Archive for July, 2007

We rented a car for a four hour sightseeing trip. In India, when you rent a car, it comes with a driver. Thank gosh! I wouldn’t have made it out of the hotel if I had to drive. Our driver picked us up at 1pm and we headed towards Delhi. After about 2o minutes of driving, he pulled over to the side and talked in Indian to the car company. Apparently, our tour guide (who also comes with the car) was back at the hotel and it was too far to go back and pick him up. So David and I were on our own the first day in India with a driver that barely spoke English!

Driving was an experience during the day as well. There were lots and lots of small cars, motorized rickshaws with a holding capacity of four chock-full of 15-20 people, and lots of motorcycles with families of four riding on them. This was an amazing sight that I wasn’t ever able to get a good picture off. Imagine this… the man is driving with a child in front of him on the gas tank and the mother riding side saddle behind the man holding a baby or toddler but not the man or any part of the bike. There were also tons of people walking around, standing around and in some very sad cases, sleeping like refugees in tents.

We headed down the road that all of the embassies are located on on our way to a mosque in Old Delhi. We could definitely tell when we approached Old Delhi; the buildings became even more dilapidated and close together and the roads became much smaller. Suddenly there were rows and rows of bicycle rickshaws along the road with the owners sleeping on them, open air markets and people everywhere!!

The area that we were traveling down was called Chandni Chowk. I was not prepared for the lack of infrastructure in Old Delhi. At one point, I looked down a side street and it was a mass of wires across the street and down the entire length of the street. The shops were side by side selling things like spare car parts, food and odds and ends. The food shops were kind of scary. Think of chickens hanging upside down, other meats and fish sitting out and lots of fruit and vegetables on display. Needless to say, I didn’t eat too much chicken/meat the rest of the trip. The traffic was a mess. I thought that it was bad in other parts of the city, but here it was absolute chaos. Cars traveling in both directions, bikes, rickshaws and people on every square inch of the road. It was amazing to feel so claustrophobic in traffic. I had never had that feeling before.

At the end of the one of the roads was a huge mosque called Jama Masjid . The driver parked and walked us up to the top of the steps. We had to remove our shoes and I had to pay a 200 INR ($4) fee to use my camera inside. David was wearing shorts and was required to wear a plaid wrap to cover his legs too. The driver told us that he would be waiting in the car when we were done. Well, we entered through a grand rounded entrance that is typical of middle eastern architecture. It was an open air square courtyard with a pool of water in the middle of it. The ground was made of red sandstone and my feet were blazing hot! David enjoyed it saying that it was all part of the experience. I was trying not to run to the pool in the middle of the courtyard. When I got there, I stood on the marble surrounding the pool. It was cool compared to the sandstone. People were sitting all around the pool of water cleansing their feet, faces and hands. There were people feeding flocks of pigeons by throwing handfuls of seed on the mosque floor. We were approached by three beggar children asking us to take their picture. When I asked how much, they replied, “As you like, ma’am.” I had been warned about the beggars in general and the fact that they are often children. It is best practice to ignore them otherwise you will be targeted by more beggars. So I said no and we moved to the north end of the mosque to take some pictures of the “front” of the building with the huge architectural domes flanking the main entrance to the prayer area. There were tons of people sitting and standing around this area and it seemed too sacred for us to explore too much. We didn’t really know what else to do here so we decided to take off. But not before some extensive tipping. We had to tip the person when we returned David’s wrap and we had to tip the people who were watching our shoes. We headed down the steps and into the streets teeming with people to look for our car. The driver found us and ushered us into the car. Then we were off, pushing our way through the masses of traffic.

The next thing on the agenda was to do a drive by of the Red Fort. We took lots of pictures of it at different angles, but didn’t get out. It was amazing just how big it was. Seemed like it went on forever along the main thoroughfare.

Then we headed off to the Gandhi Memorial called Raj Ghat. The driver parked and we headed in together. There was a long walkway through gardens to get to the entrance. We walked up the sloping sides that overlooked the memorial. It was so peaceful amid a bustling city of people and honking horns. Then we went down to the entrance and removed our shoes. There was peaceful music playing as we approached the memorial. The garden was well manicured with concrete walkways surrounding the memorial. People were meditating in the limited shade under the trees and around the monument. The monument was a black square with a fire lantern sitting at one end. There were piles of flowers on the monument. There was a man crouching down diligently sweeping any dirt or flower pieces that fell to the ground. The sun was shining and it was very hot especially with no shoes on. We spent time reflecting and thinking about life. It was then that I realized that there was no way that I would be able to impart what I had experienced in India through pictures or writing. There is no way to describe how any of the trip was without seeing the sights and people, hearing the honking horns, tasting the Indian food, smelling the city and feeling the humidity. Prior to going on the trip people had described India to me as “An assault on the senses.” That phrase couldn’t describe it better.

