Archive for August, 2007

I woke up at 6am. Sounds better than 4 or 5 am, but remember I didn’t get to sleep until 1:15am. I was still pretty tired. Today is going to be a pretty big day. We were heading to a strategic partner of the bank’s and then an afternoon of interviewing all of the bank associates living in Bangalore. Then David and I were flying out at 2am in the morning. I was so excited. I got dressed and put on my fancy pearls that I bought yesterday. I headed down to breakfast at 8:15 and met up with the rest of my party. Thankfully it wasn’t raining anymore so I was able to enjoy a leisurely walk to the main building. I made a mental note to look around the grounds later that day. Breakfast was okay. I was tired of eggs and toast every day but decided since I couldn’t have the fruit that it would have to do for one more day.

We headed out to the cars at 9:15 and drove to the building for our morning meeting. It was about 10 minutes away, which was great. We entered and had to go through security to get in. Then they did a little ceremony for us by putting stuff on our forehead and giving us a pashmina. (Little did they know that we had gone shopping for pashminas the day before and knew that they had given us the cheapest kind.) We had decided to go visit the production floors first and then we headed back to the conference room for discussion. The meetings finished and we headed back to the hotel. We were meeting up with seven folks for lunch that are ex-patriots for the Bank living in Bangalore. We headed for the hotel conference room and introduced ourselves. I was already starting to feel a little icky. I asked where the bathroom was and found out that it was a door in the conference room itself. I could NOT go to the bathroom in there right next to where everyone was sitting. And of course I was the only female again. No surprises there. We had lunch and had our meeting. I was dying in the meeting but refused to use the bathroom. Thank gosh they finally had a break. I took the opportunity to run to my hotel room. The meeting wrapped up about an hour later. I was ready to be alone for a while. I said my good-byes to everyone that we had met and to the rest of the party that we had traveled with from Hyderabad.

Everyone except David and I were heading to Gurgaon. David and I decided to meet around 5:30 at the hotel bar. That was a whole hour and a half of alone time. I pulled out more Chex Mix but I was just feeling kind of queasy. Every time I ate, my stomach would make weird noises and would feel icky. I didn’t think too much of it as I watched American sitcoms. I was so ready to leave and be back in my own house. I showered, changed and went out for a look around the the grounds before meeting David. We went to the outdoor bar and enjoyed some drinks and good conversation. During the drinks, the restaurant decided to fumigate for mosquitoes. They never even asked us to move. We and our drinks ended up surrounded by toxic chemicals. I am sure that shaved at least a day off my life. We decided to eat at the open air Vietnamese restaurant next to the bar. It was pretty good and an enjoyable last meal in India. But we were definitely ready to go home. We headed back to our rooms to finish packing. We met back at the main hotel building to check-out at 10:30.

We took our final ride to the airport. It was pretty uneventful. The action started when we arrived at the airport. The traffic was terrible, but I have come to realize that the airports are the grand central stations of the cities in India. There are always so many people there! We sat in traffic for a while and finally got out of the car and walked the rest of the way to the international terminal. We showed our itineraries to get into the terminal and headed for the checked baggage security booth. Then we headed to check-in. It was here that I found out that I could only take one carry-on bag and that it could only be a certain weight. So I had to transfer stuff to checked luggage in the middle of the floor in the airport before they would let me check-in. But I still had two bags. So then I had to squeeze my laptop bag into my other bag before they would even think about letting me by. I got the evil eye when the bag wouldn’t zip but at least they let me through. Then it was off to immigration. We made it through without any issues and then it was to the security checkpoint. Again it was the same thing, separate lines for men and women. I made it through in about 5 minutes while it took David about 20 minutes. Then it was time to wait and wait and wait and wait. By this time it was 11:45 and we still had over two hours before we boarded the plane. I was not feeling that well and unfortunately for me, I ended up feeling really terrible while we sat there. I used the bathroom once but it was an even worse experience than the first airport bathroom excursion. So for the rest of the wait it was breathing exercises and small 5 min catnaps.

Finally it was time to board the plane. I was so tired and sick by this point, I could hardly stand up. I found my seat and fell asleep almost right after take off. I slept for about 6 of the 8 hours of the flight. They would bring food but I couldn’t even take the smell let alone eat it. We arrived in Frankfurt Germany at about 7:30 in the morning. We headed to the business lounge again for some breakfast, bathrooms, and comfy chairs. I tried to eat half of a banana but that didn’t go that well. I was so sick. The layover was only 3 hours but felt like a lifetime. Finally it was time to board for the second flight from Frankfurt to Charlotte. This flight was the longest flight of my life. It was clear to me that I was extremely sick. I couldn’t eat, sleep, watch TV, or listen to music. Everything that I did (and that includes moving from side to side, adjusting the chair, etc) would cause me to be more sick. I spent the entire flight going to the bathroom and holding the vomit bag.

By the time I got off of the flight, I couldn’t stand up straight. David was extremely nice and carried my carry-ons for me until I got to immigration. Then I headed as fast as I could through baggage claim and to the bus pick-up for the remote lot. I was delirious by this point. I probably shouldn’t have driven home but I just wanted to be there as fast as possible. Everything is better when you are with your family and in your own home. I called Bill and talked to him the entire way home. I think that is the only way I made it. I was doubled over in pain and crying the entire drive.

I’ll bet that you were expecting a really happy ending to my trip with full resolution and closure. I should be talking about all of the things that I was yearning to eat for the entire trip and how great it was to get back and eat anything that I wanted. Well, I hope that David got his Diet Pepsi with ice that very weekend. I finally got to eat a burrito and drink some Smirnoff Ice just this past weekend, 4 weekends after I returned. Finally, I have closure to my great adventure!

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Thursday morning I was up early again at 5am. I read and tried to get more sleep but it wasn’t happening. So I got up and packed. We were leaving today to fly to Bangalore.

