as my hub calls it). The radio jockeys (RJs) are very young and really can only appeal to the teens. I have hardly heard anybody speak naturally and easily. They do make the "effort" to sound energetic and "very" alive. Very tiring. It is a lot of noise and chatter. Every station's tagline is repeated ever so often that it is exhausting on the ears. In comparison, the American FM channels are very easy on the ears, and hardly seem to interrupt the music. I guess the maturity of the FM industry shows. The main difference between the Indian and American FM stations is the age group of the hosts. American hosts are older, more mature, and pleasing.

The other thing I learned here is that no private FM stations in India can relay news, unlike on the TV. So, you only get to hear the government sponsored news on the FM radio, which is on the All India Radio station.

What we must have is an Indian National Public Radio (NPR is an independent, private, non-profit membership organization of public radio stations in the U.S. The programs presented are very intellectual and cover a huge variety of subjects, including news and cultural programs. It is a treat for the common man seeking more from the radio than just music) With the number of educated people in India being in many millions, NPR is something that we will do good with. A forum to discuss the progress of the nation, to bring corruption into focus, to discuss movies intellectually, to offer cacophony-free knowledge based programs etc.

A list of Bangalore's FM radio stations and their frequencies in MHz:
I am a new listener to the local FM stations. So, I can't claim to be an authority of any sort. The info listed below is from my own listening and from research. Please feel free to correct me in the comments section. I will gladly edit the post if any info is found incorrect.
  1. 91.1 - Radio City plays a mix of Hindi, Kannada and English music. I haven't heard enough to comment about the RJs here. Official owner: Star TV
  2. 91.9 - Radio Indigo is an English only station and plays different genres, including Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, Rap, Jazz, and Dance. On weekends, the station includes internationally syndicated music charts, such as Casey Kasem's American Top 20 and Ryan Seacrest's American Top 40. Of the lot, the RJs here seem the most westernised. But, it is also true that this is the only station that is only English and very "American". Official owner: Jupiter Capital (new group formed after the sale of BPL Mobile.)
  3. 92.7 - Big 92.7 FM predominantly plays Hindi music with Kannada songs every now and then. Official owner: Adlabs (Anil Dhirubai Ambani group)
  4. 93.5 - S FM is a Kannada only station. Very hyper RJs, I must say! They want to sound 'oh-so-cool', but fail miserably. Their talk is a bad mix of Kannada and a put-on-accent of English. Terrible! Official owner: SUN Network
  5. 94.3 - Radio One offers a mix of Kannada and Hindi music. Official owner: ?
  6. 98.3 - Radio Mirchi is a Hindi and Kannada station. Official Owner: Times of India Group
  7. 100.1 - Amrutha Varshini is a channel exclusively for Indian classical music. It is a treat for all classical music lovers! This station is AIR's effort to make available the rich treasure of its classical music archives. Official owner: All India Radio (AIR) ?
  8. 101.3 - AIR FM Rainbow is run by the government's All India Radio. It features Hindi and Kannada songs and occasional English songs along with hourly news in English, Kannada and/or Hindi. Personally, I like the RJs on Rainbow, mostly cause they are pretty down-to-earth and contemprory. No jazz, more me! Official owner: All India Radio (AIR)
  9. 102.9 - Vividh Bharati Not very differnet from the Vividh Bharati of yester years. Official owner: All India Radio (AIR)
  10. 104 - Fever Thanks to Kamlesh, I started listening to Fever. The station is pretty good and hardly has any RJs. The music is a mix of Bollywood hits, Indipop, and English music. Official owner: HT Music and Entertainment and Virgin Radio
  11. 105.6 - Gyan Vaani is an Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) station that is informative, but very boring. A typical olden days DD kind of set-up. Official owner: IGNOU
I have been told that Radio City and Radio Indigo are the more popular ones. From the little I have heard, I seem to like Radio Indigo, Fever, and AIR FM Rainbow.

*-Bangalore has a total of 12 FM stations, the highest in India. Source: Wikipedia