Category Archives: India
Out of India and don’t have time (yet) to fill you in on all the details, but here are the high points.
- Attended an Indian wedding (reception) with a Bollywood starlet and the son of a prime minister.
- Toured a wildlife sanctuary. Watched an elephant charge a motorbike. Spotted deer, sambhar, monkeys, bison, lots of birds.
- Was the guest of the house at a resort on a working coffee, vanilla and pepper plantation.
- Had to change plans because of a general strike called by the government of one of the states.
- Had several issues with travel and logistics but wound up where I needed to be without serious incident.
- Ate a hamburger, Chinese and Indian sweets in the same meal.
- Experienced life through the eyes of an Indian family as they live it every day with drivers, family time,
- Learned much more about the politics, languages, cultures and peoples than anyone could be expected to in the short time here.
- Found out the contrast of meanings between TII (this is India) and true Indian Hospitality.
Update: Now posting my experiences.
While in India I visited a great place called Tranquil Resort. It’s set on a 400 acre working coffee, vanilla and pepper plantation, tucked into the hills above a small but busy village of Sultan Bathery. Treehouse huts and more traditional rooms await you, but it’s doubtful you’ll spend much time indoors. 5 hours drive from Bangalore and 2 hours from Mysore.
I found myself hiking up the “Braveheart” trail to the peak of the mountain behind the resort. I was followed by a boxer named Shadow – one of the house dogs. He encourages me along in a friendly way; much less friendly are the winged insects buzzing around, though they do encourage you to move. Local monkeys sat and watched me curiously from a distance in the trees and on the rocks as I awkwardly bent to get a good line of sight through the leaves to take photos. The sun faded in and out behind the clouds. I was certainly happy for the shade; the jungle was hot and wet enough without the sun’s contribution.
Unfortunately I overdid it on the walk. It’s only about 5km but rugged. Someone who’s actually in shape would have been just fine at the pace I was going, but I wasn’t smart enough to slow down to my speed. I moved from “Braveheart” to “Terminator” to “Indiana Jones”. I skipped a route called “Cliffhanger” not because it was harder, but because it was a bad movie. And also because it was hard.
I got back down after about 5 hours walking. It was made harder since I had a touch of “Delhi Belly” and not enough water. I went to my room and changed, then hopped in the pool. Cool and refreshing. Ahhhh. Then to a nice hot shower. Towel off, change clothes and get to lunch. Wonderful morning.
After lunch I went off property to a nature preserve. The resort is only about a half hour from the preserve. I took the trip with a driver in an open jeep. We stopped at the gate long enough to get a guide – required for entry – and continued. We went around inside and almost immediately saw an elephant. But it was a work elephant. The day before on the way to the resort I’d seen another one. This one was not tame and was in fact charging a motorcyclist who’d been taunting it. Good for the elephant! But we hadn’t paused long enough to grab a photo of the beast. In the park I had the opportunity to see lots of spotted deer, sambhar and monkeys, but no tigers. The driver and guide were happy with that but I was a bit disappointed. Se la vie.
In some ways India seems designed to frustrate. To intentionally drive away those who are unfamiliar with its idiosyncrasies.
- The time zone is :30 off of the standard time breaks. This guarantees that no other place will operate on the same time zone and every traveler will have to reset their watch.
- The government of Kerala (South-West India) has called for a strike of government employees in Friday 6a-6p. Makes it hard to do business.
- Locals say you can know your way around unless your family has lived in a place for generations. There may be some truth to that.
- State governments are nearly all either Hindu nationalists or communist. One state bans beef and alcohol, another promotes strikes. In Kerala, for example, there were 86 days of government called strikes last year.
Next time you’re in Bangalore, stop by a restaurant called Bheema’s just off Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road for short). Try the deep fried curried hot peppers. That’s the first place I ate in India and it was great. MG Road is one of the main roads through Bangalore and it’s lined with shops. The unfinished metro rail runs down the road, looking like a monorail high above the road. It’s not thought very highly of in the town – for one reason because they decided to go over, rather than under, the streets. Many locals consider that an eyesore and since it’s taken so long to get going they see it as a hassle. Hopefully when it’s done it’s effective at reducing traffic.
Speaking of traffic, I don’t know that there are any traffic laws. The only rule is chaos. People jostle for position if and when they can get through the traffic. Lots of two-wheel and three-wheel vehicles are in use. Most of the two-wheelers have two people on them. Women sit ladylike, sidesaddle. Sounds like the whole situation would be dangerous but the speeds never get above about 30mph so that reduces risk somewhat. Overtaking is quite an undertaking here – there no blinkers, only horns. And if you don’t use yours people are likely to run you down. It’s craziness.
You’ve heard the expression “exit through the gift shop.” That’s the case in Bangalore airport. Bangalore airport security dumps you into a duty free store you have to get through to get to your gate. This seems to be an increasing trend in International airports. Well at least that’s organized.
I’ve had quite a few haggling sessions with local vendors, cabbies and others. But a technique I saw used in India is different than those I’ve seen elsewhere. It’s pretty effective though.
When hailing an autorickshaw (also called a tuk-tuk) from one Mumbai airport to the other, one of the police officers told me that I shouldn’t pay any more than 100 Rupee – but that the drivers would try to charge more because of time of day. Good information. So I flagged down one of the drivers and he started me off at 150. I countered with 80, he went to 120, but wouldn’t go lower. “Ni-time cost moah.” He continued, “Eet ees not pah-mitted to peeck ahp heeah. Beeg fine.” “Mahch chiper dan taxee.” I went to another driver and he started at 180 INR and gave me the same lines about higher cost for night time and being the wrong area for picking up customers.