Do you how you get to a certain point in a trip and you know that it is time to go home? Well today was the day for me. I was so tired from not being able to sleep the entire night, I was feeling sick, and I was ready to see my family. Even now writing this, I remember how ready I was. We packed our bags into the car and headed to the office. I wanted to make the most of the hour drive to the office so I decided today was the day to take as many pictures as I could on the drive. This was good because it allowed me get pictures that I wouldn’t be able to get any other time during the day. It was also REALLY bad. It turns out that taking tons of pictures while the car is moving, having a history of car sickness, and already feeling a bit sick, MAKES YOU FEEL VERY SICK! About 2/3 of the way through the drive, I had to stop taking pictures, roll down the window and start breathing exercises.

Luckily I made it through the car drive but as soon as we got to the building, I had to go to the bathroom. But it is not that easy. First you have to make it through security. Everything needs to be tagged and checked. I asked the security guard where the bathroom was but he didn’t understand me and took us to the conference room instead. Then I had to ask another person where the bathroom was on this floor. But as soon as I got into the bathroom the smell was so bad that I couldn’t be in there either because it just made me more nauseous. So the only thing that I could do was sit in the conference room and let it pass. Luckily, David came in the conference room only a short time later bringing some water. That helped a ton. So I could tell that it was going to be a long day. We had our meetings and unfortunately several did not go well. We were late for lunch but got it just before they took it away. I’ll bet that you couldn’t guess what was on the menu…. Indian food anyone? By now, I couldn’t tolerate Indian food so I picked out three pieces of bread. But wouldn’t you know it, even eating bread has a story. None of the lunches that we had at work provided knives. I asked if there were any knives and they said no. Typically, their food doesn’t require the extensive use of knives and a they don’t eat alot of bread and butter. So I had to literally dip my bread into small butter packets to get butter on my bread. It was par for the course.

The rest of the meetings didn’t get any better. I really wanted to get a picture of the Q&P team so we had to figure out how to do it. I brought my camera but they wouldn’t let me use it. So we had to use security’s camera and a security guard had to actually take the pictures. But at least we were able to get some pics out of the deal. David and I had decided earlier in the week that we would have to leave a bit early to go shopping this afternoon before we headed to the airport one more time. We hadn’t picked up stuff for our families yet. So today was the day. After our picture, we said our goodbyes and headed out to the car. The admin had given directions to the driver for the two places we were going shopping. Hopefully the driver would do better than he did driving us to the Waterfront last night.

He got us to the first place. It was a little shop in a long line of shops. It had the usual Indian tourist stuff, elephants, jewelry boxes, rugs, and pashminas. All of the lights were off and as we entered the lower level lights all came on and several people appeared to help us out. They would show us anything and everything. I really wanted a pashmina so I was led upstairs. The room was completely covered with scarves. Piles all over the floor, on shelves and on showcases. It was incredible. The salesman started to tell us all of the different scarves. Each was a different blend of wool and cotton. He showed us silk ones, printed ones and single color ones. There was a never ending sample of colors for each type of scarf. It was so overwhelming. I selected a high end scarf in a beautiful brown color. I had decided that this trip that I was not going to by crap. I wanted to buy good quality items that I would continue to have as keepsakes. I don’t know if I will ever get a chance to head to India again.

I headed downstairs with my first choice. I was now on a mission for something for Ashelynn and Bill. I found some cute little jewelry boxes made out of mud. They had been dyed and decorated with stones. It was lined with a beautiful red fabric. It worked for Ashelynn. Then was the biggest problem. What do I get Bill? He is tough because he doesn’t like stuff just for the sake of getting something. And nothing seemed special or right. I finally broke down and asked David what he would like and mentioned that one of the sales people that worked with him had shown him some meditation bowls. This could be a possibility. The salesperson pulled out several types of mediation bowls and showed me how it worked. Each bowl comes with a wooden stick and together they looked like a mortar and pestle. He held the bowl in his palm with no fingers touching and then used the wooden stick to circle the outside of the lip of the bowl. It started to make a high pitched sound and you could feel the vibration going up your arm. This was great! This was exactly the right gift for Bill. Unfortunately, now the salesperson started to try and upsell me. There were a number of different types of bowls ranging in price up to about $300. I couldn’t spend that much so I decided to head to the lower end of the scale. I had to be firm otherwise I would still be standing there now. This guy was so persistent. We paid for our items and then headed to the next shop. It was time to shop for pearls.

Hyderabad is known for its pearls so everyone who visits has to go through this ritual. We were taken to the shop that gives a Bank of America discount. We were quickly ushered inside to a part of a table. We had one main salesman that had two helpers that jumped at his beck and call. First it was bracelets. All different colors, sizes of pearls in different configurations. Everything was configurable on the spot. I found a beautiful bracelet and passed on the other bracelet choices. Next it was necklaces. I really did not want a strand of pearls. I am not the kind of person who can wear a strand of pearls. So I asked for other configurations with pearls spread out around the necklace. He pulled out styles after styles. Then he started adding earrings to the mix. Box after box was taken out. Finally I found a necklace that was my style. It was what I had asked for earlier but I didn’t communicate it appropriately. I tried it on and they said that it was too long. So one of the lackies took off two pearls and some of the gold and brought it back in 10 mins. I tried it on again and he decided to take off alittle bit more. Once more they brought it back and decided that it just needed two gold extenders added. Finally it was perfect. We paid for it and headed for the door.

