Monday, April 20, 2015

India Trip Report (Part 1)

I've got a lot to share, so I'm going to divide it into a couple of posts just so this doesn't turn into an epic RobVegasPoker style post. (I figured he wouldn't mind the ribbing as long as I gave him a reference link.) Just returned from India and wanted to share some anecdotes, insights, and observations.  It was a long and eventful journey to reach India.  I was initially scheduled to leave on April 9th, but some of you may recall that was the day there were some pretty serious storms in the Chicago area that spawned at least one deadly tornado.  Since our initial flight was from Des Moines to Chicago we had to reschedule until the next day.  Work didn't come into play until Monday, April 13, so that delay just cut one free day off our trip.

It also altered our travel itinerary.  The initial plan was to fly from Des Moines to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Pune, India.  Since the Frankfurt to Pune flight only runs three times a week we had to find a different option.  We finally settled on Des Moines to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Pune. That added about 4-5 more hours to the travel, but hell what are 4 hours when you've already been traveling for 30+ hours?

I was booked in business class for the entire flight, but due to rescheduling had to fly economy on the Des Moines-Chicago and Mumbai-Pune legs.  Neither of those flights are very long, so I sucked it up and took one for the team.  It was so much nicer in business class for those longer flights.  I didn't drink all that much, but it sure is nice to be pampered.  I snapped a few photos of the food and drink options on the first long flight. 

Warm nuts and a very stiff bloody mary.

Braised short rib and a Chilean shiraz

Salmon appetizer with fresh green salad and German riesling.

First here is a look at the amount of leg room I had in my seat.  The flight was on a Boeing 777 and I had what seemed like acres of space.  The seat reclined fully and had a leg rest that elevated.  You could lay the seat completely flat, but I didn't dare or nobody in my section would have gotten any sleep thanks to my snoring.  This flight also had a really great selection of recent movies and hit TV shows.  On the way I watched Big Hero 6, Birdman, and Whiplash.

Dessert was a simple ice cream sundae.  I didn't remember to snap a picture of it before I dug in, but it was nothing unexpected in either flavor or presentation.

The second long leg was a Lufthansa flight on an older Boeing 747.  The seats were way better than any economy seat, but after flying on that more modern 777 the day before they were a disappointment.  They didn't lie all the way flat and if you reclined it as far as it would go it felt like it was trying to dump you onto the floor.  I didn't take any photos of the food this go around, but the courses were a seafood appetizer, leg of lamb main course, and a pass from me on dessert.  The movie selection on this flight was also lots worse than the earlier one.

We arrived in Mumbai at about 12:45 AM local time.  The others in my group that have been to the Mumbai airport in the middle of the day said it was much more bearable in the wee hours of the morning.  I wanted to snap a picture of the massive immigration area, but was afraid they might not take kindly to me snapping photos. Four of our group of seven had cleared immigration when it became apparent that something was up. One of the other guys in our group appeared to be having a fairly animated discussion with the Indian immigration official.  They called the other two from our party that were in line to the counter and they got in on the hand waving and passport pointing. 

I won't go into details as to why, because I don't honestly know all of the particulars, but suffice it to say that one of our party wasn't allowed to enter India and was put right back on the very same Lufthansa airliner we had just exited for a return trip to Germany and eventually the USA.  I can't imagine doing that trip both directions over the course of 3-4 days.

We finally made it (down a person) to Pune at about 5:00 AM Sunday morning.  We checked into the Hyatt Regency and made our way to our rooms.  Here are a few shots of the room:

I took a shower (using great care to keep the water from getting into my mouth) and after 36 hours traveling it was heavenly.  If I wasn't terrified of the bacteria in the water I would have stood there for 20 minutes. After getting connected to the hotel WiFi and chatting via text with my family for a little while I hit the sack and slept like the dead until about noon.

After waking we went to lunch at a local micro-brewery called Independence Brewing.  We got a quick tour of their brewery and, believe it or not, they make beer exactly the same way we do in the USA.  Here is a shot of the brewery.

After a lunch of chicken chendatta and 3 of their house beers we headed down to MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road to do some shopping for souvenirs for our families.  We went to a couple of shops that specialize in Indian knick knacks called The Bombey Store and Heritage. The proprietor of Heritage spotted me as a sucker and talked me into going into the room where all of the scarves and high end cashmere pashminas were displayed and sold. He showed me several items and there were a couple in particular that I thought my wife might like, but others from our group had told me about this amazing scarf shop we would be going to later.  I convinced the shop owner that I wanted to comparison shop and would return.  He dropped the price several times, but I held out.

After that we went around the corner to a local grocery store so one of the girls in our group could purchase some local tea for her dad. It was very interesting to see the difference in products and selection at a grocery there as compared to here. We then made our way to the local Nike store so I could by team India cricket jerseys for both of my boys. They are big sports fans and are more into soccer, but I wanted to get them something that had more of a local Indian flavor. The two girls that had been to India before wanted us all to experience what they referred to as "the scarf guy," but unfortunately his shop was closed on Sunday. (I later found out the scarf shop in question was called Guru Nanak's Cloth Store.)

After that we went over to the modern mall in town called the Phoenix Mall.  It was pretty much identical to any mall in the USA with a few exceptions among the stores.  Stores I saw that were familiar were Apple, Sunglass Hut, Forever 21, Sephora, Bose, JBL, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, Papa Johns, , and McDonalds. (The only difference is that all of the beef options are replaced with chicken and veggie options and anything that would normally be beef is actually water buffalo.)

After that we went back to the hotel to rest and clean up for dinner that night.  Dinner was at a place called Exotica. It was on the top floor of an office building and was sort of indoor-outdoor.  The restaurant was indoors, but there were screens they could roll up to let the breeze in.  Here is a picture overlooking the road below over the balcony.