We left the memorial and headed back to the car and to the Humayun’s Tomb. This was a tomb like the Taj Majal just not as grand. All of the tombs are set-up the same way. They have a pseudo entrance of arches prior to seeing the actual tomb. It is considered bad luck to see the tomb directly. India is a hierarchical culture and the men were, for the most part, at a higher level than women. The woman had their tombs outside the buildings and the men were buried in the buildings with their feet pointing south, heads north and face turned to the west towards Mecca. The story goes that the King Humayun had tombs made for himself and several family members. He liked his barber so much that he even built a special building/tomb for him. We walked the grounds and thought about the history we were experiencing.

By the time we finished learning about the tomb, we were pretty tired. We headed back to the car. The driver took us to see the Parliament and the Presidential Palace. Compared to the claustrophobic nature of the rest of the sightseeing trip, these government buildings were wide and spacious and of distinctive British architectural style.

By this time, we were getting tired after the trip so we asked the driver to take us back to the hotel. But he didn’t understand and wanted to take us to one more place, the India Gate. The India Gate is a war memorial directly in line with the road that takes you to the Presidential Palace. It was cool to see how many people where enjoying the afternoon in the grassy area around the arch. We just took pictures from the car and then decided to head back.

The drive back to the hotel was uneventful and it was nice to rest knowing that we have a long drive to Agra tomorrow. If you thought that the sight seeing in Delhi was interesting, wait until you read Part 3 – my trip to Agra to see the Taj!

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Hey all!

Well, I am back from my business trip to India. Talk about an adventure! My manager David and I went to visit the wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America there.

We left on Thursday, July 13 at 4:30 in the afternoon. We had talked to tons of people to figure out the best flights and most people recommended flying directly to Frankfurt and then on to India. So that’s what we did. We had an uneventful 8 hour and 30 min flight to Frankfurt, a seven hour lay-over (spent in the business lounge and eating German sausages in the only airport restaurant we could find), and hopped on another 8 hour and 30 min flight to Delhi.

We arrived in the Delhi airport at 1am in the morning on Saturday. I will let you all do the math on travel time and time zones! Besides it being dark out, you would never guess that it was night time. The airport was bustling! So many people coming and going. It didn’t take long to get through customs nor to get our bags. But then it was the time I had been dreading and having nightmares about for a week prior to the trip. Would someone be there from the either the Bank or the hotel to pick us up?

We headed toward the exit and basically walked the “red carpet” while people jumping and talking on both sides of us. There were taxi drivers, people waiting for their families, a host of hotel drivers and finally a sign about 3/4 of the way down that said “Amanda Kohout.” I was so relieved!

The Bank also has security folks positioned at the airport to help collect people. Two security people came over and escorted us out with our driver. With a “Good Evening, Ma’am and Sir,” they took our bags and we were on our way. As soon as we stepped out the airport, it was like we crossed over into a different dimension. There was extreme heat hitting our bodies, tons of people standing and walking, and constant honking horns.

Our first experience driving to our hotel was an interesting one. No only did all of the cars constantly honk, no one uses the lanes on the road and the road signs were terrible to non-existent. We were hurtling towards our hotel on the wrong side of the road, around cargo trucks that are only allowed to drive at night, and speeding past dilapidated store fronts that said the names of American companies like Motorola and Nike. I wasn’t that worried about my safety, but I was again surprised by the number of vehicles on the road for the middle of the night. It was like rush hour traffic. I asked the security guard if this was normal and he assured me that the traffic was like this all of the time. I had no doubt that I would get to experience all the kinds of driving over the next week.

It was about a 30 min drive to the hotel. We were staying at the Hilton Trident in a suburb of Delhi called Gurgaon. The place was gorgeous! It was hidden behind a wall of concrete and grass. We headed down the path to the hotel past a reflecting pool and through two humongous doors accented on either side with Asian chopsticks and snake-like pulls. The receptionists greeted us and registered us for our stay. We exchanged money into rupees so we would be ready for the rest of our trip. I was escorted to my room with one of the hotel staff. We walked through an outdoor open air area and then into the section with rooms. The room was so beautiful. It had two twin beds, a small couch, a small coffee table with 2 beautifully arranged mangoes on it, a desk, TV and bathroom. Outside the window was a reflecting pool that came right up to my window. It was like I was floating away.

I was both tired from the flight but also energized by the experience so far and the fact that it was actually daytime in the States. I fiddled with my electrical adapter to try and get my powerless PC running again but couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I just ended up taking a shower, reading a book, and going to bed.

As a side note, I wanted to get in the spirit of India so I had made a trip to the library and checked out about 5 different fiction books written and about Indians and how they live. The one that I was reading at 3am was Serving Up Crazy with Curry.

I made a wake-up call for 10am and slept very soundly. I was still dead tired at 10am and slept until 11:15 and finally pulled myself out of the bed. I showered and dressed and at 11:30 figured that it was safe to call David to see if he wanted to have some lunch. We had afternoon plans at 1pm for sightseeing around Delhi so we met at noon at the restaurant called Cilantro in the hotel. I didn’t really know what I wanted to eat. I am not a huge Indian food fan but I didn’t want something too American like pizza because it probably wouldn’t taste the same and I would be disappointed. In the end, we both ended up having Indian fare. I had vegetarian biryani and David had some Indian chicken wrap. It was pretty good and I was ready for an afternoon of sightseeing.

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