I arrived back at Howrah station in Kolkata after my second overnight train journey in two nights. After a decent sleep I was primed and ready for another day in India, not quite knowing what it had in store for me or where I’d end up.
Outside the station we randomly selected a taxi driver who, following something my traveling companion Shyam said, seemed determined to make it his life’s work to get us to the airport in time. Not necessarily in one piece, but he’d sure as hell get us there.
Getting away from the train station and onto the Rabindra Setu Bridge was a mission in itself. Crossing from Howrah in the west to the city of Kolkata on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, this is said to be the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. It seemed that, on this day, and with us horribly late for our flight, a large chunk of the population of West Bengal had come out for a morning drive.
Getting there is half the fun
Masses of yellow ambassador taxis, buses and trucks jammed the on-ramps to the bridge. Horns beeped constantly, while engines revved and people screamed. Disorganised chaos it was, but great fun all the same.
The dash across Kolkata was exhilarating. The taxi weaved this way and that, accelerating, pausing and narrowly dodging all manner of moving impediments as it sliced through the streets. We stopped briefly for petrol. A hose with a nozzle wedged on the end of it appeared out of a building and was thrust into the side of the vehicle. A few seconds later we were off again, lurching back into the seething vehicular cauldron.
Kolkata was little more than a moving traffic jam. The road markings weren’t worth the paint they were painted with. Tuk-tuks weaved in and out of myriad other forms of transportation on roads that could barely, just barely, be described as roads. I sat there, clinging to my bag with a big stupid grin on my face, shaking my head and wondering how I’d ended up in this predicament. What else could I do apart from enjoy the ride?
And then try to figure out what on earth could follow that.
Touching down in Hyderabad was a pretty good start. The final leg of my customer-visiting itinerary took me south to the city I felt most at home in during my brief stay on the subcontinent. The hustle and bustle was less, the attitude more relaxed and the atmosphere about as profoundly composed as it can be in a city of more than six million people.
We paid a late afternoon visit to the headquarters of a company called Robo Silicon. This company has done a fantastic job in branding and marketing manufactured sand in the south of India. We then went for an even drive around Hyderabad, shopping for pearls, meeting a cadre of work colleagues at the ‘pub’ and finally stopping at the hotel for the biggest curry I had all week.
Leaving on a jet plane
The next day I was on the move again. I arrived in Delhi in the early afternoon to spend a few hours with Dinesh, another work colleague. We had dinner and discussed the chances of both the Indian and New Zealand teams at the 2007 cricket world cup, which, at the time of my visit, was about to begin. We were both a little nervous about our chances but, as things turned out, I had less to worry about than my colleague.
I left on an early flight from Delhi the next morning and arrived home via Singapore and Sydney. I’d had one heck of a frantic week, spending each night in a different bed in a different corner of India. It was great to be home. And, unlike when I arrived in India, my bag showed up with me. Which was an added bonus.
Sweet home Matamata
I would not have lasted more than a day without my Indian traveling companion. As little more than a wide-eyed tourist I have no doubt this country would have swallowed me up, spat me out and left me on the roadside if I’d tried to navigate it by myself. It’s a long, long way from small town New Zealand to teeming, steaming cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, all among the largest metropolitan areas on the planet and with population figures that dwarf the whole of New Zealand.
Despite the obvious poverty there is so much happening in India, not only in construction but also in so many other areas, including software, telecommunications and general infrastructure development. Some of the larger Indian companies are even aggressively starting to look off shore to grow. World beware!
Can’t keep away
I’ve been back to India twice since my initial visit. Both times were for office-based business meetings in Delhi. The first of these visits, in 2009, was a stark reminder of how quickly things are growing in India. The DLF City area of Gurgaon, where the company I worked for is based, was little more than open fields in in 2007. Two years later it was loaded with glass-walled skyscrapers bearing the logos of some of the world’s largest companies.
The hotels on offer in Delhi, and the other places I stayed at during my first trip, are truly world class. The Leela Kempinski and Radisson in the Gurgaon area are as good as anything you’ll stay at anywhere in the world.
You have to go through a pretty thorough security check to enter each hotel, which is a shock the first time but you quickly get used to it. Delhi is stocked with these types of hotels and, thanks to my work colleagues, I had dinner at a number of them during my visits. One thing about India is the food is very good.
One regret is that I didn’t have much time for tourist-related stuff during my visits to India. On my most recent trip, in 2010, however, I did have the chance to check out Delhi’s massive Red Fort complex. What a massive complex that is!
The imposing entry is awesome. You can only imagine what the potential conquerors back in the day thought when they first clapped eyes on it. “Bugger this,” would be my guess.