Wednesday, April 22, 2015

India Trip (Part 2)

In part 1 of my India trip report I kind of jumped right in with the air travel and the day-to-day itinerary. I want to start part 2 with some more broad observations about India and how it differs from life here in the U.S. of A.  The most striking difference is of course the vast difference between the haves and the have nots. The caste system is very much alive and well in India.  Service workers are definitely treated as servants and not equals by their Indian customers.  I witnessed several instances where Indian restaurant patrons very sternly scolded a server for a mistake or perceived slight. Our Indian counterparts also chastised us for tipping a little too generously for their taste too.  They said the norm there is to tip 10 percent at the very most.

There were also the very poor neighborhoods you would expect to see where people have constructed homes with whatever materials were available to them.  This was far more evident during our very short stay in Mumbai than in Pune, but it was still present.  As you traveled through the city it wasn't at all unusual to see a fairly modern building next to an empty lot filled with garbage.  There were also stray dogs everywhere.  They were just part of the landscape, but it was weird how the people and dogs never interacted with each other.  The dogs ignored the people just as much as the people ignored the dogs.

I also saw cows just wandering free on two different occasions. Once there was a group of three of them ambling down the street in the wrong direction while traffic just went around them.  Another time they were all grazing in the grass just outside of a tennis court that looked like it was part of some kind of sports club.  A co-worker saw two camels being led down the street one morning.  On a different morning we spotted somebody leading a herd of about 20-25 sheep down the side of the road in rush hour traffic.

And the traffic...that's a whole other subject.  Where we were, the mix of vehicles was about 35 percent cars and small trucks and 65 percent motorcycles and scooters. Except in the busiest of traffic the signals, signs, and road markings were mere suggestions.  Two lane roads were usually treated like they were 3, 4 or 5 lane roads.  They would fill every available space at an intersection while waiting for a light to change.  The 2-wheeled vehicles went wherever they wanted. They traveled between cars, on the sidewalk, through small openings in the medians, and even crossed to the wrong side of the road traveling against heavy opposing traffic. I also saw a few instances where there were 4 or even 5 passengers on one motorcycle. There would be a toddler sitting in the very front, dad driving, another small child behind him, and a mom riding side saddle holding an infant...none of them wearing helmets.

All vehicles on the road honk almost constantly, but unlike here it isn't usually angry honking.  They honk as a form of communication to say "I'm going to pass you" or "I'm next to you, so please don't change lanes and obliterate me" or to indicate to a pedestrian that they were not going to stop for them.  Since they are a former British colony they drive on the left which caused some comedy when my co-worker accidentally started to get into the driver's seat when we were being picked up after work one evening.  Here is a picture from outside the mall I mentioned in part 1 that shows the traffic.  I'm not sure why, but there is an over abundance of cars in this shot.

Lastly they are crazy for cricket there in India. It was on the TV every single time I entered the break room at work and there were at least 4 to 5 channels showing it each night when I got back to the hotel. I got one of the locals to explain the rules to me and I now have a pretty good understanding of how the scoring works and the format of the games.  I actually found myself enjoying the games and it was something with which to connect with my Indian co-workers.

The last day I reported on was Tuesday when we went to the Hindu temple. On Wednesday the jet lag and work was catching up with us, so we slept in and grabbed lunch at the hotel and went into work. I just realized I never really mentioned our work schedule. The group of people we were meeting with and training work a schedule that matches up with the regular day shift back here in the states.  Since there is a 10.5 hour time difference this means they work a 5:30 PM to 2:30 AM shift.  We typically worked 3:00 PM to about 2:00 AM each day.

On Thursday we went back to MG Road for more shopping because one of our group realized they needed to buy a couple more items for friends back home. We then grabbed lunch at TGI Fridays in the mall near the office before heading into work. Here is a shot of the view from the Fridays patio and a picture of the "scarf guy" that I found in my collection of shots.

On Friday we went bowling in the mall before grabbing lunch at Chili's.  We ate at a lot of American places at the behest of my co-workers who didn't have the most adventurous palettes.  If I had my way we would have eaten a little more local cuisine and gotten a little more spice in our diet.  Here is a shot of the lanes where we bowled.  It was a bowling alley and karaoke club all in one.  We stuck to bowling though.

As we made our way up to the Chili's from the bowling alley there was a large crowd gathered that all seemed to be standing back and looking at something in one of the stores. At first we thought maybe there had been a shoplifting incident or some other kind of problem, but it turned out the large crowd was checking out the cricket team from Kolkata that was making an appearance at the store.

We worked a slightly shorter day on Friday in order to have a few hours back at the hotel to clean up and pack prior to our very early flight on Saturday morning.  The flight departed at 5:25 AM which required getting to the airport to clear the multiple levels of security at the Pune airport.  The extra security didn't make me feel much safer since it was mostly for show and almost all of the measures could have been easily defeated by somebody with a desire to do so.  I really think the point is that personnel is cheaper there, so they hire more people and add extra levels of checks just to justify having more people. I had to show my passport and itinerary just to gain access to the airport and then showed my papers to not fewer than 12 people before finally boarding the plane...and this is a pretty tiny airport.

There was increased security everywhere you went. You had to go through a metal detector and possibly send your bags through a metal detector to enter most malls and large public buildings.  When our cars would return to the hotel at night they would roll a large mirror under the vehicle, check the engine compartment, check the trunk, and swab the steering wheel with a cloth that detected explosive material. (I shared a car and driver with one of my female co-workers and every night when the guard would reach into the car to swab the steering wheel he would greet me and ignore her. Just another cultural thing I guess.) My Indian co-workers were amazed when I told them that I could saunter into any mall without as much as a pat down. They were under the impression that the U.S. was much more secure.

On the way home we spent the night in Frankfurt, Germany. We stayed at the Sheraton that was attached to the airport and four of the six people in our party decided to just eat at a restaurant in the airport.  I talked another co-worker into braving the train system to go into the city for dinner. I withdrew 50 euros for the express purpose of indulging in a few German beers, but discovered at dinner that my co-worker doesn't drink.  Like at all.  Ever.  So I got one very delicious German hefeweizen with a head so thick it was like whipped cream with dinner and that was it.  Here are two shots I took while we were in Frankfurt.

I got a good night's sleep in Frankfurt and then forced myself to not nap on the flight from there to Chicago to ensure I wouldn't have any problems sleeping Sunday night.  I went to bed around 8:15 PM Sunday night and made it to work early Monday morning and suffered pretty much no ill effects from jet lag.  I think it made a big difference that I was maintaining essentially the same work schedule as home while in India.

Sorry this was so long.  I probably could/should have split it into three parts. If you lasted this long, thank you for playing along.


  1. Great trip report. Too bad so many meals were at American restaurants.

    Question: With all the unrest in various parts of the world, were there any fears you had traveling abroad and so far away?

    1. I honestly never felt afraid or worried while in India. At the train station in Frankfurt as we were climbing the stairs from the train platform there was a mentally unstable person screaming at passers by in German who was a little scary, but that's just a typically urban thing and not necessarily related to world unrest.

      I will say I kind of paused for a moment when I brought up the app on the seat back that tracks the plane's location and discovered we were currently passing over Iraq and Iran.

  2. had he not ate at american restaraunts and tried unknown local food, he might not even be alive to write this blog.

  3. Great report, enjoyed the photos.

    The security comments reminded me that when I went to the baseball game in Tampa/St. Pete recently, all people had to show the contents of their purse or backpack, then go through body scanning with a hand-held device.