The driver took us to the airport. It was our turn to negotiate the Indian airports by ourselves. Some of our team would be meeting us at the airport to fly with us, but we were arriving separately. Luckily, we remembered to have the admin check us in beforehand so we had our tickets to get into the airport. We looked for the security areas to put our checked luggage through. Then someone grabbed my bags to help me to the check-out area. But I didn’t want any help so I didn’t tip him. I was tired of all of the tipping. We didn’t have to show any id this time to drop off our checked luggage and get tags for our carry-ons. Then we headed to the carry-on security area. Again there were separate lines for women and men. We headed through and found a place to sit. We were about 45 minutes early. So we pulled out our computers and started working. I went to the bathroom before we boarded the plane and it was what I thought was the worst bathroom experience that I have ever had. I know that I complained about those bathrooms on the way to the Taj but they didn’t hold a candle to the nastiness of the public bathrooms at the airport. There was again a personal attendant in the bathroom but as far as I could tell she was NOT doing her job. There was filth everywhere. I didn’t want to sit on the toilet and there was NO toilet paper or paper towels. There was NO soap either. I was not tipping for this. I felt so violated. I ran back to David to ask for his baby wipes and hand sanitizer. Note to self, NEVER use the airport bathroom!!!!

Finally they called our plane and we got in the lone disorderly line and headed for the buses that take you to the tarmac. It was a tiny, tiny plane. We boarded and got our mango juice and headed to our seats. There was no way that I was drinking this or eating anything on this flight. I listened to my MP3 player and read. I still wasn’t feeling the best and it was an uncomfortable flight. I was feeling faint so I decided to at least have some water. That made me feel a bit better. Finally we landed and headed to get our bags. Our colleagues had made the flight so we caught up with them at the baggage claim. Our hotel was already there to escort us to our cars. Bangalore was exactly the same as the other cities from an airport point of view. Lots of people and lots of cars honking outside. We were waiting for our cars when it start thundering. Our hotel actually brought an umbrella for us to stand under just as it started raining. Now it is the monsoon season in July but I was already exhausted from the trip and didn’t need the additional complexity of rain at this point. But I was over ruled by the gods and just dealt with it. The first car came and Ruben and I rode together. We chatted as we raced down the street. It was already dark so there was not much looking at the sights.

Once we arrived at the hotel 30 mins later, we were in a downpour. This normally would not be an issue but the Taj West End was a British style hotel with villa like buildings placed throughout its lush acreage. We waited until the porte-cochere was clear then we drove under. We checked into the hotel and headed for the bar. Unfortunately, the bar closed at 11:30. I was feeling pretty tired but it is always good to socialize with your business partners. We headed out at around 12:15. There was no way to get to our rooms without notifying the hotel staff. No rooms were actually attached to the main building. Ruben and I had different rooms in the same bungalow so they loaded all of our luggage into a car and we were off.
It was just a short drive later when we reached our building. The hotel staff was running around with umbrellas trying to get us in the building without getting wet. The building was all open in the middle with rooms on either side. There was also a staircase to the second floor with rooms on either side again. We climbed the very wet stairs and headed for our rooms. The hotel guy tried to get me in my room first but guess what? You guessed it, my key didn’t work again! Ruben’s did so he was in his room enjoying some alone time and I was waiting for the hotel guy to go all the way back to the main building to get me another key. I had to go to the bathroom VERY badly but instead I was sitting on a wet wicker chair, watching the rain and waiting for the key. 10 minutes later, the hotel guy was back and I was finally ushered into my room. But of course the hotel guy couldn’t just let me be. He had to show me around. Finally, he left and I was alone! I hadn’t eaten anything except bread at lunchtime so I was so hungry. I pulled out the Chex Mix and a granola bar for dinner. I was planning on getting a good night’s sleep and I didn’t want to be waking up because I was hungry. Finally at 1:15, I was able to go to sleep. I dreamt that I was heading home… tomorrow is the last day! Yeah!

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I woke up a little bit later on Wednesday morning….5am. I was hopeful that two more hours would help. We were meeting my support partner for breakfast at 8:00am. He had just flown into Hyderabad the night before.

So David and I met up with him at the lobby restaurant. David had not slept well again. Ruben was tired but slept good. I was okay and looking forward to a learning about the new city and site. The breakfast buffet was really good too. Unfortunately in the middle of breakfast I started to have some stomach issues. Then more issues when I gathered my bags prior to leaving for the office. This was not good.

Another side note here… the doctors that you go to see prior to your trip, all try to scare you to death. You might get Polio, Typhoid, Malaria, Hepatitis A and B and this is the stuff you get immunized or prescriptions for. Do not drink the water, don’t open your mouth in the shower, do not use ice, no raw fruit or vegetables, and lots of other great tips. Then on top of all of that, they say that the majority of folks have major issues adjusting to the time zone changes and get stomach issues at some point during their trip. It is just a matter of when. So they suggest lots of things like Lunesta/sleeping pills and Imodium/stomach medicine. I guess it is my turn to join the majority population.

So I headed to the car and rode with Ruben and David to the offices. It was an hour drive. Wow, I was not expecting that. But it gave us a great opportunity to look at the city. This city still had the same nonstop honking and treacherous traffic, but also had beautiful gardens, green medians and sidewalks. You could tell that it was a growing city on the move. Lots of construction and infrastructure projects too.

The office building was in a technology complex with companies like Accenture. The security was very strict just as in the Gurgaon office. They took us to our conference room where we settled in for the day. Luckily it had wireless access so David could connect. The first thing on the agenda was the facilities tour. It was such a thorough tour of every security aspect that one could fathom. I felt really safe in the building after the tour. But talking to the security guard really made me realize how much pride he had for the city. It was really nice to hear the passion he had for his job and the growth of Hyderabad.

We had more meetings and lunch with the team. We worked until about 7:30pm and headed out for dinner with the Q&P team. We all left at the same time to head to the restaurant called The Waterfront. One of our colleagues told our driver where to go and we were off. Our driver said that it would take 45 mins to get to the restaurant. That didn’t seem too off since the water was next to our hotel and that was about 45 mins away from the office. Plus were were rush hour traffic so we were expecting about an hour drive.