It was a package deal that included an all-you-can-eat buffet with unlimited beer or wine.  A dinner like this in India is a very social and relaxed affair. There is no hurry to eat and leave. We probably ate appetizers and sipped drinks for a good 80 minutes before somebody finally suggested we go get main courses off the buffet.  I honestly didn't know there was going to be a buffet and thought the many appetizers we ate was all we were going to have and would have been satisfied with that.

There were a lot of Indian options on the buffet, but everyone in my group from the USA except me opted for the made to order pasta so they could control their Indian spice intake...chickens.  I went through the buffet line with an Indian co-worker and he told me what each option was before recommending whether or not I try the dish.  The only surprise I had was that the lamb in the lamb biryani was not boneless (discovered only after I shoved a rather large hunk of very bony lamb in my mouth).

The next day we went back to MG Road to visit "the scarf guy" and to pick up some items in the Indian souvenir shops that we missed getting the day before.  The scarf guy didn't disappoint. He was super personable and funny and just bombarded you with options.  There were so many scarves of different colors and qualities there that it made your head spin.  We all purchased an item or two and afterwards there were probably two or three hundred scarves and other clothing items strewn on the pillow they sell from.

After scarf shopping we went to the Hard Rock Cafe to get lunch.  The menu was pretty much the same as any other Hard Rock except once again the burgers would be water buffalo instead of beef. We then headed in for our first day of work.  I won't bore you with the details of training and dealing with the information security department.

Tuesday we went to a Hindu temple just as their pre-lunch ceremony began. You couldn't wear footwear into the temple, so the most exciting part of the excursion was the walk from the window where you had to leave your shoes and socks to the gate of the temple. The sidewalk and street were HOT.  Not like "Oh this is kind of warm" hot, but like, "If I don't get off this pavement in the next ten seconds I'll need skin grafts on the bottoms of my feet" hot. 

We arrived just as the ceremony was beginning which was signaled by the monk blowing a very loud blast on a conch shell.  Then there was about 15-20 minutes of singing and chanting while the monk waved various items first at the idols then at the worshipers. Two of the items were a bowl of I think burning incense and what I can only describe as a tiny menorah of incense. These were walked through the group of worshipers. I was busy paying attention to what the monk at the front of the room was doing, so I didn't see what was happening with the burning items behind me, so when the gentleman approached me with the bowl of burning incense and offered it to me I froze. I had no clue what I was supposed to do.  Luckily our host from Pune mimed for me that I was supposed to kind of collect some of the heat and aroma and sweep it over my face and head.  After they walked away he explained that it is a blessing...a collecting of positive energy if you will.

A short time later one of the parishioners at the back of the room urged us to move closer to the front to receive another blessing. The monk at the front started throwing what appeared to me to be handfuls of rice or some other grain at the worshipers. He was slowly working his way across the room from right to left.  I was the first of our group to be in the line of fire, so to speak, and didn't realize it wasn't rice until the drops of water hit me square in the face. I was positively douched with that scary bacteria laden Indian water.  Oh least none of it got in my mouth.  As the ceremony drew to an end an adorable little Indian girl walked up to us with a handful of flowers and flower petals the monk had given her to pass out.  We each took one and the man with her (her dad I assume) mimed for us that we were to smell the flowers.  After that our guide told us that we were to leave the flowers at the foot of the idol in the back of the temple. 

Here are a couple of pictures I snapped of the interior of the temple.

Our friend told us that they undress and bathe the idols and change the clothes every day to a different colorful outfit. I didn't understand the meaning behind all of the rituals, but have to say I was moved by the fervor of the believers who were in attendance. They were singing and dancing and lying prostrate and generally just really getting into the whole ceremony. 

After the temple visit we headed over to a local restaurant called Prem's.  We shared a lunch of tandoori chicken, butter chicken, chicken biryani, prawns piri piri, some kind of kabob, and the most delicious garlic and cheese naan (Indian flat bread) I've ever had.  I would go back just to feast on the bread alone, but everything we were served was delicious.  It is an outdoor dining room covered by trees and these balloon and umbrella like awnings.  They also have misters spread around the dining area in case it is overly hot.  This day it was the perfect temperature for an outdoor meal in the shade, so the misters really weren't needed, but they fired them off once I think just to show off a little. Since we reacted to the misters they fired them off 4 or 5 more times I guess to kind of put on a show for the American visitors.  The only problem is that we had to assume they were now coating all of our utensils, cups, and food with more scary Indian water.  Here is a picture I took of the dining area at Prem's.showing the offending misters.

I'm going to leave it there for now and will do another post in a couple of days with more stories and pictures.


  1. Are you sure this wasn't Rob? : o )

    Excellent trip report. Can't wait to read the remaining posts.

    1. Nah, couldn't be me, Lightning....I'd never go to India.

      Great trip report Jeff. I don't mind the ribbing at all. It's better than sucking out on my set of Jacks with some crappy hand like Q-10.

  2. WTW is fOREVER 21??? Blackjack??? WOW no Taco Bell/White Castle??? how is the dank situation??? is India thinking of passing a constitutional carry law?? did u c any milf wearing yoga pants?

    1. Yeah -- the REALLY important stuff when visiting another country. How could we let this go?

  3. Sounds like a fantastic trip -- thanks for the report and especially the photos.

    I snapped a few photos of the food and drink options

    I flew from Raleigh NC to San Francisco once. Somehow I got an upgrade to first class. For our meal, they asked me if I wanted red snapper or filet mignon. I realized I was in a different world than I was used to.