For those who are interested, I’ll be posting updates on my Indian travels here.
I arrived in Bengaluru (yes, I’m going to insist on using the traditional name, readopted in 2006, instead of the more common Bangalore) early this morning. In fact, the plane hit the airfield around 4:45 a.m. IST on 14 September, which was equivalent to 5:15 p.m. MST on 13 September. Since I left Denver at 8:15 p.m. on 12 September, that means I traveled for a total of 21 hours to get here. Boy, were my arms tired.
Actually, the whole journey took even longer. I left my house on Friday at about 3:30 p.m. and drove to my sister’s, which is close to Denver International Airport. I was supposed to be traveling with my boss’s boss’s boss, Eric. He’s an SVP at my company, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to get to know him a bit better. However, as the hours passed in the boarding area and there was no sign of Eric, I soon deduced that he would not be joining me. Almost immediately, I began fretting about my arrival in Bengaluru. I realized that I had completely relied on the fact that he’d be with me, and had consequently failed to gather sufficient details on rather critical elements of the trip, like where exactly we’re staying and how exactly we were supposed to get there from the airport. I also had no contact information for him, and had only my boss’s boss’s cell phone, which was fairly useless, since I knew he was somewhere in Europe and meeting us later in Bengaluru.
Anxiety aside, I boarded the plane from Denver to London Heathrow. It was my first time sitting in what British Airways calls World Traveler Plus, and I can’t say I was too impressed. First class and the hybrid class they call Club World are very cool in a sort of James Bond/Austin Powers kind of space-age bachelor pad way, but World Traveler Plus is just the tiniest step up from coach and probably not worth the added expense, were I paying out of my own pocket, which – and let’s be clear about this – I’m not. Still, the plane was lovely, the accents of the crew were charming, and the flight passed without incident. I watched a shocking amount of TV (mostly British offerings, like “The Mighty Boosh” (oh, how I love that show), “Never Better” and some animated show that makes fun of all sorts of famous Brits, but also “Flight of the Conchords” [my first time], “The Office” [US version, ironically], and that old standby, “Friends”), read a bit, and actually managed to sleep quite a lot. The food was inoffensive, but unremarkable. For some odd reason, as soon as I was on board, I immediately became a tea drinker. Damn, those Brits can be influential in their own quiet, passive-aggressive way.
After flying through the night, I arrived at London Heathrow at about noon local time. With only two hours between flights, I was concerned that either I or my luggage could easily miss the connection, especially with the new international terminal 5 – which, judging by the seemingly hours-long coach ride to get there, appears to be somewhere in Wales. The terminal is absolutely gorgeous, however, and outfitted with all sorts of fancy shopping options – or shopportunities, as the in-flight magazine boasted – including Harrod’s and Tiffany’s. The duty-free liquor purveyors were even mixing up complimentary cocktails for folks to sip while waiting out their layovers. It’s also remarkably serene, by design. They only make announcements over the PA for final boarding, so there aren’t the usual overhead interruptions that make such a din in most airport terminals.
When I finally made my way to the gate for the London-Bengaluru flight, the area was packed with folks, and there I ran into my boss, Mike, which was a huge relief. At that moment, I stopped worrying about what would happen when I landed.
“Did you hear that Eric isn’t coming?” he asked as he shook my hand.
“No, but I deduced that,” I replied.
Mike had been in Prague, but had to connect through London to get to Bengaluru. He had also managed to get himself upgraded to Club World, so he got right on the plane. I got on after, watched more TV and movies (including Forgetting Sarah Marshall [like a romantic comedy from a man’s perspective] and Annie Hall), and drank too much London Pride beer and white wine. The German guy who sat next to me ordered two of everything for himself whenever the flight attendant came around (two bottles of whiskey, two bottles of wine, etc.), and the flight attendant assumed I wanted two of everything also. I didn’t end up sleeping much on that leg – partly because of the alcohol, and partly because of the incessantly crying babies back in coach. They had incredible stamina.
Anyway, as I said, we finally hit Indian soil at 4:45 this morning. Customs was a breeze, but baggage claim blew. Just when I’d decided that my luggage had been lost somewhere over Turkey (I’d actually brought an extra carry-on with a change of clothes in anticipation of that problem), my puny suitcase finally showed up on the conveyor, and Mike and I went outside to find our ride. Kumar held a sign with my name and the name of the SVP who didn’t make it. He quickly loaded us into his van and we hit the road into the city as the sky began to lighten.
Everyone I know who has lived or spent any time in India warned me about the roads and the drivers, but I still wasn’t prepared. For some unknown reason, I took the front passenger seat. “I’m already impressed,” Mike said. “It takes a brave man to take the front seat.” I didn’t do it to impress him. I think I might have been sleepwalking. At any rate, Kumar drove as if we were on the way to the hospital to give birth, honking his horn incessantly weaving through lanes, nearly hitting pedestrians (who really shouldn’t have been surprised since they were running across a six-lane highway at dawn), and making really good time. Surprisingly, I didn’t flinch and didn’t try to brake or grab for an oh-shit bar. I just kept chatting with Mike and watching the people, dogs, motorcycles, cars and buses try to mate with our vehicle.
