Driving across India

In September 2017, Nisha, Tejas and I went on a cross-country road trip –  Bangalore to Kathmandu. We were helping organise the State of the Map Asia conference in Kathmandu.

It took us 14 full days of driving, with numerous stops. This was definitely the highlight of my 2017 and will probably be for a while. This country is beautiful, and insane. I don’t even know where to begin to write about the journey. You can see the entire picture archive on our website – bangmandu.in

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During the trip, we used a Sony action camera mounted on the windshield to take geotagged pictures every 2 seconds. Today, I finished uploading over 90k of those pictures on Mapillary. These pictures are now available for everyone to use.

I’m certainly going to play around with them and build a giant movie of just driving across the country. Let me know if you come up with something cool! Here’s our drive from Kathmandu to Lumbini:

I went to the Survey of India.

I went up to Dehradun last week to do a workshop on OpenStreetMap and Mapbox at the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing.

IIRS is run by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). They are also neighbors to the Survey of India – the national mapping agency. SoI governs all mapping activities in the country, maintains the National Map Policy and enforces publishing the correct international borders.

Recently, Google Maps got into trouble for large scale mapping activities without the permission from SoI.

SoI campus in Dehradun is massive and houses the only printing shop in India at the moment. They also sell some of the treasures and I was aiming for this.

The first day, they closed the store as I walked in at 4.45PM  and refused to let me do anything except for looking at the catalog; worth the walk. They sold maps worth 850 INR that day.

The most recent map catalog. 1993

I went back the next day, right after the workshop to see more of the map room and talk to the folks there.

Gentlemen there told me that they don’t print much maps anymore. Congress government cut down funds. But SoI is not concerned, he said – ‘we are over 200 years old, most of the maps are complete now, you know.’

He pointed me to this map and said the state geospatial centers have lost their power and don’t do any printing at all. ‘People aren’t buying these maps.’ – well, duh, of course.

Everything except the toposheets are stored here

I talked about how they update the maps and they didn’t have much idea, not surprising. But I found out that SoI stores all vector data in DWG. You can buy the road network in DWG for ~ INR 6000.

I bought as many as I could.

1979 Bangalore

SoI is still the primary organisation that the planning commission resorts to gather data for urban planning and infrastructure – much of this is outsourced to small agencies across the country.

Conversations at the Mozilla Summit 2013.

I was privileged to attend the Mozilla Summit this year in Santa Clara. Over the period of three days, I had some interesting conversation with people from different technology backgrounds and this post is more of a self reference for me to come back to.

Robert Kaiser and I had an interesting conversation about his maps application for FirefoxOS. His app uses just HTML Canvas to visualise the tiles on the client side and also take care of all the interactions – no third party libraries.

I grabbed breakfast with Mark Giffin one morning and we started talking about rendering indic language and making them print ready. At Akshara, we use several techniques like Phantom.js to achieve this. Mark suggested that we should conside DITA. DITA provides comprehensive solutions for typesetting.

Amir Aharoni of the Wikimedia Foundation joined our discussion and introduced Firefox as part of the solution. Pointing out that Firefox works very well in rendering indic language from his experience working with the language team at Wikimedia. That’s most of what we are doing at Akshara right now, but there are local dialects which need more work.

I have known James Hughman for couple of years now, since his visit to India for the Droidcon. He joined Mozilla recently and I was excited by the fact that I would get to see him at the summit. We spoke about the books that we are reading, the new DRM policies and so much.

Toby Elliot introduced the new location services that Mozilla is building. I had  a chat with him about how we can use OpenStreetMap data and probably help improve the infrastructure. There’s a very exciting email thread going on between us right now to figure out how we can get this going.

Bill Walker was curious about the new maps project that we are doing in Congo. His brother being an archeologist does a lot of mapping and have been considering building platforms for collaborative mapping. We shared and talked about some of the existing systems and how we can adapt them for the custom usecases.

There are more people that I have spoken to than the above, but definitely these are the conversations that will continue and probably make way for more posts!

The Last 30 days.

I can’t believe that I’m sitting in my Bangalore home and writing this post after what happened in the last 30 days. I don’t have words to thank all those amazing people who took care of me over these days to bring me back and bouncing. Not quite there yet, but in a while. But I’m alive, for that matter.

I was between Italy and Germany during June 23 – July 9. We had an amazing time at the Info Activism Camp and later in Berlin with Kaustubh and Rome with Tin. It was fantastic. Towards the end of the trip I was quite tired from a sunstroke and irregular fever. On my flight back the fever decided to test the case and did the trick. 109 degree Fahrenheit with rigor. I arrived in Bangalore the next morning and went straight to a hospital.

From there until the last week, I have been to 4 hospitals, consulted 9 doctors, subjected to 7 blood diagnosis, 4 different radio-imaging, 3 antibiotics and a lot of stress. This was no fun. Not to any extent. I’ve cried and I’ve seen my mum crying at the same time. I was struck by an unidentifiable fever. I’ve lost weight and hair, and for whatever reasons my heart is heavy and life is rough.

It took a while to identify that I was suffering from a precursor of Enteric Fever. I’ve recovered now, though hopes weren’t too high in my mind. Time heals and patience count.

I want to thank Rahul – for coming over to check on me while I was down in Bangalore, staying over without sleep, taking care of me and taking me to another hospital the next day. I want to thank my mum and dad. I’ll easily run out of words here. What they went through is nothing compared to the pain I suffered. My aunts and brothers – for sending me food and supporting mum whenever she was alone in the hospital. I want to thank Gautam – for taking care of everything so that I could stay away from work as long as I wanted, checking on me and sending me one of my favorite books when I was getting bored. Francesca and Ashima – for talking to me when I wanted to. RijuShashank and Ayesha for letting me know that they miss me and I need to be all right soon.