I walked away from him too and the first guy came back and told me OK, he’d take me. For 100, I asked? 120. Back to where we left off – that’s not a negotiating technique. So I turned and started to walk away. He said OK 100.
In the vehicle he told me why he wanted more. Night time. Wrong area. Taxis cost 2x. Yeah I got it. A few short minutes later we’re at the other airport. I hopped out and went for my wallet. “Plis sah. 150.” I handed him 100. Again he told me of his woes. Night time. Big fines. He looked at me with big brown eyes. “Plis.”
That’s a similar technique some of my neighbors use when I have them do yard work. We negotiate to a rate I’m happy with, then after they’re done ask for more because it was bigger than they’d thought. I turned away the tuk-tuk driver. I usually give in to my neighbors.
It’s not that I’m a softie for Americans, it’s that the situations are different. I’m never going to see the tuk-tuk guy again. My neighbors know where I live. And a lot of the times they’re looking out for me when I’m not around so it pays to keep them happy. And if I know their tactics I can get to the real rates for things and not get suckered. Well not too bad anyway. And each negotiation becomes a reference point for the next one. “Last time you came back and asked for more – are you going to try that this time?”
Just beware this haggling technique when in India and understand you may get hit up for more after you get what you want.
Half a world away, across 13.5 time zones, enduring 18-20 hours of flight time and a layover, endured four straight airplane meals, I have arrived. Mumbai. Formerly Bombay. The airport was a good welcome to the country. Hot, sticky, dusty, loud, smelly, crowded, and chaotic.
As someone told me before I left, India is an assault to the 5 senses. That’s not always a bad thing – sometimes the combat does you well. For example, the smells of a very spicy curry wafting from a roadside stand. Or the overpowering taste of some new and unknown fruit. Or the shocking blast of air conditioning upon stepping out of the sweltering heat. Yes, India is a land where your senses will be overwhelmed. The whole country seems to live like that, going from one extreme to another.
India’s clash between its history and its future is also a contrast. In many ways it still operates in its historical pattern and in some ways it has left that behind. In India much moreso than in any other place I’ve been, people still wear the traditional dress. Sarees, Bindis, Kurtas, are everywhere. Traditional garments seem to outnumber western ones, even in the cities. And bureaucracy reigns supreme in most places. At the airport going through security I was stopped because my ticket wasn’t stamped. It was one guy’s job to simply stamp the ticket at the counter. Even though I’d used the automated kiosk a red mark needed to be put on it for it to be valid.
India has a large upwardly mobile population, as well as a large population stuck in poverty. Still somewhat stuck to its old ways, India’s caste system is still somewhat in place, though on shaky ground. This also means that the tradition of servility is in place. Many of the wealthier Indians and foreigners hire full-time servants for things like driving, cleaning and cooking. I’ve been told these salaries may range from $40 to $250 per month. But that is changing, too; as opportunity comes to India money and business success is becoming the new caste structure. Some formerly from the lowest caste have become multi-millionaires.
And India can be very confusing. For example, Mumbai has two airports separated by 7 km – both with the airport code BOM. So if you’re flying into the country there, then on to another area keep this in mind. Nothing like getting caught at the wrong airport and wondering where your flight is. By the way, the going rate for an autorickshaw (also known as a tuk-tuk) ride from one to the other is about 100 Rupees – $2.50. Learn how the Indian drivers haggle.
India reminds me somewhat of China. And that’s not surprising. Both countries are climbing their way from third-world to first-world status seemingly in a generation. The pace at which each country is modernizing is shocking. And with that modernization come the natural byproducts of construction, squalor beside luxury, cultures intermingling, over crowding, breakdowns in etiquette, etc. It’s very much the feeling of a runaway train going at full speed. You’re going somewhere really fast but staying on the tracks is problematic.
In India this is more of a problem than in China because India is a democracy. Whereas China can shut down production in one area and relocate it overnight, India must nudge the free market. And controlling the direction of the economy means that bribery and corruption are natural outgrowths. This is something both countries have been struggling with in recent years; trying to get it under control. China simply executes those it deems guilty, but India cannot take such a harsh stance. From the feel of things, India seems to be doing a better job of reigning in corruption. China seems to be paying lip service but only needs an occasional scapegoat.
But despite its current challenges, India is a great place. It’s a country moving upward in the world. Quickly modernizing and becoming connected to the rest of the world.
Many readers of this blog will be familiar with my first trip around the world. It was the impetus for starting meanderingwoods to begin with. Well now I’m headed back around the world. I’m leaving in less than a week.
As great as the first trip was, it had one fatal flaw. The direction we took – east to west – sent us traveling with the time zones. When we passed the International Date Line we effectively jumped ahead one day. We continued around and never got that day back. Our bodies ticked off one day less than the calendar. That means we lost a day of our lives in transit. Well I intend to get that day back.
Phileas Fogg had the opposite problem in Around the World in 80 Days – he didn’t realize he’d gained a day. He left from London, heading east. He kept very detailed logs of his journey and it totaled 81 days. But when he arrived home he discovered, to his surprise, that the folks back there thought he’d only been gone 80 days! It’s a bit like time travel, if only on paper.
So that’s what I intend to do. Go from west to east around the world to get back my lost day. Starting in Atlanta I’m flying to Bangalore, India (by way of Amsterdam and Mumbai). Then to Seoul, South Korea with a layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then back around to Atlanta through Detroit, and arrive shortly after I left Seoul. Here are a couple of graphical representations of that trip.
Stay tuned for details….