India, 2005

By Jack Welsch

Images © Copyright 2005, J. H. Welsch
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This was strictly a business trip but, as always, I had some fun as well. The purpose of the trip was to visit our engineering office in Pune. I had met only two of the people from that facility so I wanted to meet the others both for personal reasons and so that we could work more effectively together. I must admit that, based on stories I'd heard from some acquaintances, I had some trepidation about the trip. However, though the trip was an absolute killer from a physical standpoint, I truly enjoyed it.

I left from New York on January 23, the day after a devastating snowstorm. After a treacherous drive (with a driver, thank God) to JFK in New York, I caught a direct flight to Mumbai (the city formally known as Bombay) via Frankfort. Because of the storm, we were 4 hours late leaving JFK, 3.5 of which were spent sitting on the plane! The only thing worse than a very long trip is one made even longer by a departure delay! I was a little disappointed that the part of the flight over Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India was at night so we couldn't see much. We were scheduled to get to Mumbai at about 10:00 PM local time on Monday but I didn't get to my room at the Hyatt Regency until 2:30 AM on Tuesday! (India time, by the way, is 10.5 hours ahead of EST.) Getting to bed at 2:30, it was pretty depressing to request the 6:45 AM wakeup call! I'd been misinformed that Indian hotels weren't very nice but the Hyatt was beautiful and THE most modern I've ever stayed at! After a delightful buffet breakfast, the hotel shuttle took me to the airport for the relatively short trip to Pune. The balance of Tuesday was spent at the office in a series of meetings. They had a meal brought in and, fortunately, they had my favorite Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. It was delicious! Five of us had dinner at Trishna, a seafood restaurant. In Pune, I stayed at the Le Meridian. It was fantastic and I had a magnificent suite. Here again the Indian hospitality was evident. On Wednesday morning, I was walking down the hall to breakfast and one of the staff addressed me by name. I asked how he could possibly know my name and he responded that he's observed what room I'd come from!!

Through ignorance on my part, I ended up booking my trip so my Wednesday there fell on on Republic Day, a major national holiday. When I discovered my error, it was too late to reschedule the whole thing but I was able to extend my visit by a day to compensate for the loss. I simply told my associates that I'd be happy to relax at the hotel while they spent the holiday with their families. Though I repeatedly implored them to spend the day at home with their families, all three of my engineers took their entire day and into the evening to show me the sights! The only thing better than a personal guide is THREE personal guides! While I still feel guilty about "stealing" their day, I must admit that it was wonderful! I had a blast and they made me feel truly welcome. After a short business meeting in my room, we went with a hired driver to Sinhagad, an ancient fort outside of Pune. Sinhagad is obviously a VERY popular holiday destination and it was absolutely mobbed! After the car climbed a tortuous road most of the way up the mountain, we walked a tortuous path the rest of the way. I was one of only a very few westerners there and peoples' curiosity was obvious! One of my great regrets was that, because of the limitations of my western digestive system, I was unable to taste the many local foods that were for sale along the way. I really wanted to try some of the local foods but not enough to spend the next several days in the bathroom! By the time we left several hours later, traffic on the narrow mountain road was totally gridlocked and it took forever to get down off the mountain. Next, we stopped at a water reservoir where many people were swimming and relaxing on the beach. However, the amazing sight was the many camels owned, apparently, by people from Rajasthan. I'd mentioned at dinner the previous evening that I was very interested in cultures so, after a short stop at the Pune zoo and a stop to do a little shopping, they took me to a restaurant called. "Sanskruti". I was told that "sanskruti" means "culture" in Hindi and this was a perfect spot to learn a lot about Indian culture, especially on a holiday. It's not anything at all like a western restaurant but more like a park. It was an open air venue with entertainment, crafts, music, food booths and, eventually, what we would call a buffet meal. The only negative was that there were a fair number of mosquitoes and the CDC website seemed to indicate that malaria was the least of my worries! I really enjoyed the place but my friends picked up on my nervousness about the mosquitoes and whisked me back to the hotel, thus ending a perfect day!

Thursday was another work day and at 5:00 PM, Harish dropped me off at the Pune airport for the absolutely grueling trip home via Delhi, Toronto, and New York. I'll leave out the details except to say that every leg was late, I had to change terminals in Toronto at 2 degrees Fahrenheit with nothing but a sport coat and that the time from when I lifted my head from the pillow in Pune 'til when it hit the pillow at home was 41.5 hours! Now that's a killer schedule!!! I got home at 2:30 PM on Friday, totally exhausted.

OK, as to what I experienced in India...

I'd been warned that the air quality was terrible and that the smell was quite bad. The air quality was, in fact, fairly poor in Mumbai but I've been in LA when it was a lot worse! The smell was essentially that of wood smoke but with a spicy element to it but it's impossible to describe accurately. It wasn't especially pleasant but neither was it unpleasant. In Pune, the air quality was better and by day two I didn't even notice it.

The traffic was incredible!. While not nearly as crowded as the traffic in Taipei, Tokyo or even New York or Paris, the traffic in Pune was absolutely crazy! I'm a pretty aggressive driver but I'd never dream of driving in India. The concept of lanes doesn't seem to exist; people seem to drive wherever they like and the number of lanes going in any direction seems to vary by the moment based on whim! At intersections and roundabouts, things are total chaos and, though I've driven in New York, Boston and Paris, I was happy to be in the back seat with my head down! In spite of all this, however, in three days I saw no accidents and only one altercation between drivers. Even the incessant beeping of horns seemed to say "excuse me" rather than "get the hell out of my way!" It's also rather strange to see so many animals on the street but it, of course, fits perfectly with the culture. On Wednesday morning, I was standing in the street in Pune looking at a temple (I find places of worship especially intriguing.) I turned around to see a camel walking down the street behind me. One time, we were riding along in traffic and passed a boy riding an elephant in the traffic! There were cars in front and behind him and we passed him just as we would any other traffic. Of course, I was the only one to find the occasion remarkable. I suppose one learns not to tailgate an elephant! Sheep, goats, cows, bulls, water buffalo were to be found on the roads in abundance. I couldn't take pictures fast enough. My neck was getting sore from turning constantly and I'm sure I was grinning like an idiot. I felt like a kid on his first visit to the circus.

For reasons of corporate security, I'll comment little about the business part of the trip except to say that I was very favorably impressed by the technical and business competence of everyone I met, both at our office and at the several other businesses we visited. Our own people there, especially, clearly know their business and are justly proud of what they do! I'm delighted to be associated with them!

I found the country incredibly intriguing and the people absolutely wonderful! The Indian people are famous for their hospitality and I found the reputation well deserved. I've traveled to more beautiful places but this trip was one of the most interesting trips I've ever taken. While I'll not look forward at all to the voyage, I eagerly look forward to my next visit. This was a great trip!