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Holidays in India: My First Christmas Alone in Bangalore

Ahhhh Christmas Eve was pure heaven!

This is the first year in AGES that I am spending Christmas without my daughter.  Traditionally she and I head out on a 10 day adventure that spans the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.  In recent years we have taken off to Tunisia, Marrakech and Prague…always returning with hysterical and wonderful memories.  I’ve always really loved these times together because my daughter is always away from me in summer so we never experience the traditional ‘summer holiday’ like most families.  But this year she headed back home to Spain to visit friends and family so I am going it solo.

My choices for how to spend Christmas were varied but until several days ago I hadn’t made a decision.  A work mate of mine invited me to spend Christmas dinner with his family, or our remaining group of expat mates in town planned for brunch at the Leela Palace hotel or finally I could decide to head out of town for a bit of an escape.  In the end I chose the latter and on Christmas eve I checked into a five-star spa hotel just a short hour’s drive outside of Bangalore.

After checking in I spent the afternoon at the pool, which was completely deserted so I had the entire place to myself.  It was bliss! I ordered cocktails, ate my lunch sitting meditation-style on my lounge chair and listened to a funky megamix on my MP3 player.  That was exactly what the doctor ordered, I’ll tell ya!  I lounged on that chaise in my bikini and swam for hours without a single soul around to check out this ‘inappropriate for a woman’ behaviour that was making me so very happy. Well, silly me though!  I thought I’d be able to do the exact same thing today on Christmas day but boy was I wrong!

Christmas Day pool party … with a very sweet woman who invited me for a boogy!  I was walking around without shoes on…and look how much taller I am than her!

Today’s blog post is being written in real-time.  I’m sat poolside on a chaise lounge chair but this time I am fully clothed.  I’m eating Tandoori chicken and sipping a yummy cosmopolitan that they served over ice and with a little umbrella but this time I’m in the shade to avoid tan lines.  There are roughly 200 people around the pool and I am the only white person.  The majority of the men are bare-chested and in swimming trunks playing and dancing and goofing off in the pool.  But where are the women?  There is ONE woman in a 1920s style swimming costume that goes from her knees to her shoulders but that is it, the rest of the women are looking glam and fully clothed, complete with scarves and bling bling accessories.  There are literally dozens of men in the pool or running around outside of it in their swimming trunks and less than ten women in the pool…all of whom are fully clothed except for our 1920s gal.

The rest of the beautifully dressed women are simply trying to stay in the shade because it’s 28 degrees today with clear blue skies.  Basically it’s the perfect weather for lounging in a swimming costume and swimming on Christmas day with the family. But unfortunately that is not in the cards for Indian women, even on Christmas.  So instead of enjoying the sun and the pool, the closest the women will come to that experience is acting really excited about the fun and games the guys are having.  I’m sorry but actually HAVING the fun is WAY more fun than looking on and having to appear excited about the fun that someone else is having.  I have a hard time believing that if the tables were reversed that the men would have as much fun watching the women frolic in the pool, play water polo, dance to the rockin’ music in the shallow end, etc.  No way.

The women are fully clothed and typically hang out in a completely segregated area of the pool.

But this is India and this is the reality of life for women based on a long and rich history of tradition.  And because of that I am reluctant to lounge in my bikini even with this perfect weather and gorgeous pool so I am still wearing my sun dress after more than hour that I am sat poolside.  I would be the only woman in the entire place showing some skin (well, in a sun dress I guess I already am the only woman showing some skin!) and I can only imagine that everyone would stare even more than they are now if I stripped down to a bikini.  So when in Rome, stay clothed girlfriends!  I’m not a happy camper about this though because the pool was one of the main reasons I chose to come here and not stay in Bangalore.