David and I were looking at the sights and talking about how tired we were. About an hour into the trip, I was wondering why it seemed that we weren’t close to the restaurant. The driver got a phone call and it ended up being from the admin asking where we were. He said that it was traffic and that we would be there in 10 mins. 10 mins later we were close to the water. We passed the restaurant and had to go up to a spot to turn around since it was on the other side of the road. I saw a place to turn around but the driver didn’t do it. We just kept right on driving. All the way down the the road and almost to the other side of the lake we turned around and he drove into a gated driveway. David and I didn’t know what was going on. We asked the driver but he said that this was it. We got out of the car and he gestured toward the way we were to go. This did not feel right. We would need to walk about 1/2 of a mile to get back to where the restaurant really was. We walked over there and some people stopped us and asked what we were doing. We said that we wanted to go to the Waterfront. They talked to the driver and sent us back up the road. Apparently the driver was a bit confussed about where we were supposed to be. The driver’s cell phone was ringing again. It was the admin again asking where we were. Everyone else was already at the restaurant waiting for us. Five minutes later we finally pull up in front of the restaurant. We made it!!!

David and I were so tired by this point. It was 9:15pm, we were tired, feeling a bit sick, and not very hungry. Everyone was already eating when we arrived. We ordered drinks and some appetizers. I had a ginger ale thinking that it would make my stomach feel better. I headed off to the bathroom and to my surprise again, there was a personal attendant inside. There were three people waiting in line for one stall and the attendant in the tiny bathroom. I couldn’t wait, so I left and practiced deep breathing excersises during dinner. This restaurant was pretty nice. It had a beautiful glass window on one entire side of the restaurant overlooking the river. There was live music (which meant 50’s and 60’s Western music done on the flute and violin.) The restaurant featured Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine. It was nice to get a variety of food after eating almost nothing except Indian food for the past 5 days.

We talked about hobbies, families, and our travels. It was a good evening. The bill came and one of the team members picked up the bill. Then the comment card came and was set in front of me. I looked around and figured it out. I was the only female at the table. Apparently, the female always gets the comment card because they assume that the female will be nicer with the feedback. I filled out the stinking card but I was NOT happy. I was starting to feel a bit of a gender bias. I was probably magnified because I was tired and feeling sick but there was also the fact that the hotel people just assumed that David and I were married. I would have to wait and see how the rest of the trip unfolds but I was keeping my eye on this issue.

Finally it was time to leave and go back to the hotel. I was so tired and I couldn’t wait to get backto the hotel, be alone and feel better. Only two days to go, I can make it!

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I was in bed sleeping at 10:30. I was desperately looking to get a good night’s sleep so I would feel more awake than I did today. Unfortunately, I was up at 3am in the morning. This has got to stop!!!! Everyone told me that it takes a while to get used to the time difference but this was ridiculous. So I read, worked a little and tried to fall back to sleep. Nothing worked. Tuesday was here…

So I finally got up and packed my bags. I was meeting David for breakfast around 9am. We met at Cilantro for the breakfast buffet. It was really good. I had an omelet and some great pastries. We checked out of the hotel and headed to the entrance to grab our car.

For the same 1 mile from the hotel to the office, today it took us 30 minutes. Traffic is apparently really bad at 10am in the morning. We finally arrived at the office and left our bags in the car for our trip to the airport.

We had several meetings and a late lunch with the leadership team in Gurgaon. I was so tired but had to keep moving. More Diet Coke to the rescue. We ended up having to change conference rooms since David’s computer can only connect to the network wirelessly. We finished up a few more meetings and headed off to the airport.

Luckily, one of our Indian colleagues was traveling with us because we would not have figured out the airport on our own. The domestic portion of the airport works like this: you can call in advance and check-in to get your ticket and seat. Unlike the US, you can call anytime in advance to do this. And anyone can call for you. One of the admins graciously offered to do this for us. Luckily, we had a ticket when we arrived at the airport. Because you can’t get into the entrance to the airport without one. And once again the airport inside and out was packed.

Once inside the airport, we had to put our checked luggage through security scanners. Once it came out the other end, the security workers wrapped special tape around the bags and put a sticker around the zippers so they couldn’t be opened. We collected our checked bags on the other side of the scanner and looked for the airline that we were traveling on. We went up to the counter and provided our tickets so they could be stamped. Our colleague showed his bank badge and although David and I were ready, we did not need to show any ID. We were laughing at apparently how powerful our colleague was that we did not need to show any ID. But that is just how it works. She gave us blank tags to put on our carry-on luggage. I thought we should fill it out but our colleague said that it was fine. We gave our scanned and wrapped checked bags to the ticket agent and headed off to the next security checkpoint.

Here there was an interesting development. There were separate security lines for men and women. You get in the appropriate line and put your carry-on bags through the scanner when it is your turn. There is no removing your laptop or worrying about sizes of liquids and gels. Just put it on the scanner. The men go through security out in the open but the women have to go into this booth with curtains on either side. A security women is waiting for you. You stand on a box with your arms out and get checked. Then you can step off the box, leave the curtained booth and collect your carry-on luggage. During this process your carry-on luggage gets stamped and your ticket gets stamped again.

Finally we were through and could find a place to sit down and wait for our flight. David had brought along some water and some crystal light lemonade packets. So we drank that and talked about random topics. It did not take long for our flight to be called and that was great because it felt like there was no air conditioning in the entire airport. There were several fans blowing though which at least kept some air moving.

There was no boarding procedure whatsoever for our flight. Everyone just got in line and headed out the door. They checked to make sure we had a ticket and that our carry-on luggage was stamped and then ushered us on. We were loaded onto buses that took us out to the tarmac where the planes were waiting for us. We boarded the plane and found our seats. David was not feeling good and he was just as tired as I was. He ended up falling asleep pretty quickly. I chatted with our colleague, read my book and watched some TV. Soon dinner was delivered. I was NOT in the mood for bad airplane food. The flight attendant was adamant about everyone being served. She even tried to wake David up to give him a meal. I had to tell her that he was sleeping and he didn’t want food. The smell was so strong from my meal it ended up waking him up anyway. I had a few bites here and there but pretty much did not eat anything.