And thank you everyone – your prayers and wishes helped me through.

The very special Pycon 2011

Download the talk and watch the video.

This edition of Pycon was in fact very special in different perspectives. I came to know that my talk was selected from Kartik. It has been a while since I hacked on Python with Android but I did follow the updates and new releases. 4 days before the conference, I managed to buy a Samsung Galaxy S 2 which looked to me as a brilliant phone and couldn’t wait to start hacking.

Since Praveen was in Pune, I didn’t have to look for other option to crash in. Took a bus overnight to Pune reached there on Friday (16th September), went to Pravi’s place. That was my first longest bus journey. Bangalore – Pune 846 KM. Reached the venue late in the afternoon, met couple of friends. Felt good to have given Noufal, Pradeepto and bunch of other guys, a face, with whom I interacted online.

My talk was on day 2. Didn’t have much to talk either. I was planning to scratch the surface and tell the people what to look for and where to find them – to write apps in Python for Android. The talk was scheduled in Track 2 which was apparently a hall with less capacity. 5 minutes after starting the talk, someone came in and said we need to move to the main auditorium given that the crowd who wanted to attend my talk won’t fit into this small hall. We wrapped up and moved to the auditorium.

Now, the pressure was on me. I really didn’t have any idea what these people might be expecting and whether my talk would help them get even closer to it. I started off with this disclaimer and showed them how sweet and beautiful Python code can be when compared to Java on Android – a pause – loud applause. That made my day. Couple of guys were really interested and they interrupted me to ask questions. I hope that I’ve answered them all. Few people came to me and I just gave them a better idea of the architecture and how things work. All went well. Phew! I should thank Nijad for keeping track of what examples and text I should be sharing with them.

Praveen, Labeeb and Vishnu wanted me to cook ghee rice. Labeeb said he can make chicken curry. I was a bit nervous and called up mom to ask how much rice should I cook. Met Nikhil and Sandy in Pune. Hung out with them and then crashed to Pravi’s place, where we ended up cooking!

AndroidCamp Bangalore

I’m sleep deprived and tired to write down all the awesome time I had at the AndroidCamp.
Jobless in the bus, so I should attempt to write something.

AndroidCamp was one of the best unconference that I’ve been to in Bangalore. I was so excited when Kiran and Kesava came up with this idea. I remember the discussions on the list that there were more than 200 sign ups within 48 hours of announcement.
Soon I found the proposals website proposals.androidcamp.in a wonderful idea that all unconferences should adopt.
Met a bunch of interesting people who do 100 other things around Android. I was too happy to find that there are people who hate Java and love Android :)

So copying from Manish Sinha. :)
Read it all here. http://milky.manishsinha.net/2011/04/02/android-camp-bangalore/

Trekking at Pakshi Paathaalam

Pakshi Paathalam (Bird Cave) is a wonderful trekking trail which takes you into the mammoth caves where birds nest. It has been found that a hundred different species of birds find their homes.

Trip Plan

To reach the cave you have put a lot of effort and walk through the dense Thirunelli forests. The trial is around 7.5kms long, which takes you through the true forests.

I had my parents and family friends to tag along for the trip and couldn’t actually take the entire trail. My plan was to map the trail and pull it to heritagewalks.in. Feels so sad about it.

Went to Thirunelli temple that hits a dead end. Tried for a space to stay found that this weekend the place is going to be busy. And finally managed to get a good stay right in front of the temple.

To go on the trail you have take the permission from the forest guard for Rs. 160. Someone from the Forest Department will accompany you on the trail to narrate and get things on track. These people can at times be funless and most often discourage you on continuing the trail for several reasons. Another important aspect is time. The caves are a bit dangerous and tough to get through if you are late to reach the place. If you make it before 9 in the morning everything should be okay.


On the way to the caves you can sight (only if you are lucky enough) many jungle dwellers including elephants, forest squirrel etc. We were in fact very lucky to see the squirrels. Unlike the ordinary ones they’ve very long silky tail. You can know their presence, listen closely and should hear them.

Once you are on the trail, and this is what makes me wishing to go back, you get to know nature better and how the middle of the dense forest would feel. The coldness, the birds, and I don’t know what else, something will make you fall in love with the forest.

We had a guy with us from the Department and 2kms on the trail wished if he hadn’t come. If I can find a trail map somewhere that would have been a better choice. He was showing signs of tigers and lone elephants wandering somewhere near and some of the team got really frightened! Insane. And they started backing off. Finally we ended up deciding to take a slight deviation on the trail, another 3kms, to hit the stream called Kaalindi.

Bamboo Forests.

Along the walk,  we found some interesting things. The Bamboo Forests. I know that’s not new but they were bloomed and they bloom only once in 40 – 45 years, which marks the lifetime. The flowers had a strange rice like grain inside them. Adivasi ladies are found busy collecting the flowers and separating the rice from the flowers.

Cave temples are found scattered around Kerala. We found a very sacred and beautiful cave temple de route Kaalindi. The temple is packed and designed with stones for different purpose. There was a small pond near by to facilitate the devotees.  When I tried to step on to one of the rocks someone called out loud to remove the sandals. So sacred, it shows.

Cave Temple

We walked another 2kms in the forest to hit the river stream called Kaalindi. Kaalindi is in fact a bigger river that originates from somewhere in the Himalayas. It has been said that taking a bath in this sacred river will wash away all the sins one have done – Papanaashini. Paapam (Sin), Naashini (Destroy).

We spent some time along the river and few us didn’t mind to drown ourselves in the stream. Had some wonderful food and headed back to the room.

You can find the entire GPX of the trip here.