Well, okay… so if you can’t beat them, join them!  And I really am having fun taking in the sights and sounds of Christmas in India.  Here at the hotel there is a wild Christmas party going on at the pool complete with a massive spread of Indian food and a DJ blasting rockin’ house, commercial and Bollywood music with a few people here and there even busting a move and shaking their tail feathers!  There are carnival-style games going on around the pool as well as some silly audience-participation stuff that the MC initiates (yes, of course there is an MC to officiate Christmas … this is India!).  The pool has a water polo net and there are tons of balls bouncing about for the kids. This is nothing like the somber and boring Christmas parties I have been to at hotels in Europe or the U.S.  This is truly Christmas, Indian style – colourful and loud!

And like on so many other occasions, the women here are lovely and kind and just as curious about me as I am about them (read my article about working with Indian women).  When I went on walkabout to snap some photos a few minutes ago I was stopped a couple of times by women wanting to take their photo with me (not sure why exactly but it’s sweet).  Two of them even asked if I wanted to dance with them or go swimming, which I found so sweet.  But there is no way I am getting this dress wet and the bikini seems like an impossible mission at this point.  Although, I just might take them up on the dancing in a bit because that does sound rockin’ and the DJ is playing hit after hit.

In general, Christmas is very different here in India.  Most of my friends are Hindus but I do have a handful of mates who are Christians and have long-standing family traditions surrounding Christmas that I was surprised about.  I didn’t ask around about this but I assume that Christianity was brought over during the time when India was colonized by the British??

Our saucy Santa was very fun and had a small mob following who sang Christmas carols. It was fantastic 🙂

Things are quite different at work for Christmas, too.  There is no ‘Secret Santa’ or Christmas parties as such but on Good Friday we had yummy muffins delivered to everyone’s desk by a very white but somehow very Asian looking Santa, it was really fun and Santa was very cute.  The HR team decorated the office as well as they do for all major holidays so I actually started getting into the Christmas spirit for the first time at work.

Shopping at Christmas isn’t that different from back home from the little I saw.  Knowing that I was alone, a friend wanted to cheer me up and took me on a shopping spree to Garuda Mall in Bangalore last week.  I was in heaven and bought a gorgeous new Dupont pen, some Dior makeup and a new camera (mine broke during my birthday party in October when it fell on the dance floor at F Bar and I’ve been without one since).  At each of the three stores they had a small Christmas ‘gift with purchase’ to give as incentive to shoppers, including a Christmas basket full of chocolates at William Pen, a bracelet and bag full of samples at the Dior counter at Lifestyle and an upgraded memory card at the Sony shop where we bought the camera.  Rock on!

Christmas cards, massively HUGE in the UK and the U.S., are simply not given here so when I passed out the handful of cards at work or drove by my friend’s homes to deliver them – even though I only gave a card and no gift – it was really appreciated here and came as a surprise.  Just like so many things are new for me, it was fun for my Indian mates to enjoy something new as well.

As far as gifts for our domestic help, there are also traditions to uphold.  Our driver is Hindu so he is given a gift during Diwali and he doesn’t expect anything during Christmas.  However, our housekeeper is Christian so we gave her a gift on Good Friday, which tradition dictates should be at least one sari and I love sari shopping so that was fun as hell.  We gave her a sari, 200 Rupees to have the blouse for it tailored, a small purse and some sweets for her family.  I was also advised to gift the security staff of our building with cash, the senior guys receive Rs. 500 and the junior or newer security guards receive Rs. 150, plus I like to bake brownies so everyone enjoys one brownie too.

All in all I’m happy that I decided to spend some time alone at a spa instead of with the cats in our flat in Bangalore.  It feels less lonely here for some reason, I suppose because everything is different and new and doesn’t remind me of my daughter.  And thanks to video chat from Skype I spent over an hour in the wee hours of Christmas day catching up with my brother and sister in Colorado and then right afterwards with my parents in California.  Mom even took me on a tour of the house to show me her decorations for this year and the tree … and even set the laptop in the oven for a few seconds so I could catch a glimpse of the turkey.  It was perfect and made me feel a bit more connected even though we are so far apart.  Bless Skype for that!