Our flight landed and we were in Hyderabad. We headed to the baggage claim and got our bags. Then it was time to brave the flocks of people to find our transportation to our hotel. It didn’t take too long and we were found. We headed to the car and started our long drive to our hotel. It was around 7:30pm and it was rush hour in Hyderabad.

Hyderabad had a much different feel than Delhi. Delhi was very historical and architectural and Hyderabad felt much younger and more “happening”. There was an excitement in the air. Our drive to the hotel took about 45 mins.

When we arrived at the Taj Krishna, there was a woman waiting for us. She took Mr. Harris into the hotel with me tagging along to show us where everything was. We got a tour of the lobby and then she took us up to the room. I was still tagging along but was being completely ignored by the hotel staff in favor of Mr. Harris. She took us to David’s room and showed him around while I waited in the hallway. She finally called to me and asked me to come into the room. I came in thinking that she had my paperwork as well as David’s. She asked David for all of his documents while I stood there waiting uncomfortably. Then she must have noticed and said have a seat on the bed. I sat, but saw what was happening here. She thought that Mr. Harris and I were married. When she finished, I asked politely for my own room. She was completely taken back. She became flustered and asked me to wait in David’s room while she went to figure out what was going on. I felt incredibly uncomfortable just standing there but there was nothing else to do. We decided to head downstairs for dinner once I got all checked in. About 10 minutes later, another gentleman came up to collect me and take me to my room. They had me down to arrive later on in the evening. They took me to my room to check me in. Wouldn’t you know it, someone was in my room cleaning the bathroom when the gentleman checked me in. All I wanted to do was go to the bathroom and now I had to wait for this guy to finish cleaning my bathroom before I could use it. It seems that this hotel was not very lucky for me.

I called David once I freshened up and we met in the lobby for some dinner. There was a Mongolian grill so we decided to have something different. Lucky for us, it helped to keep up our married persona since it was a candlelit dinner next to the Koi pond outside on the patio. We both ordered Mongolian Grill and ate up. It was pretty good but we were both pretty tired and headed up to our respective rooms hoping for a much better evening. Wednesday has got to be a much better day. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

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I was back in my room by 9:30pm.  I got ready for bed and read for alittle bit.  I was so tired though.  I ended up falling asleep around 10pm.  I slept great until 3am.  Then I was wide awake again.  I couldn’t believe it!  I had to go to work today and here I had basically had 8 hours to kill before the car would even arrive to take us to work.  I was wishing that I had made my massage appointment for earlier.  But it was too late now to change.  So I did some work and read.  I felt icky by the time my appointment arrived. 

I headed down to the spa 10 min early.  My therapist took me to the room.  It was gorgeous.  It had sliding doors that opened directly out to the reflecting pool with floating lily pads and hovering trees.  The therapist asked me to sit in the chair while she rubbed my legs and feet with a warm cloth.  Then she gave me a robe and asked me to head to the bathroom to get undressed.  She prepared the room by closing the window and getting the bed ready.  I ordered their signature massage and it was really good! 

An hour later, my massage was done and I was showered and ready for breakfast.  We had just missed the breakfast brunch and decided to order from the menu instead.  I ordered pancakes and they were really good.  David was having the same issue that I was, lack of sleep.  But we were looking forward to getting back to work and connected to the rest of the world. 

The driver picked us up at 11:30am.  The office was about 1 mile away and it took us about 15 mins to get there.  We had to go through security to make sure that our equipment was official and that we didn’t have any recording devices like mp3 players.  All cell phones and laptops needed to be tagged and marked as Bank devices.  We also had to wear Bank badges.  We meet up with our team of folks and got settled into our conference room.  We then had a facilities tour so we could hear about the production floors and how the security was set up throughout the building.

We ended the tour at a private lunch area set-up for us to have lunch with our Q&P team in India.  We introduced ourselves and headed through the food line.  Even though I thought that I had an idea of what some of the main Indian dishes were, there were alot of things that I again didn’t know.  I did find some cottage cheese dish and jumped all over that.  We discussed what the team was doing and what some of the issues that they were experiencing.  It was nice to get to see people who I had talked to over the phone finally in person. 

Just a note here about how a normal day is set-up in India….  It seems that the days in India are skewed.  It is normal for people not to get into the office until at least 10am.  Then they eat lunch around 2pm and work until 8ish.  Then they will not eat dinner until 9pm.  All of this in an effort to overlap some of their work time with the states.

We then headed back to the conference room for a series of afternoon meetings.  David and I were so tired by this time.  I went right for the Diet Coke’s in the room.  I don’t even like Diet Coke but I really needed the caffeine!  David on the other hand really wanted Diet Pepsi.  So he asked our partners if he could get some.  So one of the guys called down and asked for someone to bring up some Diet Pepsi.  About 10 mins later, a white gloved guy brought up 6 cans of Diet Coke and NOT Diet Pepsi.  The guy in our room yelled at him in Indian a little bit and set him back to get the Diet Pepsi.  About 20 mins later the guy comes back sweating with some Diet Pepsi.  Finally David had his preferred caffeine.  But both David and I felt very uncomfortable with asking the white gloved guy to leave the building to find Diet Pepsi.

This is a good point to talk about the caste system in India.  It was very clear that the white-gloved guy was in a lower caste than our colleague.  It seems that everyone knows who is at what level except the visitors.  It was also very clear that there was a hierarchy in the hotel staff as well.  Some of the hotel staff wouldn’t even look at me while others were clearly at a level where they could interact with the guests. 

We finished work and headed to dinner around 8:30pm with two of our colleagues.  We went to a restaurant called Punjabi by Nature.  It was a hip restaurant with upbeat music and cool lighting.  This restaurant is known for its interesting drink selection.  It has a signature drink that consists of a round bread/pastry item that had been hollowed out.  Spices are placed in the hollowed cavern.  Then it is served with some kind of hard liquor which just you pour into the hollowed cavern and then drink/eat it.  I didn’t have any but David decided to try it.  Apparently it was pretty interesting. 