We arrived at the hotel (check it out here) at about 6:45. It’s an absurdly opulent converted Victorian manor, operated by an absurdly attentive and obsequious staff. Mike and I agreed to have a little down time before breakfast. I settled into my room, which isn’t the height of luxury, but has some delightful amenities, like a flat-screen TV (with volume limited to control “noise pollution”), universal wall outlets, and really high ceilings. I made tea, got caught up on emails, read some local tourist info, scraped and scrubbed the filth of 24 hours of travel off my body and watched the news. Last night, there were some pretty brutal bombings in Delhi, which is nowhere near here, but which appear to be connected to the bombings that happened here last month. The news coverage is very British in its sensationalism and drama. It was sufficiently serious that Mike suggested we just stick around the hotel for the day. Fine by me. I didn’t exactly have the energy to sightsee.
The hotel has 5 restaurants and a bar, but only 1 restaurant serves food all day. I went down there at 10 to meet Mike, but he was nowhere to be seen. I wandered around the hotel a bit, discovering two stores, a tower of serviced apartments, and a sign that read “Construction in progress. Inconveniences caused are deeply regretted.” Gotta love the passive voice. I finally decided to eat. The breakfast buffet included traditional Indian fare (like poori chole, vada, pakora), some Asian fare (like mo po tofu) and some traditional Western fare (bacon, omelets to order, donuts). I stuck with the Indian stuff and ate some truly amazing grub. I was particularly fond of the chole dish – the perfect spice. I enjoyed my white tea, but finally had to stop the various staff members from refilling my cup. I don’t know what to do with that kind of attention. At one point, one of the staff asked if I was comfortable. I didn’t even know how to answer that. What was he getting at?
After breakfast, I felt full and decided to go for a little stroll. I gather that we’re pretty close to downtown, so thought I might walk there, in spite of the suggestion that we stay at the hotel today. As soon as I was in the driveway, taxi drivers approached me. I told them I was out for a walk. Once I was on the busy street in front of the hotel, where the horns never stop honking, I was accosted by various autorickshaw drivers, telling me how cheap they were and how fast they were and how much sightseeing I could do with them. One was astoundingly persistent. He’d drive away, and then pull over half a block on and wait for me, giving me a renewed pitch. I think I had to tell him five times before he finally realized I wasn’t going to be a paying fare. I might actually have taken him up on it, but I haven’t obtained any local currency yet.
Eventually, I realized I didn’t really know where I was going and that I probably shouldn’t be out wandering alone today, so I returned to the hotel. I grabbed my laptop and headed out to sit by the pool. Within minutes, I was joined by Mike, who had come out to read. The sun came out, which they say is very good for jet lag, so we sat and chatted until it seemed like a reasonable time for a drink. We then went into the hotel’s Irish-themed bar, where we chatted more, drank many Kingfishers (Mike can outdrink me by about double), ate some crazily-flavored ruffled chips (sorry – “crisps”) and some tasty cheese straw/breadstick things. While we were enjoying our beers, we noticed there was some kind of fashion audition going on by the pool, so we watched the large group of stunningly beautiful Indian youth strut their respective stuffs. All the girls seemed to be trying to look French, while all the boys looked vaguely Italian. When we’d decided we’d had enough, we retired to our rooms for pre-dinner naps.
We ate dinner at the poolside barbecue restaurant, which specializes in kebabs of all sorts. We ate delicious murgh tikka and some other chicken thing that was stuffed with cheese and hot peppers and deep-fried. Mmmm. And, of course, plenty of naan and daal. I wasn’t halfway through my food when I suddenly felt way too full again, and decided it was time to call it a night. Which brings me here.
My main observation about the day has to do with the extreme servility of the hotel staff. Mike tells me they’ve tried to come in and clean his room every time he’s stepped out today. They greet you quietly and respectfully, giving all of them the appearance of being shy. In a couple of cases, I’ve asked people who work here how THEY are, and it was as if I’d insulted their families. They looked all embarrassed and quickly shifted the conversation to my well-being. I wonder if this is inherent in the culture here, or if it was instilled by British colonists who insisted on compliance and obedience. On the other hand, perhaps what I perceive as servile is merely considered polite.
The power has gone out twice since I got back to my room. Not sure what that’s about. And I keep hearing booms in the distance. I have to assume they’re cars or mopeds backfiring – or maybe fireworks.
Here are some photos I took while I sat out by the pool today. This should give some idea of the grandeur of this place where I’m about to sleep.