Now it’s time for some TLC with an afternoon at the spa.  But I am going to miss watching the activities going on around me here at the pool.  Tonight I will eat Christmas dinner at the hotel restaurant – Indian food, hehe.

Happy Christmas to you, wherever you may be.

XOXO Angela

© 2011 Angela Carson

I started Angela's Bangalore from my hotel room on the very first day I moved to India in 2011, while struck with jet lag! It was my very first blog, the country's very 1st luxury travel blog. Now I'm rocking YouTube as @ExpatAngela, hope you'll subscribe.

This article has 18 comments

  1. Shishir

    Hey Merry Christmas. Nice writeup and the 5 star resort you are at is really good great food great spa have enjoyed myself there before havent been there recently… actually reminds me of Ceasers palace in vegas. Enjoy yourself and hey keep these fantastic articles coming. 🙂

    • angela_carson

      Thanks, Shishir! I am having so much fun here…spent 3+ hours at the spa today, going back for another couple hours tomorrow 🙂 Have a great Christmas. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement! Cheers, angela

  2. Vishal

    Nice post! Looks like u had good time with yourself… N about no women in pool.. Indian women aint that open yet.. Their condition is still pathetic except a few in cities who are independent.. Its a man dominated society.. But things are changing fast.. No one had thought one would see soo much western influence 10 years ago.. No one would have even wished you and there were no celebrations back then.. All that you see is an influence of western culture and its coming very fast.. esp in the cities.. n i wish wen u come after 10 yrs it’ll b full of women in bikini.. 😛
    n I hav recently started readin your blogs.. I lik the honesty with which u pen your thoughts!

    • angela_carson

      Hi Vishal, thanks so much for the kind words and for reading my blog on Christmas day 🙂 It is a bit of a pity that western influence is coming into India, isn’t it? Although the bikini thing could come quicker and I would be just fine with that 🙂 Happy Christmas, angela

      • Vishal

        You are welcome! There’s good in everything… It would be good to see the good things being emulated like being independent.. Working for a living.. Taking your own decisions.. Rather than blindly following the west.. I pity that Indians are losing interest in their own culture.. And actually the west is appreciating Indian culture and taking keen interest in it.. Would you agree on this?

  3. I'd Rather Be In Iceland

    The spa sounds wonderful. I’m surprised about the women/pool as Bangalore always seemed to me more westernised than the other big cities I visited – but maybe that just means there’s lots of expats! Have you been to the wildlife parks yet? I believe there are a few of them not too far away. I would have loved to do that but didn’t have enough time.

    • angela_carson

      Ohhhh the spa was wonderful 🙂 And to be honest, I spent more time in the spa because of the pool issue on Christmas so it was probably a good thing. I haven’t been to any of the wildlife parks nor have a photographed or visited a single temple, I really need to get on that 😉 Have a happy near year’s !!! –A

  4. Nisha

    Merry Christmas!
    It is the men staring and, “what will people say” thing that puts women off the pool. Also the fear of getting tanned. Another reason could be that they didn’t want to stand out. So, if you had got in to the pool, thay may also have joined in! It is a sort of group mentality and trying not to be the odd one out. The one girl who was already in must have been brave! When I was in India, the only swimming done was when the pool had a women only hour. Even then the coach and guard used to creep me out. Now I swim once a week and absolutely love being in the water.

    I think christianity came to India much before the British. I grew up in Kerala and remember hearing that a saint (Thomas?) brought christianity to India.

    • I'd Rather Be In Iceland

      Thinking about it, things do seem to be much more segregated there, which is nice sometimes and sometimes very inconvenient! And hard for Westerners to understand. I do remember lots of compliments because of having pale skin although ironically in England I’m relatively dark skinned! We always want what we don’t have!

    • angela_carson

      Hi Nisha, thanks for your comment. I would love find a pool where I could swim and not feel creeped out like you say 🙂 It is a strange thing here for me to get used to, coming from life at the beach in southern California and then the past decade living on the beach in Barcelona but I do love living here.