I ordered the tandoori veg platter and then our colleagues ordered some main dishes and breads.  Oh my gosh, the tandori platter was so hot!!!  It had cottage cheese and huge pieces of cauliflower.  I could hardly eat it.  I pushed the food around and ended up eating a bunch of the bread instead.  They ended up ordering so much food that one of the colleagues ended up taking alot of it home. 

David and I were both really tired by the time we left the restaurant.   So it was time to head back to the hotel, pack and get some sleep.  For tomorrow it is time to say good-bye to Delhi and head to Hyderabad!

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After we returned from our sightseeing adventure, we were hungry so we went to the hotel restaurant called Cilantro at 6:15pm. The people at the restaurant looked at us like we were crazy and told us that the restaurant didn’t even open until 7:30pm. So we made a reservation and went to relax by the hotel’s beautiful pool and talked about our day. What a day! We were so glad that we came in a day early to get time to look around the city.

We arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 and we were the only people in the place. Apparently, we were doing the “American Early Bird Special!” By the time we left at 9:00, the place was full. The dinner was a buffet of global cuisine; Indian, American, Italian etc. So we ate up. I took this opportunity to try lots of different kinds of Indian food. Everything was labeled so I was able to decide what I liked and didn’t like for the rest of the week. I found that I really enjoyed all of the cottage cheese dishes. Indian cottage cheese isn’t chunky like it is here in the States. It is in blocks or chunks like tofu. It is one of the main vegetarian foods that you can get in India and is prepared many different ways.

We were exhausted after we finished eating and we had to get up at 5am in the morning to leave for Agra at 6am. So it was time for bed. I set my wake-up call for 5am and was asleep by 9:30pm. Unfortunately, my body was still adjusting to the time and I was up at 3am in the morning. I read and worked on my computer a bit. I headed down to meet David and Nick at 6am. David had ordered us water and pastries for the trip and I brought along some travel snacks.

We headed out on time for a four-hour drive to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Agra is due south of Delhi and we would have to drive through several small towns to get there. One of the stereotypes that you hear about India is that cows are sacred and they are just roaming the streets. I had yet to experience this, but today was the day! Before we even left the city, we could see cows walking down the street. From then on it was non-stop; individual cows wandering around, herds of cows being shepherded across the street, and cows roped to tents, cots, and buildings. I couldn’t tell why some cows seemed owned by people and others were roaming the road alone with no one around. The other interesting thing was that it wasn’t only cows, it was pigs, goats, and dogs too.

Once outside the city, not only were there animals the entire trip but there were was constant traffic; rickshaws, motorcycles and pedestrians. There were lines of women carrying grain and water on their heads. It made for interesting sightseeing.

Then there was the most alarming part, the sheer and utter poverty. We saw some poverty in the city but nothing like in the rural areas and the small towns that we drove through. There were rows and rows of refugee-style camps along the side of the road. Families were actually living under a blue tarp with a handmade cot inside. Children running around in just a shirt and underwear and no shoes. Some of the people were lucky enough to have found some sheet metal and had built a shack out of that. Others used mud and grass to make a small hut. To make the situation even more disconcerting was the amount of trash and garbage that these people lived in. There were plastic bottles and bags, littered food, and waste everywhere. No one picked it up or even seemed concerned about it. Then out in front of these tents, people would have booths to sell food or plastic bottles of Pepsi. Wandering animals would be eating from the trash ridden streets and alleys. I was in complete awe. I couldn’t comprehend this level of poverty right before my eyes. I felt so sad and helpless driving by in my rental car to see the Taj Mahal. It seemed so shallow. And yet how many people made the trip from Delhi to Agra every day and see the exact same thing that I was seeing and do nothing. I felt caught; I was only able to drink sealed bottled water in this country but yet look at where many of the plastic bottles ended up. I had a whole new respect for America’s sanitary departments. But in the end I guess that it is no different in America; all of the garbage just ends up in a landfill instead of out for everyone to see. Here there was no escaping what humans are doing to the environment.

At one point, we had to make a stop as we crossed into another providence to pay the toll. As we were stopped, some beggar men came up the car and wanted us to take a picture of their monkeys. I graciously declined and wished that I would have locked my car door before we stopped. Nick decided to do it but wouldn’t pay the guy until the driver came back to protect us in case there was an issue. But now I can say that I saw a monkey up close and personal hanging off of my car door posing for a picture. How many of you can say the same?

I would just like to make a personal note here. I was very nervous about the bathroom situation on this day trip. The bathrooms at the hotel were fine, but what would they be like elsewhere? So I purposely limited my water intake to the absolute minimum. But about halfway into the trip, the driver stopped for a break at a hotel that had outdoor bathroom facilities. There were a bunch of other tourist cars there also on their way to the Taj so I thought that I should take this opportunity to use the facilities. So I headed in and a nice Indian woman who had been waiting outside apparently just for me followed me in. The bathroom itself was very simple, concrete walls for the stalls and very dimly lit. The toilets were not in the greatest shape and smelled bad. There was a drain in the floor of the stall and an sprayer hanging on the wall. I didn’t know what all of this was for, but felt that I was now committed since the Indian woman was waiting for me. I flushed the toilet and water started seeping out of the base of the toilet where it was attached to the floor. But it seems that this was normal since all of the water naturally flowed to the drain the floor. The woman was waiting to give me personal service. She turned on the sink water on for me and handed me towels. Then she held out her hand for a tip. Luckily, I had a small bill handy and tipped her for helping me use the bathroom. It was such a strange feeling to know that this is how she makes her living. She provided personal bathroom service for tips all day. When no one is in the bathroom, she sits outside waiting for someone to use the bathroom. David acknowledged that he had a personal attendee too so it must be the thing to do here.

