Recently returned from India

Old Apr 25th, 2005, 11:27 AM
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Recently returned from India

Hello all:

I returned last week from a 2+ week business trip to India, and I wanted to thank everyone who gave me info/tip, especially Cicerone.

I will say that I was extremely nervous about the trip, as India was never on my list of desired destinations. I tried everything, short of quiting, to get out of the assignment, but failed. With all that said, I'm happy to report back that I enjoyed myself very much.

What was supposed to be a solo trip, turned into a trip with 3 co-workers, which I think influenced my enjoyment greatly.

We flew on Delta's direct flight JFK-BOM, which made a stop in Paris. We then stayed the night in BOM, and flew Jet Airways in the morning to Chennai/Madras. Jet Airways was very nice, and unlike airlines in the US had a full meal service on a 2 hour flight...and it was our first encounter with local India food.

In Chennai, we stayed at The Royal Meridian, which is outside of the city, closer to the airport. The hotel was very nice, and service very good....if at times over-solicited. I also noticed when calling to housekeeping, room service, etc. everything is promised "in ten minutes" but rarely occurs within that time.

Drivers were arranged daily through the hotel, so we never ventured into a Tuk Tuk or public bus. The drivers were always very nice and professional.

We did take 2 tours, both through the hotel, during the weekend we were free. On our first Saturday, we saw the city of Chennai, several hindu temples, the church built on the hill where St. Thomas was said to have been martyred, also the catholic church in the city, and Marina Beach. You can still see much of the devistation around the beach from the Tsunami, including many homeless familes. Our driver said the beach used to be packed with locals on the weekend, but most are afraid to come back, which accounted for why the beach was practically empty. We also, of course, did a little shopping at a couple "government stores" and their local mall, Spencer's Plaza.

On Sunday, we went south to Kinchipuram and Mamalipuram (sorry about the spelling, which I know is wrong) and saw many more Hindu temples, as well as amazing carvings in the hills/stones around Mamalipuram. On our drive back, we took the more scenic route, and stopped at the Shore Temple and to have lunch at a resort on the Bay of Bengal. The resort was called The Ideal Beach Resort, and had good food and very beautiful private cottages and grounds. We picked up a broucher while leaving and found that their most expensive accomodations, the Deluxe Cottages are only 3000rs a night (@ 70USD) ...on down to a room in the main hotel converted to approx $29 USD. One of my co-workers is already planning a vacation there.

After our second week of work, we left on Saturday back to BOM on Jet Airways, then Delta again BOM to Paris then JFK for a co-worker and Paris to Atlanta for me. Luckily, in the future this trip (if I have to return) will be easier since Delta begins direct service to Chennai in May from JFK and Paris.

Some things that surprised me:
-A seperate security line for woman at the was always shorter, so I didn't complain.
-"Western" or "International" dishes really aren't since they, many times, still use various Indian spices. (I did try some Indian dishes, but they were usually too spicy for me and tended to upset my stomach)
-Our "Western" hotel did have steak, burgers, etc on the menu, and I was assured by our company's local manager that it is in fact Beef. I took his word on it...but still didn't try any.
-The students we taught were probably the most respectful I've ever had in a class...with the exception of puncuality. Always late.
-Don't accept any bills with tears at a corner or near the serial numbers. They will not be accepted or exhanged anywhere, other than a govt bank. I learned this with a 500rs bill.
-Dry cleaning/laundry at the hotel was very cheap, so I really didn't need to pack so much.
-Most everyone spoke perfect English...Our problem was understanding THEM. The accent in the south is very thick.
-Chennai is still a very traditional city, without much advancement or much "western" influence. Most people we met had never heard of our company...which is a large US company with business all over the world, including Mumbai for over a decade.
-People do stare at you...but I never felt uncomfortable, or afraid. Children would waive, and beem with pride if you smiled or waived at them. Most men simply avoided me (a woman) but curiously approached my male co-workers with questions, or simply to meet them.
-A big surprise - men would just stop their car/bike/etc, turn their back and go the bathroom on the side of the modesty there.

Like I said, I was very nervous for this trip but ended up enjoying myself. Yes, the poverty is everywhere but I think I was prepared for it (if that's possible). When I was first assigned the trip, I had thought of the very worst of everything, and heard horrible stories. When I arrived, I was prepared and saw what that while much was true, some was exageratted by the story teller. After 2+ weeks, though, I was ready to leave - My stomach, while not sick, was not liking the different spices anymore, and I was getting very depressed seeing the families and children on the street.

Would I go back? For business, absolutely and with no fear or reservations. For pleasure...I'm still contemplating that one.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 07:17 AM
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Just a comment on your observation about the beef. While most westeners are under the mistaken impression that in all of India, the cow is considered sacred and not slaughtered, this is far from the truth. There are very few states in India which have actually banned cow slaughter. And almost everywhere, especially in South India with its higher numbers of Christians and Muslims, beef is widely available and consuemd. To put things in perspective, two of the South Indian states, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, now have Christian chief ministers.
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Old Apr 26th, 2005, 05:06 PM
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Hi Fly-India is not for everyone. If one is prepared to overcome one's fears & trepidations & get out of one's "comfort zone", then a trip to India can be a life-changing, positive experience. I guess it depends on what one is looking for in a holiday destination. Me-excitement, exotic food, smells, sights & sounds, completely opposite to my home country!

Glad you had a positive first time experience. Many of us have been initially fearful and then wonderfully surprised. I love India! It is in my heart and in my head and I will never recover! We are planning our third trip in 12 months! Have fun wherever you go, even if it is "work"!
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Old May 7th, 2005, 10:01 AM
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You should have checked out Dakshin Chithra on the way to Mahabalipuram/ Mamallapuram (you were not too far off on the spelling!). It has a very good recreation of south indian architechture. They have moved whole homes here from various parts of south india and recreated it very tastefully.
South Indian food is spicy by nature, yes, but there are major variations. Im not sure you had the right kind of guidance on choice of dishes. There are some that are appealing to even those who prefer it a little bland. Many south Indians are vegetarians, so the spread of vegetarian food is usually quite good, if you have the right guidance. Another thing you may have noted is that we prefer our coffee/ tea a bit sweeter! There are some places in Chennai where the serving of the meal itself is elevated to the level of an art- like Annalakshmi, but like most places, it is purely vegetarian. Lunch there is an experience to be savoured...
Maybe, you could plan ahead on your next visit!
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Old May 7th, 2005, 09:25 PM
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subra-can you recommend a couple of good budget hotels in Madras. Somewhere close to good restaurants, transport etc around 1000-1500 r's per night. We will fly in from Calcutta and want to see some of the city and environs before flying via Columbo to Bangkok. Restaurant recommendations greatly appreciated. No hurry as it's not until Dec 2005. Thank you.
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Old May 15th, 2005, 03:11 AM
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Lyndie: Some ideas on where to stay- could try The New Woodlands, Palmgrove, or Dasaprakash. I need to check out how good they are these days, but when I last saw them, they were good. I could get back to you in some time.
Good restaurants? Here's a list: Annalakshmi at Mount Road/Anna Salai, Swayam buffet at Saravana's (the Chennai fav- they have branches all over the world), Ganges buffet at Komala's, but all these are vegetarian. I trust spicy is ok; as for sea food, I need to check, and I wouldnt recommend it- safety is an issue.
As far as visiting in Dec is concerned, great idea, with two probs- room availability can be prob, and although the weather is great, there are the occasional cyclones.
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