  5. Naveen Reddy

    Hi Angela,

    I’m a vivid follower of your blog for the past few months. I really like the way you appreciate little things in life and surroundings here. I also started to appreciate and respect things by seeing ’em through your eyes (esp. the urban life)and I’m learning and realizing few things, Thanks. I would like to say that being a foreigner keeps you mostly ignorant of the whole picture of the place and events. Like when I was in Nashville,TN I used to appreciate similar little things …clean broad roads, pavements everywhere, you don’t see soil, garbage and dust road side, lot of greenery in midst of the town, the coloring of the leaves in autumn, calm and pleasant Star bucks to have some coffee and think about your life, finding wild animals (Skunk and few others which I don’t know) in the back yard of your apartment in midtown………that’s impossible in India unless its a zoo.

    Now think about the night life presence of lot of chicks in a nightclub is usual thing there, you can have lot of eye candy, if looking at bare thighs,arms and clevage are you sole aim you will be a happiest soul by end of the night. I come to my point now, that the above pleasant things are what I used to tell my friends who are Americans . But more than often they used think about and talk about things like 9/11 was a conspiracy that Its the US government which did it, that Obama is a Israels agent, That US government is a puppet and there are a bunch of wall street guys who really run the US etc….Not that they don’t like their better livelihood and infrastructure but they dwell in the details and I don’t know how much of which is true. Not that they don’t get drunk party. In Similar way when I’m back to India most of the time I was thinking about how much peoples money our politician bast**ds stole from us, what will happen to Lokpal bill, the dirt and garbage roadsides every where in Bangalore etc, In fact Bangalore is the third biggest city in India and here a Municipal corporation doesn’t seem to exist which should look after infrastructure and sanitation of the city. Well they say “more dirtier the pond more bigger and beautiful would be the Lotuses’. Waiting for those Lotuses to bloom….. lol….

    and you please Keep rocking ……..with your great blogs …….and “Wish you a very happy new year “!

    finally I would appreciate if you (Angela) or any one can suggest a best club or venue to celebrate this Dec 31st night I would like to be in a place where there’s lot people (chicks to flirt with (dancing with is a illusion), lot of beer and lot of 80’s and 90’s (I’m a diehard fan of Ace of Base) POP and Techno music to shake the booty….! am I asking too much !…..Thanks

    Naveen

    • angela_carson

      Hi Naveen,

      First, WOW! Thanks so much for taking the time to offer up your comments and thoughts. I also wish that the tax-rich city of Bangalore took better care of the simple things like sanitation and streets and infrastructure but I am happy there are NGOs out there starting to take charge themselves 🙂

      As for new year’s eve… tough request with your music criteria I’m afraid. If you are content with the 80s and 90s being played just in your car on the way TO a party then I would suggest Skyye — that’s where my friends and I am going. I don’t know the exact cost but it is probably like the other hot spots and around Rs. 3,000, which includes the alcohol but give them a call and confirm (4909 0000). If you go, please come up and say hi to me 🙂

      I truly am pleased you like the blog 🙂 –angela

  6. dr.zahir

    well… just going over all ur blogs.. quite interesting… the perspective of a firangi in india is so very different compared to the stuff i ve read written by the locals… keep it flowing lady

  7. kalpana

    Nice Angela.. its lovely to know that the Santa has become famous especially when it was the first time she became one:)

  8. Jake Varghese

    Hi Angela. Actually Christianity has been in India long before it got to Europe. The first time was back in the year 52AD in the 1st century when St. Thomas (the doubting one), one of the 12 apostles, brought the religion to Kerala. There are only some 5 million descendants of those original Christians, me being one of them although even in Kerala there are a lot more Christians. After that the Portuguese brought Catholicism in the 15th century and after the British the Protestant variant also arrived. Today at around 2.5% of the population Christianity is the third largest faith in India although that only amounts to some 30 million or so people.

    BTW I love your posts.Keep up the great work.

    Jake

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