With the bathroom experience behind us, we stretched our legs and waited for our driver. At the entrance to the hotel, there were actually people huddled around a pot playing the “cobra song” on a flute — the one where cobras are hypnotized and rise out of the pot without hurting anyone. I couldn’t see the snake yet, but as we drove out there he was. A smallish cobra being played with by the men. It was kind of cool to actually see people doing this in real life.

As we drove onward, we were able to see some camels and elephants too. I couldn’t believe the size of one of the elephants that we saw just walking down the road carrying leafy greens to feed their animals with. One man was riding on top and one man was walking beside the elephant. It made me wonder where one actually gets an elephant or a camel. I didn’t get an answer to that, but it was an interesting thought nonetheless.

Finally after four hours of driving past cabanas sponsored by Pepsi and random Technology and Management Schools, we arrived at Agra. Agra was no different than the other towns that we drove through, lots of run-down buildings, lots of booths set up along the side of the road, lots of animals and lots of trash. We stopped at a gas station to pick up our guide. We were running a bit ahead of schedule so the guide had not arrived yet. The tour company actually operated out of this gas station. A gentleman came to our car to explain the situation and asked if we wanted to wait inside in the air conditioned office. He also offered us the use of their bathroom. I was wary but again I was thinking it might be better since it was the bathroom for the tour agency. So I gave the bathroom a try. The man escorted me back to an outhouse shaped building with a lock on the door. I went in but couldn’t find the light switch and it was really dark inside. The walls were again all concrete with a very small opening at the top of one of the sides to let light in. I went but there was no toilet paper nor a sink. Thank gosh David brought along his assortment of baby wipes and hand sanitizer. I couldn’t get out of the bathroom fast enough. Of course the gentleman was outside waiting for me so I couldn’t look like I was too traumatized by the whole thing. David and Nick were standing by the truck. I tried not to walk too fast to the vehicle but I was dying for some of David’s sanitary wipes.

As we waited for our guide, we had time to look around. The gas station looked pretty normal. The one thing that was different was their fire extinguishers. There was a rack of 6-8 red buckets hanging along one side of the station. The buckets read FIRE and were full of sand. That was quite the sight!

As we looked down the street, we saw cows wandering along and enjoying shady trees. We also saw a make-shift shaving station. It had a chair and a small table to hold the straight-edge razor and creme. There was a gentleman enjoying a shave as we watched. So bizarre but I guess everyone wants a smooth face.

Finally our guide arrived and we were off to the Taj. It turns out that the Taj was just a mile up the road from the gas station. But halfway there they do not allow cars to go any further so we had a couple of choices, we could go by motorized rickshaw, camel cart or walk a half of a mile through the beggars. We took our guides recommendation and took the fast and cheap way by motorized rickshaw. We filed in and headed off. We were dropped off about 50 ft from the entrance and walked through the beggars to get the rest of the way. Our guide told us to completely ignore the beggars. But even so, it was hard not to say something especially when the children were asking us to go to their store.

We paid to get into the Taj and went through security. No one is allowed to take in any electronics besides cameras, no food except for water and nothing like cigarettes. Once inside the entrance, you stroll through a garden walkway. As the case in the Hismayan monument that we visited in Delhi, the first thing that you see is the gateway. So we stopped and our guide gave us the history of the gateway and the outer buildings. There was an entrance to the south of the gateway which went out into the city of Agra. When the Taj was built, the city had a street for each type of work that needed to be done. When the King needed inlay work or stone work, he would send someone out to the appropriate street and get the work commissioned. The gateway itself was enormous. It had excerpts from the Koran written in a calligraphy style and inlaid into the marble with onyx. It had three archways and domes made out of red sandstone. They were in the process of renovating it and there was scaffolding made out of bamboo roped together the entire height of the gateway.

We headed into the gateway and it was there that we saw our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. We were standing in one of the most famous spots for taking pictures of the Taj. It was the picture of it through the arch of the gateway to the Taj. It caught the reflecting pool and the beautiful architecture of the Taj itself. It also captured all of the people who like us had made the journey to see the monument. Around 20,000 people every day come to see the sight. I could see how that could easily be true. There were people everywhere! Our guide took a picture of the three of us with the Taj in the background just on the outside of the Gateway. We then walked along the empty reflecting pool to the a middle reflecting pool also made out of marble. The reflecting pool is only filled in the morning and then the water evaporates and is used to water the lawn around mid-morning. The middle reflecting pool was also empty, but had several benches which is a great spot for pictures of the people posing in front of the Taj. I took my snapshots and we veered off into the garden.

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but it was soooo hot here. I was so glad that I had put on sunscreen and wore my hat. But even so, I was already worried about the french-fry that I would be in a few hours. The guide must have noticed and took us to a shady bench in the garden. It was there that he gave us the history of the Taj while we were sitting looking at its beauty. I recommend clicking on the link above to learn more about it. The extremely short cliff note version is that it was built for a King’s wife that had died in childbirth. It took 22 years to finish. It is supposed to resemble a woman ever-changing but always beautiful. The entire site was built to represent balance and symmetry. The Taj itself is completely symmetrical and the garden is in 4 quadrants with the reflecting pool running North/South through the middle of the two halves of the garden. There is a building to the left of the Taj which was (and still is – on Friday’s) a mosque used for prayer service. To be in complete balance, there was an exact replica of the mosque on the right side of the Taj was wasn’t used for anything. The Taj is set along a tributary of the Ganges river and is constructed entirely of marble with inlays of several precious stones. Our guide was such a good storyteller and was really knowledgeable about the sight.

He then led us to the foundation of the Taj. We were required to put on booties over our shoes prior to walking onto the marble of the Taj. We walked up the steps to the terrace level. The marble was beautiful and very cool to the touch even in the heat of the sun. We headed up the steep, slick steps to the entrance of the monument. There are no pictures in the monument but I got one looking back towards the gateway before we headed in.

