Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Trip to the Other Side of the World - Bangalore, India

Some of my team 
My month of travel is over.  October was a whirlwind.  And I love October in the Midwest so I'm a bit sad that I missed it...  But I am happy to report that I did travel to other side of the world and back and live to tell the tale.

My team at work is a global team, people work all over the world although there is a concentration of team members who sit in one of our offices in Bangalore, India... along with most large companies who have IT departments.  I've either worked with or had employees who have resided in India for over a decade, I was well due for a trip to visit.

The journey to India:

The journey to India from Wichita, KS is not a small journey.  In fact it is a two-day journey full of exhaustion and backache.  I left out of Wichita on a Friday evening about 5 PM. My first fight was my normal skip to Minneapolis that I make pretty regularly for work.  Once I arrived, I headed to the International Flight area for my connection to London.  It is hard to believe that I managed to fly to London twice this year and up until 2017 I had never been there before.  My flight to London was overnight leaving at 10 PM so I grabbed some dinner and waited for my flight.  My flight from Minneapolis to London was about 10 hours putting my arrival time at about 2 PM in London on Saturday.  I did my best to sleep on the flight but it was tough - nerves were definitely getting to me.  I did manage to watch The Big Sick which I have been wanting to see... so so good, I recommend.
I was nervous because my connection is London was short and I really wanted to make sure I had time to freshen up before getting on my flight to Bangalore.  Luckily my flight got in early and because I had over researched how to maneuver terminal changes at Heathrow, I sailed through my terminal change and security checks quickly.  I had time to spare so I was able to freshen up a bit.
My next flight to Bangalore was 11 hours.  Up until this point, I was on Delta but from London to Bangalore I flew British Airways.  I wasn't impressed.  The plane was dated and uncomfortable... on my flight to Bangalore, I did manage to sleep quite a bit.  We left London about 4 PM and arrived in Bangalore at 4 AM.  It was exciting to see all the exotic places I was flying over... places I never thought I'd be near in my lifetime.

Bangalore, India:

Arriving at 4 AM, I thought it would be pretty quick to get out of the airport. I was wrong.  It took nearly 3 hours to get out of the airport with all the security checks... and I traveled via carry-on.  I also had to exchange USD for Rupees before leaving the airport as cabs only accept cash.  A cab was waiting for me and we began our 1 hour drive into Bangalore and my hotel.  Once I got in the car and we started our journey, I realized quickly that I didn't want to watch the traffic because the traffic is something else.  Had I not been so exhausted, I probably would have gone into full panic attack mode.  People drive whatever way they want, there are people on mopeds and bikes everywhere, pedestrians and cows walking in traffic; mass chaos.  I had never seen an entire family plus groceries ride a moped before or 20+ people inside/on-top of a jeep...

Chaotic traffic

Instead I tried to focus on the background and place my faith in the driving ability of the cab driver.   I arrived at my hotel, a Fairfield Marriott at 8 AM and luckily was able to go directly to my room.  I couldn't wait to take a shower... I cringe now thinking how grimey I felt after that trip.  I slept off and on the entire day.  By midnight I was wide awake so I ended up just staying up until I went to work Monday morning at 830 AM.

My Hotel

The hotel was very nice and had pretty good food options since there wasn't a lot close otherwise that I felt comfortable eating at.  There were many little shack-like places with dirt floors and cheap eats in walking distance but these were the places that I had been warned not to eat at.  I walked to the office each day when not raining.  The walk included a short walk down a busy road and then onto the campus where many companies are located.

View from my room into the office park
The campuses like mine are all over Bangalore... big businesses in fancy buildings right next to dirty, poverty-stricken areas.  It was interesting to me to see how you would find people dressed in business clothes walking next to people who had no shoes and appeared homeless.

Cows hang out in the median

Cows also travel in herds

It did rain every day that I was there except the one day that I ventured out into the city to explore which was lucky.  It was Monsoon season and there was quite a bit of flooding.  One evening I was in a cab in heavy traffic, so heavy you couldn't open your door because cars were so close together.  As the water was rising to the door, I started to get nervous about what I would do if it got much higher and we couldn't open the doors to get out... traffic is that bad and that crazy.
This is some of my team

I ate lunch every day at the cafeteria where Indian lunch was provided by my company.  It actually was a great way to try many different foods.  I can't tell you everything that I ate because I don't know what everything was but mostly really good.  I realized that the way think Indian food is served in the US is much different than how it is served in South India.  I had always assumed curry and gravy dishes were served over rice but India Paratha is used to scoop up the food and eat it instead.  Paratha is kind of like a tortilla.  Most days there were rice dishes, a vegetable dish, some kind of curry or masala, and several yogurt dishes.  There was also a sweet every day which I can describe to be something like fudge, a small square or circle of something sweet and indulgent.  Drinks were another thing that I found interesting.  I am used to having a full glass of tea or soda with lunch and the drinks that were offered were small dixie cups that you would use in the bathroom in the 80's... nothing that would quench a thirst but it seemed many people didn't drink anything at all with lunch.
Afternoon tea, Indian chai tea in particular was also served.  As a huge tea lover, especially a chai team lover, this was one of the best things about my trip!

Dinner Out

I did eat out at a couple of restaurants with different people from my team.  Both restaurants were trendy breweries which appear to be on the rise in Bangalore.  All the food was wonderful.  My favorite meal was a Paneer Butter Masala.  I'm already a big Saag Paneer fan and love it even more with Butter Masala.  I might have already stocked up on some paneer for home so I can try to make it myself!  I also did some shopping for souvenirs for my family.  I picked up some wooden carved elephants, hand woven scarves, and a small hand carved chess set.  By the end of the trip I also started to understand things about the culture that I hadn't realized.  While the traffic is a nightmare, there is no road rage.  People trust and look out for one another.  People are incredibly concerned with making a good impression and take note of details.  Many people went out of there way for me to get me somewhere when it was raining or ensure I made it to the right shop.  I was truly impressed with the kind nature of people.

I would absolutely go again and hope next time to be able to see more.  I did leave right as Diwali was starting which is one of the largest Hindu festivals.  It was very festive with lights and traditional dress.  It would have been nice to see more but I was missing my family and happy to return.

The return:
My return started on Saturday morning at 7 AM.  Another 12 hour flight back to London with an even tighter connection to catch.  I had no time to freshen up and found myself running through Heathrow in order to catch my flight.  I was the last to board and the door shut right behind me.  Whew! I was seconds from not making it... My flight to Chicago was 11 hours.  Luckily I did sleep most of both flights. Once I arrived in Chicago, I quickly moved through security thanks to traveling via carry one again.  My flight into Wichita was 3 hours delayed though so I wasn't happy... and again felt so grimey.  I finally arrived back in Wichita at 1 AM Sunday morning.  Since returning home, my internal clock is off.  I can't sleep past 4 AM so find myself working in the middle of the night.  It is getting better day by day.