The monument was complete chaos. There were people who were responsible for keeping the herd of people moving around the monument. They used sharp whistle blows to get people’s attention and then shooed people along with their hands. Our guide got permission to take us aside so he could tell us in painstaking detail all about the inlay work. He knew every precious jewel and detail of how it was done. Unfortunately, it was so hot with all of the people inside the monument. We finally moved forward to see the tombs. The tombs that we saw were empty. The actual remains for the King and his wife were under the tombs. Until about six years ago they used to let the public see the actual tombs. But it was even hotter down there with no air flow and people kept fainting. So they finally closed off that section and now it is covered with a gated grate. The empty tombs were surrounded by the most intricate inlay work in the Taj. The marble was also carved out into small intricate holes so you could see the tombs through the gate. The workmanship was amazing! The only thing in the entire landscape of the Taj that wasn’t balanced and symmetrical was the King’s tomb which was added next to the Queen as an after thought when he died. Her tomb is centered within the octagon marble gate and the King’s tomb sits to the right of her.

We finished being ushered around the gate and tombs and we headed back outside and down to the terrace level. We viewed the river from the terrace and saw kids and cows cooling off in its water. I was really busy trying not to get sunburnt. David lent me his umbrella, so I was managing that with the camera, purse and life saving water. We headed over to the mosque replica and took some nice pictures of arches and pictures of the Taj through the arches. Then we headed back to the gateway and rested while he gave us some history on the security gate. We had seen everything and were feeling ready to go. So we headed out through the gateway and the garden walkway. We retrieved the MP3 player that had to be put in storage while we went inside and then it was time to brave the beggars. We were targeted immediately with water, Taj snow-globes, t-shirts, bull whips, etc. There is no Taj Mahal gift shop just these little stores right outside the entrance. We again ignored them and walked back to our rickshaw who had been waiting the 2.5 hours for us to return. All of the other rickshaws wanted our business but our guide shooed them off and herded us into the one waiting for us. Can you believe that the going rate was $1 for the rickshaw driver to drive the four of us both ways and wait for us while we were inside? Amazing!

We returned to our vehicle and they took us to the shop so we could see inlay work being done by the descendants of those that worked on the Taj. The demonstrated how the inlay work was done and the tools that were used for it. David took the opportunity to try his hand at it. It is not as easy as it looks! Then they took us into the showroom and gave us the spiel on good marble vs not so good marble. Then they let us look around and it was then that we got our first encounter with the Indian sales people.

I had heard that they were relentless but I had no idea that it was on the order of a 5:1 ratio. They were pretty calm when we were in the expensive inlay room but as soon as we said that we were ready to leave, they called in reinforcements. They ushered us into the next room with less expensive inlay work like checkerboards. We still weren’t biting so they took us to the next room with even less expensive stuff. I decided that there was finally something in my price range for Sebine. When else would I have the opportunity to buy inlay work done in “good marble” right outside the Taj Mahal? So the salesman showed me everything in my price range and then started upping the stakes again. You can get this for $15 more, $20 more. But I liked the first one and held steadfast. Another salesperson came and picked it up and took it to the register. The gentleman with me was already showing me other things that I could buy. David and Nick were getting the same treatment but decided not to buy anything. I checked out with 5 people helping. One person wrapped the item, another ran the credit card, another ripped of the receipt for me to sign, another got a bag to put the item in and lastly a supervisor to make sure I was fully taken care of. Talk about full service shopping.

I thought we were heading out since it didn’t look like Nick or David were going to buy anything. But the big dog came out of the woodwork and insisted that we were to go upstairs and see the “surprise.” I was hoping that we weren’t going to be carved up. Hopefully, the guide would not leave us in danger. So we waited dutifully for the elevator and headed upstairs. We were shown room after room of other things to buy including jewelry, clothes and rugs. They would turn on the lights in one of the rooms and there would be 5 people there standing in the dark waiting for us. They would immediately rush over to us. I was instantly a target for the jewelry room. Unfortunately for those guys, I didn’t even go in. In the rug room, we were shown the demonstration which was amazing. It takes a guy 2 months to make a smallish rug by hand. Wow, talk about carpal tunnel syndrome. Then the sales job as rug after rug was pulled out and dramatically unrolled and laid on the floor for us to see. David decided to be really goofy and laid down on a bunch of the rugs which threw off the sales people. They just started bringing out bigger rugs that he could fit onto when he laid down. Finally, we had all had enough. Frankly, I was done about 20 minutes ago. David cut them off and we headed to the elevator alone with all of the sales people calling for us to wait, they had something else to show us.

We were exhausted when we returned to the car. The guide was ready to take us to the Red Fort for more sightseeing or to stop someplace for lunch. We had had enough. I refused to eat anything from a stand. I would rather starve. David and Nick were done sight seeing so the only other option was to be done. So we dropped off the guide at the gas station, tipped him and headed toward home. We didn’t stop on the way back. We just watched the sights go by. I wasn’t even as affected by the poverty as I was on the way down. I was over-saturated with culture, sightseeing, traffic, and animals.

Four hours later, we arrived back at the hotel. We headed to our rooms to decompress. I tried to go to the pool but it was closed. Apparently they were fumigating the mosquitoes. I instead showered and watched TV alone in my room. I headed to the spa and made a reservation for a massage the next morning. I made it for 9am thinking who has a massage at any earlier than that? Then I headed to the lounge area and found David drinking and working on his computer. I joined him for a drink and we talked about our day. It was another amazing experience for the memory books.

We decided to eat at the Japanese restaurant for dinner that night. I was completely against eating anything raw but thought something teriyaki would be good. So we waited around in the lounge until 7:30 and we headed to the restaurant. It was completely empty again because of course we were early birds in India. David ordered a sushi roll sampler and I ordered the teriyaki. It was really good food. But everyone laughed at me while David tried to show me how to use chopsticks. I did get the hang of it ate the entire meal without a fork! Yeah!

Well, it was then time for bed. I was so exhausted and we started work the next day. Luckily, we didn’t go into the office until 11am. So lots of time to sleep, right?

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